Feb 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
And the rich stand to get much, much richer.
The Oklahoma City Thunder already own the league’s best record, and if you had to call it right now, they have the league MVP in Kevin Durant as well. Most thought the Thunder could reasonably stay afloat during this time, but few expected them to thrive without point guard Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City has gone 22-8 in Westbrook’s absence, rebounding nicely from the bumpy beginnings without their star to hit a groove going into the All-Star break.
Let’s not forget how much better the Thunder is at full-strength, though. OKC is 21-4 on the season with Westbrook in the lineup. When healthy, this team is a juggernaut.
But you know who else is a juggernaut? The Miami Heat. Oklahoma City already took down Miami once without Westbrook this season, but asking them to do it a second time might be pushing it.
According to sources of Marc J. Spears at Yahoo! Sports, the Thunder might not have to worry about that, though.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are hopeful that injured guard Russell Westbrook will return for Thursday’s game against the Miami Heat, a source said to Yahoo Sports.
The Thunder announced on Dec. 27 that Westbrook had surgery on his right knee for the second time since late October. He was projected to be out until after the NBA All-Star break without a specific return game. The source said Westbrook will be re-evaluated on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, which could open the door for a return against the visiting Heat.
If Westbrook had a target date to return after his knee surgery, this wasn’t a bad game to choose. He’ll need to pass all his tests and get medically cleared, but you know a competitor like that is chomping at the bit to play against a team as great as the Heat. If he can go, I’d hate to see anyone try and stand in his way.
That being said, the Thunder would be wise to take things slow with Westbrook if at all possible. Two knee surgeries in such a short time span is no joke, and ultimately, this upcoming battle with the Heat doesn’t mean a great deal. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, even if Westbrook is the kind of guy who usually sprints the entire marathon.
In these situations, asking “what would Gregg Popovich do?” is never a bad idea. Westbrook will of course want to play as much as he possibly can, but Scott Brooks should and likely will put a heavy minutes restrictions on him, at least initially. It’s a big game against the Heat, to be sure, but there should be many more big games awaiting the Thunder in the near future.