Russell Westbrook Returns to Thunder Lineup for First Time Since Knee Injury

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Russell Westbrook Returns to Thunder Lineup for First Time Since Knee Injury

Russell Westbrook is returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for the first time since suffering a knee injury in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. He will play Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns, the team announced.

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman provides a statement from executive Sam Presti:

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman first broke the news:

Westbrook will start tonight and will not have any restrictions on his minutes, per Royce Young of Daily Thunder:

Westbrook later spoke about his health prior to tipoff, via Mayberry:

Oklahoma City sorely needs the superstar point guard back in the lineup, as Kevin Durant has struggled to shoulder the load without his sidekick.

The team hasn’t looked the same in his absence, going 1-1 in the first two games of the 2013-14 campaign.

Should he be 100 percent, Westbrook will immediately infuse this Thunder lineup with speed, scoring ability, leadership, effort and more. He’s one of the league’s best talents—at any position—and will be instrumental to OKC’s chances of winning a championship this coming spring.

His absence derailed the team's shot at a title last season, as the Thunder went just 3-6 after his injury, and the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated them in the Western Conference semifinals in five games.

The superstar went down back on April 25 after coming up lame following a controversial collision with Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley. Westbrook had been trying to call for a timeout when Beverley lunged for a steal and bumped into Westbrook's knee.

Westbrook underwent surgery to repair his torn lateral meniscus on April 27 and missed the remainder of the postseason. However, a second knee operation took place on Oct. 1 to relieve swelling in the same right knee that Westbrook damaged.

According to ESPN.com’s news services, Thunder general manager Sam Presti had this to say about Westbrook at the time of the second procedure:

His performance levels have been tremendous, and he's looked great in the part of practice that he's been cleared to go through. So we were very, very encouraged in that respect. But when the swelling wasn't subsiding, we made the decision to have the knee evaluated.

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Russell Westbrook's brother reportedly spoke with teammate Reggie Jackson's brother, noting that the superstar point guard was well on his way to a full recovery at the end of October, per Royce Young of CBS Sports:

"Oh, man. Russell today..." Jackson said. "It's actually funny. My brother and his brother talk a little before games. His brother told mine that Russell's probably bouncing better than ever. I had to see it to believe it. One of the dunks (today), he went up and looked like the old Russell, plus some, head at the rim. We'll be happy when he gets back fully healthy, but it's good to see him with a smile on his face, being about the team, bouncing back and happy to be back on the court."

If Westbrook is free of pain and back to 100 percent, he’s going to catapult Oklahoma City to the top of the league standings and make it a serious contender to win an NBA championship in 2014.

Make sure you tune in on Sunday night to see the young star's much-anticipated return to the lineup.

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