Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to roll.
Maybe that sounds premature after a closer-than-expected 103-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns, but anyone who watched that game would have to concede that OKC is primed to reassume its position as the top team in the West.
The reason? Russell Westbrook is back.
OKC's second star was a surprising starter against Phoenix, returning to the lineup weeks sooner than originally expected after his Oct. 1 surgery to remove a stitch from his knee. And although there was obvious rust, we saw glimpses of the two-pronged attack that has made the Thunder so dangerous over the past few seasons.
Kevin Durant suddenly had a little space to operate—space he used to pour in 33 points on 10-of-19 shooting. When offensive possessions got a little stagnant, Westbrook barreled into the lane, creating contact and scoring opportunities in ways none of his replacements ever could.
Ultimately, KD didn't have to do everything himself, and defenses couldn't devote all of their attention to him. And it was all thanks to the comeback of the NBA's No. 1 sidekick.
Westbrook finished with 21 points, seven assists and a whopping 14 free-throw attempts in just 33 minutes. His jumper was a little shaky, but that was to be expected.
According to Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, Westbrook also wasn't quite prepared for the cardiovascular challenge of a regular-season NBA game. Westbrook said of his conditioning: "It could be better. It was alright. But that's expected. I didn't expect to come back and be bionic."
The Thunder need both of their stars at full strength to be more than a fringe contender. Based on Westbrook's first game back, it appears OKC's two-man constellation is as bright as ever.