OKLAHOMA CITY - What could be better than a Thunder-Heat matchup to kick off OKC's post-All-Star break playoff push? That...plus the return of one Russell Westbrook.
Rumors have been bandied about for weeks about Westbrook's eventual comeback, but Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti put those to rest Thursday afternoon, announcing the team's high-flying point guard would suit up against the defending champs.
Presti emphasized Thursday Westbrook, who has already battled back from knee troubles once this season, will not be rushed into action, with the team opting to carefully build his minutes over time. The coaching staff will also evaluate Westbrook's availability in back-to-back games for the foreseeable future.
"These steps are an effort to control the areas of his return to play where feasible, given the reduced practice and conditioning time during the regular season," Presti said in a release. "Our goal is to create the best foundation for Russell and the team as we head into the postseason.”
The Thunder have been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA this season, not because of their general success, but because of their level of success without one of the league's best players.
The 43-12 Thunder are not expected to make any significant moves by Thursday's trade deadline. The return of Westbrook, who averaged 21.3 points and 7.0 assists per game through 25 games prior to his re-injury, however, should serve as one of the biggest acquisitions of the year.