With Durant and Westbrook Back, Thunder Hopes to AdvanceAdded - Dec. 2, 2014 - Comments
The Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be wandering around in the wilderness without their two star players for much of this season. Kevin Durant had been ruled out of action with a foot injury, and Russell Westbrook played one game, where he scored 38 points, got injured in the next, and missed almost a month of action with a broken hand. While they were gone, the team naturally struggled. And head coach Scott Brooks tried to hold things together by emphasizing a defensive approach, with backup guard Reggie Jackson positioning himself as the scoring threat. This wasn't all that successful, as Oklahoma City has lost thirteen of its first 18 games.
But help is not only on the way, it is here already. The Thunder has now gotten both Durant and Westbrook back into the lineup, and the general consensus is with those two superstars available, this is a team with the capability of mounting a challenge for the Western Conference title. The Thunder advanced all the way to the conference finals last year, before San Antonio exploited their relative lack of depth. So what is going to happen to Oklahoma City this season? That's something NBA bettors need to ponder, as the first quarter of this season is in the books.
There is no question that the Thunder has its work cut out for them; they are 5.5 games out of the playoff chase at the moment, and the other seven teams who made the playoffs from the West last year are once again among the top eight. There are also other squads, like the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets, who look to have made tremendous progress, and they are all around the .500 mark.
Durant made his comeback the other night, and scored 27 points, although he was somewhat rusty early, as he committed some turnovers. Also, advanced statistics demonstrated that the Thunder were more efficient on the offensive end without him on the floor. That's okay; he'll be better and better as he placed himself into shape. His return came after Westbrook got back to the lineup with a stunning performance. In fact, he became the only player during the shot-clock era to score 32 points and dish out eight assists in less than 24 minutes of play. That's impressive.
So if these two guys can stay healthy, perhaps the Thunder, which has had to find other scoring options in their absence, can show how much they have grown as they have had to make do among themselves. Jackson should be a better player going forward, but NBA bettors have to admit that when this team traded away James Harden, it left a serious void, and that he provided an extremely viable third scoring option. It has to go down as a failure of general manager Sam Presti that they have such a hard time generating offense outside of their two superstar players, who dominate the ball when they are in the game. Will that catch up to them again, as it did in the last post-season?