Kevin Durant Returns but Thunder Must Wait to Salvage Their Season

Durant and Westbrook back from injury, hi-fiving

They say in order to thrive in the NBA you need to have at least one superstar, preferably more, on a deep roster, that you need to peak at the right time and you need to be lucky enough to keep your guys healthy throughout the year.

The rigors of the competition, in an 82-game season where teams play with little or no rest, make injuries a natural part of the sport, so it’s how a team rides them that can ultimately define their success and their ability to justify their place at the head of the NBA market.

If injuries are an accepted norm though, what happened to Oklahoma City Thunder at the start of the season was a huge anomaly.

How’s your luck?

The Thunder have been one of those teams that meet the criteria required to be an NBA contender in the last few years. They have two genuine superstars of the game in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they know how to make deep playoff runs and they have, until this year generally stayed clear of injury.

Before the season opener in October, OKC had a little as nine fit men to choose from. Durant was already ruled out with a leg injury, leaving Westbrook to shoulder much of the team’s expectation, until he went down himself with a broken hand a few games into the campaign.

Prior to last week the Thunder were rolling with little more than role players and bench warmers taking to the floor as starters, and they were suffering as a result.

When Westbrook returned to action last week in the 105-78 win over the New York Knicks, his team sat at 4-12 and among the worst sides in the Western Conference. But if the franchise were due some good news, it was to arrive in the very next game.

Welcome return

Durant, the long-thought-of second best player in the league and last season’s MVP, suited up in OKC blue for the first time this season, giving coach Scott Brooks his first chance to watch his dynamic All-Star pairing play together this year.

If Durant and Westbrook’s return to the court had Thunder fans expecting an immediate springboard up the standings though, the game against the New Orleans Pelicans would serve a big slice of reality pie to their plight.

Durant put in a good-but-rusty performance in his debut, scoring 27 points but only claiming three rebounds and two assists in his 29 minutes and causing five turnovers.

What’s clear is that the rangy, small forward needs time to get back up and running. Having had no preseason and little time to work on his game in the offseason, Durant is effectively coming in cold, but has little choice but to try and shake off the cobwebs during game time because of the Thunder’s dire situation.

Their rough start to the season means OKC are 5.5 games back from the last Western Conference playoff spot, the only saving grace being that they have got their starting lineup back together early enough in the season to claw that deficit back. It just won’t happen immediately, especially in such a strong conference.

Westbrook’s return to the court against the Knicks was an explosive 32-point, eight-assist showing, but he had already played this term. With Durant looking to feel his way back into things in the early stages of his reappearance, expect to see the Thunder point guard take over a bit more than normal.

Durant certainly showed flashes of his brilliant best in New Orleans and the sooner it becomes a regular feature of Oklahoma the better. Just don’t be too shocked if you’re waiting a little while for it.

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