Russell Westbrook back for Thunder

ByRoyce Young via ESPN logo
Friday, November 28, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After missing the past four weeks with a fractured right hand, Thunderpoint guard Russell Westbrook will return Friday against the New York Knicks, but teammate Kevin Durant remains unavailable.

"It feels great [to be back]," Westbrook said after the team's shootaround. "I feel great. Rested. So I'm happy to be back and ready to go out and try to win."

Unlike after his previous injury -- a torn meniscus that resulted in three knee procedures -- Westbrook won't be under any minutes restriction Friday.

"It's different," Westbrook said. "I've been able to run around, run and jump to keep my legs conditioned to be able to play throughout a game. So hopefully I'm conditioned enough to be able to go through a game."

Westbrook suffered the injury in the Thunder's second game of the season, on Oct. 30 against the Clippers, catching his hand on Kendrick Perkins' elbow while jumping for a rebound. In the following days, Westbrook underwent surgery to repair the fracture and was set to be re-evaluated in four weeks.

He will wear a protective cover on his hand, something he says shouldn't bother him too much.

"It's cool, it's cool," Westbrook said. "I'd rather not wear it. But I have to wear it and I got used to it the last week, two weeks."

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook will return to the starting lineup, moving Reggie Jackson to the bench while keeping the other four the same -- Andre Roberson, Lance Thomas, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams.

Already without Durant, who is nearing a return from a fracture in his foot, the Thunder have struggled, starting the season 4-12. They have remained competitive, losing eight games by seven or fewer points. Both Westbrook and Durant returned to limited practice this past Saturday and have steadily increased their time on the floor, going through full contact at Friday's shootaround.

"Russell has a great passion for the game, and he's been a tremendous leader for us," Brooks said. "He understands what he brings to the team. He brings a toughness, an emotional part that it takes for our team to be successful. And he's obviously one of the best players in the league, so we're all excited to have him back."

The Thunder have dealt with a number of injuries to begin the season, sometimes playing with as few as eight healthy players. They were granted a hardship exception two weeks ago -- which expired Thursday and resulted in Sebastian Telfair being waived -- but with Westbrook back, as well as power forward Grant Jerrett, who had offseason ankle surgery, the Thunder will have 12 active players Friday.

Westbrook was electrifying in his lone full game of the season, the opener against the Trail Blazers, when he had 38 points and six assists in just 33 minutes. He has missed the past four weeks and conceded that there might be a little rust to work through.

"A lot of places probably," Westbrook said when asked in what areas he might be rusty. "But I'm just going to go out and try to find a way to get a win and go with the flow."

Westbrook is naturally left-handed yet shoots right-handed, and he said he doesn't expect to be favoring his dominant hand to keep the ball away from his injured one.

"I don't know, we'll see," he said. "I'm not going to just be trying s---, some left-hand shot, I'm not doing that. I'm going to just play regular. I may have more stuff with my left hand now, but I'm not going to just try stuff, no."

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