Report: OKC hopeful Russell Westbrook will play in Feb. 20 matchup with Miami

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And the rich stand to get much, much richer.

The Oklahoma City Thunder already own the league’s best record, and if you had to call it right now, they have the league MVP in Kevin Durant as well. Most thought the Thunder could reasonably stay afloat during this time, but few expected them to thrive without point guard Russell Westbrook.

Oklahoma City has gone 22-8 in Westbrook’s absence, rebounding nicely from the bumpy beginnings without their star to hit a groove going into the All-Star break.

Let’s not forget how much better the Thunder is at full-strength, though. OKC is 21-4 on the season with Westbrook in the lineup. When healthy, this team is a juggernaut.

But you know who else is a juggernaut? The Miami Heat. Oklahoma City already took down Miami once without Westbrook this season, but asking them to do it a second time might be pushing it.

According to sources of Marc J. Spears at Yahoo! Sports, the Thunder might not have to worry about that, though.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are hopeful that injured guard Russell Westbrook will return for Thursday’s game against the Miami Heat, a source said to Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder announced on Dec. 27 that Westbrook had surgery on his right knee for the second time since late October. He was projected to be out until after the NBA All-Star break without a specific return game. The source said Westbrook will be re-evaluated on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, which could open the door for a return against the visiting Heat.

If Westbrook had a target date to return after his knee  surgery, this wasn’t a bad game to choose. He’ll need to pass all his tests and get medically cleared, but you know a competitor like that is chomping at the bit to play against a team as great as the Heat. If he can go, I’d hate to see anyone try and stand in his way.

That being said, the Thunder would be wise to take things slow with Westbrook if at all possible. Two knee surgeries in such a short time span is no joke, and ultimately, this upcoming battle with the Heat doesn’t mean a great deal. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, even if Westbrook is the kind of guy who usually sprints the entire marathon.

In these situations, asking “what would Gregg Popovich do?” is never a bad idea. Westbrook will of course want to play as much as he possibly can, but Scott Brooks should and  likely will put a heavy minutes restrictions on him, at least initially. It’s a big game against the Heat, to be sure, but there should be many more big games awaiting the Thunder in the near future.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.