OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Miami Heat had plenty of trouble with the Oklahoma City Thunder last time the teams met.
They might have even more to deal with this time around.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook made it through a full practice Wednesday for the first time since his most recent surgery, just in time for Thursday’s rematch with the two-time defending NBA champion Heat. The ultra-athletic Westbrook’s presence could be a game changer for a team that already has the NBA’s best record.
His return nearly overshadows the usual hype that goes with matchups between Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Miami’s LeBron James.
"It’s like trading for an All Star at the trade deadline," said Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer. "We’re looking forward to it. We’re definitely excited for him to get back."
Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, has missed 27 games since having a procedure on Dec. 27 to deal with swelling in his injured right knee -- the third operation on it in nine months. Coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t make a definitive statement on Westbrook’s status for Thursday’s game, but talked at length about the way team dynamics would change upon his return.
"I thought he had a good practice today," Brooks said. "We went pretty hard, no question. We did a lot of things in transition, we did a lot of halfcourt. We did a lot of defensive drills, and he was able to participate in all of our drills."
Westbrook sat out on Jan. 29, when the Thunder overcame an early 18-point deficit to roll past the Heat 112-95. The Heat fully expect Westbrook to play this time.
Westbrook was playing well before his latest issue. He had a triple-double by the middle of the third quarter in a Christmas Day win over the New York Knicks -- the last time he played. He has averaged 21.3 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 25 games for the Thunder this season.
Durant has reached a new level since Westbrook’s injury, averaging 35.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists during that stretch as the Thunder won 20 of 27 games. Brooks said Westbrook has played so many games with the team over the years that he doesn’t see him fitting back in as an issue.