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Brooks: Westbrook "Absolutely" On Pace To Return

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If you hadn't seen the Thunder play a game before this season, you might never guess they were missing one of the best players in the NBA. 

Oklahoma City, playing more than half its games without it's injured point guard, became the first NBA team to the 40-win mark by beating the Timberwolves Wednesday night. The shorthanded Thunder also holds a 3-game lead in the Western Conference.

In comparison, it took OKC 55 games to reach 40 wins last season.  This year, despite missing Russell Westbrook for 26 contests, the Thunder needed just 51 games to reach 40.  

Everyone deserves credit for overcoming what many considered a team-crippling injury.  

Kevin Durant has elevated his play and is the clear frontrunner for the MVP award.  Reggie Jackson has picked up his scoring as the new starting point guard. Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher have provided a great lift off the bench, while Serge Ibaka's offensive improvement has helped to make up for Westbrook's production. And don't forget Scott Brooks and the Thunder coaching staff for keeping things together and finding lineups that work. 

But as Brooks was quick to point out on Wednesday night, don't forget about Westbrook.

"His energy and leadership are vitsal to our team's success," Brooks said.  "I know he hasn't played but he's still with us and he's still helped us win games."

That's all well and good, but as All-Star weekend approaches, many are wondering whether Westbrook is still on pace to return after the break. 

Brooks says he still isn't sure when Russ will be back, but gave insight into exactly what the Thunder is looking to see from their star point guard before he can be back on the court.   

"I don't know when he's gonna come back," Brooks said.  "I just know it's gonna be sometime after the All-Star break; I don't know the exact date. He has to continue to improve and hit all those benchmarks that our medical team has put in place. Until then, he won't be on the court."

But when asked if Westbrook was progressing on the timetable that the Thunder layed out, Brooks was emphatic.

"Absolutely. He's a worker, he doesn't take days off." 


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