The Oklahoma City Thunder have something to be thankful for: point guard Russell Westbrook is back in the lineup. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters at Friday's shootaround that Westbrook will start against the New York Knicks and Reggie Jackson will come off the bench.
Westbrook will be wearing a brace on his right hand, which he fractured in the second game of the season.
Oklahoma City is 4-12 and is coming off a victory over Utah which snapped a six-game losing streak. In Westbrook's and Kevin Durant's absence, Jackson has averaged 20.2, 7.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds in 38.8 minutes per game as the Thunder's primary creator. It wasn't enough, apparently, to keep him next to Westbrook in the starting five, despite performing well in that role in last year's playoffs. You still have to assume that Jackson will play heavy minutes as the man leading the second unit and share the floor with Westbrook for significant stretches.
If Durant returns soon, ESPN's Kevin Pelton projects Oklahoma City to win about 48 games. That number, last season, would have left the Thunder just barely out of the playoffs, and the West looks even tougher this time around. There's enough season left to make a run, though, and the return of Westbrook before December is reason for optimism and gratitude. It's been a rough few weeks, but this is still a championship-caliber group. There aren't too many teams that can say that.