Russell Westbrook's return to face Thunder promises to be nothing but entertaining
Russell Westbrook returns to Oklahoma City this week. You won’t recognize him until just before tipoff Thursday night, if then.
The new haircut. The Rocket’s red glare of a uniform. Nothing about his appearance will remind you of the all-time Thunder hero.
You’ll have to wait until opening introductions. The Thunder will welcome back Westbrook with a video salute, the fans will respond with an ovation that could last 15 minutes and Westbrook is likely to crack a smile. If so, you’ll know him instantly. Westbrook has a world-class smile.
But if Westbrook stays in assassin mode and doesn’t show his human side, never fear. The game will start, and you’ll know it’s him.
Westbrook will be the guy you watch all night long. You can’t avert your eyes.
We’ve spent two months of this 2019-20 NBA season talking about how much fun it is to watch the post-Westbrook Thunder. And that’s true. These overachievers are a blast.
The Thunder passes the ball like it just came out of the oven. The Thunder doesn’t take bad shots; maybe only two or three a game, when in the old days, we hoped for merely two or three a minute. The Thunder sells out on defense; laziness has left the building.
This Thunder squad is not great and isn’t going to get there. The talent isn’t there for a glittering record or a stirring post-season run. But this Thunder team reminds us that basketball is a many splendored thing and can be played many ways.
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Still, let’s remember one thing before Westbrook walks through the Chesapeake Arena doors with some kind of garish outfit.
Westbrook was fun to watch. Westbrook was a blast. Step aside, P.T. Barnum. Russell Westbrook III was the greatest showman, and if his frustrating antics — on the court and off — were the price to pay for 11 years of hardwood electricity, so be it.
There’s a sucker born every minute, but if we were sucked in by Westbrook’s impulsive play, we were willing subjects.
The darting passes, the soaring dunks, the clutch 3-pointers after a half-dozen straight misses, the rebounds like he jumped off a trampoline. We hadn’t seen anything like it and neither had the rest of the NBA. You can find artistic basketball in hundreds of high school gyms and dozens of college arenas, all within a few hours of OKC.
But you can’t find another Westbrook even if you traveled the globe.
By the way, he hasn’t changed down in Houston. He’s shooting 29 percent from 3-point range and on pace to launch 349 3-pointers. In the whole history of the NBA, only Allen Iverson and Michael Adams also have attempted at least 300 3-pointers in a season, while making less than 30 percent. Now Westbrook is about to do it three years in a row, courtesy of some of those box-score numbers that horrified us every couple of weeks for a decade: 0-of-8, 1-of-7, 0-of-6.
Westbrook’s scoring is up (24.1 points per game) and his assists are down (7.0). Those aren’t bad numbers considering Westbrook’s new sidekick is James Harden, the world’s most prolific dribbler. Westbrook’s turnovers per game are slightly down, too (4.4).
Westbrook still is the same player he always was, just now he must share the spotlight with a running buddy who, unlike Paul George or even Kevin Durant, is not prone to lurking in the shadows.
Westbrook will wow us Thursday night. He’ll do something we’ve never seen before on a basketball court. He’ll go coast-to-coast on two dribbles or dunk the ball off the scoreboard or forget to dribble while he’s leading the Light Brigade.
Hopefully, he’ll also go 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and OKC will beat the Rockets, and we’ll all go home talking about how much fun is this new Thunder team, though in our heart of hearts we know the arena never will roar the way it did when Russell Westbrook wore his top hat with Thunder blue and was the greatest showman we’ll ever see.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.
Quite a week
It could be the oddest sight ever for a Thunder home game Thursday night — Russell Westbrook in another team's uniform.
Westbrook and the Rockets — yes, it still sounds odd — play at OKC for the first time this season on Thursday (8:30 p.m., TNT).
The Thunder has two road games before then (6 p.m. Monday at Philadelphia and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Brooklyn).