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Westbrook and Durant may return as Thunder face Knicks

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The status of the Thunder's two superstars is uncertain, while Melo isn't likely to play. Could this be the beginning of the Thunder's comeback tour?

Such calm in a sheer panic.
Such calm in a sheer panic.
William Bennett Berry

It looks like winter might have finally begun. Though the season doesn't kick in until December 21st, the arctic force known as Russell Westbrook will likely finally be returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder on that day. We couldn't be more excited, as it may signal a return to the winning basketball team we know and love.

We only have about a game of evidence to see how Russell Westbrook plays without Kevin Durant. Westbrook was injured early in the second game of the season and hasn't played very many games without KD prior to this season, so this game may be a rarity. Then again, Kevin Durant may return tonight as well. It's really all up in the air at the time I'm writing this, but obviously the status of them both will severely effect the Thunder's chances of winning this game.

On the other hand, the Knicks are experiencing a bit of an injury nightmare. Their star, Carmelo Anthony, is experiencing severe back spasms and it's doubtful that he'll play in tonight's game. The Knicks have the firepower to hang tough without Anthony, as evidenced by their hanging tight with Dallas on Wednesday. But they lose a serious closer, and hand over a great deal of responsibility to J.R. Smith. That's not always a great thing, as embodied by this snippet of a recent post by Joe Flynn over at Posting and Toasting:

"And yet I am miffed -- peeved, even -- by what I witnessed from New York down the stretch. This has long been the quintessential "results over process" franchise, valuing players they felt could "get it done -- never mind the fact that they could never quite identify what "it" was, and that whatever "it" was never actually got done. It has been a staple of this team since long before Mike Woodson came to town -- forget smart, disciplined basketball and just put the ball in your stars' hands.

The Phil Jackson/Derek Fisher Knicks are supposed to be different. They preach the mystic egalitarianism of the Triangle. Win or lose, they should at least play like a cohesive unit. And they did on Wednesday, for the most part. The guards ran some beautiful sets -- many of which happened to end with the ball in the cloven hoof-hands of New York's big men, who promptly farted away the possession. Ah well...good process, bad result. Some day we will have bigs who can actually catch basketballs. And it will be glorious.

Sadly, that dream bubble was burst down the stretch of this game. When it came to winning time, Derek Fisher benched Iman Shumpert in favor of J.R. Smith, who was in full-on, "I'm winning this game myself" mode with Melo out. J.R. hasn't been good this season, but he has at least tried to curb his more...umm...Earl-ish tendencies. Not tonight."

If the Knicks are truly playing hero-ball, then the Thunder stand a chance of winning this game. I'm not ready to come out and say they'll crush the Knicks, simply because the Thunder aren't a good team yet. But the Knicks are really playing some dreadful basketball. In the past few weeks, the Knicks have only beaten Philadelphia and Denver. Philly and Denver are the worst two teams in the league right now, so that's nothing. Meanwhile, the Knicks have dropped close games to the lowly Bucks, Timberwolves, and Howard-less Rockets. In their 16 point loss to Minnesota, the Knicks gave up 37 points to Kevin Martin. Sheesh.

Should there be some setback and neither Durant nor Westbrook are able to go (knock on wood), then the Thunder will likely be able to hold their own in this game. As long as Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson can anchor the offense, then Anthony Morrow or Jeremy Lamb should be able to get something going from deep. Lamb actually had a good night on Wednesday against Utah, while Anthony Morrow continued his confusingly mediocre stat lines. It's nice to be at least somewhat reassured about this team's offensive solvency, even if it is only against the charmin-soft defenses of Utah and New York.

The thing I'm most excited about going into tonight that's not Durant or Westbrook-related concerns Andre Roberson. How will he do when tasked with shutting down J.R. Smith? When Smith is let loose, he's one of the best scorers in the NBA. If Roberson and his ridiculously long arms are able to shut down Smith early (like he did to Klay Thompson late on Sunday), then the Knicks could lose their cool really quick. All they are is a bunch of talented guards and Amare Stoudemire's ghost right now, so Roberson might even be able to score inside as well. Who knows?

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, New York Knicks 95.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 17
@
4-12
(Lost 2)

4-12
(Won 1)
November 28th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, The Madison Square Garden Network
Injury Report: Perry Jones III, Mitch McGaryGrant Jerrett, Cleanthony Early, Andrea Bargnani (Out) Russell Westbrook (Probable), Kevin Durant (Questionable), Carmelo Anthony (Doubtful)
Previous Matchups: Dec 25 (W 113-94), Feb 9 (W 112-100)
Probable Starters
Jose Calderon PG Russell Westbrook
Iman Shumpert SG Reggie Jackson
J.R. Smith SF Andre Roberson
Quincy Acy PF Serge Ibaka
Samuel Dalembert C Steven Adams