Update (Sherman): The Thunder's GM Sam Presti has released a statement this afternoon, announcing Westbrook's return to action tonight:
"We are all very excited to have Russell back. He has worked extremely hard throughout his rehabilitation, and his addition will allow us to build on the progress we have made in his absence," Presti said. "As Russell integrates back into the team we are going to manage the transition by building his minutes over time and will evaluate his availability in back-to-back situations. These steps are an effort to control the areas of his return to play where feasible, given the reduced practice and conditioning time during the regular season. Our goal is to create the best foundation for Russell and the team as we head into the postseason."
We all know the storylines, injuries, and matchups heading into tonight's game. No matter how you slice it, ithe game is a potential NBA Finals preview, and a huge opportunity for the Thunder to prove themselves. But here's a few factors that could tip the game in either team's favor....
- Westbrook's return. Obviously the return of Westbrook would be HUGE for Oklahoma City, as he provides the Thunder with a legitimate shot creating threat and a great deal of improved ball movement. He's had variable success against the Heat in the past, and the key to his success tonight would be his ability to overcome the Heat's excessive trapping.
- Perk's playing time. Brooks may have learned his lesson by going small in the second half of the previous game, but Perk will get at least a few token minutes at the beginning of the game. Why? We've had this starting lineup since we traded for Perk in 2010, and Brooks like to keep his two units playing separately as much as possible. No, it doesn't make a great deal of sense when you're dealing with situations like tonight, but oh well.
- Sefolosha's success on Wade. Wade is the type of scoring shooting guard that Thabo just LOVES to defend. He's not much of a shooting threat, and instead relies upon his quickness to get free of you inside the Arc. Thabo's large body and long arms are good at keeping Wade locked down, though Wade has had his moments.
- Ibaka's success. He's definitely the game's biggest question mark. In the first matchup, he began the game in a huge slump, forcing himself into bad shots and missing open players. But, once he was matched up with the similarly sized Bosh, he had a much easier time getting open on the perimeter.
- Oden's minutes. Greg Oden has gotten a series of trial runs with the Heat over the past few weeks, getting in for 2 to 13 minute stretches of time. When he enters the game, the Heat become an entirely different team. He doesn't provide the same floor spacing threat that Bosh does, and he's not as undersized as Joel Anthony was when he got minutes. Oden hasn't had extreme success so far, but he'll definitely need to be matched up against.
- Endgame scoring. We got a bit of a preview of Durant vs. LeBron in this year's All-Star game. The result was pretty much a push, though LeBron did have the upper hand as the game came down to the final minutes. There's no guarantee that these two will be in the finals together, so we should enjoy it while we can.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Miami Heat 108 (OT)
What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!