Originally Published: November 3, 2013

1. Strong Early Return For Russell Westbrook

By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

By the time the news was out that Russell Westbrook needed a second knee surgery last month and the league and fans were reacting with shock, he was already destined for a fast comeback.

Westbrook's return Sunday against the Phoenix Suns seemed to come out of nowhere, especially considering the Oklahoma City Thunder publicly announced he would be out until December after an arthroscopic procedure on Oct. 1.

Russell Westbrook
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsRussell Westbrook looked like his old speedy self, helping the Thunder edge the Suns.

But according to a source who was briefed on the process, Westbrook's knee quickly responded to the treatment and the swelling that was bothering him and concerning the team quickly disappeared. In addition, the scope showed the meniscus Westbrook tore during the playoffs last season had totally healed, giving him the confidence that he'd be able to return to his normal self.

Because of these factors, the second operation actually might have sped up his return. He ended up only missing two games and was there for the Thunder's home opener.

Westbrook was already pain-free -- he was still able to practice the same day he boarded a plane to California to get the second surgery. When the surgeons didn't even have to touch the interior of Westbrook's knee to fix the issue, he was on a path for a speedy return. The always conservative Thunder probably could've deployed him for the season opener last week but took a few extra days to make sure. As a result, Westbrook was back without any restrictions on amount of minutes he could play or playing in back-to-back games.

"I don't know who made [the 4-6 week projected recovery] up in the first place, I was never on that timeline at all," Westbrook told reporters before the game. "I was just taking it day by day. Taking it one day at a time until I was ready to play."

All of this was evident in the Thunder's 103-96 victory Sunday night. Westbrook looked as explosive as ever on his way to 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists. There was some rust from not getting game time and that may have contributed to a few early turnovers. A few of his jumpers came up short -- he was just 5-of-16 from the floor -- as he worked to get his rhythm back.

Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting with 33 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. His putback of a Westbrook miss with 32 seconds left ended up being the biggest basket of the game.

But Westbrook was as agile, quick and powerful on his feet as he was before the awkward collision with the Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley prematurely ended his season last April.

On one play in the first half, Westbrook saw a double-team coming when the Suns' Goran Dragic and Miles Plumlee attempted to trap him in the corner. He exploded along the baseline, planting and cutting on his right leg to break the trap, and then delivered a no-look pass to Durant for a basket.

With less than three minutes to play and the Thunder in the midst of zipping past the competitive Suns -- Phoenix led by as many as seven in the second half but the Suns' bid for a road upset was hurt when Dragic went down with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter -- Westbrook exploded for a coast-to-coast layup by again pushing off the right leg on the drive.

"It could be better. It was all right. But that's expected. I didn't expect to come back and be bionic," he told reporters afterward.

Westbrook being back in the lineup made the Thunder's bench, which has been diagnosed as a possible weakness, look at little more potent. Reggie Jackson moved out of the starting lineup and scored 10 points off the bench. Collectively, the Thunder's reserves scored 35 points in the win.

The Thunder are careful to point out that Westbrook is still in the recovery process. He'll still be taking steps to strengthen his knee and to regain stamina for the foreseeable future. But the work Westbrook put in over the summer, and the slow and steady approach the team took in getting him back -- including not putting off the second procedure -- appears to have put him in position to return in good shape.

"Rehab is a tough process," Westbrook said. "I'm going to continue to rehab throughout the season, before the game, whatever I need to do to stay healthy throughout the year."

Dimes past: October 29 | 30 | 31

2. Around The Association

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.