Russell Westbrook is close to rejoining Kevin Durant in the Thunder lineup
Russell Westbrook is expected to return Thursday night as the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Miami Heat for the second time this season. The Thunder defeated the Heat 112-95 January 29 without the help of Westbrook, and his return would only complicate matters more for the Heat.
The Thunder initially struggled when Westbrook went down earlier this season. In the team’s first 10 games without him starting December 27, the Thunder went 5-5 and averaged 100.4 points per game.
The Thunder won 10 straight following that 5-5 stretch and have won 15 of the last 17 games en route to an NBA best 43-12 (.782) record.
Despite the recent hot streak, Westbrook will be a welcome sight in the lineup. The Thunder have gone 21-4 (.840) this season with Westbrook active, and have averaged 5.5 more points per game when he plays.
Thunder This Season
With/Without Russell Westbrook
Although the Thunder score more with Westbrook in the lineup, his teammate Kevin Durant does not.
Durant has averaged 34.0 points per game this season with Westbrook out compared to 28.6 points per game with Westbrook in the lineup. It might be a dip for Durant, but his scoring average with Westbrook would still lead the NBA this season.
Durant vs James
LeBron James is 13-4 in his career in games against Kevin Durant (including playoffs) but the two have nearly gone point-for-point in their matchups.
Durant has averaged only 0.7 points per game more than James when going head-to-head in the regular season. When the two met earlier this season James scored 34 points to Durant’s 33.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James
Regular Season Head-to-Head
James was the primary defender on Durant for most of the first matchup this season. Although Durant’s average shot was 20.8 feet away from the basket when guarded by James in the game, he still managed to shoot 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) with 23 points on those possessions.
Durant didn’t guard James as frequently on the other end of the floor but was effective when he did. James shot 2 of 6 and scored eight points total against Durant with an average shot 18.3 feet from the basket. When James was guarded by anyone else, he went 10 of 14 with 26 points and an average shot distance of 10.4 feet.
The trip to Oklahoma City is the last of a six-game road trip for the Heat. The Heat have gone 4-1 on the trip so far, with the only loss coming against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz were the only team on the trip with a record outside the top ten in the NBA.
James has been leading the charge for the Heat over the stretch, averaging 31.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.0 assists the last five games.
If the Thunder are able to beat the Heat again, they will be the third team in the “Big 3” era to sweep the Heat in a season series with at least two games played. The previous two, the 2010-11 Mavericks and the 2010-11 Bulls, each met the Heat in the playoffs that year.