Russell Westbrook sharp in season debut, but Thunder lose to Kings

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Returning from mid-September knee surgery with no obvious signs of rust, Russell Westbrook's season debut couldn't have gone much better. Except for the losing part, which was striking not only in which team it happened against but also in how it happened.

Westbrook finished with 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting, plus 12 rebounds and eight assists, but the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Sacramento Kings 131-120 Sunday, dropping to 0-3.

"It was OK. Wasn't my best night," Westbrook said of how he felt. "But I've got I don't know how many games left to play. Not worried. It was my first time. I just hate losing, honestly. I don't really care to talk about how I played."

Westbrook came out of the gates looking very much like himself, ripping down a defensive rebound in the first few seconds and setting up Paul George for an open 3 shortly after. Westbrook dove on the floor -- and into the seats -- for loose balls and played with his trademark energy and intensity.

"Almost notched a triple-double. I'd say that's pretty Russ to me," said George, who finished with 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting. "He looked comfortable, he looked midseason form, and he just looked good energy-wise. He was able to play both ends, run the floor and manipulate the game."

Westbrook underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Sept. 12. In the past week, he ramped up the intensity of his workouts and started contact practice and drills. He went through a workout Sunday before the game and, in tandem with the medical staff, made the decision to play.

"I never take this game for granted, always blessed and very thankful to the man above for allowing me to go out and play," Westbrook said. "That's my main thing -- always going out and giving everything I have."

This is the first time the Thunder have started 0-3 in the Oklahoma City era. Two of the games were without Westbrook, but with him back Sunday -- against the Kings -- there was an expectation that the Thunder would get back on track. But with some glaring defensive breakdowns, woeful shooting from deep (9-of-39 from 3) and hot shooting by the Kings, the Thunder find themselves in an awkward place one week into the season.

"If we could snap our fingers and change it right away, it'll happen," George said of the Thunder's early struggles. "It just comes down to us grinding and scratching and taking these losses and trying to get better. Take [these] practice days and try to get better. That's it."

There was an offseason emphasis on playing faster and increasing their movement and spacing. While signs of that certainly showed, the Thunder have shot the ball poorly. In their three games, they're just 26-of-109 overall from 3 (23.8 percent). It's a positive sign for the Thunder that they produced 23 team assists against the Kings, in spite of their poor shooting. Westbrook contributed only eight assists, which means the team as a whole was distributing more. In recent seasons, the Thunder's assist total was largely tied to Westbrook creating almost everything.

"I really liked the way we played offensively tonight, in terms of the way we moved the basketball, the shots we were getting," coach Billy Donovan said. "I think if you look at the fact what we shot from the 3-point line, what we shot from the free throw line and turned it over 18 times, and we still scored 120, to me that's an indication that we were really moving the basketball."

The Thunder have three days off, and then it doesn't get any easier, with the Celtics coming to OKC on Thursday.