Suns-Thunder Preview

Things haven’t exactly gone as planned so far for the Oklahoma

City Thunder, who have struggled offensively without their All-Star

point guard.

Those days appear to be over.

Russell Westbrook is returning to the Thunder sooner than

expected, and will be available to play Sunday night against the

Phoenix Suns.

Westbrook hasn’t played since tearing knee cartilage during the

second game of last season’s playoffs. General Manager Sam Presti

said Sunday that Westbrook has met the requirements for his

return.

Westbrook first underwent surgery April 27 and again on Oct. 1

to remove a loose stitch from the first operation.

At the time, the Thunder (1-1) said he would miss the first four

to six weeks of the season. Instead, he missed only two games – a

win at Utah on Wednesday and a 100-81 defeat at Minnesota on

Friday.

The loss was Oklahoma City’s worst since a 111-88 defeat at

Orlando on Feb. 25, 2011.

“Them not having Westbrook, that’s taking away 25 (points),

seven (rebounds) and six (assists) or some crazy number like that,”

Timberwolves star Kevin Love said. “It’s a whole different dynamic

when they have Westbrook on the team.”

The Thunder may be able to bounce back Sunday in what has proved

to be a favorable matchup over the years. Oklahoma City’s 10

straight wins over Phoenix (2-0) have come by an average of 14.8

points, the latest being a 97-69 victory Feb. 10.

The Thunder have won the past two meetings by 29.5 points per

game.

“I’m worried about guys playing hard, competing hard and playing

for your team every time down the court,” coach Scott Brooks said.

“But it’s early. We’ve got a game right around the corner and we’ve

got to play much better.”

Taking down the Suns, though, could prove more difficult this

time around. Phoenix, in its first season under coach Jeff

Hornacek, is off to its best start since opening 4-0 in

2009-10.

After beating Portland 104-91 in their first game Wednesday, the

Suns pulled out an 87-84 victory over the Jazz two nights later on

Eric Bledsoe’s tiebreaking 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left.

Bledsoe, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason,

missed 10 of his first 11 shots before scoring the final 14 points

for Phoenix.

“It feels great,” Bledsoe told the team’s official website. “I

was preparing all summer. All summer I was working and to finally

get this opportunity is a blessing.”

Second-year forward Miles Plumlee has also provided a huge boost

with 31 points, 28 rebounds and six blocks through the first two

games.

Phoenix may need to lean on Bledsoe and Plumlee all the more

with Goran Dragic uncertain to play. Dragic, who scored 26 against

the Trail Blazers, was limited to five and shot 2 of 11 against the

Jazz before exiting in the third quarter with a right face

contusion.

“He just didn’t look right,” Hornacek said.

The Suns have dropped five in a row and six of seven at Oklahoma

City. The Thunder have won their last four home openers.