Thunder-Cavaliers Preview

As the Oklahoma City Thunder begin another back-to-back set, coach Scott Brooks may stick to his plan of keeping Russell Westbrook from playing in some of those situations.

With a matchup at Toronto the following evening, the Thunder might decide to rest the star guard Thursday night when they visit a Cleveland Cavaliers team that could be missing what are arguably its top two players.

Brooks hasn’t played Westbrook for more than 31 minutes in the past 11 games since he returned from another knee surgery. The coach also said last week that he would rest the three-time All-Star occasionally in the wake of that procedure – his third since injuring the knee in April during the playoffs.

That was the case last weekend when Westbrook sat out the team’s most lopsided defeat of the season, 109-86 to visiting Dallas on Sunday, before he nearly posted a triple-double in Monday’s 97-85 victory at Chicago. Westbrook ended up with 17 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, though he went 5 of 14 from the field.

The Mavericks and Bulls games were the first of three back-to-backs on the Oklahoma City schedule by next Tuesday. The second begins with a favorable road matchup against the short-handed Cavaliers (26-42) before a visit to first-place Toronto on Friday.

Should Brooks decided to rest Westbrook, the Thunder (49-18) are likely to give Reggie Jackson another start. He’s averaged 14.3 points while helping Oklahoma City win 22 of 31 without Westbrook (21.4 points per game) this season.

Kevin Durant scored 35.0 per game – 3.2 more than his league-high average – during Westbrook’s recent 27-game absence. He also had 30 points against the Mavericks before finishing with 35 and 12 rebounds in Monday’s win.

Durant has scored 25 or more in 32 consecutive games, the longest such streak since Michael Jordan did it in 40 straight in 1986-87.

”I just go out there and … play to win,” Durant said. ”If all that stuff comes with it, then that’s cool.”

The All-Star forward had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while Westbrook scored 24 with nine assists, but the Thunder lost 114-104 at home to the Cavaliers on Feb. 26.

Kyrie Irving led the way with 31 points and nine assists in that game, but the All-Star guard is expected to miss two weeks due to a strained biceps tendon. Cleveland also could be without forward Luol Deng after he missed Tuesday’s 100-96 home loss to Miami because of a sprained ankle.

Jarrett Jack scored 22 points and went 4 of 6 from 3-point range against the Heat, while Dion Waiters added a career-high 11 assists and Anderson Varejao scored 16 with 11 rebounds.

”Our guys hung in there and they competed,” coach Mike Brown said of his injury-ravaged club.

With a 4-9 mark in their last 13, the Cavaliers have fallen six games behind Atlanta for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Now they’ll try to avoid losing four straight at home for the first time all season.

Although Waiters and Varejao missed the first meeting with Oklahoma City due to injury, Jack scored 21 points to help Cleveland win its second in a row in the series.

The Northwest Division-leading Thunder will be missing two starters of their own in Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha on Thursday.

Oklahoma City has dropped six of the last seven meetings in Cleveland.