The last time Russell Westbrook played in Oklahoma City, things were the same as they ever were for him.
Westbrook got wild ovations before and after the game from a packed-in crowd, he had a big game and the Oklahoma City Thunder came away with a win.
That was more than 15 months ago, Westbrook’s lone trip to Oklahoma City with the Houston Rockets.
Friday, he returns to the arena where he starred for the first 11 seasons of his career for just the second time as a visitor when Westbrook’s Washington Wizards take on the Thunder.
Things will be plenty different this time.
There will be no fans to give him standing ovations, as Oklahoma City is one of a dwindling number of teams in the NBA that has yet to welcome fans this season.
And the Thunder are struggling in a way they haven’t since Westbrook’s rookie season in 2008-09 when they started 1-16 before beginning to build toward success with Westbrook and Kevin Durant leading the way.
Oklahoma City (20-39) comes into Friday’s game having lost 12 consecutive games.
The Wizards (25-33) are on a roll, though, winning a season-high six consecutive games and eight of their last nine to move into position for one of the play-in spots in the Eastern Conference.
Westbrook has been a big reason why, with three consecutive triple-doubles and nine in the last 10 games.
“He had a lot of incredible moments (there),” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who coached the Thunder from early in Westbrook’s rookie year until 2015. “He doesn’t ever let the moment bother him. There’s no moment bigger than his mindset. That’s what he’s instilling in all of us.
“Russell’s a big-time winner.”
Westbrook is eight triple-doubles from tying Oscar Robertson’s NBA record 181.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault was in the organization for much of Westbrook’s run and said his imprint is still on the team, although no one on the current roster played with Westbrook.
“He laid a lot of groundwork in this organization that we appreciate and respect the hell out of,” Daigneault said.
In Monday’s 119-107 Wizards win in the only other meeting of the season between the teams, Daigneault put second-year forward Darius Bazley on Westbrook most of the time.
Bazley figures to draw that assignment again, especially if Luguentz Dort doesn’t return after missing the last two games with a right hip strain.
“Just trying to get him to take contested jump shots, whether it’s from the mid-range or the 3,” Bazley said after scoring a career-high 26 points and helping hold Westbrook to 5-of-18 shooting — although Westbrook did have 17 assists. “He thrives in transition.”
The Wizards will be without rookie forward Deni Avdija for an extended amount of time after he suffered an ankle injury in Wednesday’s win over Golden State. ESPN reported Avdija fractured his right ankle and would miss the rest of the season.
It’s yet another frontcourt injury for Washington, who is already without Thomas Bryant after the starting center tore his ACL. Another forward, Rui Hachimura, has missed the last two games with left knee soreness.
–Field Level Media