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Patience Is The Key For Fully-Loaded Thunder

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Patience is a virtue.

At least that's what we've all been told. But with an 0-2 record since Russell Westbrook's return, some folks are opting for the opposite: panic.

That's the nature of today's society – where you can search the web and find a number of stories, written in just the past few days, about why the Thunder should be worried after two poor performances or even questioning whether Oklahoma City is a better team without Westbrook.

So is there any validity to this?

Oklahoma City went 20-7 in this recent stretch without its All-Star point guard. In other words, OKC won 74 percent of its games.

Impressive.

But it seems so many have forgotten how good the Thunder was when Russ was actually on the court this season. In the 25 games OKC played with Westbrook on the floor (not including these past two), the Thunder was a blistering 21-4. That's 84 percent.

More impressive.

The question regarding the Thunder's status with or without Russ was posed to Chris Bosh during Miami's recent visit to Oklahoma City. Bosh dismissed it quickly.

"Westbrook is an All Star. To say a team is better without an All Star, superstar, whatever you want to call him, is a tough analogy," Bosh explained. "We know what Westbrook brings. They're a better team with him, just plain and simple."

Let's take a closer look at exactly how Oklahoma City performs with Westbrook as opposed to without him.

Team points/game

2012-13 season: 103.7

Past 27 games w/o Russ: 100.9

Team +/-

2012-13 season: +10.6

27 games w/o Russ: +4.8

Team fouls drawn/game

2012-13 season: 18.4

27 games w/o Russ: 14.5

Team free throws/game (Makes/Attempts)

2012-13 season: 19.5/24.3

27 games without Russ: 14.4/17.8

Steals/game

2012-13 season: 8.1

27 games without Russ: 7.1

Those are a lot of the numbers you'd expect to see. Without Westbrook, Oklahoma City simply isn't as aggressive offensively or defensively.

But there's concern nonetheless, and it stems from the rocky start to Westbrook's return. There's no doubt that these past two losses weren't pretty. Oklahoma City's defense allowed 228 points while Russ shot a combined 7-25 from the floor.

So what's the key to a turnaround? Patience.

Here are a few numbers from the past two seasons. The percentages really aren't that different.

Last season, Westbrook shot 32.3 percent from 3-point range, just a smidge above the 31 percent he's hitting this year. Also, Westbrook shot 49.2 percent from inside of 15 feet last season, and he's shooting 47.2 percent on those shots this year. Considering the multiple injuries, those numbers are very encouraging.

"We're just gonna keep getting him better," Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained. "And as the season goes along and as he gets more comfortable, and in game shape, we're gonna see a better Russell every night."

Part of getting better is becoming more comfortable. For Westbrook, that means getting back to taking high-percentage shots. Last season, just 19.9 percent of Westbrook's shot attempts came from 3-point range. In turn, he got to the rim more often, shooting 60.6 percent of his shots from inside 15 feet.

This year, he's been a bit more apt to settle for a jump shot. 24.3 percent of his attempts have come from downtown while just 56.8 percent of his shots are close.

As Russ trusts his health more and becomes more comfortable on the court, expect to see that shot ratio look a little closer to last season's.

Bosh spoke more about Russ, explaining that because a guy like Westbrook isn't used to having to reintroduce himself to the game, so it might take a little time to get back to his previous level.

"He's like the iron man of high school, college and pro ball," Miami's All-Star forward said of Westbrook. "He's not used to missing games."

But Bosh also explained that even though it might take a few games, Thunder fans shouldn't have anything to worry about.

"He's one of those guys that's been playing in the system since he's been here, so I don't see much (issue with) integration."

His coach agrees.

"It's not their first rodeo," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That group has been together for a long time. They've been through guys being in and out. With an inexperienced team it would pose more of a challenge but with that group I don't see it being a challenge."

It might end up a small challenge, but it's one that the Thunder is happy to face.

"Love to have him back," Perry Jones said with a smile. "Missed him, I know he missed us. We're gonna do great things with him."

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