“And I think that over time, as we work through this period, when Russell does come back and join us, he'll be as good as ever, and I believe the team will be better than the one that he last played with based on the fact that they're going to have to play through some situations that are not necessarily the way that we expected them.”
The good news for the Thunder is this year's schedule starts off on the soft side. The first six opponents failed to make the postseason last year. Some, like Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit and Washington, have improved. Others, like Utah and Phoenix, appear to have gotten worse.
Of the first 15 games, seven of the next nine are considerably more challenging. The Thunder has a road back-to-back against the L.A. Clippers and Golden State and will later host Denver, the Clippers, San Antonio, Golden State and Minnesota.
“We played (nine) games without him,” Durant said of Westbrook. “So we just got to be ready. Guys are going to have to step up and fill that void and we should be in good shape.”
An ESPN.com projection estimated that Westbrook's absence would cost the Thunder two wins in the first 15 games. That could be significant in a Western Conference that last season saw the fifth-seeded Grizzlies separated by only four games from the top-seeded Thunder.
Additionally, whenever Westbrook returns he'll be playing his first real game since April 24. He is expected to take even more time to regain his rhythm and revert to his customary level. That adjustment period could cost the Thunder even more wins.
“The Western Conference is not easy, we understand that,” Brooks said. “But this also gives us an opportunity to embrace that challenge and we have guys who are very competitive and looking forward to doing that.”
Durant reminds that the Thunder has done it before.
“With this now, we done been through about everything,” Durant said. “Nothing new for us. We hang our hats on being resilient. And that's what we have to be now.”