This time around, the Thunder has taken a more cautious approach to Russell Westbrook's return.
There's the documented minutes restriction — from 33 per night to around 25 — and the in-game hints. He's been spotted riding a stationary bike while out of the game and doing various knee exercises during timeouts.
“I have to be able to get myself going, get my blood moving, get my legs warm and be ready to get back on the floor,” Westbrook said, adding the injury process “taught me a lot” as far as body maintenance goes.
But from a strict on-court standpoint, this Westbrook return is starting out much like the last one.
In early November, after missing all of training camp and the Thunder's first two games, Westbrook returned for the home opener against the Phoenix Suns.
His athleticism was there but his touch wasn't. He made only five of his 16 shots, committed four turnovers and the Thunder looked average in a narrow win.
Over the next couple of weeks, his play remained spotty and his team failed to find a complete rhythm. They won the majority of their games, including an overtime squeaker over Washington where Westbrook shot 4-of-16 and was ejected, but still seemed a bit off.
But by the end of November, OKC was rolling. And by the start of December, so was Westbrook. In his final 10 games before the latest surgery, Westbrook was averaging 21.9 points, 9.2 assists and 8.3 rebounds. The Thunder's record during that stretch: 9-1.
“He was playing the best basketball of his career,” Kevin Durant said.