Thabo Sefolosha went through a portion of the Thunder's practice Monday, and coach Scott Brooks said his shooting guard “looked good.”
There is still no firm timeline on when Sefolosha will return to the lineup. He's missed 22 straight games with what the team is calling right foot soreness. All signs, however, point to Sefolosha getting closer and closer to a return.
“We'll see how he feels (Tuesday) and we'll go from there,” Brooks said.
Sefolosha hasn't played since Jan. 27 at Golden State. The nagging injury knocked him out of the second half that night against the Warriors. Monday was Sefolosha's first practice since Jan. 24.
“We're just going slowly because this is our first practice in a long time and it's his first practice in a long time,” Brooks said. “We didn't want to put him through an entire practice. But he went through a portion of it and looked good.”
Because of the lengthy hiatus, Brooks said Sefolosha naturally will be rusty when returns to the lineup. But Brooks also said Sefolosha has maintained his conditioning as best he can while out.
“Our guys do a great job of keeping our guys in shape,” Brooks said. “But there's nothing like on-court practice conditioning. And the next step is game conditioning. He doesn't have that, but it's going to come fairly quick. But they did everything that they could possibly do to keep his conditioning (up).
“It's always good to see him on the floor. He does so many good things for us defensively that he's going to be important moving forward.”
Sefolosha was seen working with assistant Maurice Cheeks after practice Monday, shooting catch-and-shoot 3-pointers from various spots. Sefolosha made a ton of shots and didn't seem to have any trouble jumping. Thunder guard James Harden said it's good to have Sefolosha back.
“It seems like it's been forever,” Harden said. “He came in with that energy, that defensive presence and really got after it…”
DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME
Under normal circumstances, the Thunder would just now be at the halfway point in the season. But because of the lockout-shortened season, instead of another 41 games the Thunder has only 25 games remaining.
And now is the time to get serious.
“I think this last part of the season we want to finish strong,” Harden said. “We want to find our groove and who we are; build that defensive chemistry up in finishing these 25 games off. …Going into the playoffs, (we want to) just get into a groove and get in sync to where everybody's on a roll and everybody's clicking and we're playing as one. These 25 games are really going to help us.”
HARDEN HOT AND HAPPY
After not reaching the 30-point plateau in his first 2 1/2 seasons, Harden recorded a career-high twice in four days last week when he scored 30 points against Phoenix before pumping in 33 points against Charlotte.
“It's a great feeling,” Harden said. “I made some shots. I hadn't had 30 since I've been in the NBA and just to have it one time felt great…I'm just in a groove right now in terms of making shots and getting to the rim. Hopefully I can stay in that and hopefully we can continue to win games.”
Harden is averaging 19.5 points on 56.9 percent shooting in six games this month, currently the highest totals of his career for any one month.
WESTBROOK SIGNS WITH U.S. CELLULAR
Russell Westbrook has signed a sponsorship deal with the U.S. Cellular, the Chicago-based wireless telecommunications company.
Westbrook and U.S. Cellular have entered into a two-year partnership in which Westbrook will serve as a spokesman for the company while also taking part in interactive experiences with fans.
Fans can now visit any U.S. Cellular location statewide to register to win tickets to watch a Thunder game from the U.S. Cellular loft inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, as well as participate in a shoot-around with Westbrook at the April 8 home game against Toronto.
Exclusive photos and videos from Westbrook also will be posted. Fans can keep track of Westbrook and get updates from the two-time All-Star when the team is at home and on the road.
“I'm excited to partner with U.S. Cellular and connect with fans of all ages,” Westbrook said in a statement. “I'm looking forward to interacting with fans and sharing a behind-the-scenes look at my life.”
Brooks said he hasn't made up his mind on which team he'll pick to win it all in this year's NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship.
“I'll get with you guys Thursday,” he said.
Harden, meanwhile, is staying away from No. 1 seeds.
“I'm not going to say Syracuse or Kentucky,” Harden said. “I'm going to say maybe like Missouri or Michigan State or somebody. Somebody that people don't expect to win.”
As for reserve center Nazr Mohammed, of course he's going with his alma mater and the No. 1 overall-seeded Kentucky Wildcats.
“If you have to ask me, you don't know me,” Mohammed quipped.
Brooks said the Thunder had a couple of four-minute, five-on-five scrimmages for the first time in a long time at Monday's practice. The team also worked on defensive schemes, ball movement and screen setting, Brooks said…Westbrook has been held out of practices since spraining his left ankle on March 1 at Orlando. Brooks, however, said Monday that “he's pretty close to starting to come back.”…Rockets starting point guard Kyle Lowry will miss two to four weeks with a bacterial infection.
The Thunder will face Houston inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday. It will be the fourth and final meeting between the Thunder and Rockets. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.