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NBA PM: Can Durant, Westbrook Save Thunder?

With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing together for the first time this season tonight, OKC has high hopes.

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Can Durant, Westbrook Save Thunder?

For the first time this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder will take the floor with their two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, active and on the floor. Westbrook made his return from a hand injury in electrifying fashion while defeating the New York Knicks on Friday and now Durant is set to join him after missing the last six weeks with a Jones fracture in his right foot.

“I’m just excited to get back out there with my teammates,” Durant said, according to Royce Young of ESPN. “It’s been a long six and a half weeks just trying to get better and get my foot right. The training staff did a great job, so I’m just looking forward to playing tonight.

“I know it’s going to be a little bit different for me not having played and then going out there and playing the highest level of basketball. But I’m looking forward to going out there and seeing where I am and playing as hard as I can for my team.”

The outlook on the Thunder will change completely if Durant can come back and be even close to as effective as Westbrook was in his return. Westbrook torched the Knicks to the tune of 32 points (12-17 from the field, 3-4 from three, 5-7 from the free throw line), seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes.

As all teams would, the Thunder floundered without their leaders, going just 4-12 with Westbrook and Durant sidelined. They’re currently just a game out of last place in the West and 4.5 games behind the eighth place Phoenix Suns for the final playoff spot. Their injury woes were compounded by Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, Mitch McGary and Anthony Morrow missing action as well due to ailments of their own. Because of the hole that they are in now, the Thunder really cannot afford for their stars to miss any more time, making it vitally important that head coach Scott Brooks doesn’t overload them early on.

“I have to be able to manage it,” Brooks said. “You go in to every game thinking you have so many minutes and I have to structure the game plan around that.”

Westbrook certainly didn’t look like a guy who was holding anything back against the Knicks, and Durant has no plans of easing his way back into things either. He also wants to get back to producing at a high level right away.

“Nobody held their heads. Nobody said we’re going to just wait until Russell and KD comes back,” Durant said. “We wanted to win all those games and that showed how much they care and how much they love to play the game. They didn’t make any excuses. So tonight I’ve got to come out there and play as hard as they’ve been playing the last month or so.

“I know the coaches and my teammates are going to be happy I’m off the bench screaming in their ear all game. It should be fun.”

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks clinched the eighth seed with a 49-33 record. If the standings hold true the rest of the way and every team maintains their currentl level of play, the Suns would be the eighth seed with a 42-40 record, but we all know there’s no chance things will stay the same over the next five months.

However, that does set the range that the Thunder need to shoot for. Anything less than 45 wins is probably going to relegate them to the lottery and waste one of Durant’s final two seasons before he can hit the free agent market as one of the most coveted players ever in the history of the game. If they can manage to win 49 games, their chances of sneaking in are pretty strong. That would require them going 44-21 the rest of the way – a tough feat, but certainly possible as long as Durant and Westbrook miss minimal time the rest of the way.

LeBron Weary of Hosting All-Star Weekend in Cleveland

The city of Cleveland has put in a bid to host the 2018 NBA All-Star game. Cleveland has often been regarded as one of the “less attractive” markets in the NBA, but the city has been rejuvenated by the return of LeBron James and addition of Kevin Love to a team that already featured Kyrie Irving. Being able to host an All-Star game would be one of the ultimate signs of how much the perception of the city has improved, but the catalyst behind their new-found relevance is a little bit hesitant about the idea of hosting the NBA’s midseason classic.

“It would be too much to me,” James said to David McMenamin of ESPN. “It would be too much for me. I think it would be great for us to host it, but hopefully I’m no good in that year if we get it.

“I don’t want it. My family, friends – I don’t want it. Too much.”

For faces of the league like James, All-Star weekend is really tolling and demanding. It gives most of the league time off and an opportunity for rest, but for James, even outside of his home market, it’s a busy weekend that can hardly be classified as a vacation. If it were in Cleveland, James may not even get a second to rest his eyes.

It’s important to note that James was talking tongue in cheek and not truly opposed to the idea of Cleveland serving as hosts in 2018. The team did feel the need to come out and officially state that he was joking, though, in fear that James’ comments could dominate the headlines more than the city’s growth into a viable location for the event.

On the bright side, they did have to feel a bit relieved that he’s talking like he’s going to be there in 2018. Of course, it’s widely assumed that James is going to finish his career in Cleveland, but he is currently inked to a short-term deal that he can get out of at the end of the season. A lot can happen between now and 2018, but comments like this show that James isn’t thinking about the possibility of leaving at all.

All-Star weekend is currently booked through 2016. This year it will be co-hosted by the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Next year it will be in Toronto.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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