Rockets’ D’Antoni on Westbrook’s return: ‘He’ll be hard to hold down.’

Houston Rockets James Harden Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets superstar point guard Russell Westbrook has become the biggest beneficiary of the NBA’s three days of inactivity.

The Houston Rockets were noticeably limited heading into their postseason series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they were forced to play without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. The 2016-17 MVP suffered a quadriceps injury, following his last game against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets stormed out to a 2-0 lead, despite being without Westbrook, which defied expectations that they would fold without half of their star backcourt tandem against the Thunder. OKC went on to win their next two games, due in large part to the offensive explosion of Dennis Schroeder, who averaged 29.5 points in those games, compared to 9.5 through the first two.

Schroeder has essentially had a free lane to the basket and has exploited the Rockets’ lack of ability to prevent him from getting to the cup. Part of the issue is that the Rockets haven’t returned fire with fire as it pertains to Schroeder, and haven’t been able to attack him on the defensive end.

All of that is about to change, however, as Westbrook is set to return from his injury to play in Game 5.

NBA source: Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) will play for the #Rockets in game five against OKC.

— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) August 28, 2020

Westbrook’s return to action will help deter Chris Paul and Schroeder, who can’t prevent him from getting to the basket. This means Paul and Schroeder could find themselves in foul trouble, which would force Thunder coach Billy Donovan to be strategic with his rotations.

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Westbrook will also help take some of the load off of James Harden, who has averaged 37.8 minutes per contest through the first four games of the series. Westbrook last played on August 11th, meaning there will have been 18 days between his last appearance and Game 5.

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There wasn’t much information on Westbrook’s injury aside from Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni stating that Westbrook woke up feeling sore following the Rockets’ loss to the Spurs.

Westbrook had been listed as out during each of the Rockets’ first three games of the series against OKC but was upgraded to questionable before Game 5, which was set to take place on Wednesday, August 26th.

That game was officially postponed, as the players united following the unjustified police shooting of Jacob Blake, which nearly ended the 2020 NBA postseason.

The players spent the next 48 hours trying to figure out how to proceed with the rest of the season, which gave Westbrook more time to heal from his quadriceps injury, which was certainly beneficial.

According to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Westbrook was prepared to test his injury and play in Game 5, although we don’t know if he would have been played at 100 percent. But Westbrook participated in a full scrimmage with the Rockets on Thursday, reportedly appeared to be fully healthy and explosive, which goes to show how the days of inactivity worked wonders for him.

During media availability on Friday, Mike D’Antoni answered the question about whether Westbrook will be restricted with minutes in his expected return. “Obviously he’s better,” said D’Antoni. “He’ll go through practice today. Russell will be hard to hold down. I’m sure he’s anxious and ready to roll.

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Russ went from being questionable to being fully explosive within a matter of days, and the only reason he was able to go without playing during those days was because of the strike. With Westbrook now fully healthy, the Houston Rockets could very well regain momentum and look to close out the series within the next two games.