Russell Westbrook's front-row seat

This has been a call for Westbrook for years. His athleticism and confidence have made him one of the most dynamic and powerful guards in the league. At times, they've made him a ball hog who can hold back Durant. Now, Westbrook can see it's not just Durant he could share with, but a wealth of developing talent on his team that has come to life in the silver lining that developed when he went down.

Because Westbrook was such an ironman, he hadn't seen this before. He never missed a game and never got to watch what he had while in those fancy suits.

"You don't go into a season preparing for a guy to get hurt," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "I don't know any coach that has done it, especially Russell. He's never missed a game of high school, college or NBA -- never missed a practice."

Brooks, Durant and the rest of the Thunder didn't have a game plan of how to play differently when Westbrook went down last season in the playoffs. They didn't really have one this season, either, as their struggles immediately after his latest surgery showed.

Now, the challenge is to get Westbrook to continue to play with that pedal-to-the-floor style but do so recognizing the whole spectrum of options. Some nights, indeed, the trusty 1-2 punch with him and Durant will be more than enough.

But there is no reason to go backwards now. The Thunder have the best record in the league and are about to get an All-Star back into their lineup. If Westbrook plays it right and the Thunder find the balance they have shown they possess, they could crack the ceiling they've been looking at for the past few seasons.

"This has been a great learning experience for all of us," Durant said. "The best part of our team is that we trust and encourage each other."

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