LOS ANGELES -- If Russell Westbrook's season debut for the Oklahoma City Thunder comes Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, it could be because of the elixir his own court provided.
Westbrook, who missed Tuesday's season-opening defeat at Golden State as he continues to recover from a minor knee procedure, has been a participant in Thunder practices this week at UCLA. The court the Thunder is using for those practices bears Westbrook's name, after the UCLA product made a sizeable donation to his alma mater.
Westbrook's status for Friday's game remained unknown as of Thursday afternoon.
Oklahoma City might be 0-1, but giving the Warriors fits on their championship ring night this week seemed to confirm that the Thunder's vision of a pesky, defensive-oriented team has already come to fruition, even without Westbrook and guard/forward Andre Roberson.
"We're more than capable of being a top defensive team in the league with what we have right now," Thunder forward Jerami Grant told reporters at practice Wednesday.
It means that a Clippers team that has admitted to being in something of a transition mode will have its hands full. The Clippers themselves are touting a defensive backcourt with Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley, but the issue Friday could be finding enough offense, especially down the stretch.
The Clippers dropped a 107-98 decision after leading late in their season opener Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets. Tobias Harris led Los Angeles with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but the Clippers were outrebounded 56-47.
It does not bode well for the Clippers that the Thunder plans to make rebounding part of their emphasis Friday. If there was a deficiency for Oklahoma City on the defensive end, it was that Golden State hauled down 17 offensive rebounds on Tuesday and the Thunder was outrebounded 58-45 overall.
The Clippers are confident they will be competitive this season, but head coach Doc Rovers knows that finding a fearless scorer to put games away will be key. One did not emerge in the season opener.
"The thing that stood out to me was what I said before the year, can we close games?," Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "(Thursday) we didn't do that. We had a lead, we had to go offense-defense a little bit and then down the stretch we really just didn't get good shots."
The Thunder knows that Westbrook will be their closer down the stretch of games. He was not there against the Warriors and a second-half rally to get Oklahoma City even ultimately went for naught.
Paul George managed to score a team-high 27 points in the opener, despite a substandard first half, and Dennis Schroder had 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists in his OKC debut.
But the Thunder shot just 36.3 percent in the defeat. Westbrook figures to be the answer in that department, not only with drives to the basket but also from the 3-point line, where Oklahoma City shot just 27 percent.
On Friday, the Thunder will be without Roberson, whose knee injury is expected to keep him out of action until January.