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Return of Russell Westbrook could be a game changer for his Rockets

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July 31, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with James Harden #13 after defeating the Dallas Mavericks 153-149 during overtime at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 31, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets will resume their first-round NBA Playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday after a delay of three days due to the league-wide boycott.

Focusing on actual basketball for the first time in a while, the series will resume with it tied at two games a piece. For Houston, a first-round loss would be nothing short of a disaster.

Though, the team now has some good news on this front.

Russell Westbrook slated to return from injury for Game 5

The former NBA MVP originally suffered a quad injury back in early August. He was forced from four of the Rockets’ final five-regular season games on campus at Walt Disney World. Houston boasted a 2-2 record in those four games.

Will Russell Westbrook’s return save the Rockets’ season?

Houston’s brass noted ahead of the 2019-20 season resuming that it’s championship or bust. Being tied at 2-2 in a first-round series against the upstart Thunder can’t be seen as a great thing.

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In addition to head coach Mike D’Antoni being on the hot seat, there’s a chance that the Rockets blow this entire thing up should they disappoint in the playoffs once again. That’s where Westbrook’s return acts as one final opportunity for this current iteration of the team to prove skeptics wrong.

Houston boasted a mere 8-7 record in the 15 games Westbrook did not suit up in during the regular season. The team was 36-21 in the games he played in.

There’s obvious reasons for this. Harden doesn’t have to go all hero ball when Russ is acting as a No. 2 scoring option and, more imporantly, the field general. Here’s a guy who went for 30 points or more 22 times during the regular year. Not surprisingly, the Rockets were only 13-9 in those games. But when Westbrook tallied double-digit assists, the Rockets posted a 10-3 record.

This is a clear indication that Westbrook’s ball distribution is more important to the Rockets’ success than his scoring. Given Harden’s ability to drop 50 on any given night, that’s magnified further.

Not only does Houston need to get out of the first round, it must go deep into the playoffs to both save D’Antoni’s job and offer owner Tilman Fertitta an alternative to blowing this entire thing up.

That process starts Saturday with Westbrook making his return to the court.