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Is Enes Kanter close to returning?

Dec 14, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) reacts during the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 109-89. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star game in the rearview mirror, the Oklahoma City Thunder set their sights to the unofficial second half of the season.

The next seven games set up with for the current seventh seed in the West. With the way the Thunder were playing leading up to the annual mid-season break, a soft schedule could work well into Oklahoma City’s fortune.

All this is a blessing, considering the Thunder could very well be seeing their star reserve return. Perhaps sooner rather than later.

Reports of Enes Kanter knowing his return date have trickled out over the last few weeks from The Oklahoman‘s Erik Horne and The Norman Transcript‘s Fred Katz. This comes as great news considering the early predictions that suggested Kanter’s 2016-17 year could have ended with the chair smash.

When the Thunder take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at the Chesapeake Arena, it will be four weeks to the day when the franchise announced Kanter’s successful surgery and four week reevaluation.

At this point, to expect Kanter back Friday or shortly after is still a tad too optimistic. While Oklahoma City would certainly benefit from the Turkish big man returning to the rotation, the Thunder’s schedule may afford the team more time to be cautious with Kanter.

When the Thunder returned to practice on Wednesday, Kanter was participating in what was described as a non-contact, heavy conditioning practice.

“He’s been cleared to practice,” Billy Donovan said earlier today at practice. “Enes doesn’t have a problem shooting.”

Donovan elaborated on Kanter’s status in the short term.

“As it relates to Friday, it will be more of a medical decision, so I don’t wan’t to say he is in or out,” Donovan shared.

This comes as welcome news for Oklahoma City.

Back in the Thunder’s January road-dog schedule, Oklahoma City went 7-6 with Kanter. That stretch included road games at Golden State, Houston, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Utah. From Kanter’s first missed game against Cleveland on January 29th to now, the Thunder’s record was 4-6 — a more home friendly schedule but two meetings against the Cavaliers, road game against San Antonio and Kevin Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

While the schedule grew favorable with more home games in Kanter’s absence, the opponents were much tougher than the January slate.

Why is it okay to be excited to expect Kanter to not only return at some point this season, but make an impact with the team as they close out the regular season? The recent news about Kanter being cleared to practice shouldn’t be shocking.

If you have been listening to the Peake & Roll Podcast — if you haven’t, shame on you. Subscribe and listen here! — then you may have heard a little anecdote concerning the injured Kanter on episode 14.

The week of the Golden State game in Oklahoma City, two weeks after the surgery, Kanter was seen walking around the practice facility in full practice jersey garb and no cast on his arm. He was moving in a way that made it seem he did not want to be seen by the media, as he waited to walk on the floor after a player was made available for questions — backs turned to the court, before he quickly walked down a corridor.

This could be a case of looking to much into a common occurrence, but it was an odd sight to behold considering no one expected to see Kanter until after the All-Star break.

At 32-25, Oklahoma City finds itself a mere three games back from the fourth seed. There are 25 games remaining, with eight of those being against teams with winning record — the fewest in the NBA per The Oklahoman‘s Brett Dawson. Even if the Thunder decide to remain on the cautious side concerning Kanter’s injury and save him for the postseason at the latest, its no pipe dream that the Thunder could gain some ground without him.

But all things considered, it may be okay to expect to see the mustached big back soon. Only Kanter knows, as he shared with reporters with his trademark grin.

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