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Russell Westbrook injury throws race in West wide open

Apr 26, 2013, 4:20 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook takes a break on the court against the Houston Rockets in the second half of their Game 2 NBA Playoffs basketball game in Oklahoma City. Reuters

The Oklahoma City Thunder were already no lock to make the NBA finals. They were a slight favorite to make a return trip to the big stage but the Spurs (if healthy, and they are starting to look it) have always been a threat, plus there were the Grizzlies and Clippers as dark horses (just ones beating each other up in the first round).

But with Russell Westbrook out indefinitely to have surgery on a torn left meniscus, the race in the West is wide open. The Thunder are not out of the mix by any means, but they are no longer the frontrunner, either.

We don’t know if Westbrook will be back these playoffs (we will not have a timetable until after the surgery), but he’s certainly out for the second round. How fast he returns will depend on the kind of tear then how they choose to repair it. Look at it this way, Andrew Bynum had his meniscus repaired and missed a season; Metta World Peace did and missed 12 days. Different types of tears, different surgical approaches to the repair (plus Westbrook is more explosive than World Peace so he needs to be more cautious). I would say 4-6 weeks is more likely.

The Thunder and Westbrook need to think long term here — he’s 24 and Oklahoma City’s championship window is a long one. Don’t rush him back for these playoffs.

The Houston Rockets can make this series a little tougher on the Thunder now, but I still see OKC closing this out in five games, maybe six.

It’s the next round when things get interesting — the Grizzlies or the Clippers.

This is particularly true against the Clippers — Westbrook was a +6.9 (per 48 minutes) against the Clippers in their three meetings this season. If this is the matchup, the Thunder could really have used the athleticism of Westbrook to counter and challenge what Chris Paul brings at the point for the Clippers. I like Reggie Jackson, he’s solid, but it’s not the same. Also, the Clippers are a deep team and run a lot of fresh bodies out there, the Thunder will find it hard to cover the massive minutes he plays (Westbrook played the entire second half Wednesday after the injury).

Memphis is a grinding, defense-first team that would make if very tough on  Durant as the Thunder’s first option. Durant will still get his — we’re talking about the best pure scorer in the game today — but he’s going to have to work a lot harder and likely be less efficient. You beat teams like Memphis with your second, third and fourth options and those are less impressive for the Thunder with Westbrook out.

If they reach the conference finals and take on the San Antonio Spurs, again they could have used his athleticism against Tony Parker and to break down a generally stout Spurs defense — he was a +5.9 per 48 minutes against San Antonio this season.

The finals are an entirely different matter, but needless to say the Thunder’s chances against the Heat without Westbrook are slim.

But the Thunder have to get there first, and to do that it’s going to fall on Kevin Durant. He will be the focus of the offense — and the opposing team’s defense — every trip down. He’s a very efficient scorer and an improved playmaker, but he’s going to have to be every bit of that and more for the Thunder to reach their goals without Westbrook in the lineup.

  1. 4thquartermagic - Apr 26, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    No mention of the Nuggets?

    I realize Golden State exposed some weaknesses but Nuggets matchup pretty well against OKC, Spurs, Grizz, and Clippers.

    • dannymac17 - Apr 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      Nuggets are hurting too. Who says they beat the Warriors?

      Nugs are good at home and thats about it.

    • biasedhomer - Apr 26, 2013 at 11:09 PM

      Nuggets are not getting past the second round without Gallinari, their second best player.

      West is wide open between the winner of the Grizz/Clips matchup, the Spurs, and the Thunder.

      The East will be either Knicks or Heat.

  2. pistol7pete - Apr 26, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Good thing they have James Harden…..

    • fanofevilempire - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:25 PM

      good thing they have Fish…………

    • andrewproughcfe - Apr 26, 2013 at 7:13 PM

      Whoops!!

  3. patfic15 - Apr 26, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    They will play better without him.

  4. tyler200829 - Apr 26, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    Thunder won’t lose another game in the series. They will play better with Jackson playing a true point and actually facilitating KD.

    • fanofevilempire - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:28 PM

      Thunder can be beaten by anyone now, you don’t just plug someone
      into point guard @ nba.

      Knickerbockers looking good, now if Wades wheels continue to hurt
      all will be good.

  5. saint1997 - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    Oh wow what a shock that dude never gets injured. I’m actually starting to think it will be the spurs comin out now after beating the clippers in the conference finals

  6. vikes69 - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    i love okc and westbrook, but now this gives durant more shots..they will still easily beat the rockets

  7. mungman69 - Apr 26, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    No one will beat Miami unless LaBron gets hurt.

    • biasedhomer - Apr 26, 2013 at 11:11 PM

      If Bosh or Wade has a playoff ending injury, there are multiple teams that can beat the Heat

  8. losanginsight - Apr 26, 2013 at 8:48 PM

    MWP came back in 12 days. We’ll see if Rus has the same genetilia as D Rose.

    • Kurt Helin - Apr 27, 2013 at 12:07 AM

      Different injury, different surgeries. You can’t compare.

      • badintent - Apr 27, 2013 at 1:12 AM

        TNT half time show reporting that when the knee is opened up , the surgeon can determine at that time if he can shave the bone the same way Metta’s injury was treated. Keep fingers crossed for Russel.

  9. waynegretsky77 - Apr 27, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    lebron would never quit on a team in playoffs how westbrook did. lebron never gets hurt either

  10. waynegretsky77 - Apr 27, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    lebron would never quit on a team in playoffs how westbrook did.

    • compnumbers - Apr 27, 2013 at 5:06 AM

      You think Westbrook quit? What a stupid thing to say. Wayne Gretzky would be quite upset if he knew you were using his name to post such nonsense.

  11. waynegretsky77 - Apr 27, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    westbrook should not have been a smart azz with his coach when he refused to sit out finale. coach new too many minutes would cause him to be constantly hurt

  12. watermelon1 - Apr 27, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    What this injury does, along with the officiating, is basically gift-wrap a second title for lebron.

    SUCK IT UP, RUSSEL! Because nobody wants to see that happen!

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