Apr 26, 2013, 4:20 PM EST
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.
Mar 6, 2015, 3:10 AM EST
Westbrook is still a machine
Mar 6, 2015, 12:53 AM EST
This hurts the Blazers guard depth.
LeBron James after receiving two flagrant fouls in his last three games: ‘Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more’
Mar 6, 2015, 12:00 AM EST
James hints at retaliation.
Mar 5, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Pacers’ David West made the assertion after Denver fired head coach Brian Shaw.
Mar 5, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
Ibaka comes up with a massive rejection.
Mar 5, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
Gasol is too skilled.
Mar 5, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
We all saw it at the time, but the league confirmed the missed call the next day.
Mar 5, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Hamilton was a piece in the Goran Dragic trade.
Mar 5, 2015, 6:15 PM EST
Dragic has praise for the Suns organization.
Mar 5, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
The NBA wants to raise it to 20.
Mar 5, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
Westbrook has had four consecutive triple-doubles.
Steve Kerr on MVP race: “If Daryl Morey wants to run his own one-man campaign for James Harden, he can do that”
Mar 5, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Kerr hasn’t been publicly lobbying for Curry.
Mar 5, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Recapping a month-long Nike Basketball training experience, which featured workouts run by Tim Grover, Jerry Powell and Idan Ravin — who have trained guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Also includes performance reviews of Nike’s latest basketball shoes.
Mar 5, 2015, 2:31 PM EST
Dispute reportedly over terms of second season
Mar 5, 2015, 1:36 PM EST
Sager will be on the sidelines for Thursday night’s Bulls-Thunder matchup.
Mar 5, 2015, 1:26 PM EST
Bulls guard pledges money to school
Mar 5, 2015, 12:53 PM EST
Warriors guard shows up Bucks
Mar 5, 2015, 12:11 PM EST
Nine players have ended a day leading the NBA in points per game this season
Mar 5, 2015, 11:41 AM EST
Suns wing might be NBA’s best dunker
Mar 5, 2015, 11:04 AM EST
Chris Paul frantically tries to get Jordan’s attention
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- Craig Sager makes long-awaited return to TNT after 11-month battle with leukemia 7
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Masked Russell Westbrook just needs a cape 20
- George Karl: Knicks could use a strong point guard next to Carmelo Anthony 14
- Ray Allen announces he will not play this season 14
- Pelicans’ Anthony Davis a gametime decision Wednesday vs. Pistons 1