Skip to content

Rockets-Thunder Game 3 preview: Russell Westbrook’s injury a series changer

Apr 27, 2013, 3:59 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 Rockets are down, but Russell Westbrook is out.

Westbrook tore his meniscus and will require surgery. He’s out for the rest the Thunder’s first-round series and longer, giving Houston a much better chance of winning games in these playoffs.

But winning the series? That’s still a tall order, especially already down 0-2.

The Thunder’s net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) without Westbrook during the regular season was better than Houston’s overall. It was even better than Houston’s after the Rockets’ mid-season trades, which improved the team.

Still, Westbrook’s injury obviously puts the Thunder in difficult and new territory.

The Thunder’s remaining playoff rotation players (at least so far) – Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher – shared the floor without other teammates for just 278 minutes during the regular season.

Oklahoma City could add another player to its rotation rather than just shrink it to eight, but the Thunder are already using both their backup point guards. Fisher and Jackson often share the court, but now, one or both will have to play more without the other. Some of Oklahoma City’s best and most-used lineups without Westbrook include Hasheem Thabeet, but considering the Rockets found Game 2 success with small ball, giving Thabeet more minutes probably doesn’t make much sense.

No matter how the Thunder adjust their rotation, they’ll have to adjust their offense. Houston has focused on Durant and Westbrook, holding Durant to 43 percent shooting and Westbrook to 41. In turn, Oklahoma City’s other players are shooting 16-for-36 (44.4 percent) on 3-pointers in this series. What happens to those open outside looks when the Rockets have to focus on only one star rather than two?

Durant must step up and carry more of the load.

The Thunder move the ball worse with Fisher and/or Jackson rather Westbrook, so Durant’s one-on-one game becomes more important. During the regular season, Durant took only one more shot per 36 minutes with Westbrook out than with Westbrook in. Durant probably can’t allow his usage to remain so low sans Westbrook, and he can’t wait for Jackson and/or Fisher to set him up.

Iso-Durant isn’t a terrible playoff offense. Everybody hates isolation-heavy offenses, because they’re not fun to watch. But because they do such a great job of limiting turnovers, they’re fairly effective, especially in the playoffs, when there are fewer fastbreak opportunities

Westbrook’s injury might suck some of the aesthetic beauty from this series, but it also makes the series more competitive.

Latest Posts
  1. Stan Van Gundy: ‘Absolutely no chance’ Magic induct him into team Hall of Fame

    Mar 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Stan Van Gundy Stan Van Gundy

    Van Gundy coached five seasons in Orlando, but was fired after the way the Dwight Howard debacle played out.

  2. Warriors coach Steve Kerr: ‘I would vote for Russell Westbrook’ for MVP

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets Getty Images

    Kerr was joking, and making light of a mini-controversy that occurred recently with the Cavaliers.

  3. Earl Clark signs 10-day contract with Nets, contributes to win over Cavaliers

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Getty Images

    Clark played key bench minutes the same day he was signed.

  4. Stephen Curry scores 38 in Warriors’ blowout win over Grizzlies (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT

    Stephen Curry AP

    Warriors keep rolling, while the Grizzlies are starting to feel like a first round loss.

  5. Kevin Love finds LeBron James for huge alley-oop slam (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    LeBron James AP

    Highlight-reel play came near the end of a loss to the Nets.

  6. LeBron after Cavaliers fall to Nets: ‘You don’t chalk up losses’

    Mar 27, 2015, 11:44 PM EDT

    LeBron James AP

    LeBron refused to be dismissive of a seemingly harmless regular season loss.

  7. Shaquille O’Neal says he regrets leaving Magic for Lakers

    Mar 27, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    Orlando Magic add Shaquille O'Neal to team's Hall of Fame Getty Images

    O’Neal made the remarks while being inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame.

  8. Draymond Green launches “It’s cool Glen” line of T-shirts in latest banter between him, Doc Rivers

    Mar 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    b2644bf0-d4c9-11e4-bb85-27743e449672_csg

    The battle between Green and Doc Rivers continues in the funniest of ways.

  9. Cavaliers coach David Blatt: ‘LeBron James is our MVP’

    Mar 27, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT

    Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game 1 Getty Images

    Blatt knows James is unlikely to get the league-wide award this season.

  10. No Durant, what does that mean for Thunder in these playoffs? Trouble.

    Mar 27, 2015, 6:12 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

    The Thunder defense has become a mess, which is bad for the playoffs.

  11. Report: UNLV freshman guard Rashad Vaughn to enter NBA draft; Vaughn denies it

    Mar 27, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT

    San Jose State v UNLV Getty Images

    He is likely a middle second round pick if he comes out.

  12. Blake Griffin nails impression of Austin Rivers (VIDEO)

    Mar 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks Getty Images

    It’s pretty spot on. And cold-blooded.

  13. Kevin Durant to have third foot surgery; is done for season, playoffs

    Mar 27, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Kevin Durant Kevin Durant

    He should be back next season, the final one of this contract with Oklahoma City.

  14. High praise: Bob Cousy says Hassan Whiteside reminds him of Bill Russell

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT

    Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

    Cousey said not Shaq, not Ewing, nobody reminded him of Russell like Whiteside.

  15. Report: Salary cap could rise to $105 million in 2017-18

    Mar 27, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT

    AP Money Found AP

    As everyone braces for 2016 spike, another big bump could follow

Featured video

Where does Steve Nash rank all-time?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Durant (6415)
  2. K. Lowry (6035)
  3. L. Aldridge (5960)
  4. R. Rubio (5945)
  5. N. Batum (5499)
  1. G. Monroe (5443)
  2. P. George (5350)
  3. G. Hayward (5277)
  4. D. Rose (5272)
  5. A. Shved (5272)