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Russell Westbrook to miss at least 27 games

Dec 27, 2013, 3:58 PM EDT

Russell Westbrook, Beno Udrih

Russell Westbrook has played in the Thunder’s last 16 games, which seemed like a decent accomplishment for someone who had knee surgery in April and again in October.

Westbrook was supposed to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. Instead, he missed just two games.

It took him a while to hit his stridehe was even a healthy scratch for a game – but lately, he’s started to come around.

That’s what makes this news, from Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, even more surprising

Thunder general manager Sam Presti, via Daily Thunder:

“Russell has been playing pain free, but recently had experienced increased swelling. After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs,” said Sam Presti in a release. “On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.”

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

This is a significant blow to the the Thunder. Even if Westbrook returns the day after the All-Star break, he’ll have missed 27 games, nearly a third of the season.

Though the Thunder are just a half game behind Portland for the Western Conference’s top seed, the Spurs lurk only one game behind Oklahoma City. Plus, the Clippers and Rockets, two teams with key new faces still jelling, are just 4.5 games behind the Thunder.

If Westbrook is fully healthy for the playoffs, the Thunder should be playing at the same level they’d be if Westbrook hadn’t missed time. Their veterans have spent a lot of time together and don’t need to acclimate with each other.

But if Oklahoma City loses homecourt advantage due to this injury, even if just for a round, that could derail the Thunders’ title hopes. The Western Conference so deep at the top, any edge could be crucial.

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Of course, it’s no guarantee Oklahoma cedes ground in the standings. The Thunder’s other four starters have actually formed a better lineup with Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City’s backup point guard, than with Westbrook this season.

With Westbrook:

  • Offensive rating: 97.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.2

With Jackson:

    • Offensive rating: 106.2
    • Defensive rating: 78.4

But Westbrook’s numbers are held back by his early struggles, which seemed to be behind him. And with Jackson starting, Oklahoma City’s bench is losing a valuable contributor.

There’s no way to spin this as anything other than bad news for the Thunder. The only question is how bad.

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