April 27, 2013

Can the Thunder Still Come Out of the West Minus Russell Westbrook?

By - Jaquan Murphy

The Thunder's rumble may not be as loud the remainder of the playoffs.

On Thursday, Oklahoma City was informed that they have potentially lost All-Star guard Russell Westbrook for the entire postseason with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

Photo by: Sue Ogrocki
The injury occurred in a collision between Westbrook and guard Patrick Beverly during the second quarter of Game 2 in OKC's playoff series with the Houston Rockets. The Thunder front office is hoping that all doctors have to do is trim the tear, which would sideline their star guard for up to 4 to 6 weeks. If they have to stitch the meniscus back together, Westbrook will be inactive for up to two months.

Westbrook's injury means OKC is no longer the clear-cut favorite to come out of the Western Conference. The Thunder shouldn't have much trouble finishing off Houston even with Westbrook on the sideline, but the injury will make the series a little bit closer than it would have been otherwise.

Once OKC gets out of the first round, however, things will get interesting.

If they face the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round, they would have a much better matchup than if they have to take on the Los Angeles Clippers. Mike Conley is not the type of point guard that strikes fear into the hearts of the Thunder. He is more of a facilitator and isn't a real threat to take over games. Granted, he's not to be taken lightly, but moderate defense can hold Conley at bay.

The brunt of the Grizzlies' attack is from their frontcourt, where Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are the two major threats to take over games. But Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are more than capable of holding their own against the Memphis bigs. After Durant, the rest of the Thunder should be able to piece together enough points to get past the Grizzlies and advance to the Western Conference Finals.

On the other hand, if OKC faces the Clippers, the matchup will be a much more daunting task for the Thunder. Westbrook is the only guard on the Oklahoma City roster who has a chance at neutralizing superstar Chris Paul. Without Westbrook, Paul would likely do as he pleases all series long.

The frontcourt matchup of Perkins and Ibaka vs. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would be huge. If the OKC duo can keep the youth and athleticism of Jordan and Griffin in check, that could alleviate at least some of the headache CP3 may cause.

The x-factor of a Clippers-Thunder matchup would be Oklahoma City guard/forward Thabo Sefolosha. Without Westbrook, Sefolosha may get a lot of time guarding Paul, so his defense could be the difference between OKC winning the series or going home disappointed.

And that's just round two. No Westbrook means the Spurs, Nuggets and Warriors all would have a much better chance at knocking off the defending conference champs in a 7-game conference finals.

To their credit, the Thunder have successfully adapted to loss all season. Prior to the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign, James Harden was dealt to the Rockets, yet Oklahoma City still managed to finish with the best record in the West.

Even so, the loss of Westbrook might just be too much to overcome.

For the Thunder to complete their mission of winning a title, they will need some luck drawing matchups favorable to their roster with Westbrook being inactive. They'll also have to depend heavily on exceptional defense from the aforementioned Sefolosha, and a reliable scoring effort from backup guard Kevin Martin.

Many successful franchises pride themselves on the motto, 'Next Man Up.' OKC will have to live by this calling if they hope to make it out of the West this postseason and continue their pursuit of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.


  1. Doesn't matter really because nobody is beating the Heat regardless.

  2. The Knicks can beat the Heat.