Did the Spurs' road to the Finals just get easier?
APR 26, 2013 1:32p ET
Friday's news that Thunder mega-guard Russell Westbrook is headed for the operating table tips the balance of power in the West playoffs south toward the Alamo. Oklahoma City isn't done, but its title hopes might be.
Westbrook will undergo surgery in the coming days to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The injury occurred in the second quarter of Game 2 against Houston when Patrick Beverley's hip collided with Westbrook's knee.
It wasn't as blatant or dirty as Robert Horry's infamous hip-check of Steve Nash into the scorer's table in 2007, but the impact of Beverley's hip could result in a fifth banner inside AT&T Center.
The Thunder didn't set a timetable for Westbrook's return.
"Our players' health is our first and foremost concern. The Thunder's medical team and several specialists we consulted with determined that Russell undergo a procedure to address the issue," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement. "We have thoroughly discussed this with Russell. Despite being the competitor and teammate that he is, he respects and understands the decision and is committed to come back even stronger.
"Certainly Russell is a leader and core player for this team, but we are in the midst of the playoffs and I know other players are determined to step up and contribute. We have a resilient group of players who have always taken pride in playing as a team and that approach will continue."
The Spurs aren't worried about the Thunder now, not with a series against the Lakers still to win. And once San Antonio is done with the Kobe-less crew, it has got a date with either the Nuggets or Warriors.
But the team from Oklahoma City is always there in the back of the Spurs' minds. That's how it should be, considering the Spurs and Thunder jockeyed for position atop the West all season and came into the playoffs on a collision course to face off in the conference finals.
OKC doesn't lack for talent, and it's no stretch to imagine Kevin Durant rallying the troops past the West semifinals. Thunder coach Scott Brooks can count on Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha picking up their games in Westbrook's absence.
But is it possible to find another 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.77 steals? Those are the numbers the three-time All-Star put up over 82 games this season. Oh yeah, his points, assists and steals ranked inside the NBA top 10.
Good luck with all that Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher.
The Spurs have seen Westbrook's disruptive tendencies firsthand for years. In four games against San Antonio this season, Westbrook averaged 23.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists. Westbrook was also at his best in the last two games of the West finals last season, as OKC rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat San Antonio 4-2 and advance to the NBA Finals.
Like most teams, the Spurs don't have an answer for Westbrook's combination of power and explosiveness. That question won't be asked, barring a medical miracle. San Antonio's path through the West appears easier on paper, if not hardwood, due to injuries across the board.
Kobe Bryant is, of course, a tweeting spectator. The Lakers also lost Steve Blake, while Nash needs an army of needles just to have a chance to play. Looking ahead to the second round, San Antonio would face a Denver squad without Danilo Gallinari or Golden State without David Lee.
Westbrook, though, is the biggie. If this really is the Spurs' last best chance, it's gotten significantly better thanks to another hip.
Follow Art Garcia on Twitter: @ArtGarcia92