Thunder making sure Westbrook stays healthy
OKLAHOMA CITY – With the Russell Westbrook minutes limitation still in place, the Thunder are essentially admitting they will not be putting a priority on winning the top seed in the Western Conference.
And the Spurs, despite being 3.5 games ahead of Oklahoma City going into Wednesday, may not be putting a priority on it either.
We’ll know for sure about the Thunder’s intentions on Thursday night. We’ll know about San Antonio’s situation then, too.
The Spurs were home Wednesday night against Golden State and a victory would put San Antonio four games ahead of OKC with just seven to play. However, San Antonio coach Greg Popovich has been known to rest starters, especially with his elderly squad. And the fact the Spurs are playing on back-to-back nights might encourage Popovich to rest not rush on the way to the regular-season finish line. Popovich started his regulars against the Warriors which likely means he will sit them against the Thunder.
The Thunder have nine games remaining, including the San Antonio game Thursday, and then at the Rockets on Friday. Any interest in chasing down the Spurs for the top spot would revolve around Westbrook playing, but coach Scott Brooks said Wednesday at practice, nothing has changed.
"It’s always important to win games and put yourself in the best position," Brooks said. "But it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. We want to play good basketball and we want to get healthy."
Westbrook is still on an undisclosed minutes restriction and still will not play in back-to-back games. That means he could miss Thursday’s game against the Spurs or, if he plays Thursday, will certainly not play against the Rockets in Houston Friday. Brooks did concede Westbrook’s minutes have increased a "tad" over the past few games.
But whatever the Thunder decide to do with Westbrook short of playing him throughout both of these next two games, it’s clear OKC is more interested in getting healthy than getting the top seed.
"No. 1, make sure everyone is healthy," Brooks said. "And then just sharpen up. We don’t want to have any slippage."
Well, if the Thunder are wanting to make sure everyone is healthy, they have a lot of work to do. In addition to Westbrook, the Thunder are still without Thabo Sefolosha. Injured for the past month, Sefolosha participated in the early part of practice Wednesday, but is not expected to return until at least next week. Center Kendrick Perkins, out since the first game after the All-Star break, practiced Wednesday. And Brooks said he was still evaluating whether guard Reggie Jackson, out with a back sprain the past two games, would be able to play Thursday against the Spurs.
We know the Thunder are concerned about getting healthy, but one thing that points in the direction of wanting to catch the Spurs is the fact Sefolosha, Perkins and Jackson are going to need to get minutes. And not just minutes, but quality minutes, which means the Thunder will be more likely to win games.
In addition, OKC is just two games up on the Clippers for third place, so the Thunder can’t limp to the finish. OKC still has games left against Houston, the Clippers, the Pacers and, of course, San Antonio. The Thunder will need to go 7-2 at worst, and possibly better, while the Spurts will have to fall apart.
Then again, San Antonio might not care.
We’ll see if the Thunder does come Thursday night.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK