Things just got very, very interesting in the Western Conference Playoffs. Oklahoma City All NBA point guard Russell Westbrook is undergoing knee surgery for a torn meniscus and will be out indefinitely. The Thunder, who have enjoyed unheard of health not just this season but for several seasons, had the best record in the West and appeared to be the odds-on favorite to advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. Without Westbrook, one of the two mega-stars that make them a mega-team, the West is now wide open -- depending on when he might return. No timeline has been given for his return at this point.
How will the Thunder respond without Westbrook? Well, no one has any idea, because it has never happened. Westbrook had the longest active consecutive games streak in the NBA before this injury, and had never missed a game as a pro. In fact, he never missed a game in college or high school either. All of the talk of him being indestructible was silly of course -- he had a remarkable run of good health, but injuries can happen to anyone. Of course this is truly terrible timing -- in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs during a year when the team hoped it might take the next step and win a championship after falling in the Finals last year.
The biggest beneficiaries of this bit of bad fortune for the Thunder could be the Clippers, who will face Oklahoma City in the first round assuming L.A. gets past the Grizzlies (the Clippers lead their series 2-1). Or maybe it's Miami who benefits most -- the Heat have been looking like an unstoppable force for awhile now, and the team most likely to challenge them has just suffered a major loss.
The torn meniscus occurred in Game 2 against the Houston Rockets when Patrick Beverley collided with Westbrook's knee on an attempted steal. Those who thought it was a dirty play at the time (Westbrook was headed to the sideline to call a timeout) will be up in arms now, but it's just one of those things. The good news for Westbrook and the Thunder is that it's just the meniscus and not a support element in the knee like an ACL or MCL.
There might be other good news in Metta World Peace. When MWP suffered a torn meniscus in late March, he was expected to miss six weeks after his surgery. Instead, he was back with the Lakers in just 12 days. That's by no means normal, but Westbrook has proven to be an incredible durable player who has played through plenty of pain in his career -- if there's another player who can defy the standard timeline like Metta, it might very well be Westbrook.
The Thunder may have there hands full in the meantime with the Rockets. Westbrook has always played a lot of minutes and carries a large portion of the scoring load in OKC. Without him, Kevin Durant will have to do even more than he already does, and players like Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson will have to step up on offense as well. The real question is Jackson -- the second year point guard has made great strides this season, but how will he handle starting in the playoffs?