The landscape of the NBA has certainly changed since the first tip-off all the way back in October. Back then Metta World Peace boldly proclaimed that the newly equipped Lakers would rival the Bulls’ record regular season mark of 72-10. Analysts pointed at a healthy Derrick Rose as the only deterrent to the Miami Heat’s second go at a title. Lastly, Rajon Rondo, David Lee and Andrew Bynum were all key factors in their teams’ hunt for an elusive NBA title. Fast forward to today and none of those proclamations came to pass, all largely because of injuries.
And on Friday, the NBA received quite the most shocking casualty due to injury. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was out indefinitely with a right knee injury. Suffering an accidental blow from Patrick Beverley in game two of the Thunder-Rockets series, Westbrook’s knee required surgery and a timetable for his return was ominous. The Thunder will have to march on without their star guard for the first time in franchise history. Westbrook had never missed a game in his entire NBA career—a league-leading regular season streak of 394 consecutive games played.
This is obviously a huge blow to Oklahoma City, and it opens up an unforeseen opportunity for the other teams in the Western Conference. But which teams will benefit the most?
The Los Angeles Clippers claimed their first Pacific Division title this season amid a year where Clippers’ bigs DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin vastly improved their offensive game and Chris Paul continued to shine. If the seedings hold and the two teams meet, the Clippers are now in a better position than ever to pull an upset.
If the underrated but capable Grizzlies can manage to advance, their league leading team defense and the duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can give the Thunder fits as well.
But the team that will benefit the most from Westbrook’s injury is the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were knocked out of the last year’s conference finals by the Thunder and I can’t see another team halting that collision this season. If Westbrook still hasn’t returned, the Spurs are the favorites to advance in my book. With Tim Duncan defying the hands of time and Manu Ginobili back in top notch gear, the Spurs looked nearly flawless in their first round sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers and will use their team orientated style to smother the Durant-heavy OKC team.
Keep an eye out for the Spurs as they silently march their way to perhaps another NBA title. After all, it is an odd-numbered year.