Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook takes a break on the court against the Houston Rockets in the second half of their Game 2 NBA Playoffs basketball game in Oklahoma City.

Russell Westbrook injury throws race in West wide open

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The Oklahoma City Thunder were already no lock to make the NBA finals. They were a slight favorite to make a return trip to the big stage but the Spurs (if healthy, and they are starting to look it) have always been a threat, plus there were the Grizzlies and Clippers as dark horses (just ones beating each other up in the first round).

But with Russell Westbrook out indefinitely to have surgery on a torn left meniscus, the race in the West is wide open. The Thunder are not out of the mix by any means, but they are no longer the frontrunner, either.

We don’t know if Westbrook will be back these playoffs (we will not have a timetable until after the surgery), but he’s certainly out for the second round. How fast he returns will depend on the kind of tear then how they choose to repair it. Look at it this way, Andrew Bynum had his meniscus repaired and missed a season; Metta World Peace did and missed 12 days. Different types of tears, different surgical approaches to the repair (plus Westbrook is more explosive than World Peace so he needs to be more cautious). I would say 4-6 weeks is more likely.

The Thunder and Westbrook need to think long term here — he’s 24 and Oklahoma City’s championship window is a long one. Don’t rush him back for these playoffs.

The Houston Rockets can make this series a little tougher on the Thunder now, but I still see OKC closing this out in five games, maybe six.

It’s the next round when things get interesting — the Grizzlies or the Clippers.

This is particularly true against the Clippers — Westbrook was a +6.9 (per 48 minutes) against the Clippers in their three meetings this season. If this is the matchup, the Thunder could really have used the athleticism of Westbrook to counter and challenge what Chris Paul brings at the point for the Clippers. I like Reggie Jackson, he’s solid, but it’s not the same. Also, the Clippers are a deep team and run a lot of fresh bodies out there, the Thunder will find it hard to cover the massive minutes he plays (Westbrook played the entire second half Wednesday after the injury).

Memphis is a grinding, defense-first team that would make if very tough on  Durant as the Thunder’s first option. Durant will still get his — we’re talking about the best pure scorer in the game today — but he’s going to have to work a lot harder and likely be less efficient. You beat teams like Memphis with your second, third and fourth options and those are less impressive for the Thunder with Westbrook out.

If they reach the conference finals and take on the San Antonio Spurs, again they could have used his athleticism against Tony Parker and to break down a generally stout Spurs defense — he was a +5.9 per 48 minutes against San Antonio this season.

The finals are an entirely different matter, but needless to say the Thunder’s chances against the Heat without Westbrook are slim.

But the Thunder have to get there first, and to do that it’s going to fall on Kevin Durant. He will be the focus of the offense — and the opposing team’s defense — every trip down. He’s a very efficient scorer and an improved playmaker, but he’s going to have to be every bit of that and more for the Thunder to reach their goals without Westbrook in the lineup.

Report: Pelicans to waive Omri Casspi after broken thumb leaves them shorthanded

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  Omri Casspi #18 of the New Orleans Pelicans warms up before a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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In his first game in New Orleans, coach Alvin Gentry threw forward Omri Casspi right into the rotation, and he scored a dozen points.

Casspi also broke his thumb and will be out 4-6 weeks.

Because there is so little time in the season and the Pelicans want to make the playoffs, they have decided to waive Casspi, reports Sams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The idea is to create a roster spot to either grab someone waived by another team over the next few days or to get players on 10-day contracts.

Casspi will be a free agent this summer, and there are a number of teams that think he has real potential once unleashed outside what was going on in Sacramento.

Hawks sign Ryan Kelly, Lamar Patterson to multiyear deals

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 13:  Tobias Harris #34 of the Detroit Pistons defends against a pass to Ryan Kelly #30 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 13, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have signed forward Ryan Kelly and guard Lamar Patterson to multiyear contracts.

Patterson provides depth across the perimeter, including at point guard. He previously signed two 10-day contracts with the team, most recently on Feb. 8. He has averaged 2.3 points in four games.

The 6-foot-11 Kelly has played in nine games with the Hawks after signing Oct. 31.

The Hawks now have their maximum 15 players. They traded forward Mike Scott to the Suns on Thursday, leaving two vacant roster spots.

Kelly and Patterson are expected to be available when the Hawks play Miami on Friday night.

Kevin Durant: Shaq’s constant ripping of JaVale McGee ‘childish’

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Shaquille O'Neal reacts during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 9, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee fired back at Shaquille O’Neal via Twitter after the former star-turned analyst posted on his verified account a disparaging photo of McGee with the words, “America meet Javale “BUM” McGee.”

O’Neal also responded angrily to McGee , saying he would “smack” McGee’s “bum a–.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant backed McGee on Friday, with Durant calling Shaq “childish” while calling out the retired center’s free throw shooting and other flaws in his game during a Hall of Fame NBA career.

Shaq and McGee went back and forth in a heated Twitter spat late Thursday night, when McGee returned to a reserve role for the NBA-best Warriors as starting center Zaza Pachulia returned from an eight-game absence because of a shoulder injury.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey on plan for Warriors: Bury them in an avalanche of threes

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 19: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference announcing the signing of Jeremy Lin at Toyota Center on July 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For a couple of seasons now, teams have tried to beat the Golden State Warriors by making the game ugly — slow, grinding, physical, and the opposite of the free-wheeling game they like. Only one team has had any real success with that strategy, and it has LeBron James on it (and even that wouldn’t have been enough if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself).

So why not beat them at their own game?

That’s what Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey thought when he added Lou Williams to the roster, he said.

There is a sense around the Warriors that the Rockets may be a bigger concern than the Spurs, because Houston can score with them. Don’t confuse that with worry in the Bay Area, they are the best team in the West if healthy, but the Rockets may be the team they face off against in the conference finals.

And if that happens, Lou Williams is going to play a significant role.