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.

Chris Bosh on if he’s working out: “Yes, I’m hooping. I’m a hooper.”

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 25:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat watches on from the bench against the Charlotte Hornets during game four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Chris Bosh wants to play basketball this season. Of that, there is no doubt.

The question is will the Heat let him after he missed the end of the last two seasons due to potentially life-threatening blood clots? If so, will he have minutes or travel restrictions?

Bosh is working out to get ready for the season — he posted a video of it Monday on Snapchat, showing off his handles, and put it this way: Ues, he’s hooping.

The Heat and Bosh need to come to common ground on this before training camp opens. Bosh is on blood thinners for his condition, the team and he need to decide if he can come off them on game days or if there is another protocol that works for everyone.

The Heat would be a vastly better team with Bosh on the court this season, but that didn’t motivate them to bring him back during the playoffs last season (even though he wanted to). Whatever happens, Bosh wants to play.

Former Nuggets coach Bernie Bickerstaff talks when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sat for Anthem

15 Mar 1996: Point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets stands in prayer during the singing of the National Anthem before the Nuggets game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Abdul-Rauf came to an agreement with
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Twenty years before Colin Kaepernick made his stand by sitting for the national anthem during preseason games — something he has every right to do: if we are going to force compliance in our rituals of allegiance how are we different as a nation than the countries we rail against for forced indoctrination? — the NBA had Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

For those that don’t remember, Abdul-Rauf was a good NBA guard and a member of a Denver Nuggets in the mid-1990s. He had converted to being a Muslim during his playing career. As his faith and beliefs grew, he came to view the flag as a symbol of oppression. In the middle of the 1995-96 season, he told the NBA he would no longer stand for the anthem. Everything was kept quiet for a while, but when the PR storm hit it led to a few strange days — the league suspended him at one point — before was a compromise where he would stand for the anthem but pray into his hands during it.

Bernie Bickerstaff was the coach of the Nuggets at the time and went on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday to talk about those days. His first reaction was that of virtually every coach who has heard or talked about Kaepernick.

“Distractions,” Bickerstaff said. “It caused a lot of distractions, and you know at that point the number of media members was not quite as resounding as it is today. But still, it was a distraction.”

Bickerstaff said he was blindsided byAbdul-Rauf’s decision, and he said they scrambled to deal with the fallout. He said he and the brain trust of the team eventually had a meeting with the guard and told him if he wanted to be on the team he had to stand for the anthem.

“We had him come in, to sit down and have a conversation, and the conversation was about, the one thing that we have in this life is freedom of choice, and with that choice comes consequences. And my conversation with him was simply that one of the guys I probably admired most at that time was Muhammad Ali, because not only did he make a decision not to step forward but it was the part of it, the things that he gave up, and our message basically to (Abdul-Rauf) was ‘Hey, that’s the guy I admire. If you really feel that way then you go home, and you give us a call and let us know you’re willing to walk away from that contract, and then I can really, really, respect that…

“When he got home, we got a call and he said ‘I think I want to be on the trip.’ And that’s our understanding, if you’re on the trip, then you’re standing.”

The NBA came in with a more fair compromise.

If this were to happen again with the NBA, it would be interesting to see how Adam Silver would handle this compared to the heavy-handed David Stern.

Bucks re-sign Steve Novak to provide depth, shooting

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 22: Steve Novak #6 of the milwaukee Bucks makes his debut during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 22, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Steve Novak
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Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder waived Steve Novak and as soon as he was a free agent the Milwaukee Bucks jumped in — they wanted his veteran presence and his ability to space the floor as a big with his shooting. That lasted all of three games before he injured his MCL and was done for the season.

Milwaukee is going to give it another shot — they have re-signed Novak for this season, the team announced. Novak was born in Wisconsin and played his college ball at Marquette.

Details of the contract were not announced, but you can be sure it’s for the veteran minimum. This would give the Bucks 15 fully guaranteed contracts heading into training camp, the max they can carry once the season starts.

Novak may get limited run as a backup three or four (behind Mirza Teletovic). At this point, the 33-year-old is a dangerous catch-and-shoot three point threat (7-of-15 from deep last season), but brings little else to the table. He’s a defensive liability, which will limit how much he gets on the court for Kidd. But he fills a need.

Kids, if you’re tall and can shoot the rock, you can get paid for a long time in the NBA.

Warriors confident Kevin Durant will fit in, improve team’s switching defense

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Wesley Johnson #33 of the Los Angeles Clippers has his shot blocked by Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder as Enes Kanter #11 looks on during a 100-99 Thunder win at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Part of the reason Oklahoma City was able to push Golden State so far in the Western Conference Finals was Kevin Durant on defense. He could switch out on the perimeter and use his length to bother Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, and take away their driving lanes. Multiple times in that series he was the guy rotating into the paint to protect the rim and he gave Draymond Green trouble in the paint. Durant is listed as 6’9″ but look at him from this summer standing next to DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan, and you can see he’s more like 7-foot — the most mobile seven-footer in the league.

Which is why the Warriors — who already had a top-five defense the past two seasons — think they have another guy that fits right in with their switching-heavy style and can make them better on that end.

Here is what Warriors’ assistant coach and defensive guru Ron Adams told Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

“His versatility is outstanding,” Ron Adams says of Durant. “He’s a terrific defender, who played with great defensive consistency in our playoff series. We will expect a lot out of him in that regard….

“He can, if necessary, guard all five positions – and do it effectively,” Adams says of Durant, who spent most of the conference finals smothering Warriors forward Draymond Green.

“He’s a really good rim protector, in a non-traditional way,” Kerr says. “When he played the ‘four’ against us in the playoffs, he was brilliant. He blocked some shots and he scored a bunch of times. So he’ll play a lot of ‘four’ for us, for sure.”

You don’t need me to tell you the Warriors are going to be good this season. Hate them and KD if you want, but know they will be a force.

Just remember they are not a team looking just to get in a shootout — the Warriors get stops, too. And that’s not changing.