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.

Rockets-Thunder Game 3 preview: Russell Westbrook’s injury a series changer

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The Rockets are down, but Russell Westbrook is out.

Westbrook tore his meniscus and will require surgery. He’s out for the rest the Thunder’s first-round series and longer, giving Houston a much better chance of winning games in these playoffs.

But winning the series? That’s still a tall order, especially already down 0-2.

The Thunder’s net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) without Westbrook during the regular season was better than Houston’s overall. It was even better than Houston’s after the Rockets’ mid-season trades, which improved the team.

Still, Westbrook’s injury obviously puts the Thunder in difficult and new territory.

The Thunder’s remaining playoff rotation players (at least so far) – Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher – shared the floor without other teammates for just 278 minutes during the regular season.

Oklahoma City could add another player to its rotation rather than just shrink it to eight, but the Thunder are already using both their backup point guards. Fisher and Jackson often share the court, but now, one or both will have to play more without the other. Some of Oklahoma City’s best and most-used lineups without Westbrook include Hasheem Thabeet, but considering the Rockets found Game 2 success with small ball, giving Thabeet more minutes probably doesn’t make much sense.

No matter how the Thunder adjust their rotation, they’ll have to adjust their offense. Houston has focused on Durant and Westbrook, holding Durant to 43 percent shooting and Westbrook to 41. In turn, Oklahoma City’s other players are shooting 16-for-36 (44.4 percent) on 3-pointers in this series. What happens to those open outside looks when the Rockets have to focus on only one star rather than two?

Durant must step up and carry more of the load.

The Thunder move the ball worse with Fisher and/or Jackson rather Westbrook, so Durant’s one-on-one game becomes more important. During the regular season, Durant took only one more shot per 36 minutes with Westbrook out than with Westbrook in. Durant probably can’t allow his usage to remain so low sans Westbrook, and he can’t wait for Jackson and/or Fisher to set him up.

Iso-Durant isn’t a terrible playoff offense. Everybody hates isolation-heavy offenses, because they’re not fun to watch. But because they do such a great job of limiting turnovers, they’re fairly effective, especially in the playoffs, when there are fewer fastbreak opportunities

Westbrook’s injury might suck some of the aesthetic beauty from this series, but it also makes the series more competitive.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: