Russell Westbrook to miss at least 27 games

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Russell Westbrook has played in the Thunder’s last 16 games, which seemed like a decent accomplishment for someone who had knee surgery in April and again in October.

Westbrook was supposed to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. Instead, he missed just two games.

It took him a while to hit his stridehe was even a healthy scratch for a game – but lately, he’s started to come around.

That’s what makes this news, from Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, even more surprising

Thunder general manager Sam Presti, via Daily Thunder:

“Russell has been playing pain free, but recently had experienced increased swelling. After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs,” said Sam Presti in a release. “On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.”

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

This is a significant blow to the the Thunder. Even if Westbrook returns the day after the All-Star break, he’ll have missed 27 games, nearly a third of the season.

Though the Thunder are just a half game behind Portland for the Western Conference’s top seed, the Spurs lurk only one game behind Oklahoma City. Plus, the Clippers and Rockets, two teams with key new faces still jelling, are just 4.5 games behind the Thunder.

If Westbrook is fully healthy for the playoffs, the Thunder should be playing at the same level they’d be if Westbrook hadn’t missed time. Their veterans have spent a lot of time together and don’t need to acclimate with each other.

But if Oklahoma City loses homecourt advantage due to this injury, even if just for a round, that could derail the Thunders’ title hopes. The Western Conference so deep at the top, any edge could be crucial.

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Of course, it’s no guarantee Oklahoma cedes ground in the standings. The Thunder’s other four starters have actually formed a better lineup with Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City’s backup point guard, than with Westbrook this season.

With Westbrook:

  • Offensive rating: 97.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.2

With Jackson:

    • Offensive rating: 106.2
    • Defensive rating: 78.4

But Westbrook’s numbers are held back by his early struggles, which seemed to be behind him. And with Jackson starting, Oklahoma City’s bench is losing a valuable contributor.

There’s no way to spin this as anything other than bad news for the Thunder. The only question is how bad.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.