The Thunder have lost Kevin Durant. They lost Serge Ibaka. They lost Nick Collison.
And they’re still likely to make the playoffs.
But, up 2.5 games on the Suns and threw games on the Pelicans, Oklahoma City is facing yet another injury-related challenge.
This time, starting shooting guard Andre Roberson is out.
Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:
Kyle Singler will start when the Thunder host the Lakers tonight, and that’s not necessarily a setback for the starting lineup. Singler spaces the floor and handles the ball better than Roberson, though Roberson defends better. It’s a tradeoff in style more than ability.
But if Singler is no longer coming of the bench, Oklahoma City’s bench is weakened. Either Scott Brooks shortens the rotation or gives more chances to Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and/or Steve Novak.
Either way, the pressure remains on Russell Westbrook to carry a huge load. He’s done well so far, but if the Thunder keep losing rotation players, eventually they’ll ask more of their starting point guard than he can deliver.
The door is still open, even just a crack, for Phoenix and New Orleans.
Until Friday, Serge Ibaka had been the only Thunder player to play every game this season.
But he has missed the last two games with soreness in his knee.
Now, it seems Ibaka will join Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as key Oklahoma City players to see extended absences.
Royce Young of ESPN:
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka will undergo a knee procedure to address some persistent soreness, sources told ESPN.com.
It is not clear how long Ibaka will be sidelined following the surgery.
He will see a specialist for further evaluation, with the expectation for him to have a clean-out procedure in order to be ready for the postseason.
The Thunder will be either the most dangerous No. 8 seed of all time or the best team to miss the playoffs. This surgery increases the chances of both.
Oklahoma City is eighth in the Western Conference, just one game ahead of the Pelicans and three games ahead of the Suns.
The Thunder have a deep group of bigs – Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Nick Collison, Mitch McGary and Steve Novak – but none of them provide what Ibaka does, especially defensively. Ibaka – who’s averaging 14.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game – is not a star like Durant and Westbrook, but he’s unquestionably Oklahoma City’s third-best player.
With Durant still out, even more falls on Westbrook now.
Kevin Durant has battled foot troubles all season, since missing the first 17 games of the season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp. When he’s played, he’s played at his usual MVP level, but he’s missed 11 additional games with injuries since returning, and now, he’s run into another setback:
So, this isn’t ideal at all for the Thunder. The bottom of the Western Conference playoff race may just come down to who’s the healthiest, and between Durant’s continued issues and the Pelicans’ Sunday announcement that Anthony Davis will miss a couple of weeks, the most important players are dropping all over the place.
The Thunder currently hold a game-and-a-half lead over the Suns for eighth place in the Western Conference, and while the Suns are fully healthy (knock on wood), they’re currently integrating several new players into their rotation and getting used to life post-Goran Dragic. In the best-case scenario, Durant misses only a week, which includes games against the Nuggets tonight, Pacers Tuesday, and a road back-to-back on Thursday and Friday against the Suns and Blazers. The latter two games are going to be killer, especially the Suns game. Phoenix will be motivated to beat them and potentially overtake them in the playoff race.
The Thunder made moves at the deadline to upgrade their bench, bringing in Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin. They have more depth now than they did a week ago, but the reigning MVP is a huge hole to fill. The bottom line has always been the same: if Durant is healthy, the Thunder are a title contender. If he’s not, they might miss the playoffs. Hopefully he’s not out too much longer. It’s starting to get concerning.