If you haven’t heard the news, Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook is out indefinitely due to a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered in Game 2 of their first round series after Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverly inadvertedly ran into Russ’ leg on an attempted steal.
And as tragic as it is to see another superstar go down with an injury (Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, etc), the path to the Western Conference may have just gotten a bit easier for the Los Angeles Clippers if they can escape the first round of the playoffs unscathed. And truth be told: If they can’t make it to the Western Conference after this event, it’ll likely never happen.
In three games this season, Russell Westbrook has averaged 26 points, 8.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting (46 percent from three) while the Thunder went 3-0 over Los Angeles on the season. Only in two of those games did Chris Paul play, but when he did match up against Westbrook he struggled due to Russ’ aggressive defense.
A second round series between the Clippers and Thunder obviously favored the Thunder, but with little or no Westbrook, the favors swing towards the Clips unless Vinny Del Negro decides to forget how to properly coach a basketball team. Playing Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher against Chris Paul isn’t nearly as effective as Westbrook would be. The proper matchup would be placing Thabo Sefalosha unto Paul since he seldom struggles against bigger defenders, but the overall impact of Westbrook’s absence can’t be made up on the on the defensive end.
There may be more pressure on Vinny Del Negro to make it to the Western Conference finals now and a loss definitely means he’ll be out of a job next season. He’s already pressured with, at least, making it out of the first round. Now if he can’t defeat an Oklahoma City team that is led by one Kevin Durant, then it’s clear he isn’t worthy of this job. With Phil Jackson, Byron Scott, Stan/Jeff Van Gundy awaiting in the shadows, we’ll see how Del Negro responds to the much added pressure.