Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
The Thunder without Russell Westbrook: Is OKC’s chance at a title done?
Steve Aschburner: I didn’t think they could get past Miami regardless, but yes, this clinches it. The potential for breakout offensive mayhem that Westbrook always has embodied is just one reason. The energy dip of Oklahoma City overall without him on the floor is another. But I see a third one — the Heat or whomever OKC plays going forward in the West bracket won’t have to work as hard defensively, conserving more energy themselves for their own attacks. Meanwhile, defenses can load up on Kevin Durant as never before. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the absence of James Harden this postseason (well, till now).
Fran Blinebury: Westbrook’s loss doesn’t mean the Thunder’s chances are completely wiped out. But it does make the margin for error as narrow as the edge of a razor. With Kevin Durant playing at his max level, they still need guys like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher to have very, very good nights. They were always going to be underdogs to Miami if they got to The Finals. Now, I don’t believe they can get there.
Jeff Caplan: There will be no parade in Oklahoma City come June. Not that OKC was getting past Miami anyway, but they were my pick to at least get back to the NBA Finals. Russell Westbrook just brings more intensity to both ends than can be sufficiently replaced by the current roster. We’ve seen the offense completely stagnate at times in two games at Houston, and the Thunder will see much better better defenses than the Rockets.
John Schuhmann: Yes. Right now, the Thunder are playing a team that ranked 16th defensively, and they’ve still scored at a pretty efficient rate in the last two games. But they will likely be facing a top-3 defensive team either in the next round (Memphis) or in the conference finals (San Antonio). And it’s when you face a great defensive team in the playoffs that you really miss your second scorer (just ask the Knicks). Those teams will take away your first option and make you beat them with secondary scorers and secondary plays. The Thunder will also miss those easy transition buckets that Westbrook gets. Of course, they never had much of a chance against the Heat (who have beat them six straight times) anyway.
Sekou Smith: They were not my pick to win a title with a healthy Westbrook, so there was nothing to kill, so to speak. It’s hard to imagine the Thunder running through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoff race and then facing off with the Miami Heat (or whoever comes out of the East) and winning it all without Westbrook. They couldn’t get past the Heat with Kevin Durant, Westbrook and James Harden last year. This notion that Durant will be able to get back to that point and beyond this season without the other two seems a bit far-fetched to me. That’s too much heavy lifting for a lone superstar in this day and age.
Lang Whitaker: To channel Lloyd Christmas, So you’re telling me there’s a chance? Sure the Thunder have a chance to return to The Finals without Russell Westbrook, but there’s obviously a much slimmer margin of error. And as awesome as Kevin Durant can be, when defenses load up and send everyone after him, at some point guys like Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher are going to have to start knocking down the mid- and long-range jumpers they were missing against Houston in Game 4.