Russell Westbrook's wrecked knee means they are no longer favourites to emerge from Western Conference, writes Steve Dilbeck.
Oklahoma City Thunder silenced without Russell Westbrook's flash
One slip, one tear and a hundred assumptions up in smoke.
With Russell Westbrook's wrecked knee and season-ending surgery, Oklahoma City Thunder are no longer the favourites to again emerge from the Western Conference as Miami Heat's challenger in the NBA finals.
It is not clear if they will escape the next round, when they face Los Angeles Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies. Should they advance, a likely match with San Antonio Spurs would seem too much.
The wild West became a bit wilder with Westbrook, and all his talent and daring, now out, and the Thunder dependent on one transcendent player, Kevin Durant.
He stepped forward Saturday, scoring 41 points, but he needed 30 shots and all but 44 seconds of the game to do it as the Thunder fended off Houston Rockets 104-101.
That hardly seems a formula for post-season success, abusing the willowy Durant like a rented mule. Which certainly gives new hope to everyone else in the West. The conference is open for business now.
The hottest team advances and gets to try their luck against the Heat.
There will be those who now rehash the Thunders' decision to trade their third star, James Harden, to Houston in the off-season, but that is long done now. The Lakers lost Kobe Bryant, the Warriors David Lee, the Denver Nuggets Danilo Gallinari.
But Westbrook? His absence is the real game-changer.
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