The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a playoff hunt, as they currently sit 2½ games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. It has been a difficult season, to say the least, for the Thunder. When news broke that reigning MVP Kevin Durant would be out for the rest of the season, the mountain climb to the top seemed that much more rigorous.
Serge Ibaka recently underwent knee surgery and is also sidelined for the time being, and there’s a good chance he won’t be back until the postseason.
This might be what the doctor ordered for Russell Westbrook’s MVP case, but is it what Thunder fans wished for? Absolutely not.
Despite Westbrook’s recent dominance, the Thunder will have little chance of upsetting the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. Sure, it would make for juicy headlines and would certainly be an excellent feat for Westbrook, who has overcome adversity himself this season by returning from a broken hand that kept him out of 14 games. However, this maelstrom of injuries and uncertainty surrounding OKC will be too much for the ferocious and tenacious Westbrook to endure.
Even so, let’s take a minute to appreciate what Westbrook has done. He has unequivocally become one of the most dominant players in the game today with his fearlessness and athleticism, and he continues to display no regard for opposing players. This magnificent run he’s on started back at the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.
Playing in the world’s most famous arena, Westbrook absolutely took over the annual exhibition game by scoring 41 points, falling just one-point shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record. However, he did set the record for most points scored in the first half with 27, and he became just the third player to score 40. (Michael Jordan and Chamberlain are the others) This scoring outburst catapulted his West team to the victory, and in retrospect, foreshadowed things to come.
Since that game, Westbrook has taken the league by a thunderous storm, tallying averages of 31.0 points, 10.6 assists and 8.9 rebounds. He’s also contributing defensively by averaging 2.2 steals as well. MVP numbers, eh?
These staggering numbers have fans all over tuned into OKC games just to see what Westbrook has in his repertoire as he continues to fill the stat sheet. And if you miss the action, you can tune into SportsCenter because you know he’ll make the highlight reel due to his ability to posterize players or do something incredible that warrants attention and adulation. It seems like every game Westbrook does something statistically that leads to his name being put in the same sentence as other NBA luminaries throughout history.
But as good as Westbrook has been, it almost certainly won’t be enough against Golden State.
Going up against a team that has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference while others, like OKC, are still battling for playoff spots? There isn’t much cogitation needed to come to the conclusion that the Warriors are primed to dispose of the Thunder fairly easily.
The Thunder will obviously be devoid a significant piece to their puzzle with Durant sidelined four-to-six months. In 27 games this year, he averaged 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and Oklahoma City will have to overcome not having that level of production in its lineup. They’ve done alright in the regular season, but against the Warriors, that’s a much more daunting task.
The offensive firepower of Golden State is well known, and it’ll be darn near impossible for the Thunder sans Durant to keep up. Led by MVP candidate Stephen Curry, Golden State is the league’s best scoring team at 109.8 points per game, and they do it while shooting a league-best 47 percent from the field. And if you make the incorrigible mistake of allowing guards to beat you off the dribble, you won’t live to tell the tale as they also smoke you from downtown at a league-best 39 percent mark.
The Warriors won’t just kill you offensively, though. Golden State was an underrated defensive team last season, and the defense has risen to new heights under first-year head coach Steve Kerr. The Warriors are the best defensive team in the league, and they can defend both big and small teams.
How about depth? Perhaps the Thunder could force the issue early in the game and get some of the starters in foul trouble? Well, Golden ranks seventh in the league in bench scoring, so that might not bode well either.
With all due respect to the Thunder, the deficit created by the gaps in talent and depth would likely be an insurmountable one.
If you’re OKC, you’re hoping that somehow your defense can slow down the potent Warriors offense. You’re also praying for Ibaka to make a return in time to have an impact on this potential series. The hope continues as you’re looking for Westbrook, who leads the NBA in scoring at 27.6 points per game, can put the team on his back and galvanize this group.
After all the moves made by the Thunder’s front office, I was itching for this first-round matchup. I obviously thought both Durant and Westbrook would be healthy and OKC’s newfound depth made them interesting. But now, it looks like they wont even stand a chance. If this series does happen, I’d say the Warriors win in FIVE.