Russell Westbrook’s Hand Injury Nudges Thunder Title Window a Little More Shut

LOS ANGELES — Russell Westbrook was so exasperated as he walked off the Staples Center floor that even after he decided he’d better stop arguing in the tunnel with a heckling Los Angeles Clippers fan/imbecile, Westbrook spun in a circle and seemed about to punch the wall with his unbroken hand.

Westbrook’s opportunity to promote himself as an MVP candidate and progress the Oklahoma City Thunder without Kevin Durant was rudely erased Thursday night when the Thunder guard broke his right hand.   

He will likely miss at least a month, and Durant could possibly be back from his broken foot before Westbrook even plays again. The longer they are out simultaneously, though, the more the 0-2 Thunder will surely slide in the challenging Western Conference.

That’s the tightly focused harsh reality for the Thunder.

But the fascinating part about Oklahoma City is, and for some time has been, the broader landscape.

Every little thing that happens to the Thunder can be extrapolated into life or death, past and future.

This latest Westbrook injury, even though a month at the start of the regular season shouldn’t ever be catastrophic, is no different.

The Thunder were stung in the 2014 Western Conference finals by not having home-court advantage, losing every game they played in San Antonio in an eventual 4-2 defeat. Playoff seeding and home court for the Thunder could be just as big this season with it unclear whether the aging Spurs can maintain their level again or the Warriors and Clippers are ready to make a leap.

The opportunity is there—still—for the Thunder finally to win that NBA title with Durant and Westbrook. They’ve disappointed every single time in a window that has lasted long enough for LeBron James to go from Cleveland to Miami to Cleveland again. Oklahoma City has made only one NBA Finals appearance—with money-saving decisions from owner Clay Bennett rightly scrutinized as potentially costing the Thunder multiple championships already.

Flashing forward instead of back, every setback the Thunder absorb these days can likewise be rightly scrutinized as decreasing the odds that Durant re-signs in 2016. The Lakers, Knicks and Wizards know it; Durant knows it, too.

The one clear statement Durant issued over the summer was that if the Thunder could put it all together to win this season and again next season, then he could not leave.

“It would definitely be tough to do anything,” he said in late July during USA Basketball training camp. “That’s one of those things where you’re building a dynasty now, you win two in a row.”

That dream looks nothing like this team today, though.

And even if Oklahoma City fares better than expected the rest of 2014, it’ll largely be because Reggie Jackson owns his new spotlight, which is only going to jeopardize Jackson’s return to the team after restricted free agency come summer.

The Thunder did put together a scrappy effort after Westbrook went out Thursday night in the 93-90 loss to a Clippers team feeling pressure to win its home opener for new owner Steve Ballmer. Perry Jones played with real confidence in a 32-point uprising. Jackson, whom Kendrick Perkins suggested could return from an ankle sprain as soon as Saturday, will do the same—and maybe young Jeremy Lamb will, too, when he returns from his sore back.

Despite what the luxury-tax-fearing Bennett has done while in charge, Thunder general manager Sam Presti deserves high praise for continuing to develop young talent.

The Thunder refused to consider cutting Perkins via the amnesty provision and paying him not to play—including last offseason, when it could have meant offering perhaps a $10 million salary to someone such as Pau Gasol, Luol Deng or Lance Stephenson to join a top contender. But second-year center Steven Adams has at least dislodged Perkins from the starting lineup this season.

(The skill-less Perkins was still out there taking up enough space Thursday that Westbrook collided with him, breaking the hand. When told after the game he was the immovable object that caused Westbrook’s injury, Perkins wasn’t even aware: “Was that the play? Damn,” he said.)

Whatever growth the young guys are forced into now—even if it’s just the defensive cohesion that Scott Brooks is making the focus—it should theoretically strengthen everyone to be better supporting cast members for the spring.

“It will be good for us at the end of the season, when we have guys who will be coming off the bench sharp and ready to play,” backup point guard Sebastian Telfair said.

Maybe these little things wind up working in Oklahoma City’s favor this time. More likely, though, fellows such as Jones, Lamb and Telfair aren’t going to be difference-makers anyway in the playoffs on the road, where the Thunder might find themselves having to be after piling up losses for the next month.

“The only thing we can control,” Ibaka said, “is to keep playing hard.”

OK, but what a long, long way that is from cruising toward the consecutive NBA titles that would lock Durant up in OKC.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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Westbrook injury could bite Thunder come playoff time

The Thunder, without their two best players, now must worry about playoff seeding, too.

      
 

 

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Russell Westbrook Injury: Updates on Thunder Star’s Hand and Return

Once a pillar of consistency in the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s starting lineup, Russell Westbrook looks to have been bitten by the injury bug for the second season in a row.

ESPN’s J.A. Adande revealed Westbrook suffered a hand injury Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers:

Royce Young of ESPN.com revealed Westbrook would not return: 

Westbrook exited at about the halfway point in the second quarter, hitting his hand off Kendrick Perkins’ elbow on a rebound attempt. He exited the game and stayed in the locker room for the remainder of the first half before being ruled out.

The Thunder will likely have him undergo further testing Friday morning, where they can determine the extent of his injury. Oklahoma City has an off day before its home opener against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

With the Oklahoma City roster depleted by injuries, Westbrook’s importance to the Thunder has never been more important. He was the singular offensive force propping up nondescript performances in Oklahoma City’s season-opening loss to Portland, scoring 38 points and dropping six dimes. Kevin Durant‘s absence due to a Jones fracture in his foot and Reggie Jackson’s continued ankle problems, Westbrook is the only reliable shot-creator on the roster.

“He has to do another jump in the leadership category,” OKC coach Scott Brooks told reporters earlier this month.

Instead, Westbrook finds himself looking at a possibly serious injury for the second straight season.

During his first five years in the league, the All-Star point guard played in every one of the Thunder’s regular-season games. His iron-man streak goes all the way back to his days at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California.

Then came the torn meniscus in his right knee during the 2013 playoffs. His injury all but derailed the Thunder’s chances of winning an NBA title. A second surgery on the right knee cost him the first two games of the 2013-14 regular season. Westbrook had another surgery on the knee in December.

All told, Westbrook missed 36 games last year, which made Oklahoma City’s second-place finish in the Western Conference all the more impressive.

There’s little doubt that when he’s on the court, the 25-year-old is unlike almost anyone else in the league. He averaged 25.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 2.2 steals per 36 minutes last season.

“I believe Russell is the best point guard in basketball,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks in September 2014, per ESPN.com’s Young. “That’s happened over time. I’ve seen Russell every practice, every game, every film session, and he’s really put a lot of time into being the best point guard in basketball.”

Westbrook certainly has his moments of madness when his confidence overrides his reasoning, but it’s clear that the Thunder will need him fully healthy and firing on all cylinders to navigate through the formidable West and to a first NBA title in team history.

With Durant out, the Thunder can’t afford to have Westbrook sidelined for an extended amount of time. 

 

Note: All stats were courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

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Kevin Durant Injury Update: Latest News and Comments on Thunder Star

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA‘s best players, but he will start the 2014-15 season on the sideline after suffering a foot injury.

The league’s reigning MVP was forced to undergo surgery for a Jones fracture in his right foot after getting hurt in a preseason practice.

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman provided a full look at the initial injury in a statement from Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti:

This six-to-eight week timeline puts a return likely at early December, which would represent close to one-quarter of the regular season. Bleacher Report’s Injury Expert Will Carroll provided a bit more information on the potential return:

Carroll does note this could be a lingering issue if the recovery does not go completely according to plan.

On the plus side, there are already positive signs from Durant. According to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, Durant was out of a cast within the first two weeks:

While Thunder fans are hoping he could possibly return even sooner than projected, the five-time All-Star reminded everyone that he will remain patient. Speaking to the media for the first time since the injury, Durant explained his plan:

I’m not going to rush it all. That’s the one thing I don’t want to do. I’m sure I’ll feel better in two or three weeks, but definitely don’t want to rush it and wind up hurting it even more. I’m taking my time with it. I’m just blessed it happened early in the season where I can get past it, and hopefully by December I’ll be ready to play.

It is hard to argue against this strategy, especially with such a long season. After seeing someone like Derrick Rose reinjure himself after returning, Durant wants to make sure he is at 100 percent before starting back onto the court.

The question at this point is how the Thunder survive until he gets back. One likely scenario is that Russell Westbrook becomes not only the go-to option offensively but the only option. ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) broke down how frequently the guard looked for his own shot when Durant was on the bench:

Over the past three seasons, Westbrook has shot the ball 265 times in 356 minutes without Kevin Durant on the floor, which translates to a ludicrous rate of 26.8 shots per 36 minutes. To give you an idea how crazy high that is, Basketball-Reference tells us that no guard in NBA history has shot that frequently over a full season; only Wilt Chamberlain has topped it.

On the other hand, ESPN’s Amin Elhassan (subscription required) notes that the Thunder have “built a roster that is deep enough to weather the storm.” He notes young wings, such as Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, can handle the responsibility for the short term.

That being said, everyone in Oklahoma City will be counting down the days before Durant is able to return. It is important to think long term with a player as talented as this, but the squad will hope it can survive without him for the immediate future.

 

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Kris Humphries shares nasty photo of gruesome finger injury

Things have certainly quieted down for Kris Humphries since his dumpster fire of a sham of a made-for-TV marriage to Kim Kardashian. In fact, it seems like an eternity ago that Humprhies was the butt of countless jokes on late night television and the like and treated with derision, mock and ridicule everywhere he went….Read More
The post Kris Humphries shares ghastly photo of gruesome finger injury (photo) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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Ball State’s Davis out 8 to 10 weeks with injury (Yahoo Sports)

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — Ball state guard Jeremiah Davis will miss eight to 10 weeks after undergoing surgery on his right foot, coach James Whitford said Wednesday.

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Doug McDermott Must Seize Early Chance While Jimmy Butler Recovers from Injury

The best opportunities don’t always arise from the best circumstances.

That appears to be the case for Chicago Bulls rookie Doug McDermott, who might open his debut campaign with a much larger role than initially anticipated.

It all comes down to the health of perimeter stopper Jimmy Butler, an All-Defensive second-team selection in 2013-14. The 25-year-old suffered a sprained left thumb during Chicago’s preseason tilt with the Charlotte Hornets on October 19, casting a cloud of uncertainty over his availability out of the gate.

While initially thought to be a game-time decision for Chicago’s season opener Wednesday night, Butler has since has been ruled out of the contest, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. As for how long he’ll be out of the action, well, that remains a mystery.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Butler would be out two-to-four weeks, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell:

Butler, however, chimed in that he’s hoping to return as soon as Friday, per Johnson:

No one seems to know just how long this might last, Thibodeau included.

“Two-to-four (weeks), one-to-three, I don’t know what it is,” the coach told reporters Wednesday. “He’s not comfortable going yet, so when he is, he will.”

Even amid the mass of question marks, one thing seems fairly certain: The window is now open for McDermott to make his mark. Whether it’s open a crack or something larger than that is moot.

Regardless of the size of this opportunity, the point is that it absolutely exists.

Now, that might not sound surprising to some given the way McDermott paved his NBA path.

He left Creighton University sitting fifth on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,150 career points. He was a three-time All-American, a three-time conference player of the year and a four-time All-Conference first-teamer.

He turned enough heads at the collegiate level for the Bulls to part with two first-round selections to bring him on board. Considering Chicago’s investment in his talent and his level of success prior to hitting the Windy City, he may have seemed primed for a substantial role.

Before Butler went down, though, McDermott actually appeared more likely to have nothing more than a part-time spot in Thibodeau‘s rotation.

“There are several players in place who have the time in Thibs‘ system that McDermott lacks, and once again, [Tony] Snell could have something to say about the minutes the rookie gets,” Blog A Bull’s Jason Patt wrote in September. “… I’m thinking McDermott plays around 15-20 minutes per game this season.”

Butler’s injury changes everything.

The swingman logged a team-high 38.7 minutes per game last season, a year in which he struggled to fully shake off the effects of a turf-toe injury he suffered in November. He may have rushed that return and has said he will not make the same mistake again.

“This time I’m going to make sure I’m back and ready to go without limitations,” he said, per Bulls.com’s Sam Smith. “(Last year) I had that turf toe. I probably came back a little too early and I was still a little ragged in some parts. This time, I’m going to make sure I’m back 100 percent.”

The championship-hopeful Bulls need Butler at his best, so they won’t force the issue. But they’ll need someone to fill his shoes in the interim. And of all the players up for the position, none carries a deeper bag of scoring tricks than McDermott.

His perimeter prowess may have punched his NBA ticket, but McDermott has the ability to be much more than a gunner, as Bleacher Report’s Daniel O’Brien explained:

McDermott can do more than hit triples, as he’s got a great feel for scoring from any spot on the floor.

He can get defenders to bite on pump-fakes, and then he’s capable of one or two dribbles for a bucket off the glass. In the mid-range, he’s extremely dangerous with an assortment of step-backs and Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaways.

Even with Derrick Rose‘s return and the additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks, the Bulls need someone with that type of offensive punch.

And scary as this sounds, McDermott could be an even more effective offensive player now with all the help he’ll have around him.

“I’d go on record and say I feel like at the end of the day, if somehow Doug McDermott can be a starter, I think he’s going to get better shots with that starting unit being out there with Pau Gasol and with Derrick Rose,” former Bulls coach and current ESPN analyst Doug Collins told reporters recently.

The Bulls can look at other options for shooters, but they won’t find any who can match McDermott’s offensive arsenal.

At this point in his career, Mike Dunleavy is more of a specialist than anything. Nearly 42 percent of his field-goal attempts came from long range last season, and almost all of his makes were created by someone else: Over 78 percent of his two-point field goals and almost 96 percent of his triples came off assists.

Kirk Hinrich had more success calling his own number—just 38.6 percent of his two-point baskets were assisted—but the 33-year-old has converted his field goals at less than a 40 percent clip during each of the past two seasons.

Sophomore swingman Tony Snell packs an intriguing combination of athleticism and three-point touch. But he only played 16.0 minutes a night as a rookie, and, as Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin observed, he has yet to prove he has Thibodeau‘s trust:

With so many minutes to fill, all four players should factor into Thibodeau‘s early season rotation. But this is McDermott’s chance to entrench himself into the Bulls’ blueprint going forward.

Thibodeau isn’t the biggest fan of growing pains. During his four seasons at the helm, Snell is the only Bulls rookie to have averaged more than 13 minutes a night.

That said, those growing pains are easier to deal with in October and November than they would be in April and May. If McDermott can play Thibodeau-approved defense, an area in which the rookie will be helped by the likes of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and rim protector Taj Gibson, McDermott can use this early exposure to secure a larger permanent role than anyone could have imagined would be available to him.

It’s probably not the opportunity McDermott pictured himself receiving. It’s definitely not the way the Bulls wanted to find minutes for the first-year forward.

But it’s a silver lining nonetheless. It’s his chance to turn the franchise’s setback into a step forward for the organization.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Lakers Rookie Julius Randle May Miss Season After Suffering Severe Leg Injury

It was not the debut that Julius Randle or the Los Angeles Lakers wanted. Instead of celebrating his first NBA game, Randle, the seventh overall pick in the June draft, was carried out of the Staples Center with his worried mother looking over him. The Lakers later confirmed that Randle had fractured his tibia, the larger of the two bones of the lower leg.   

The 6’9″, 250-pound rookie had high expectations coming into this season, one that may have ended as his leg gave way. The injury mechanism for a fracture like this is unusual in that it is normally a traumatic injury, where the bone itself is overloaded and snaps under the pressure. The extreme, but apt, comparison is to Paul George, who fractured both his tibia and fibula in a freak accident earlier this year after awkwardly landing on the basket stanchion during a U.S. national team exhibition.   

Instead, Randle’s leg appeared to simply give as he pushed off it going up to the rimmidway through the fourth quarter of L.A.’s season-opening loss to the Rockets. There was some contact in the moments immediately preceding the injury, but none that appeared to have sufficient force to cause a fracture. Randle hopped once on his left leg and went to the ground. It was not immediately clear where on the bone the fracture is, though the ankle shifted as he went up, which is an indication that the fracture is nearer the foot than the knee.

One study done by the Society of American Engineers showed that a normal male tibia fractures under a load of 260 foot-pounds of force. Dr. David Chao, the former team physician for the San Diego Chargers, tweeted that this type of fracture was atypical and “low energy”:

It’s easier to understand why George’s leg couldn’t handle the extreme and unusual loading of his body flying through the air and landing oddly than it is Randle’s leg just snapping, which does imply some sort of underlying weakness. However, it does not appear that Randle had any sign of this prior to the injury.

Sources tell me that Randle, 19, had no unusual issues with his lower body during camp and was receiving no special treatments. The team was monitoring the rookie closely, including his previous foot injury, but there was no concern or complaint before Tuesday night’s incident. Young players in their first year with an organization are routinely watched more closely as the team and medical staff learn how a player responds to the physical stresses of the game.

While it is likely that Randle’s injury is what would commonly be referred to as a stress fracture, it does raise questions that Randle had some sort of weakness leading up to the injury. Randle showed no apparent issue when he came into the game in the first quarter. He ran with no visible limp or gait issues and had no known injury problems during his first training camp. 

The likely treatment for this type of fracture is surgical. A metal rod is inserted near the bone and screwed into place to fixate the bone and strengthen it while it heals. In most cases, the rod is left in place and causes no issues in play. The normal rehab for this is around four to six months. Research from Jeff Stotts last year indicated that players missed 22 games on average after similar injuries, though that average would be skewed by longer rehab times last season.

While Randle’s mechanism of injury was atypical, the injury itself is not unusual for NBA players. Aside from Paul George, several others have had similar issues. The most similar occurred to Jrue Holiday last season. Holliday missed 48 games after he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his tibia in January. JaVale McGee also had a tibial stress fracture last season, missing all but five games after he was diagnosed with the issue in November. Manu Ginobli played through an incomplete stress fracture in the Spurs‘ championship season as well.

Lakers fans might recall that Kobe Bryant missed much of the second half of last season with a tibia fracture, though Bryant’s was at the very top of the bone, just below the knee. His tibial plateau fracture was the same bone, but involved a very different mechanism and healing process. Going further back, the Lakers lost another promising player in his rookie season to a fractured tibia, but James Worthy came back pretty well. The old school footage here shows Worthy landing awkwardly after a dunk attempt. 

Despite the level of care and the normal healing timeline, there are a few factors that could extend this. NBA teams have shown a high level of conservatism with young players and injuries, such as sitting top picks Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis well after their normal timelines, as well as an extended absence expected from this year’s No. 3 pick, Joel Embiid. The Lakers could simply elect to let Randle “redshirt” his rookie season and come back with a full offseason and camp.

Randle also has a significant medical history. He had a screw put in his foot during his senior year in high school. He had no problems in his year at Kentucky, but reports surfaced that the bone had not healed properly during the leadup to the NBA draft. The Lakers showed no real concern and denied that Randle would need corrective surgery. 

If there is any further concern about the foot, now would be a perfect time to go in and have the surgery, putting the healing concurrent to that of his leg. Both injuries are on the right side and have similar timelines, so it wouldn’t necessarily slow the progress of either. Again, Randle denied that the foot is a problem.

Assuming the healing time is normal, that there is no involvement of cartilage or other soft tissue and that the foot is not a complicating factor, there is no reason to believe that Julius Randle will have any difficulty returning to his normal level. The injury is painful and disappointing, but there’s no impact beyond the immediate. 

 

 

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Tiago Splitter Injury: Updates on Spurs Forward’s Back and Return

Already set to miss the San Antonio Spurs’ season opener against the Dallas Mavericks with a strained calf, center Tiago Splitter is also dealing with an undisclosed back injury, head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters Tuesday night.   

Jeff McDonald, covering the game for the San Antonio Express-News reported the news:

Splitter, 29, suffered a strained right soleus during training camp and missed the entire preseason. The Brazilian was one of three key contributors ruled out for Tuesday night’s opener, with an eye infection holding Kawhi Leonard back and Patty Mills still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.

The Spurs are arguably the NBA‘s most conservative team when it comes to nursing regular-season injuries. Popovich has been known to sit his high-profile players whenever he sees fit and will often keep injured players out longer than expected, taking a long-term view of the 82-game season.

Splitter, who has emerged as a solid two-way complement to Tim Duncan, missed 23 games last season, most notably with a shoulder injury. There is no word on when Splitter will be expected back in the lineup this time around, especially with the back ailment combining with the calf strain. Popovich did not indicate when Splitter first noticed pain in his back.

Boris Diaw has spent most of the preseason starting in Splitter’s place, a trend that should continue Tuesday night. Marco Belinelli will slot in for Leonard.

After opening with a home tilt against Dallas, the Spurs have Wednesday and Thursday off before taking on the Suns in Phoenix. There is no word on whether Splitter will travel with the team. San Antonio’s next home game is Nov. 5 against the Atlanta Hawks, which would seem like the earliest possibility for Splitter’s return.

 

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Reggie Jackson Injury: Updates on Thunder Guard’s Ankle and Return

After losing Kevin Durant for the early portion of the 2014-15 NBA season, the last thing the Oklahoma City Thunder can afford is more injuries. But on Monday, the injury bug may have bitten again, this time afflicting guard Reggie Jackson

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

Royce Young of ESPN adds the following, including comments from Thunder head coach Scott Brooks:

It’s potentially another big blow for the Thunder, as Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists in 28.5 minutes per game a season ago.

Coming into the season, he was locked in as the team’s sixth man, but with Durant going down to injury his role on offensive seemed likely to be even more prominent.    

Now, the Thunder will be hoping he won’t be joining Durant on the sidelines for a lengthy stay. 

 

 

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