Thunder Future Uncertain After Kevin Durant Injury and Other Thursday Takeaways

Everything had been going so well.

The Oklahoma City Thunder came into Thursday night’s 114-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors riding a seven-game winning streak. More importantly, it was reigning MVP Kevin Durant‘s eighth consecutive game after returning from a fractured foot earlier this month.

Now, both streaks appear to be finished.

After becoming the first player since 1976′s ABA-NBA merger to tally at least 30 points in fewer than 20 minutes, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN.com’s Royce Young), Durant left the game in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle and didn’t return.

Russell Westbrook‘s 33 points and eight assists weren’t enough in his absence, not on a night when Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 53 points.

For the moment, however, losing to a hot team like the Warriors is the least of head coach Scott Brooks’ concerns. The possibility of having to spend more time without a four-time scoring champion is the bigger problem.

Fortunately, X-rays offered encouraging news, and the organization has thus far described the sprain as “mild.”

That may be sufficient reason for optimism in the context of most clubs, but the 12-14 Thunder are a different situation. This team would almost certainly rank alongside Golden State among 2014-15′s early front-runners were it not for a November sabotaged by serious injuries to Durant and Westbrook.

In turn, Oklahoma City’s margin for error between now and the postseason remains fairly thin.

It may be difficult to imagine teams like the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans or Sacramento Kings outlasting OKC over the course of a marathon 82-game season, but anything can happen given enough bad luck.

This time, Durant rolled his ankle after stepping on Marreese Speights’ foot—the kind of wrong place, wrong time injury no one could have anticipated. He stayed down on the court for a few moments before teammates helped him return to the bench. Now Oklahoma City can only hope a little rest and treatment do the trick as quickly as possible.

One would imagine Durant will miss Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but there’s really no telling how much longer his recovery will take. OKC could find itself tested several times before month’s end by meetings against the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns.

With Durant, those are all winnable games.

Without him, the Thunder’s sub-.500 season may get a bit worse before getting much, much better.

 

Around the Association

Rondo Tells Boston Goodbye

After multiple reports indicating on Thursday that four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo was on his way to the Dallas Mavericks via trade, the ninth-year veteran had some words for his fans and the Boston Celtics on Twitter.

And while the Mavericks are already pretty good, it may well take something special to outlast the other elite teams out West.

 

Butler Drops Career High on Knicks

The Chicago Bulls beat the now 5-23 New York Knicks by a final score of 103-97 in a contest played without superstars Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, who were ill and injured, respectively.

The difference was that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had another star to whom he could turn. Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points while tallying seven assists, five rebounds and four steals—adding yet another well-rounded performance to his impressive season. Through 23 appearances, the 25-year-old is averaging 21.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest.

“All I can say is thank God for Jimmy Butler,” Thibodeau told reporters after the game. “You can’t say enough about him.”

Chances are plenty more will be said anyway before season’s end.

 

Cousins Returns from Viral Meningitis

Star Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins returned to the floor after a bout with a serious sickness, and there doesn’t appear to be much rust. The Kentucky product led Sacramento with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists en route to a narrow 108-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Kings were just 2-8 without Cousins in action and have now lost five straight games.

 

Pelicans Scrapping in December

Already without Eric Gordon, the New Orleans Pelicans were also missing swingman Tyreke Evans (knee contusion) against the 19-6 Houston Rockets.

It didn’t matter.

Anthony Davis accrued 30 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and five blocks as the Pels prevailed by a 99-90 margin. The win takes New Orleans to a 13-12 record, its first time above .500 since late November. 

All things considered, that’s not bad. The Pelicans are 6-4 this month, and the four losses were understandable. Two came to the Warriors, one to the Mavericks and the other against the Los Angeles Clippers. Three of those games were on the road.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the month won’t be much easier with meetings against the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls coming along with two games against the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs. One way or another, we’ll learn a lot about this team by the end of December.

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Warriors beat Thunder 114-109 after Durant injury (Yahoo Sports)

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 18: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder holds his ankle as his teammates check to see if he is okay after he twisted his ankle towards the end of the first half of their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on December 18, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry had 34 points and nine assists, and the Golden State Warriors rallied from an early 17-point deficit to beat Oklahoma City 114-109 on Thursday night after Thunder star Kevin Durant left with a sprained right ankle.


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Kevin Durant Injury: Updates on Thunder Star’s Ankle and Return

The Oklahoma City Thunder are once again dealing with a health concern involving one of their marquee players as reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant had to exit the team’s road contest vs. the Golden State Warriors Thursday night with a right ankle injury.

ESPN’s Royce Young reported Durant would not return:

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman first had the report after Durant failed to come out for the second half with the Warriors leading 65-63. He was injured with seconds left in the first half while picking up an offensive foul for charging into Marreese Speights. The Thunder star had 30 points when he left.

Durant previously missed the first 17 games of the season due to a foot issue. His absence obviously played a major role in the squad’s slow start. ESPN Stats and Info passed along some numbers to illustrate how much the offense struggled while he was sidelined:

Oklahoma City returned from the offseason as one of the league’s top championship contenders. Now, as the team awaits further word on the extent of Durant’s latest setback, injuries are threatening to derail those high hopes.

It must also be frustrating for the 26-year-old superstar. He never missed more than eight games in any season during his first seven years in the NBA. Now he’s already been out more than double that total in 2014-15, and the number may rise.

When he first returned from the foot injury he talked about needing some time to get back into elite form, as noted by Brett Martel of The Associated Press:

I just got to keep putting together good days and I’ll keep getting back to where I want to be. To get back to midseason form like I want to be is going to take some time. No excuses for me. I’m out there, I got to play hard as I can no matter what and I got to go out there and be the best leader and player I can be.

If he misses another extended period of time, it could be right back to square one.

Although it’s still at the stage of the season where it’s too soon to press the panic button, luck hasn’t been on the Thunder’s side so far. They need an extended stretch with all of their key pieces healthy to start building some positive vibes.

The outlook should become more clear once they provide an update on Durant. And, on a different level, there’s always something missing from the NBA when he’s not playing. The league thrives on star power, and he’s one of the main draws right now.

More updates as they are made available.

 

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Derrick Rose Injury: Updates on Bulls Star’s Illness and Return

Derrick Rose can now add “illness” to the list of things that have forced him to sit games this season.

The Chicago Bulls point guard is battling an illness and will be out against the New York Knicks on Thursday night, according to ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

Rose’s history of missing games is well known by now. From 2011-12 through 2013-14, the former NBA MVP missed a total of 181 regular-season games.

Early in the 2014-15 NBA season, Rose sprained his left ankle in an eventual 114-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then came a hamstring injury in a Nov. 13 game against the Toronto Raptors. Neither of the two ailments was serious, but they both served as warnings for how quickly things can turn sour for the 26-year-old.

Having spent so much time off the court due to his inability to stay healthy, Rose has earned the label of “being soft.” He hit back at those critics in November, per Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

Chicago fans will breathe easy knowing that Rose is only battling a bug and should be back after a few days. As Friedell mentioned, Jimmy Butler was sick recently, which didn’t stop the shooting guard from asking to stay on the court.

There’s no question that the Bulls will need a healthy Rose in order to be a serious threat to win the Eastern Conference. Last season’s fourth-place finish proves that Chicago can finish well without him, but an early-round exit seems likely if Rose isn’t on the floor.

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Branden Dawson Injury: Updates on Michigan State Star’s Wrist and Return

Michigan State forward Branden Dawson suffered a wrist injury against Eastern Michigan and will miss the remainder of Wednesday night’s game.

The team’s official Twitter account reported the latest on Dawson’s ailment:

Dawson has been a significant contributor for the Spartans all season, tallying 11.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. With players like Gary Harris and Adreian Payne getting drafted in the offseason, Dawson was expected to take on an integral role this year.

Prior to the season, Sparty coach Tom Izzo discussed how Dawson stepped up, per Joe Rexrode of Michigan.com:

He had his best spring and summer. What does that mean? He was in here all the time. What does that insinuate, that he wasn’t before? One-hundred percent. It’s not insinuating. He just, like some guys, didn’t understand how much time you’ve got to spend on your own. He did an unbelievable job, he’s in great shape. He is shooting the ball better.

The senior suffered a hand injury last season that caused him to miss nine games. During that span, the Spartans went 4-5. They went 25-4 with him on the court.

Dawson has also shown potential that should translate at the NBA level, as Kyle Austin of MLive.com notes:

Instead of at that table, talking about his upcoming senior season, some think he should be in the NBA. Dawson came to Michigan State as a five-star recruit rated among the top 20 players in the country. Many of the Class of 2011 high school recruits of his caliber have moved on to the league, including 12 of Dawson’s 23 teammates on the McDonald’s All-American team.

If Dawson misses any time, Michigan State would be without one of its leaders on both sides of the court. The entire rest of the offense will need to step up in his place with a difficult schedule this season.

In the loaded Big Ten, the Spartans are still one of the programs hoping to contend for a conference championship. Without Dawson, however, that task would look much more difficult moving forward.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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NBA Injury Comeback Stories for Jabari Parker and Other Sidelined Rookies

Don’t think of Jabari Parker‘s torn ACL as a major career setback. Think of it as a delay, which at 19 years old, he can afford. 

Parker is expected to miss the remainder of his rookie NBA season, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, after a promising first 25 games with the Milwaukee Bucks, who selected him No. 2 overall in last June’s draft. 

Half the 2014 lottery has now been hit by this destructive tidal wave of pain:

Of course, it’s the dreaded ACL injury that always seems to startle or frighten the most, given the usual one-year recovery timetable and the significance of knees in hoops. 

But the history books paint a pretty encouraging picture.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of guys go down with torn ACLs over the years. Check out how many before Parker, via The ACL Recovery Club:

While everyone’s body heals differently, recently, it doesn’t seem as though many players’ careers have been threatened or drastically derailed by this particular injury. 

Jamal Crawford won the Sixth Man of the Year Award twice since. Kyle Lowry has emerged as one of the top point guards in the league. Nerlens Noel seems to have the same hops he showcased at Kentucky. Rajon Rondo is back to tossing up triple-doubles. I even saw Lou Williams drop 36 points the other night in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure, maybe some guys lose a hint of explosiveness. That might have been the case with Iman Shumpert two years back.

But the good news for Parker is that his game isn’t fueled by explosiveness. It’s fueled by polished skills, sound footwork, strength and offensive instincts.

He’s not like Shumpert, a guy who relies heavily on leaping and quickness. From a style-of-play standpoint, Parker draws comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, natural scorers who don’t require blow-by first steps or above-the-rim bounce.

And I wouldn’t be too concerned over how time off this early could affect his development—or any other injured rookie for that matter.

Missing his first true NBA season (fractured knee cap) didn’t stop Blake Griffin from coming back to win Rookie of the Year in 2011. And it sure didn’t mess with his development. Nick Collison missed his 2003 rookie year with shoulder injuries, and he’s played in at least 71 games in eight of the last 10 seasons (played in 63 of 66 games during 2012 lockout) since then.

James Worthy suffered a similar injury his 1982 rookie year as the one Julius Randle went down with (fractured tibia) earlier in November. Worthy bounced back to average 14.5 points in 82 games the very next season.

ESPN’s analytics guru Kevin Pelton shared some promising insight and analysis (subscription required) with regard to Parker’s outlook in 2015-16: 

Two years ago, when Derrick Rose was rehabbing his torn ACL, I compared the performance of players during their first season after the injury to what my SCHOENE projection system would have forecast based on their age and past performance. The results suggested that players younger than age 25 tend to be less affected the following season, even after accounting for the typical development of young players.

The only thing we can say for now is that this injury will push back Parker’s projected time of impact. It shouldn’t necessarily hurt his ability to make it, assuming all goes according to plan in terms of his rehab and recovery.

Quite frankly, Parker’s injury shouldn’t be too big of a blow to Milwaukee’s playoff chances. As Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes points out, the Bucks actually have a better offensive and defensive rating when Parker is on the bench, per NBA.com.

Still, the timing of the injury is obviously unfortunate, as Parker was really starting to build a strong rhythm. Prior to the Phoenix Suns game in which he went down, he’d been averaging 14.3 points on 60.6 percent shooting in the month of December. 

But history tells us to bet on Parker returning just where he left off. It just might take a little bit of extra patience.

Something tells me he’ll be back to reestablish his potential as one of Milwaukee’s franchise cornerstones. 

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How Jabari Parker’s Injury Affects the Playoff Picture and Rookie of the Year

Jabari Parker was having a strong and promising start to his career and was favored to win Rookie of the Year honors up to this point of the season. However, luck turned on Parker and the Bucks as Parker went down with a knee injury on a drive to the hoop against the Phoenix Suns this week.

The injury report initially suggested it to be a sprained knee; however, reports surfaced the following day, per the Bucks official website, that Parker will be out for the year with a torn ACL.

How much of an impact does Parker’s injury have on Milwaukee’s season? Does this injury impact the Eastern playoff picture?

Find out as Ethan Skolnick breaks down Parker’s injury and the ripple effect it may have on the Eastern Conference in the video above.

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Bucks F Parker out for season with knee injury (Yahoo Sports)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- DECEMBER 9: Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks attempts a free throw against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 9, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Bucks rookie Jabari Parker will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Monday night’s 96-94 win at Phoenix.


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Sergey Karasev Injury: Updates on Nets Guard’s Side and Return

Brooklyn Nets youngster Sergey Karasev was forced to leave Tuesday’s game against the Miami Heat in the third quarter, and he didn’t return. 

Newsday‘s Rod Boone had the news:

The second-year Russian entered the day averaging just 3.3 points in 11.7 minutes per contest, but he recently surpassed Bojan Bogdanovic on the depth chart, earning the starting job next to Joe Johnson on the wing. 

His role has been growing significantly, and he had 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 22 minutes before leaving Tuesday’s contest. 

Should this injury keep him sidelined for any amount of time, Bogdanovic would likely re-enter the starting lineup, while Alan Anderson will see more minutes off the bench. 

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Miami Heat News: Heat to Seek $2.65M Salary Cap Exception Due to McRoberts Injury

The Miami Heat will seek a $2.65 million salary cap exception due to Josh McRoberts being out for possibly the rest of the season.
Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel announced early Tuesday that the Heat will be applying to the NBA for a disabled-player exception to replace the veteran power forward. Such an appeal will be largely dictated by whether an independent NBA physician declares McRoberts’ knee injury to be season-ending.
If it is ruled that McRoberts’ injury is season-ending, the Heat would be granted a $2.65 million exception that can be used either through trade or by signing a free agent. For such player exceptions, Miami would be limited to acquiring a player through trade who is in the final year of their contracts, or by signing a free agent to a one-year deal.
The Heat would have to use the player exception by March 10 for it to be valid.
The 6’10″ forward has struggled with injuries since training camp in October. The 27-year-old had been recovering from a toe injur…

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