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Russell Westbrook's Injury and What It Means for Oklahoma City - Grantland


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Zach Lowe talks about how injuries matter:

The first thought of Russell Westbrook being out is one of genuine sadness, just as it has been with Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, David Lee, Andrew Bynum, Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger, Kobe Bryant, and every other important player on a playoff team who has suffered a season-ending injury over the last calendar year. This is a truly unprecedented run of star injuries. But with apologies to those players, plus Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, and so many others, the sadness here is a little bit deeper in a big-picture sense.

My personal fear about the NBA this season, and about these NBA playoffs, was that they constituted an overlong non-drama with a predictable ending. The Heat are 35-1 in the last 36 games in which LeBron James has played. That is very nearly half an NBA season, with one loss. To review: NBA rules dictate that one team must defeat another team four times in seven games in order to eliminate said team and advance to the next round. Four losses, seven games. Miami is 35-1 in the last 36 games featuring the world’s best player. The math … it is not good.

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The Thunder weren’t a sure bet to get out of the Western Conference, even after injuries had sliced away at the Nuggets threat looming in the conference finals. But they were the favorites in their conference, and they are the only team in Miami’s stratosphere in terms of wing athleticism and raw talent.

The NBA playoffs, at this sad moment, feel like a coronation. And that is bad.

This is also an unkind reminder that luck plays a role every single year in determining the NBA champion. In the last half-decade alone, injuries, both serious and of the minor nick variety, have affected Bryant, Rose, Gallinari, Lee, Westbrook, Kenneth Faried, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Avery Bradley, Kevin Garnett, Bynum, Kendrick Perkins, Amar’e Stoudemire, several other Knicks, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, Jameer Nelson, Manu Ginobili, Chris Paul, David West, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur, Yao Ming, Brandon Roy, Caron Butler, Udonis Haslem, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, and on, and on, and on, and on.

It has always been like this, to some degree, dating to Bill Russell’s injury in the 1958 Finals and well before. Willis Reed missed the 1972 Finals. Jerry West was injured seemingly every playoffs, though he played through it, and his teammate Wilt Chamberlain had to leave Game 7 of the 1969 Finals — perhaps the most famous game in league history — with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. John Havlicek, Isiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, Ginobili, Karl Malone (the L.A. version), and so, so, so many other key players either suffered major injuries or played through painful ones during the playoffs. And that’s only the very start of the list of stars, let alone the important role players teams have had to do without at crucial times. Not every injury is equal, obviously, but every one tips the championship odds in some way.

The Thunder will be underdogs to whoever wins between the Clippers and the Grizzlies. Wow.

I guess this is good news for the Spurs, who disposed of the Lakers in straight sets and now look poised to face the Warriors.

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