Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

April 27, 2013

Brace yourself

Thunder's Russell Westbrook to have surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.

OKLAHOMA CITY — All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will have surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee and be out indefinitely, dealing a harsh blow to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s championship chances.

General manager Sam Presti said Friday that the Thunder had not yet scheduled Westbrook’s surgery and would not have an accurate timeline for his return until after the procedure was done. No one would rule out Westbrook’s possible return if Oklahoma City keeps advancing in the playoffs, and All-Star teammate Kevin Durant only said his teammates “hope” Westbrook can play again this postseason.

“We’re not trying to rush him or bring him back ahead of schedule. We want to make sure he’s healthy and his knee is right,” Durant said. “That’s our only concern with it right now. ... We have to come together as a team and worry about the basketball. All he has to worry about is him getting healthy.”

The three-time All-Star was hurt in Game 2 of the Thunder’s playoff series against Houston on Wednesday night. Rookie Patrick Beverley lunged for a steal in the second quarter and his hip collided with Westbrook’s knee.

Beverley called Westbrook’s injury “unfortunate” and said Oklahoma City is still dangerous without him.

“Anyone who knows me knows I don’t go out there and try to hurt anybody,” Beverley said. “I play at one speed and that’s fast. I was just trying to make a play on the ball before they called a timeout and it’s just unfortunate.”

Coach Scott Brooks claimed after Westbrook missed practice Thursday that Westbrook would be “fine tomorrow,” but the team found out differently Friday morning.

“Our team as a whole, we’ve got a resilient group of guys, a lot of character within that locker room and a group that enjoys playing together and has been through some adversities over the last several years that they’ve been together. We’d expect them to adjust, come together and have different guys step in and play well collectively,” Presti said.

“Once we were able to gather all of the necessary information and everything was accumulated, it was an easy decision for our medical team.”

Game 3 is Saturday night in Houston. Westbrook averaged 24 points and seven assists in the first two games, both won by top-seeded Oklahoma City.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin recalled how he was able to return six days after surgery on his meniscus in college at Oklahoma, but his didn’t have to be repaired. The Thunder said Westbrook’s would be repaired.

“They’re still a great team even without him but he’s a huge part of their offense,” Griffin said. “A great player, so it does leave them a little vulnerable.”

One of the most polarizing figures in the league, Westbrook has displayed a quick temper to go along with his lightning-fast drives to the basket and increasingly accurate pull-up jumpers. He’s also known for his outlandish fashion sense, often wearing glasses without the lenses and unusual shirts.

Durant said the Thunder appreciate him more for his dedication for the team and because he “gives his all every second he’s on the floor.”

“A lot of people may not like what he brings to our team. But inside, we love what he does,” Durant said. “He’s a different player, a different person, but we love what he brings. It’s unfortunate that he can’t compete at the highest level of basketball, which is the playoffs.”

Westbrook smashed his right hand down on the scorer’s table after Beverley crashed into him, but he remained in the game Wednesday night although he was clearly hobbling. Presti said Westbrook was allowed to keep playing because he felt comfortable and the team considered the injury action “consistent with a bone bruise.”

It came as a surprise when Durant and the rest of the team arrived at the practice facility Friday that Westbrook, who had been seemingly indestructible, would be out.

In his fifth NBA season, Westbrook has never previously missed a game. He had the league’s longest active streak of consecutive games played, with 394 straight regular-season games. He also has played in all 45 of Oklahoma City’s playoff games, including last year’s run to the NBA Finals.

“I think we all know Russell. He obviously wants to play. But at the end of the day, this was a medical decision,” Presti said.

Backup Reggie Jackson figures to move into Westbrook’s starting spot as the only other player with any significant time playing the point. Oklahoma City traded away former backup point guard Eric Maynor in February, getting only a trade exception and the rights to a Greek player with no NBA experience in return.

James Harden, who used to share some time at the point, is now on the opposite side as an All-Star for Houston.

Veteran Derek Fisher has previously played the point, but has been primarily used as a spot-up 3-point shooter in two stints with Oklahoma City.

Brooks wouldn’t divulge his plans for how to replace Westbrook, but said Durant will have to take on even more playmaking duties.

“He’s definitely going to have to be a guy that’s going to have to handle the ball more. But he has actually for this past year has handled the ball more with that second unit,” Brooks said. “He’s always been somewhat of our point forward.”

In general, the Thunder have avoided major injuries to their core players during their ascent into NBA title contenders. Durant has missed only five games over the past four seasons. His only time out of the lineup this season was the final game of the regular season, when he was healthy.

In total, the Thunder’s starters missed only eight combined games all of this season. Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka started every game of the 2011-12 season, and center Kendrick Perkins missed just one.

“Injuries are a part of sports and every team has to deal with them. Now, our team has to come together and make some adjustments,” Presti said. “We’ve got a heck of a group of guys in our uniform, we’ve got a great coaching staff and it’s going to take everybody in the building to pull together as we go forward, and our focus is on Game 3.”

___

AP Sports Writers Kristie Rieken in Houston and Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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