But to say that the Miami Heat have not benefited from a high-degree of luck on their quest to repeat as NBA champions, well that would be a little naive.
It’s unfair to criticize them for what is 100 percent out of their hands, but it is hard to ignore this fact: every respectable competitor of the Miami Heat has, or is, facing severe injury problems dramatically affecting their chances at winning a title.
Miami’s biggest speed bump was overcoming a day on which LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers all had “sore hamstrings,” while about half the teams in this years playoffs are missing one of their key players.
This epidemic dates back to last year when Derrick Rose tore his ACL on day one of the playoffs. Since then, it has only been ratcheted up as Rajon Rondo (Boston), Danny Granger (Indiana) and Amar’e Stoudemire (New York) are out in the East along with Rose (Chicago) — whose absence continues to be a topic of controversy — has still not returned.
That’s half of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.
And that’s only in the East.
While those injuries have surely put a damper on the playoffs, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Boston would still be labeled as underdogs at full strength as far as dethroning the Heat. But it sure would make things more interesting.
For that reason it is not until today that the tolerance to Miami’s “injury luck” has finally hit its tipping point.
On top of Kobe Bryant’s torn Achilles, which has rendered the Lakers all but irrelevant (check out Brian Kemenetsky’s report from a dejected Staples Center), lingering injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli of San Antonio and Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried of Denver have kept our hopes of a Spurs renaissance or Nuggets breakthrough securely grounded.
And now our most coveted NBA Finals rematch has officially been jeopardized with the shocking news Friday afternoon that Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook may miss the remainder of the postseason with a torn meniscus.
More from Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski: “Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook has suffered a slight cartilage tear in his right knee and a surgical procedure in the next 48 hours will determine the possibility of his return before the end of the playoffs.”
The question remains, does this rule Westbrook out for the remainder of the postseason?
The meniscus tear is considered to be minimal – perhaps 2 percent of the meniscus, one source said – and Westbrook’s recovery could be weeks instead of months, if the doctor decides to simply “clean up” the meniscus. A full repair of the meniscus would likely mean a three-month recovery for Westbrook.
The Thunder and Westbrook don’t want to risk anything with the long-term stability of his knee, sources said, and aren’t pushing for the short-term solution over the longer-term procedure.
Even more disappointing is that the injury happened on a fluke play as Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverely lunged toward Westbrook in an attempt to steal the ball as Westbrook was casually calling timeout in the second quarter of Game 2.
Let the record show that Westbrook continued to play, and scored 20 points after the injury, including several big buckets that helped the Thunder edge the Rockets 105-102.
It is still hard to believe the Thunder will be playing without Westbrook on Saturday. This still feels like a news report from a fake Twitter account. Westbrook has played in 439-of-439 games in his professional career. Legend has it that Westbrook has never missed a game. Not in the NBA, college or high school.
To understand the genuine shock and awe of this story, SheridanHoops own James Park compiled a league-wide reaction to Westbrook’s injury that can be read here.
As a Thunder fan, today cannot be easy.
Hurt. Shocked. Devastated. Unsure. Irrational. Manic. Angry.
Just a few of the words that can describe any one of their loyal fans.
But to the casual NBA fan, this is where things get interesting. For the entirety of his professional career Westbrook has been two things: an explosive talent with superstar potential. And an enigma.
To explain that statement in greater detail is a column I wrote earlier this year titled Good Westbrook, Bad Westbrook. And you can also check out some pertinent info on Westbrook’s replacement, Reggie Jackson, in this post from Chris Sheridan.
The deconstruction of Westbrook since his breakthrough rookie season has been mesmerizing. One glimpse of him sprinting up the court, zipping through defenders and effortlessly gliding toward the rim — often on his way to a thunderous throw down – you would think he was nothing less than a top player in the league.
But Westbrook has a tendency to either be so damn brilliant or so damn frustrating, and at times, opens himself up to a great deal of criticism for his erratic play. The majority of it from ESPN’s Skip Bayless, whose opinion on the matter can be read here.
After all, your point guard should never be hoisting more shots (1,535) than the most talented scorer on the planet (1,433), especially if he is your teammate.
Now we will finally get a clear picture of Russell Westbrook’s true value to the Thunder. Does it warrant his high-volume of shot attempts? Are they better when he runs the offense? Is he Durant’s true running mate? Can Durant carry this team without him?
The Thunder are up 2-0 on the Rockets and should be able to handle them without Westbrook, although Houston did give them all they could bargain for in game 2 and will host games 3 and 4. Oklahoma City is a resilient group, though. Led by Durant and Kendrick Perkins (yes, Perkins is a leader on this team), with Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison, the Thunder have enough talent, experience and cohesion to make up for the loss of Westbrook.
“I got faith in myself and my team that I can go out there and lead us,” Durant said to CBSSports.com. “In fact, I know I can. I know I can lead us.
“We all got to step up and play a bigger part because he’s a huge part to our team. [Westbrook's] a huge part. I know I have to do a better job of being a better leader on the floor. Maybe doing some of the stuff that he was doing for us. It’s going to be a tough task, but we’re all looking forward to it.”
They will be immediately be tested in the conference semis against either the Clippers or Grizzlies, and Sam Presti’s decision to trade James Harden and Eric Maynor will both be examined under the microscope of the NBA playoffs.
The jury is still out on Russell Westbrook.
But there could be a unanimous decision sooner rather than later.
On to more news around the NBA