Things appeared to be all good for the Oklahoma City Thunder after they escaped Game 2 with a narrow victory over the Houston Rockets to go up, 2-0, in their opening-round series. That all changed on Friday, when it was revealed that star point guard Russell Westbrook needed surgery for a torn meniscus.
The outcome of this series seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the Westbrook injury changes things a bit heading into Game 3 on Saturday night in Houston. While Kevin Durant is the Thunder's best player, Westbrook is the engine that makes them go, as his relentless energy puts so much pressure on the defense. Oklahoma City still has plenty of talent even without Westbrook, but there will have to be some adjustments made to cope with his loss.
Can Reggie Jackson step up in place of Westbrook?
Jackson has steadily received more playing time over the course of the year, playing nearly 18 minutes per game since Feb. 1. Jackson has performed quite well, and his game actually has some similarities to Westbrook's. SB Nation's Mike Prada says that in many ways, Jackson is "Westbrook Lite." However, Jackson does not have much experience playing with the starters, and this is a big stage for a player with so little experience. Prada and Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City also detail the problem with the bench now that Jackson is in the starting lineup, noting that players like Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer and Jeremy Lamb may have to fill bigger roles.
How will Westbrook's injury affect Durant?
There's a faction of people who think Westbrook's injury could be good for Durant, as now he will have the ball in his hands more. And Prada notes that the Thunder have outscored opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions in 523 minutes this year when Durant was on the court and Westbrook was on the bench. But things are different in the postseason, and with no Westbrook around, the Rockets will likely focus more of their attention on Durant.
Will the Rockets' guards take advantage of Westbrook's absence?
Westbrook is often able to wreak havoc on opposing ballhandlers, so this could be a good opportunity for the Rockets' guards to really step up. Jeremy Lin has struggled all series and is a game-time decision with a bruised chest muscle, although he hopes he will be able to play. If Lin is unable to go or is limited, expect Carlos Delfino to get big minutes like he did in Game 2. Patrick Beverley has played well this series, and he will look to continue his stellar play. And of course there's James Harden, who had 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the Game 2 loss. Houston's three-guard lineup worked pretty well in Game 2, and now with Westbrook out, it has the potential to be even better.
Game time: 9:30 p.m. ET
National TV: ESPN
Local TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma and Comcast Sports Net Houston
Odds: The Thunder are a 1-point favorite, according to Oddsshark.com.