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Russell Westbrook's injury puts the Thunder's playoff status in jeopardy

The Thunder proved last season they can survive without one of their stars, but with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook out for at least the next month, their playoff perspective changes drastically.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't out of touch to surmise that Russell Westbrook had the talent to carry the Oklahoma City Thunder as Kevin Durant's recovers from a Jones fracture in his foot, just as Durant had carried them during Westbrook's knee injury last season. A broken hand suffered Thursday night against the Clippers put Westbrook on the sideline with Durant, changing the outlook again two games into the year.

Scott Brooks' team now faces a more serious question. Can Oklahoma City even make the playoffs?

What are the Thunder working with and for how long?

Following Durant's foot surgery, the Thunder set a six-week timeline for a status update, putting the All-Star's earliest return date at the beginning of December. Westbrook's timeline for a recovery stands at four to six weeks, according to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry, which aligns his earliest return date with Durant's.

So what the Thunder are working with over the next month becomes extremely crucial. With four players missing three or more games, Oklahoma City can file for a waiver to bring on another player after the next game and then request to sign a second reserve once Westbrook misses three games. Point guard is the biggest need, and Will Bynum, Gal Mekel, Ish Smith and John Lucas III could be options, reports David Aldridge.

Player Position
Sebastian Telfair PG
Andre Roberson G/F
Perry Jones III F
Serge Ibaka F
Steven Adams C
Nick Collison F
Lance Thomas F
Kendrick Perkins C

It's hard to imagine Perry Jones lighting up teams for 30-plus points every night by scoring off frequent post-ups and getting so wide open beyond the arc, as he did during a breakout performance against the Clippers on Thursday night. So the biggest issue is executing an offense without any true one-one-one scorers and only two ball handlers in Jones, Telfair and Reggie Jackson if he can return from his ankle injury. That bit Oklahoma City in the closing minute on Thursday.

The Thunder at least showed signs of remaining a gritty defensive club with only eight healthy players in the 93-90 loss.

The month ahead

With a 0-2 record heading into the next month, is it reasonable to believe Oklahoma City could go 7-8 in 15 games of November without Westbrook or Durant? If you look at the positives against a very good team Clippers, maybe it is possible.

The good news for Oklahoma City is that the November schedule is as reasonable as it could hope for in the brutal Western Conference. The 15-game slate includes three games against Western Conference playoff teams from a year ago: against Memphis on Nov. 7, Houston on Nov. 16 and Golden State on Nov. 23. The Thunder face two Eastern Conference postseason contenders: Brooklyn on Nov. 3 and again on Nov. 21, and Toronto on Nov. 4. There are only three back-to-backs for the injury-riddled club during the next month.

Maybe teams like Denver and Utah, who they face twice each in November, turn out to be darkhorses in the West, making the schedule even tougher. The remaining teams -- Sacramento, Milwaukee, Boston, Detroit and New York -- also return with more hopeful outlooks compared to last season.

The Thunder's November schedule

Opponent Date
vs. Denver Nov. 1
@ Brooklyn Nov. 3
@ Toronto Nov. 4
vs. Memphis Nov. 7
vs. Sacramento Nov. 9
@ Milwaukee Nov. 11
@ Boston Nov. 12
vs. Detroit Nov. 14
vs. Houston Nov. 16
@ Utah Nov. 18
@Denver Nov. 19
vs. Brooklyn Nov. 21
vs. Golden State Nov. 23
vs. Utah Nov. 26
vs. New York Nov. 28

How well do KD and Russ have to perform when they return?

The Thunder won 72 percent of their games last year with Westbrook injured for 36 of them. If Durant and Westbrook return at the very beginning of December and Oklahoma City simply picks up on that winning pace, it could tally 47 victories out of the remaining 65 games.

Plug in a 7-10 record at the start of December, and the Thunder would finish with 54 wins on the year, in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. But even that is making three big assumptions: 1) that Oklahoma City can go about .500 without Durant and Westbrook, 2) that the duo returns at the earliest possible date and 3) the Thunder gets right back into the groove once they're healthy again.

Assuming the Western Conference is as deep and as good as last season, this is setting up to be a slippery slope for Brooks' team. Last season, the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs despite winning 48 games.

Obviously, there are a number of things that can happen outside of the Thunder's control. Maybe 49 wins won't be the magic number to make the playoffs.

Oklahoma City hasen't faced a test like this since the franchise has been in existence. How the Thunder do over the next month will be crucial to their hopes of reaching the playoffs and making another deep run in the West.