A freak injury can occur at any moment but Russell Westbrook’s meniscus tear could hardly have come at a worse time for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Out for at least a month, and possibly for the season, the absence of the All Star may have rewritten the entire script of the NBA Playoffs.
From being favourites to win the Western Conference, OKC are now out to 2.50 for that honour, and to 7.00 for the title. There is also a more immediate question: will they be able to get past the Houston Rockets in the first round? With a 2-0 lead headed into Saturday’s Game 3 in Texas, the answer is probably yes.
Kevin Durant remains the best player in the West and we could see him putting up some startling scoring numbers in a bid to fill some of the void left by his team-mate. There’s also got to be more from Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin. With Westbrook set to miss the first game in his NBA career, this is unchartered territory for his team, but they’re still good enough to cover the handicap of -1 at 1.85.
If they advance, Oklahoma City would face the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers, especially, might cause them problems. If they survive that, Westbrook might be back to help. But that’s a big 'if'.
Memphis will try to level their series at 2-2 tonight and another solid defensive showing will give them hope. The Grizzlies limited Chris Paul to just eight points in a 94-82 victory on Thursday but expect the All Star to make the necessary adjustments and raise the ante - a factor that could push the total points above the line of 177, available at 1.91.
In losing the first two games, Memphis were uncharacteristically out-rebounded by LA but that’s been eradicated. And that’s why they’re favoured on the handicap of -3 to win with the Clippers at 2.33 to go 3-1 up.
In the East, Chicago – with home advantage – can go 3-1 ahead over Brooklyn, with the Bulls favoured by -3 on the handicap. With the Nets struggling for form and with Joe Johnson injured, their hopes look tenuous.
The Indiana Pacers can take a 3-0 lead if they win in Atlanta against the Hawks. In the first two meetings, the Pacers won by an average of 16, averaging 110 points. Even though they’re now on the road, they’re a tempting 2.13 to maintain their supremacy.
Best bet: Take Oklahoma City on the handicap of -1 over Houston at 1.91