After a frightening incident on Friday night that left Russell Westbrook with a literal crater in his right cheek, Westbrook’s immediate future with his team seemed in question. Players break noses or damage parts of their faces all the time in this contact sport, but few of these injuries looked as disturbing as Russell’s.
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After some damage control, however, it appears as if the long-term implications of Westbrook’s Friday collision may not be all that lasting. From a Thunder press release:
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook underwent a successful procedure today to address a fracture to the zygomatic arch of his right cheek, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti announced.
The procedure was performed by Dr. John Joseph Rehm and Dr. Jason Hamilton with Thunder medical personnel present at the Osborne Head and Neck Institute in Los Angeles, Calif. Westbrook will miss tomorrow’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated later this week.
If you aren’t squeamish and haven’t seen the injury depicted in the video above, take a look at what fellow Thunder guard Anthony Roberson inadvertently did to his teammate’s face:
Russ has a dent in his head from Roberson's knee pic.twitter.com/NxR3u2IOpP
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) February 28, 2015
As the statement points out, Westbrook will miss a contest against the lowly Lakers on Sunday, and the next Thunder game following that will come at home against the tanking Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. The team’s next real challenge will take place the following night, when OKC travels to Chicago to grapple with a similarly injury-plagued Bulls team.
The “later this week” evaluation falls right in line with how the Thunder are handling Kevin Durant’s day-to-day situation. Durant had yet another operation to address pain in his right foot earlier in February, the result of a frightening foot fracture last fall that forced team doctors to place a screw inside of his MVP wheel.
If Westbrook and Durant sit out against Los Angeles and Philadelphia, two teams with the second-worst records in their respective conferences, then the two stars would enter Thursday having missed 16 (Westbrook) and 34 (Durant) of their team’s 61 games by that point.
The Thunder have mostly circled the wagons this year, considering. The team had won nine of ten in February before falling in a tough road overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, and a borderline cruel Friday evening matchup with Portland that saw the Thunder go down by just four points. Westbrook has been brilliant throughout, putting up MVP-level stats all season despite playing just 33 minutes a game, but the Thunder still rank eighth in the Western Conference currently.
The team isn’t exactly clinging to the final postseason seed, however, with the similarly-knackered New Orleans Pelicans working without Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday stuck a game in back of OKC, and those same Suns still 1.5 games back despite the win on Friday night. Even without Durant (who is scheduled to be re-evaluated soon, and could possibly come back by Wednesday) and Westbrook out against the Lakers and Sixers, those two contests should be an easy enough win for Oklahoma City provided they play to their strengths – unleashing new guard D.J. Augustin, while working endless pick and rolls.
We don’t doubt Westbrook’s willingness to return:
Russell Westbrook won't miss much time with surgery. "If he had a playoff game (Sunday), he could play," league source tells Yahoo Sports.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 28, 2015
What one does have to wonder about, however, is his ability to play through what can be an annoying and often distracting protective mask. Some players, like the recently retired Richard Hamilton or the heel-for-all-ages Bill Laimbeer, took to it. Others found it frustrating and invasive. Westbrook is a gamer, and his heart is in the right place, but that might not mean much if his routine is thrown off-kilter.
The Thunder have endured terrible luck this season with injuries, but they’ve also put themselves in a place to succeed – either through the knockout trade deadline moves of general manager Sam Presti, or Durant and (especially) Westbrook’s MVP-level play during the contests they’ve been allowed to participate in. Grabbing that eighth spot is no guarantee at this point, but the Thunder should be the overwhelming favorite, and they should seek to rest Durant’s ailing foot and go cautious in the wake of Westbrook’s surgery.
It’s always about April, possibly May and conceivably June with this crew. Just cross your fingers that both Westbrook and Durant can make it to spring without any other setbacks.
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