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SBM Sports: Russell Westbrook’s Injury, Bad News for…the Heat?

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Westbrook Hurt

The NBA Playoffs have (finally) moved on to the second round, and there may be a new leading championship contender.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the “other” teams in the running for the title. I argued that Miami will run through the East, and should rightfully be favored over Oklahoma City; the team I thought would come out of the West. Now that Russell Westbrook is out of the playoffs with a torn meniscus, I’m forced to reconsider that position.

In the games since Westbrook has gone down, Kevin Durant has been amazing. Embracing his new role as “point forward,” Durant has absorbed many of the shots that Westbrook normally takes. The results were rocky at first; OKC took a little more time to beat Houston than many originally predicted. Sunday’s game against Memphis showed how good Durant can be. I had nightmares thinking about LeBron James’ dominant performance against my Detroit Pistons years ago. 🙁

As amazing as Durant’s performance was, you can’t ignore the nine-point deficit he had to dig his team out of to get the win. There’s no way he can do that seven more time against Memphis and (most likely) the San Antonio Spurs.

And that’s the problem for Miami: the Grizzlies and Spurs are bigger threats to a Miami title than the Thunder. Here are three reasons why…

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The Grizzlies and Spurs have better bigs –

Don't Bluff TowelZach Randolph and (newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year) Marc Gasol are the anchors down low for Memphis and they do not bluff.

We all watched them reduce Blake Griffin to a shell of himself over six games in the first round. In this round, they dominated the matchup with OKC’s big men. The two alone outscored and outrebounded three of the Thunder’s top bigs combined. Chris Bosh is a great player, but he wants no parts of the Randolph/Gasol combo.

The Spurs have Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time who’s having his best season in years. Making short work of the Team-Formerly-Known-as-the-Lakers gave him some rest for an overmatched Warriors team. San Antonio should run through Golden State as well (which sucks by the way…Steph Curry is fun to watch), so he’ll make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals without really straining himself. That’s rest he can use in a seven-game war against Memphis. Next to Duncan is a cast of guys who, in typical Spurs fashion, fit their roles perfectly. Combined they can definitely overwhelm the Heat’s front line.

Three-point Shooting –

This is a much bigger advantage for San Antonio. The Heat had a great season, looking unbeatable at times. One chink in the armor though – and you have to look awhile to find it – is Opponent Three Point Rate, or the percentage of threes given up by a certain team. The Heat rank in the bottom five in this stat. Their defensive strategy allows for hot-shooting opponents to take advantage of open shots from three. This is why New York beat Miami three times out of four in the regular season.

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If you can get hot against Miami, you have a shot to beat them three points at a time. San Antonio has the shooters to take advantage, ranking third in the league in three point percentage this season. In fairness, Miami ranked second in the same stat, so the Spurs would have that to deal with on the other side of the floor.

The East is still really weak –

I covered this in my original post, but it bears repeating. The Heat enjoyed a week off before yesterday’s game against Chicago. They’ll probably make short work of the Bulls, and have another overmatched team – either the Pacers or Knicks – to contend with after that. Of course the Heat would prefer to be rested and healthy, but there is a disadvantage to all that free time.

First, Miami won’t be able to scout its opponent ahead of time. Without a solid gameplan to practice against their specific opponent, the time off won’t help them strategically. Second, the age old debate of “rest versus rust” puts Miami at risk in the first game of the Finals. Let’s say San Antonio advances and shoots well against the Heat in Game 1 because they are in rythym coming off a longer series in their Conference Final. Winning the first game would greatly shift the series toward San Antonio, giving them homecourt advantage.

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Miami is still the rightful favorite to win the championship. In a strange way, though, their title shot actually worsened with the injury to Russell Westbrook. Memphis and San Antonio pose a greater threat to the Heat’s chances to repeat. Looks like Patrick Beverley should be booed in two cities now.

What do you think? Sure Miami is still the favorite, but will Memphis or San Antonio give them a more competitive series? Do you think OKC still has enough to make it to Finals?

Hit the comments and let me know!

Comment(20)

  1. Chicago Bulls are so inspirational right now. If I got every morning and carpe diem like the Bulls do night in & night out, I would be consistently great instead of in flashes.

    I see a bad break coming for the Heat, they just lost to the Bulls last night, but I believe they will eventually beat these guys in seven. It doesn’t feel like the Heat will repeat this year.

    I feel like if LeBron doesn’t get it done this year, he has NO CHANCE of being the GOAT. And I am rooting for his playoff exit for that very reason!

    So, I am rooting for the Bulls, Warriors & The Pacers if they are better match-up for the Heat.

    I like to see Knick fans go through the chambers of fandom. If they win, I am happy for them, if they lose, I feed off their despair.

    1. I don’t care who wins the Memphis-OKC series, I love both teams, just let it go seven & see if Kevin Durant can have a repeat clutch performance.

    2. Did you feel that way about LeBron before The Decision? I think a lot of people feel like you, and it stems from that stupid press conference/pep rally.

      1. @Sargent

        I love the decision! I am a New Yorker, and although I am not arrogant, and I like & understand cocky people.

        But I am a Jordan worshipper. And LeBron is a better player than Jordan except he doesn’t have the clutch moments.

        LeBron is like Wilt. We don’t consider Chamberlain better than MJ, and that is because of the lack of rings.

  2. I think Memphis will come out the west and while their frontcourt is superior, this is where they gonna need that closer. You saw Durant give em everything he got down the stretch but what happens if Lebron or Wade start going for the throat, who’s going to run that iso and go toe to toe? (same with Indiana if they meet in ECF). Memphis and Indiana are great teams but as we’ve seen outside of 2004, it’s the star who always finds a way to get it done.

    1. using that logic I guess I make small cases for the Knicks and OKC but I’ve seen Lebron put his foot down and take a series, I haven’t seen Melo or Durant (alone) do it

      1. This will sound ridiculous, but I think Marc Gasol is that guy for Memphis. He won't run the traditional "iso," but if they can run the offense through him he'll have a scoring advantage downlow and he's a willing passer.

        The issue is that the guys he's passing to are iffy. Tayshaun Prince? Jerryd Bayless? Mike Conley? ehhhhhhhhh, lol.

  3. Lebron had a cold, but still did pretty good considering. He scored 22 pnts in the 2nd half.
    I give props where due. The Bulls played great defense and their 3 pnt shots were on point.
    But still……………….GO HEAT!

  4. Like most, IDK if the Heat will repeat but they SHOULD because they can put the best TEAM (starting 5) on the court of any of the current teams left in the playoffs. Mostly because they have both Dwayne and LeBron as options and no other team can say that, especially with OKC losing Westbrook. With that said, I think last night showed the Heat’s primary flaw once again and it honestly has nothing to do with skill.

    Every now and then, the Heat get full of themselves and they don’t live up to their own talent – they have a Prima Dona complex. On more than a few plays you could see LeBron and Wade frustrated calls didnt go their way, but instead of hustling down the court, they (usually) pouted and it cost their team on a few key transition scores and defensive possessions. Sometimes it seems as if they think they should win because they’re the Heat and therefore they don’t have to put their best effort forth on te court every night. If they do this enough or too often (although I doubt they will) they will lose. The Bulls proved this last night, among a number of other teams. I think this loss will humble the Heat and they’ll play at the level they need to play and are capable of playing.

    Time will tell. I still think, for now, everyone is playing for Second. This championship is def the Heat’s to give away, which they will if they keep playing like they deserve it versus they have to earn it just like every other team.

    – sent from iPhone

    1. Rondo gave one of the best answers to a halftime interview ever a couple years ago:

      Reporter – "What cracks in the Heat's defense are you taking advantage of?"

      Rondo – "Them complaining and crying to the referees in transition." LOL

      I say that to say, I pretty much agree with you. I don't know if I'd give it the same term, but they do seem to cry a lot. This is especially hilarious because LeBron went 7 games (I think, def more than 5) WITHOUT BEING CALLED FOR A FOUL!

      They'll pull it together long enough to run through the East at least.

  5. Well, hindsight is 20/20. We saw the game last night and now know, we have a series in Miami.

    "What we gon' do when it's Bulls/Pacers?"

    Both the top seeds lose homecourt advantage in Game 1 of their series, not many saw that coming.

    As it pertains to Westbrook, keep in mind that he can come back in like two weeks, with pain. MWP did that like a few weeks ago and I don't put it past Russell to do that. I won't disagree with you with thinking that without Westbrook the Thunder may not be able to get past Grizz/Spurs… easily. Jackson is nice son! I think we're underestimating how good Durant is. They always needed a PG and to let Durant be the featured scorer… and now that's what they have. Plus they have an aggressive PG too. Jackson is nice son!

    1. I can proudly say I wrote this before the game. Although Miami will prolly run through Chicago in 5 now. Ah well.

      I don't think OKC will let him come back. They strike me as a team to take it VERY cautious with their stars. I bet they hold him out. Since I think he's gone, I def don't think they are getting out of the West. KD is basically in the same spot as LeBron in Cleveland. That makes Reggie Jackson his Mo Williams, lol. Mo was an all-star one year, so that's not so bad.

    2. J, I would love to believe that the Bulls will win.

      I just don’t see it.

      That is why I love your prediction.

  6. it's going to be tough for OKC to get out the west. As we stand right now they're are getting all they could handle against a very talented and rugged memphis squad. Not to mention a memphis squad without any big stars. This is why they should not have let Harden walk; who I believe is better and more durable than Kevin Martin. Although I'm not too worried about OKC, i am worried about San Antonio, yes they're deep but ginobili isn't durable and Duncan will soon show his age as he's done before. if Golden state could hold on to their leads they'd be better off. If Chicago doesn't beat Miami, no one in the East will. NY isn't disciplined enough, nor do they share the rock, Indiana doesn't have that big scorer for down the stretch–yet (Paul George should get there).
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