MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- As news of the injury to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook reverberated through the NBA on Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies reacted to the Westbrook’s possible absence in a potential second-round series between the Thunder and the winner of the first-round series between the Clippers and Grizzlies.
“[The Thunder] are still a great team even without him, but he’s a huge part of their offense and a great player,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “So it does leave them vulnerable but we can’t really look to that yet. We can’t be focused on that. We have to take care of business first of all here, then set our sights on that.”
The Thunder announced on Friday that Westbrook will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. The procedure has yet to be scheduled and there is currently no timetable for his return, according to Thunder team officials. Should Westbrook be sidelined for an extended period and Oklahoma City advances to the second round, he'd miss a series against either the Clippers or the Grizzlies.
Griffin, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee while training for the Olympics last July, said the recovery time can vary player to player, depending on the severity of the injury.
“As long as you’re not repairing, you can come back pretty quickly,” Griffin said. “But you’re a step slow. It takes a little bit to get that feeling back and to get the swelling completely out and all that.”
Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince said the Thunder’s depth will keep Oklahoma City very competitive, but that injuries can have a major impact on any team’s title chances.
“They’ve got a good enough team to where they’ll still be focused,” Prince said. “No matter what five guys they have on the court, they’ll play hard regardless, so they’ll always have a chance. But obviously we know that’s a big piece to their puzzle. Everybody’s vulnerable when you lose a big piece.”
Prince referenced the near-perfect health enjoyed by the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 championship team for whom he played all 82 games, and the Pistons' 2008 team with a hobbled Chauncey Billups that lost the conference finals to the Boston Celtics.
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford offered compassion for Westbrook while also acknowledging that the injury has implications in the competitive Western Conference bracket.
“As a competitor, you know you’re only a play away from being hurt, so you never want to see that happen,” Crawford said. “[Westbrook] is one of the best players in the league, so it makes this more interesting. That’s for sure.”
Like Crawford, many players on the Clippers and Grizzlies expressed their sympathy for Westbrook, who’s never missed a game during his five season in the NBA. Clippers guard Chris Paul said he spoke to Westbrook on the phone on Friday morning after news of Westbrook’s torn meniscus became public.
“[Westbrook] is a really good friend of mine, and I actually talked to him before we came to practice this morning,” Paul said. “I told him I feel for him, and praying for him, and I hope he’s back soon.”
Paul rejected the notion that Westbrook’s injury will have any impact on the Clippers’ current series with the Grizzlies, which the Clippers lead 2-1.
“It doesn’t do anything for our series,” Paul said.
Clippers veteran guard Billups agreed with Paul. He sternly insisted the injury has absolutely no bearing on the Clippers’ first-round matchup with the Grizzlies. He interrupted a question about the ramifications of Westbrook’s absence to drive home the point.
“It’s got nothing to do with this series,” Billups said. “I hope he gets healthy, but it has nothing to do with this series.”
Westbrook’s injury occurred when Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley lunged at the ball in search of a steal as Westbrook dribbled the ball to the sideline to call a time-out. Upon contact with Beverley, Westbrook fell to the floor, then rose, hopping to the bench in pain.
“That’s a freakish accident, that play,” Prince said. “I’m pretty sure the Oklahoma City fans will be pretty pissed off at Beverly.”