Darnell Mayberry: “This game was all about Kevin Durant. His dominance. And his demeanor. His final stat line speaks for itself. But it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. You would have had to see the game to get a true sense of what Durant did here Sunday night. Maybe even had to be in the building. If you missed it, you can’t understand the statement Durant made against the Rockets, or the message he sent to the rest of the league. In his first crack at a conference contender without Russell Westbrook by his side, Durant dialed it up and showed how he can keep his franchise afloat for as long as it’s without its All-Star point guard.”
Michael Wallace of ESPN.com: “Even this season, while Durant is shooting a career-high 50 percent from the field, James is flirting with a 60-percent mark. And whereas Durant will try to keep the Thunder atop the West without Westbrook for the next two months, James has risen to the challenge of maintaining the two-time defending champion’s high level of play as Dwyane Wade has been in and out of the lineup, managing knee issues. These are all reasons why Durant won’t get too caught up in the talk about padding his MVP candidacy. He’d much rather solidify a supporting cast that will be ready, once Westbrook returns, to get through the West and ultimately meet James and the Heat again in the Finals.”
Four of five in an ESPN.com 5-on-5 like the Thunder to still win the West, including J.A. Adande: “The Spurs were my preseason pick and the first month of the season didn’t change my mind. But the way the Thunder had been playing before Westbrook went down did. The playoffs often come down to whose best is better, and if Westbrook can get back to form and the rest of the team stays intact, I like Oklahoma City’s best the most.”
Kyle Wagner of Deadspin: “OKC has benefited from improved play from Jeremy Lamb and especially Reggie Jackson, but neither is Russ (nor is either James Harden or Kevin Martin), and it’s not really close. That means Kevin Durant is going to have to get back on the LeBron impersonation horse, and while he’s perfectly capable of that, this is going to look more like Bron running around with Boobie and Mo than the Thunder we know.”
Berry Tramel: “The Thunder should be very concerned. Something is amiss. Either the initial damage to Westbrook was much more than anyone believed, or the surgeries have been botched. Whatever the case, Westbrook’s long-term health suddenly becomes a question.”
In case you missed it, a few thoughts from me on Westbrook’s surgery.
Rob Mahoney of SI.com: “If anything, this is when the questionable rotation choices of Thunder coach Scott Brooks may truly take their toll. Playing Fisher more than his due is one thing, as OKC may now have little alternative given its roster makeup. But the decision to thus far commit to a floundering starting lineup (of Westbrook, Durant, Perkins, Sefolosha, and Serge Ibaka) stands to be even more costly with Jackson slotted in for Westbrook. Even the more promising of the Thunder’s Jackson-driven lineups have been middling offensively, as the young guard can no more fully compensate for the limitations of Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha than Westbrook could.”
Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider: “Optimistically projecting Westbrook’s return at the break, his absence drops the Thunder’s average finish in simulations to 59 wins, putting them behind the Spurs. Oklahoma City goes from a heavy favorite to win the West to a slight underdog, doing so a little less than 40 percent of the time. Besides San Antonio benefiting, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also now have a legitimate shot at claiming a top-2 seed. All three remaining matchups with Portland will be played before the All-Star break, which could help the Blazers claim the head-to-head tiebreaker. Their odds of winning the Northwest Division tripled to more than 12 percent of simulations. Westbrook’s injury is hardly fatal to the Thunder’s chances. When healthy, Oklahoma City has been the conference’s top team, and we need look back no further than 2011 to see the Thunder beating the Spurs in the West finals without the benefit of home-court advantage. But Westbrook’s injury figures to make the path to the NBA Finals more challenging for Oklahoma City.”