MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No Russell Westbrook. No Derrick Rose. No Luol Deng. No Danny Granger. No Amar'e Stoudemire. No David Lee. The NBA's conference semifinals are rife with stars sidelined by injury.
Only the blessed — the Heat, the Grizzlies, the Spurs — are playing with a full deck. But that doesn't mean a pass for the short-handed squads that will be ushered out of this round. This is the no-excuse playoffs.
Thank the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have redefined resiliency. Without Rose, Deng and Kirk Hinrich, and with Joakim Noah playing on a foot cursed by plantar fasciitis, which sounds awful and feels worse, the Bulls won a Game 7 in Brooklyn. Then Monday night in Miami, the Bulls beat the Heat with the same tattered lineup.
If Chicago perseveres like that, the Thunder can come to River City and win a game from the Grizzlies to retake control of their West semifinal. Even without Westbrook.
And if not, no excuses.
“It's a strange year with all the injuries,” conceded Nick Collison. “It's been all over the league. Most teams are dealing with it.”
The Thunder has struggled to find its footing without Westbrook, in four games against Houston and in two against Memphis. But few teams have sympathy. Not even the fully stocked Grizzlies, who lost to OKC in a memorable seven-game series two playoffs ago when Memphis played without 20-point-a-game scorer Rudy Gay.
NBA mentality is much more too-bad than so-sad.
“We're not the only team that has lost a star,” Scotty Brooks said. “If you don't believe that you can win without your players healthy, you're not going to win.”
Resiliency has become the calling card of these playoffs. The Warriors have remade themselves without all-star David Lee. Going small and shooting sharp, Golden State might be better without Lee. The Knickerbockers clearly are better without Stoudemire, who never really jelled without Carmelo Anthony.
No one is saying that about the Bulls without Rose and Deng. Or the Thunder without Westbrook.
With Westbrook, OKC would have the advantage at the all-important point guard position. Now Memphis has that edge, with the spectacularly solid Mike Conley.
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