Shortly after Kendrick Perkins left in the first quarter of Game 4 on Saturday night, Thunder coach Scott Brooks soon learned his starting center would not return against the Dallas Mavericks.
Two days later, Perkins' exact return remained unknown.
“I'm sure in the next couple days we'll have a better understanding,” Brooks said during a noon interview session Monday.
OKC officials list players as “day-to-day” when the severity of an injury is in the process of being diagnosed, a stage where Perkins remained two days after the Thunder swept the defending world champions in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
An MRI on Sunday confirmed Perkins suffered a right hip muscle strain and his “return to play will be based on his progress and recovery in the coming days.”
The amount of recovery time depends on the severity of the strain – mild, moderate or severe – plus the amount of pain, swelling and potential loss of strength in the affected muscle.
Rest and treatments are the primary course of action. Recovery could take several days to several weeks.
Perkins' potential absence in the playoffs could severely damage OKC's chances of advancing against the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets series, which the Lakers lead 3-1 with Game 5 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Imagine the ramifications had the Thunder not been able to overcome a 13-point deficit in the final 9½ minutes of Game 4 to win 103-97.
Game 5 would have been at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday night. Would Perkins have played?
“Hmmm,” Brooks said, a smile creeping slowly on his face. “That's a great question. Is there a Game 5 today? That's a hypothetical … but probably not.”
OKC's ability to close out the Mavs in four games gained even more significance after the 6-foot-10, 261-pound Perkins was lost, which is precisely what Brooks was thinking when his primary on-court enforcer remained in the locker room to receive treatment.
“That's in the back of your mind,” Brooks admitted, “but it was more about just focusing on that game and figuring out ways to get back into the game, especially at the end of that third quarter (when the Thunder trailed 81-68).”
OKC survived by going “small” and getting stellar play from reserve guards James Harden and Derek Fisher, clutch shooting and rebounding from Kevin Durant and superb defense from Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison.
It's debatable what might have transpired in Games 5, 6 and 7 without Perkins, who was a key defender on Mavs All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Perkins' hip, the Thunder presumably now hopes the Lakers-Nuggets series goes the distance, giving Perkins more time to recover.
The earliest the Thunder would begin a second-round series against the Lakers is Saturday.
If Denver forces a Game 7, it would be played Saturday night at Staples Center and the Thunder wouldn't play the winner until next Monday or Tuesday.
OKC retains home-court advantage in the second round, and Games 1 and 2 will be played at The Peake, no matter who the opponent.