Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Without Russell Westbrook, time to get tough

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm •  Published: April 26, 2013

You’re up, Reggie Jackson.

The Thunder’s incredible run of fortune – no major injuries over a four-year run to nearly the NBA summit – ended Friday with the news that Russell Westbrook will undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee.

The Thunder will play the rest of this Rockets series without Westbrook, the Sound & the Fury of the defending NBA West champs. And then the Thunder would get the winner of the Clippers-Grizzlies series, otherwise known as the Doberman vs. the Pit Bulls.

Winning with Westbrook wasn’t going to be easy. Winning without will be a monumental challenge.

But no one outside of Thunderville cares. Winning is all that matters in the NBA playoffs.

All of which means the Thunder gets to show how tough it is.

Without Kobe, the Lakers scratched their way into the playoffs. Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics kept their head above water. The Spurs maintain excellence no matter who goes out, which San Antone’s stars frequently do.

So no excuses for the Thunder. Find a way to win without Westbrook.

Which means Jackson has to grow up and fast as a point guard. He’s been playing better and better. In many ways was a poor-man’s Westbrook. Now Jackson has to be better than that.

And Fisher has to be what he was billed to be last season. A backup point guard. He’s going to have to play seven or eight minutes against the Rockets’ pesky backcourt and stay tough.

And Kevin Durant, really hate to ask, but can you be even more spectacular than usual? Can you shoulder even more of the load? Can you score more AND facilitate more?

And Kevin Martin, no more fooling around. How does the Thunder replace Westbrook’s 24 points per game? It starts with you, Circle K. You’ve got to produce. A series of 20-point games is close to mandatory.

And Serge, you know how you often don’t get enough shots? Like Game 2, when you had six? Those days should be gone. Scotty Brooks, if the Thunder doesn’t get Ibaka 10-15 shots, that’s on you.

Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha, keep on keeping on. Thabo’s even-keeledness is an underrated portion of the Thunder success. A guy who never gets too high or too low is always handy to have around. Thabo is more valuable than ever. Same with Collison.

Kendrick Perkins, no retaliation. Don’t go looking for revenge on Patrick Beverley. No matter how much you want to. The Thunder needs all hands on deck.

Jeremy Lamb, well, I’m not on the Lamb bandwagon, so I hope Foreman Scotty isn’t tempted to use Lamb. I’d trust a retread like Fisher more than a wild card like Lamb.

DeAndre Liggins, get ready. You’ll be needed. Westbrook will be missed on defense. There will be stretches against the Rockets when Liggins will have to go and try to get in the way of James Harden or Beverley or Jeremy Lin.

That’s the way it works. A man goes down, everyone has to fill in. There aren’t any Russell Westbrooks laying around, waiting to replace other Russell Westbrooks. Everyone makes up for the void.

That’s the definition of a tough team.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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