Houston Rockets All-Star Russell Westbrook is suffering a quad strain, which has made him a considerable doubt for the Rockets’ first-round playoff games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook had an MRI scan on his right thigh, which revealed a strained quad that could keep him out of several games. Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni admitted to the press that the strain was not an injury which would “miraculously go away tomorrow.”
Westbrook was unable to take part in the Rockets’ last two seeding games for the postseason and his presence will certainly be missed against the Thunder. The news of injury to Westbrook has had an effect in the NBA odds for the overall NBA Championship, with the Rockets slipping to sixth favorite outright behind the Boston Celtics.
Rightly so when you consider Westbrook’s form since the turn of 2020. He has contributed an average of seven assists, almost eight rebounds and a total of 30.6 points per game. These statistics certainly back up D’Antoni’s strategic decision to play without a center – instead utilizing a quarter of shooters around Westbrook, allowing him the freedom to drive the play.
It’s a bitter frustration for Westbrook that his quad injury will keep him out of the early exchanges against his former teammates. Westbrook spent over a decade with the Thunder and the chance to face his old team will have excited him immensely. It also sees Chris Paul come face-to-face with his former Rockets teammates, having been traded for Westbrook last season.
James Harden, who is one of the NBA’s biggest personalities, was quizzed about the importance of Westbrook’s absence and went to great lengths to suggest that it is business as usual as the Rockets prepare for their postseason showdown. Harden said that “nothing changes” in terms of the team’s mentality, but he did acknowledge that with the likes of Westbrook and Eric Gordon fit and firing, the Rockets are “a really dangerous team”.
D’Antoni will almost certainly require the services of Westbrook in the Rockets’ ranks if they are to carry a serious threat for the NBA Finals. Former MVP James Harden may still be one of Houston’s most prodigious talents, but even he won’t be able to dominate the ball alone for four postseason rounds. The best-case scenario for D’Antoni and the Rockets is that they can inch past the Thunder without breaking too much of a sweat whilst readying Westbrook for the next round.
Is D’Antoni destined to depart Houston?
Regardless of whether the Rockets shoot to NBA Finals stardom, it’s possible that Westbrook and Co. will be under new stewardship next season if reports are to be believed. With Alvin Gentry fired as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, there are suggestions that D’Antoni is being lined up as a long-term replacement. NBC reporter Kurt Helin took to Twitter to suggest that the Pelicans’ interest in D’Antoni is “something to watch” pending the Rockets’ elimination from the playoffs.
Although Helin did not provide any further weight to his predictions, it is clear that D’Antoni’s future with Houston is up in the air. His contract is up at the end of the season and with no extension talks forthcoming, a parting of the ways looks very possible, even if the Rockets manage to make history in the coming weeks.
D’Antoni has been with Houston since 2016 and the Pelicans would provide an interesting project for the 69-year-old. New Orleans have only enjoyed one winning season in the last five years and only the performances of Anthony Davis in 2017-18 earnt them a rare postseason berth – before falling in the second round. The chance to work with and mould the likes of rookie Zion Williamson and All-Star Brandon Ingram could be an attractive proposition for both D’Antoni and the Pelicans’ hierarchy. If Westbrook comes back into the fold in the next week or two, D’Antoni will hope he can bow out with Houston with a successful postseason.