The Oklahoma City Thunder have two games to rescue a spot in the NBA Playoffs 2015, but the New Orleans Pelicans still control their own destiny.
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Despite a career-high 54 points from point guard Russell Westbrook against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, OKC still couldn’t find a way to pick up a win and they were dealt a blow with their star man picking up a 16th technical foul of the season.
That results in an automatic one-game suspension, and unless it is overturned on appeal, Westbrook will sit in the key clash with the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
The Thunder and the Pelicans remain tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 43-37 record as James Harden led the Houston Rockets to a win over the latter to ensure both teams lost.
However, a New Orleans win on Monday coupled with a Thunder loss will end the race as the Pelicans have the head-to-head tiebreaker and so Westbrook and Co. will start planning their summer holiday earlier than anticipated.
It has undoubtedly been both a disappointing and frustrating season for OKC, as despite having high expectations prior to the campaign tipping off, they are set to fall short of their target yet again.
While that can be put down in part to their overall play, it is more so a result of their bad luck with injuries as reigning league MVP Kevin Durant has been sidelined for a significant part of the season with a foot injury.
Serge Ibaka has also been ruled out after knee surgery, and even Westbrook himself has missed time prior to going on a one-man tear these past couple of months to will the Thunder over the line.
However, that is an aspect of their play that will need to be discussed this summer, provided that they don’t somehow manage to swing things around and make the post-season.
A dependency on Westbrook hasn’t worked out well enough as a unit regardless of his individual performances, and coach Scott Brooks has been criticised previously for his tendency to lean on the point guard and Durant too much.
While they are undoubtedly among the best players in the league, a balance is needed with or without them, and a run of good luck in terms of health wouldn’t do any harm either. However, a lesson to be learned from this year is that even an MVP-level Westbrook can’t be given the keys to the team and do it all by himself.