The hurt just keeps on coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Power forward Serge Ibaka — a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — will join reigning MVP Kevin Durant on the bench, after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.
Ibaka, according to Thunder P.R., is expected to miss four to six weeks.
It should be remembered that Ibaka was deemed out for the season at the onset of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, only to return in Game 3 and lead OKC back into the series with his typically excellent rim protection.
It’s unlikely now — as it always is — that Ibaka is playing possum, though. This is just more bad luck for a team that’s come to be symbolized by the mask their star Russell Westbrook wears. Even he, their indestructible warrior, is covered in plastic protection.
Westbrook’s triple-double-laden campaign has been the silver lining keeping the Thunder alive through injuries and roster reshuffling alike. OKC currently has seven players acquired either over the summer or midseason, and their superstar point guard has been the only consistent factor through their effort to jell, while fighting for their playoff lives as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans nip at their heels.
At time of publication, New Orleans is just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Either team will have the not-so-welcome treat of squaring off with the 53-13 Golden State Warriors if they get in. Provided that the Thunder are the team to land the spot against basketball’s best team, they better hope the indispensable Ibaka is back on the earlier side of his recovery timeline. They’ll need everything they can get to pull off the upset.
— John Wilmes