DALLAS — In three of their last four playoff appearances, the Memphis Grizzlies went to battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, including the last two seasons.
If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing the NBA’s reining MVP.
That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been “removed from basketball activities” and could be shut down for the season.
The news of Durant’s latest setback surrounding a right foot injury came as a shock to a Thunder team that is clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. According to team officials, Durant’s foot reportedly has caused him more pain after he underwent surgery Feb. 23.
Durant, who traveled with the team to Dallas for Monday’s outing and underwent treatment before that game, told MemphiSport.com, “I’m feeling better. I’ll be re-evaluated in a few days and will be ready to go soon.”
However, as early as Friday, Durant’s injury apparently had taken a turn for the worst, a development team officials believe will likely sideline the seven-year veteran for the remainder of the season.
“He’s not making the progress we’d hoped or expected,” Presti said.
That OKC will likely be without its best player if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years.
Memphis made its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history in 2013 after eliminating the Thunder in five games. That year, the Thunder were without point guard Russell Westbrook, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs’ opening round.
“I feel bad for him,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of Durant’s injury following Friday morning’s shoot around in American Airlines Center. “Great player. Special guy. Special player. I got to know him a little bit during the All-Star weekend. But I feel bad for him. I know how much he loves the game and how much he wants to be out there. And I feel bad for him.”
Like Gasol, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said the news of Durant likely being shut down the rest of the year came as a shock, considering he had been hearing that Durant was recouping comfortably from the foot injury.
“I have not heard about it. That’s news to me right now,” Conley said.
Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career.
Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over the Atlanta Hawks (36 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds).
So resilient Westbrook has been after what was an injury-ridden season last year for the former UCLA star that he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for league’s Most Valuable Player.
However, earlier this week, Westbrook reiterated that individual accolades are the least of his concerns, especially considering the Thunder are battling for their playoff lives during the season’s stretch run. At 39-30, OKC owns a two-game lead over ninth-place New Orleans for the pivotal eighth spot in the West.
“I don’t know,” said Westbrook, when asked if he’s playing the best basketball of his career. I take it one day at a time, man, and keep doing what I’m doing. I have no take (on the MVP race). My job is to come out and play at a high level every single night.”
But whether Westbrook and Co. will have Durant back for what figures to be an intense postseason in the always rugged Western Conference remains unclear.
As of Friday, team officials hinted that a Thunder playoff run this year likely will take place without arguably their best player.
“You know, it sucks to have any kind of injury,” Conley said. “And the situation (Durant) is going through, I know he wants to be back on the court. So that’s tough for him and the organization. But I’m sure they’re doing whatever’s best for him and the team.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.