As the Los Angeles Clippers ready for the regular season, news broke on Sunday that Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is dealing with a Jones Fracture in his right foot and will miss at least the first month of the season. The fracture at the base of his small toe reportedly will keep Durant out 6 to 8 weeks at a minimum, with some speculating that the Thunder could look to keep Durant out even longer to err on the side of caution with the injury.
It’s the second consecutive year the Thunder has to deal with a major injury to a key player at the beginning of the regular season. Last year the Thunder were without star point guard Russell Westbrook at the beginning of the year, an injury the Thunder were able to overcome and still finish with the second best record in the Western Conference. The injury to Durant could be much more significant. In Reggie Jackson, one of the best backup point guards in the NBA, Oklahoma City had a solid replacement for Westbrook, something that simply doesn’t exist for Durant. Depending on how much time Durant misses the Thunder will likely struggle without Durant, a factor that can impact the rest of the Western Conference teams.
How big of an impact is the injury to Durant on the Clippers chances to earn the best record in the Western Conference? It could be potentially significant.
More than anything the injury to Durant is a reminder that injury luck in the NBA can be fleeting, and the Thunder have had good luck with injuries during their run of strong play over the past several years, before last season. Now it’s Durant who’s on the sidelines with Westbrook forced to take a bigger role in the offence. The one constant has been Durant, who has missed only six total games in the past five seasons, including the postseason. The Thunder have not had to play without their superstar for any significant stretch in the past five years, a major factor in their ability to always finish in the top two in the Western Conference.
Durant could miss 15 to 30 games if you take into account the full range of recovery that experts have laid out. If Durant misses the more significant number of games, the Thunder could be in a significant hole to the Clippers and Spurs when it comes to best record and the all-important home-court advantage in the playoffs, a significant factor in the Thunder defeat of the Clippers in last year’s playoffs. The absence of Durant could mean the Thunder go from a 60 win team to a 53 to 55 win team, a factor that may not only put the Thunder behind the Clippers and Spurs, but could potentially put them in a group of teams that includes the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
The Thunder need to be careful with Durant and have his long-term health in mind. Although many players recover quickly from such injuries, there are cases like Brook Lopez and Yao Ming where foot injuries have lingered for a more extended period. If the Thunder are more conservative with Durant, it’s a significant opportunity for the Clippers to earn home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.