How Westbrook Broke the West

It had been talked about too much amongst  NBA announcers and your friends. Whenever people keep bringing something up, things always seemed to get jinxed. But this streak wouldn’t end. With 394 straight regular season games played, 45 playoff games, and inhuman athleticism, Russell Westbrook’s streak seemed it could go on forever. The guy hasn’t missed a game since high school but will sit out indefinitely, 2 games up on the Rockets, in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs. After losing to the Heat in last year’s Finals, Westbrook will not be lining up against them again this season.  I’d be willing to bet everything that Westbrook would rather have lost his streak months ago then  have it taken away from him now.

The news that Russell Westbrook will undergo surgery to have his meniscus repaired is as bad for the NBA and Thunder as Westbrook’s fashion. Westbrook is a top 10 player in the NBA and arguably the best point guard. Westbrook’s speed, athleticism, and skill set force opposing to teams to focus on him and attempt to contain him. Patrick Beverly hit the superhuman point guard with some kryptonite in Game 2 of the series tearing his lateral meniscus. The injury leaves Thunder fans wishing that Westbrook’s punch on the scorer’s table after the injury had gone into Beverly’s face, and hoping that the Thunder can somehow persevere.

Westbrook averaged 7.4 assists, 23.2 points, 1.8 steals, and 5.2 rebounds per game. The Thunder will miss every single one of those statistics. There’s no James Harden to take over the point anymore, Eric Maynor was traded to save a few dollars, so Reggie Jackson will now be lining up in Westbrook’s slot. And if you’re saying the Thunder are stupid for making those moves months ago- shut up now. Shoulda, woulda, and coulda don’t win championships and the Thunder secured the number 1 seed in the West just fine. Bad luck got them in this situation, not bad management. Let’s not kid ourselves though, the team won’t rely on Reggie Jackson or need him to play at Westbrook’s level. We have no idea how the Thunder will play without Russell Westbrook because it hasn’t happened in 5 seasons. We do know that Kevin Durant will have to raise his game to a new level to keep his team alive. The scariest thing is that he’s entirely capable.

If you doubt that the Thunder can make it back to the NBA Finals, you are seriously underestimating Kevin Durant. While Durant may not be the best player in the NBA, he’s the second best basketball player on the planet. In case you forgot, Durant just became the youngest player to join the 50-40-90 Fraternity. He shot 51% from the field, 41% from three and 90% from the free throw line. I don’t know of a much harder pledge process than needing those numbers. A pregnant Kim Kardashian has a better chance of getting in her old jeans than someone does of getting into the 50-40-90 club. So, if you give Durant 10-12 more shots a game at his scary efficiency, its not unlikely for him to average 40 points a game. Durant’s 4.6 assists per game alongside only 3.5 turnovers per game prove he knows how to handle the ball. The team will miss Westbrook, but Durant and company can still get to the Finals. If the Durant and D-Wade Gatorade commercial is true, Durant’s going to give everything he has to get back into the Finals. It won’t be easy for them, but it’s not impossible. The Thunder may be down right now, but they aren’t out.

While the Thunder took a major hit in the defense of their western conference crown, the rest of the Western teams chances to make it to the Finals greatly improved. The Thunder entered the playoffs as the favorites to come out of the west, but Westbrook’s injury has evened up the race. The San Antonio Spurs are rolling over the Lakers behind a Tim Duncan who’s proving himself as the best power forward of all time. If anyone can be considered the new favorites it has to be them. The Warriors and Nuggets are lighting the scoreboard, despite both teams having suffered massive injuries themselves (Danillo Gallinari and David Lee).  The winner of the Clippers-Grizzlies series (who would play the Thunder if they go on to win next round) suddenly seems like a contender to take the west. Everything is up the air and an argument can be made for every team- besides the Lakers and Rockets. At the beginning of the NBA season it seemed destined to end with the Lakers, Thunder, or Heat as champions. The Lakers are all but done, the Thunder have fallen into the pack, and only the Heat remain the favorites. If Westbrook’s injury has shown us anything, don’t count your chips before their cashed. Everything can change on any given play.

The Dunk Contest America Wants

slamdunk

So the names for this year’s dunk contest came out last week and it’s safe to say that no one’s jaw dropped. In fact, more people probably were wondering whether these guys were even in the NBA.  We’ll do a quick run-through of this year’s featured players. Representing the Western Conference we have Jeremy Evans, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried.
In case you missed last year’s dunk contest, Jeremy Evans won by jumping over a chair and dunking two balls at once, followed by dunking over Kevin Hart. Yes, the year after Blake Griffin won the dunk contest by jumping over a car, Evans won by jumping over a 5-foot-2 comedian. Speaking of Kevin Hart, we have a player who could stand in for him if need be. (I’m just kidding, Eric Bledsoe is 6 foot 1 and one of the best trade assets in the NBA). Bledsoe, or the slightly smaller Nate Robinson, has some major hops but being only 6 foot 1 it’s hard to do a lot with the ball while in the air. If anything though his dunk should get a good score just for the time he dunked and made Mark Cuban’s face look like this.

Last but not least for the West, we have the Manimal. Kenneth Faried is an absolute beast and he’s very capable awing a crowd. He’s by far the most explosive in this competition and bright spot in this contest. It’s good to see they made sure at least one NBA starter was on here with a name already known throughout the league.
For the Eastern Conference the dunkers are Gerald Green, Terrence Ross and James White. You might have heard the name Green and wondered why it was familiar. It’s because six years ago Green won the dunk contest when he was on the Boston Celtics.  Since leaving the Celtics that year, Green has been on five different NBA teams and it’s questionable what the journeyman has left in the tank.  Green does have an advantage over his fellow journeyman White. Green may not have the best resume, but at least he never fell out of the league. White started for San Antonio in 2006, then moved to Houston and then was out of the league following the 08-09 season until this year when he joined the Knicks. His career minute average is 8.6 minutes per game. He’s probably spent more time in dunk contests than actually on the NBA court. It can’t be denied that the guy can dunk though and he could be one of the best dunkers in the contest since Blake Griffin. White’s the heavy favorite and for good reason.  Terrence Ross is the lone rookie in the dunk contest and the second favorite behind White.  The young Raptors guard has a future in the league and perhaps he can get his name known early by pulling off the win.
So just to be clear, we have last year’s contest winner, a taller Nate Robinson, one NBA starter, two players who have not stayed on the same NBA team for more than a year and a rookie making up the dunk contest. I’m not saying it will be terrible, but the lineup is not exactly marquee. This got us here at theCover4 thinking about whom the best possible dunk contest would feature.
Representing the Western Conference: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. Russell Westbrook is an absolute athletic freak, just look at him simply dominate 7-footer Omer Asik.


If Westbrook could do this in a game, imagine what he could do during the competition. I don’t care if Westbrook and Durant are on the same team; I want to see Durant in the dunk contest. The flying stick has some mad hops and has seemed to start enjoying posterizing people more recently. Just watch his new KD 5 commercial and how he’s shed his Mr. NBA Nice Guy image. Anytime you can get a near 7- footer get his head above the rim regularly, I want him in the contest.


Blake Griffin should automatically have a spot reserved in the contest annually. I can’t imagine someone I’d rather not be than Mozgov at this moment. Nothing says posterized quite like getting your face shoved into a NBA player’s crotch while getting dunked on simultaneously. Until someone humiliates a player more than this, Blake has an automatic dunk contest berth.

Representing the Eastern Conference, we would have LeBron James, Paul George and Derrick Rose. The Twitter world collectively held its breath when James tweeted “Dunk Contest?” on February 7. Everyone has wanted to see what LeBron could do during the competition but he has repeatedly refused to participate. If the Akron Hammer decides to throw down this year, it will definitely be a dunk contest that’s remembered for years.

I know that everyone is going to say Paul George was in the dunk contest last year and failed to win. The guy has talent and his explosiveness can’t be denied. Last year’s glow-in-the-dark jersey was so-so but he’s got the talent to compete with anyone in the league.

The Derrick Rose inclusion is hoping that Rose comes back as his old self from his knee injury. The former MVP has nearly unrivaled explosiveness, with Westbrook probably being the only guard capable of matching his athleticism and speed. If he’s back to his old self, he’s one of the most entertaining point guards in the league.

(Why are so many of these against the Knicks?)

While we’ll probably never have a dunk contest featuring this caliber of players, we can always dream. Here’s to hoping that this year’s young dunk contest participants can put on a show and make their names well known by NBA fans. The dunk contest has long been one of the highlights of All-Star weekend and while it’s not what it could be, it offers an opportunity for these young players. White could be one of the best dunkers in the NBA and I fully expect him to put on a show. I fully expect him to win the competition and have his name known throughout the league Saturday night.

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Tye Masters
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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