All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will not only miss the Houston Rockets' final seeding game on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Westbrook will also be unavailable for the start of the Rockets' playoff series against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to published reports.
Westbrook logged 27 minutes in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, but an MRI exam the following day revealed a quad strain that could potentially sideline him into next week. Westbrook has been ruled out against the 76ers (42-30) in the regular-season finale for both teams in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Rockets (44-27) are 8-6 without Westbrook in the starting lineup this season. Houston acquired Westbrook last offseason in part because their former point guard, 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, had a protracted playoff injury history that included a hamstring strain that sidelined Paul for the final two games of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, a series Houston led 3-2 before losing to the Golden State Warriors.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said Thursday that Westbrook will be re-evaluated this weekend in advance of the series with the Thunder, which opens Tuesday. Houston has dropped consecutive games following a 4-1 start at the bubble, with its postseason seeding essentially locked in.
"The last two, three games really, in reality, we weren't fighting for anything," D'Antoni said. "We're locked into fourth or fifth which makes no difference so we didn't have the energy that we've had. We're trying to rest guys; Friday will be the same thing. It's more just who needs the work, who needs the rest, reduced minutes if any minutes at all. That's where we are right now."
The Rockets welcomed back guard Eric Gordon in their 108-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. Gordon had been sidelined with an ankle sprain suffered in the final scrimmage in the bubble, and with Westbrook injured, Gordon will play an even more critical role for Houston.
"He didn't look real good but that's normal," D'Antoni said of Gordon, who missed 8 of 9 3-pointers and committed six turnovers over 20 minutes against the Pacers. "We knew that. That's why it was good he played (Wednesday) and he'll play some Friday and then have a couple practices and hopefully get back in rhythm."
Houston has spent the majority of this unusual season attempting to set a regular rotation. But injuries to Gordon and Westbrook, combined with a midseason shift to a small-ball lineup, has undermined that goal. Now, once again, Houston must prepare for an unexpected circumstance.
"We have a good enough team that we should be able to beat a team without someone," Gordon said. "Of course we're going to need Russ, but we've got to be able to be a good enough team to make adjustments and win."
The 76ers are peering into a void of their own with guard Ben Simmons lost for the season following knee surgery. With their playoff opponent set -- Philadelphia will face the Boston Celtics in a first-round Eastern Conference series starting Monday -- the 76ers are likely to rest or limit the minutes of several key contributors Friday. Both Joel Embiid (ankle, hand) and Glenn Robinson III (hip) are listed as questionable.
Philadelphia has labored developing continuity and is pinning its hopes against the Celtics on the chemistry fostered during the league restart in the bubble. Without Simmons, that cohesion will be tested.
"We truly understand that when playoffs come, with our team and our depth, that (chemistry is) going to be needed throughout our run," 76ers forward Tobias Harris said.
It has been a tough week for Embiid. He departed Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with an ankle injury that forced him to miss Tuesday's contest against the Phoenix Suns.
He returned on Wednesday and lasted just 14 minutes against the Toronto Raptors before injuring his right hand. X-rays were negative.
"I do know it was whacked twice," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said of Embiid's hand injury. "As it relates to what's next, or the evaluation of it, I am sorry, I can't comment on that."
--Field Level Media