Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

OKC's Biggest Threat To 2015 NBA Championship: Injuries

The funny thing about the Oklahoma City Thunder is that they had actually been pretty lucky in terms of avoiding major injuries all the way through their 2012 Western Conference Championship run.

Despite the fact that the Miami Heat only needed 5 games to claim the 2012 NBA Championship, the Thunder were very optimistic about their chances to contend in 2013. They had every reason to be. All they’d done, year-after-year since relocating from Seattle is improve. A dismal 23-59 opening campaign was immediately followed by an impressive 50-32 turnaround and playoff appearance, where the Thunder pushed the eventual 2010 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers to 6 games in the opening round. They followed that up with the 55-27 record and their first Western Conference Finals appearance, where they pushed the eventual 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks to 5 games. And that was followed up by the 2012 Western Conference Championship run.

Heck, as far as they, and pretty much everyone in OKC were concerned, 2013 was set to be their year. Sure they were still going to have to figure out the combination to the Miami Heat lock, but everyone pretty much assumed that time was all they needed. They’d even claimed the #1 seed in the always-tough Western Conference. Even as the 2013 NBA Playoffs began, everyone in Oklahoma City had nothing but high hopes for their squad. A rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals was looming, and no one in the entire United States of America had any reason to expect anything different.

Then Houston Rockets guard, Patrick Beverly, decided to go for a late steal that injured Westbrook’s meniscus in his right knee. Despite the fact that the Thunder powered past the Rockets in the opening round, Westbrook’s absence was too much to overcome, as the Memphis Grizzlies got their revenge from the 2011 playoff ousting. As optimistic as Thunder fans were initially, Westbrook’s injury made the writing on the wall far too clear to ignore. It was an injury that would come back to bite Westbrook 2 more times, as most of his 2014-2015 NBA season was lost to that very one.

The 2013-2014 NBA season was a very bad one for the Thunder in terms of injuries. Not only was Westbrook gone for most of the year, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha decided to drop around NBA All-Star time, which made the rest of the regular season a struggle for sure. Despite that, the Thunder were still able to claim the #2 seed heading into last season’s playoffs. And despite some struggles, the Thunder were still pushing through rounds.

Then Serge Ibaka suffered a calf injury at the worst possible time. Because honestly, if any team knows how to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, it would be the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich simply knows too much about the game. You can’t slip anything past him.

Even when Ibaka’s return seemed to shift the 2014 Western Conference Finals, it turned out to be too little, too late. Popovich had used Ibaka’s two-game absence to take a 2-0 series advantage, and effectively put the Thunder behind the 8-ball. In the end, Popovich only needed to claim 2 wins over a Thunder team with Ibaka in the lineup.

So, to put it bluntly, the San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA Championship by taking advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. Don’t take that as a knock on them. If anything, that gives credit to just how intelligent and observant they are. If you fail to take advantage of opportunities, you have no reason to complain about where you’re at in life, plain and simple.

And sadly, injuries will be the immediate and looming threat once again this season. Kevin Durant backed out of Team USA, citing need for rest as his main reason. He’s figured out what keeps derailing the Thunder anymore. 2 consecutive postseasons have been derailed by injuries to key players. That’s kind of why I would like to see Ibaka just go ahead and bow out as well, especially with the admission that his calf still isn’t quite 100%. I understand the FIBA craze, as I love it just as much as anyone else. But if you’re forced to choose between FIBA and the NBA, I think the choice is pretty obvious. As it pertains to the upcoming NBA season, all I have to say is:53476692

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