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Could Russell Westbrook's Minute Restriction Stretch into NBA Playoffs?

Mar 21, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes up and scores a basket against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport
Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

It's no secret that Russell Westbrook's history of knee injuries has made Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks more cautious when delegating minutes during the regular season, but now it looks like that caution may extend into the playoffs. 

According to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry, Brooks revealed to reporters on Monday night that the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard's minutes restriction may stretch into the playoffs: 

In order to combat a heavier minutes restriction, though, it appears that Brooks and the Thunder are looking to keep Westbrook fresh throughout the remainder of the regular season, particularly after he suffered another injury scare over the weekend, according to CBS Sports' Royce Young: 

Ultimately, the scare amounted to little more than a sprain, according to Bleacher Report's Will Carroll, which was overwhelmingly good news given Westbrook's messy history with a troublesome meniscus. 

Playing just 30.7 minutes per game this season—the lowest mark of his career—Westbrook remains the key to Oklahoma City's title hopes.

Detractors continually harp on Westbrook's ability to dribble the air out of the ball and steal shots from Kevin Durant, but this team isn't going to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the season with Westbrook off the court or at anything less than full strength. 

That's the same sentiment that was relayed by Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal shortly after Westbrook was injured against the Toronto Raptors

However, the Thunder want to be at full strength for the postseason, when defenses buckle down, rotations shrink, the level of the opposition increases and every possession matters even more than normal.

And they won't be at full strength without Westbrook fully integrated into the lineup, something they'd been drawing close to before he went back down. 

In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, the Thunder's offense produces 4.8 points more per 100 possessions when Westbrook's on the floor and posts a net rating of plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions when he's zooming around the hardwood. 

And with Westbrook on record saying that he's fine playing the role of sidekick alongside the league's leading scorer, concerns over chemistry need to be squashed. 

"Kevin has been playing MVP basketball.... My job is just to help," Westbrook said back in February upon returning, according to Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick

According to NBA.com, the two-man pairing of Westbrook and Durant has also posted an offensive rating of 109.9, the highest among any Oklahoma City duo that's played more than 1,000 minutes. They've also recorded a net rating of 7.4, which ranks third among all Thunder duos. 

Asking Durant to carry the load himself is fine during the regular season. But when the postseason rolls around, just remember what happened to the Thunder a year ago against the Memphis Grizzlies.

A minutes limit may sound ominous, but the Thunder will take any production they can get from the league's second-most efficient point guard (per ESPN.com), even if it means taking a judicious approach. 

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