Updated: April 27, 2013, 9:51 PM ET

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How Far Will Thunder Go Now?

By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider


Here's the real question. It's tough to say what Oklahoma City will be like without Russell Westbrook because we've never seen this before. Continuity has been one of the Thunder's greatest strengths. The team's starting lineup played more minutes together (1,307) than any other lineup in the league, per NBA.com/Stats. By contrast, Oklahoma City's likely new starting five with Jackson played a total of 19 minutes together all regular season.

The encouraging stat for Thunder fans is that the team was slightly better during the regular season with Kevin Durant alone on the court than with both stars. The improvement is fluky, but Durant's ability to pick up his scoring load will help make up for Westbrook's absence. According to NBA.com/Stats, Durant increased his scoring per 36 minutes from 25.7 to 29.4 when Westbrook sat while also improving his efficiency; his true shooting percentage went from .640 to .680.

Naturally, Oklahoma City struggled when both stars were out. So expect Scott Brooks to rely heavily on Durant in coming games. In the last two postseasons, Durant has averaged 42.5 and 41.9 minutes per game, and those numbers might qualify as the under going forward.

The Thunder still should have more than enough talent to dispatch of the Rockets, especially with a 2-0 head start in the series. The level of competition will go up quickly in Round 2 against either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Memphis Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies previously looked like the worse matchup from Oklahoma City's perspective, now the Thunder may not want to see the Clippers tandem of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe against their backup point guards.

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Kevin Pelton

ESPN Staff Writer

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