- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Thunder forward Serge Ibaka could miss the rest of the season after having an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee Tuesday.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Ibaka will be out four to six weeks. The playoffs begin April 18.

Presti said the procedure shaved off damaged cartilage from under Ibaka’s kneecap that had caused discomfort and swelling. Ibaka started having issues in late February, but he played until missing the past three games. He had averaged 17.1 points and 9.4 rebounds since the All-Star break and was shooting 55 percent.

The swelling caused stiffness and limited Ibaka’s mobility. Presti said the Thunder tried to deal with the issue through medication, rest and a modified practice regimen. The team also removed fluid from the knee, but the problems returned and were limiting him. Presti said ideally, the surgery would have been performed in the offseason.

“No long-term concerns with regard to anything structural with his knee,” Presti said. “Obviously, a setback in terms of timing, but the long-term health of the player, and the ability to play at a high level during the season is the most important thing.”

Presti said the Thunder and Ibaka agreed to have the procedure because rest and removal of fluid wouldn’t stop the discomfort or the swelling.

The news comes while reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant remains out with pain in his right foot. The Thunder were a half-game ahead of New Orleans for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference standings entering Tuesday’s games.

Presti said he feels confident the team can continue to play well. Enes Kanter, a new addition who plays power forward and center, is averaging 16 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 54 percent since he was moved from Utah at the trade deadline. Rookie forward Mitch McGary has been promising, and steady veteran Nick Collison is available to add minutes.

None of Ibaka’s replacements offer his defensive presence - he has been on the league’s all-defensive first team three straight years and ranks second in the league with 2.4 blocked shots per game.

“We have to do some accounting for the fact that we won’t have Serge going forward, but we feel really good about the team that we have, and I feel that our standard of play should continue to be where it’s been, and our focus and our goals as to what guides our success remain unchanged,” Presti said.


Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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