The Oklahoma City Thunder are hanging on to hopes of clinching an NBA Playoff birth this season but things have just gotten a whole lot tougher for a franchise already dealt some difficult hands in recent months.
Out of action
Indeed, OKC will have to mount their final assault on the top eight of the Western Conference without one of their most important players this campaign, forward Serge Ibaka.
As reported by ESPN, Ibaka will miss between four and six weeks of action as he recuperates following an arthroscopic knee procedure to ease soreness he first brought to the team's attention at the back end of February.
Ibaka's absence comes at the worst possible time for the Thunder as they seek to keep hold of one of the final playoff spots out West.
The team sits in eighth and final spot at present one game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and, also facing competition from the Phoenix Suns, head coach Scott Brooks will be cursing his luck that he is without a man who has proved key as the team handled life without Kevin Durant.
"Serge is a guy that always wants to be out on the floor, rarely misses time," said Sam Presti, the Thunder's general manager.
"But we felt like with where the symptoms were, we didn't think it was going to be improving, and because of that, this was the necessary step."
Should Ibaka miss the rest of OKC's regular-season games he will finish the season having averaged 14.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through 64 games. If the best prognosis of four weeks out is correct then he would be available for the first round of the NBA Playoffs if the Thunder make it into the postseason.
Blighted by injury
Serge Ibaka is only the latest in a long line of OKC players to miss time this season. Kevin Durant, after missing the opening phase of the season, has again been absent over the past month.
And while Russell Westbrook has been on MVP form in recent times, he too was unavailable for the entirety of November.
Indeed it is a wonder how the Thunder have ended up anywhere near the playoffs at all and they largely have Westbrook to thank for that.
Now though with their starting forward down, Brooks will turn to the rest of the roster and ask them to step up. Kiwi Steven Adams, as well as Enes Kanter are the men who will attempt to fill the void.
Sam Presti meanwhile is unwilling to use injuries as an excuse should Oklahoma City fail in their goals this season.
"You always want everybody available to you, but that's not realistic all the time in the NBA...We've learned that, and we feel really good about the depth of our team. We feel really good about the potential of our team. And we expect to play well."