Almost here...playoff time.
Every team has strengths and weaknesses, and has matchups they prefer and those that they desperately want to avoid.
There are definitely a lot of factors that contribute to who wins a best of seven-game series, and one of the biggest is the dreaded injury bug.
Every team has at least one player with an injury that could affect their chances.
This is my list of injuries that I think will have the biggest influence on how the postseason plays out, in no particular order:
Andrew Bynum: L.A Lakers
This is perhaps the most obvious choice, Bynum twisted his left knee which resulted in a torn MCL on Jan 13 against the Memphis Grizzlies and he hasn't played a game since. The Lakers have done surprisingly well since Bynum went down, with Pau Gasol stepping up his play inside.
Bynum has stated he wants to be back before the playoffs, possibly the last two games or so. These games would be practically meaningless for the Lakers, and could be a good chance for him to get back to playing form. Before the injury against the Griz, he had played every game for the Lakers.
Though the Lakers have coped well without him, its no secret that Bynum is needed for the playoffs.
He needs to take up space in the paint and bump the bigger bodies, he needs to be there to intimidate and provide those crowd-pleasing, momentum-giving dunks every now and then.
Dwyane Wade: Miami Heat
Everyone knows about his amazing comeback, first showcased in the Olympics and then the MVP calibre NBA season. He has seemed healthy for most of the year, but when you do as much for your team as Wade does, for 82 games, especially with his style of play, there is bound to be some wear-and-tear.
Wade missed a game on March 18 against Boston and his shooting percentages haven't been great this month, including a 20 percent shooting performance in a loss to Indiana. The Heat training staff are reported to be spending "all-day" on making sure he is game-ready.
I don't really need to explain do I? Dwyane Wade is the Miami Heat, his play will determine if they grab any playoff wins for the first time in three years.
Even when he has been playing lately, he hasn't been 100 percent (though has still put up great numbers for the most part) and the Heat have begun to lose. The Hawks are drifting away with the fourth seed and the Sixers are on their heels from behind.
Wade is most definitely the biggest factor in Miami's playoff hopes. If he plays, he will no doubt put up big impressive numbers. But they need him to also be efficient in order to succeed.
Manu Ginobili: San Antonio Spurs
We haven't seen the Manu we're accustomed to all season long, not since his amazing play in the Olympics. That was when he first injured his ankle.
It required surgery to repair it, meaning he missed the first 12 games of the year. When he returned, it was clear he had not fully recovered.
He recently returned from missing 19 games in a row and has put up some decent numbers since then, but he is still far from 100 percent. He has scored over 30 just twice this year, and his average has dropped to 15.8.
Tony Parker has had an underrated season, putting up great numbers to carry the Spurs. Tim Duncan has been amazing as always, but his numbers have dropped and he himself admitted he is also not at full strength.
Manu is the true x-factor for the Spurs, his play can decimate the opponent, they need him to make the big plays that they are accustomed to.
Though it seems he will be available for the playoffs, the Spurs need him at a higher percentage in order to help them.
Josh Howard: Dallas Mavericks
Josh Howard's form has been off all year, he is far removed from his all-star season two years ago. He has almost disappeared from the NBA world, especially after his controversial comments last summer.
His left ankle and wrist have suffered all year long, limiting him to only 47 games. So far this year, he has scored over 30 just once. His rebounding may have suffered the most, dropping to five a game.
He returned late last week and had shown promising signs so far, much better than his previous returns from injury earlier in the year.
I almost wrote a whole article on how Josh Howard is critical to the Mavericks postseason hopes.
Though it is obvious that Dirk Nowitzki is still "the man" on this team, the Mavs are so much more dangerous when they have a productive Howard on the court.
Howard has been back for two games, in his first he had 14 points and six rebounds, in his second he had 20 and eight, as well as making important plays down the stretch. The Mavs won both games
Kevin Garnett: Boston Celtics
Since about halfway through the season, its been clear that something is wrong with Kevin Garnett. His right knee has caused a lot of problems, and has finally forced the Big Ticket to sit out games, he missed 13 games from Feb 22 to March 20.
He came back for four games, but never played more than 20 minutes, and never scored more than 12 points.
The Celtics announced they would be shutting him down for the rest of the regular season, but are strongly suggesting that he will be ready for the playoffs.
Whispers of doubt have spread concerning the Celtics. They are definitely banged up and have lost some suspect games. They are no longer a sure shot for repeat champions like they seemed with their historical winning streak earlier. They are no longer even the best team in their conference.
Kevin Garnett is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Celtics. He is their leader and anchor of their defence. His numbers don't even tell half the story of his worth to the team.
Numerous coaches and scouts have repeated that without Garnett, it is incredibly hard to see the Celtics even escaping the East.
Of course, the Amar'e Stoudemire and T-Mac injuries are also huge, but as there is no chance in these two playing in a playoff game (especially if Phoenix don't even make it), I thought it best to include those who could have an impact.
Each player here can change the fortunes of their respective teams, for better or for worse.
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