NBA Injury Report: Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and More Hurting This Week
The NBA continues to limp toward the All-Star break with many teams needing the time off. Star players are falling left and right while some players are getting closer to a return.
I wrote earlier this week about Derrick Rose and his impending return, so we'll skip that here. But we have a full plate of other All-Stars, top young players and aging superstars who are hurting. I'll also skip Dwight Howard, who's been covered at length elsewhere.
Here are the top 10 injuries from this week, in no particular order.
If there are more you have questions about, drop them in the comments and I'll try to get you some information.
Blake Griffin (hamstring)
Word is that Blake Griffin will be a game-time decision for the Clippers on Wednesday. Already down some personnel, the Clippers have to weigh the short- and long-term impact in deciding how to handle Griffin's injury.
Their decision should be an easy one. For an explosive athlete, even a minor hamstring strain has to be considered a potential problem down the line. The smart play is to be conservative and allow Griffin to get more rest to get the hamstring further away from the initial injury and make sure that a recurrence doesn't set him back even further.
The biggest concern is that this becomes a chronic ailment. Griffin isn't skilled enough that he can lose the quickness and explosiveness that allows him to run the floor and jump over cars. (Calm down, Clippers fans. What I mean is that you don't want to see Griffin turn into a "normal" basketball player.)
Right now, his best move is sitting on the bench.
Tim Duncan (ankle)
That Tim Duncan remains a key cog in the Spurs' machine at age 36 says a lot about his ability and the expertise of the Spurs' medical staff. There's also an element of luck in avoiding the types of injuries that we saw over the weekend.
The initial impression as Duncan collapsed to the floor was that this could be a devastating knee injury. The highlights appeared to show the knee bending inward. Instead, it appears that Duncan's athleticism and flexibility took over.
His ankle ended up getting the worst of it. There are mild sprains to both the ankle and knee, but Duncan could play as soon as Wednesday.
While he could play, the Spurs have always been conservative with their injury management. Another game off and a few more days to recover should have Duncan more able to handle his role after what could have been a devastating injury and a blow to the Spurs' title hopes.
Joakim Noah (foot)
Plantar fasciitis is no joke. It's hard to spell and harder to come back from. For an athletic big man like Joakim Noah, it could be a career-ender if the medical staff can't get it under control.
There's no sign right now that Noah's in danger of that, but the worst-case scenario is one that they'll have to consider. The painful problem has cost Noah three games, but the question going forward is how to maintain the foot and keep the problem from coming back and getting worse each time.
The treatment options in-season are somewhat limited. One, called lithotripsy, or shock wave therapy, uses sound waves to break up bone spurs and inflammation. It can be effective, but when it was used on Albert Pujols, he described it as being hit on the feet with sticks.
If Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi successfully handles Noah's foot and Derrick Rose's recovery from knee surgery, he could be the team MVP, especially if they can go deep into the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki (quad)
There's no truth to the rumor that Mark Cuban is looking for a new big man on Shark Tank. He has one that he hopes has one more run in him.
Dirk Nowitzki, whose injuries post-2010 have been managed well, is dealing with a quad strain. He's at a point in his career where it's difficult for him to do much in the way of conditioning. He's become the purest form of basketball player, and that's not a healthy combo. Reducing his minutes hasn't helped, and since that's really the only way he's staying in condition, it might have the opposite effect in the longer term.
The Mavericks have all the bells and whistles available in the training room, but they haven't yet found a way to keep Nowitzki from slowly breaking down. The maintenance at this stage is a form of medical duct tape—maybe it will miraculously hold things together, but certainly not forever.
Pau Gasol (foot)
Pau Gasol has been dealing with a litany of injuries, some traumatic and some chronic, throughout the disappointing Lakers season. Plantar fascitiis, a chronic injury, came back with a vengeance Tuesday night.
Gasol left Tuesday's game against the Nets in the fourth quarter when the foot became too painful to continue. Reports had him leaving on crutches and headed for imaging on Wednesday.
It's too soon to tell how long Gasol will be out, but with Dwight Howard at least a few days away from his planned return, this leaves the Lakers a bit short.
A recurrence of plantar fasciitis is definitely a bad sign for Gasol. The team is winning while short-handed, but Kobe Bryant can only carry this team so far before his knees start feeling the extra weight.
Chris Paul (knee)
Chris Paul, who is expected back later this week, has been sidelined longer than expected by his bruised knee. The Clippers, who have struggled without their floor leader, need him to reassert himself as quickly as possible.
But they also need him healthy for the playoffs, so easing him back into the rotation might be the smart approach.
Jeremy Lin (ankle)
Jeremy Lin played through a mild ankle sprain on Tuesday, putting up solid numbers in 33 minutes. He didn't appear to be favoring the ankle. That's good.
What's bad is that Lin does appear to be a bit injury prone. He's had several ankle and knee issues throughout his short career, one that will stay short if he can't develop more durability. An NBA scout I spoke with pointed to his lack of inherent athleticism as a big concern.
Consider this the opposite of Blake Griffin and an interesting conundrum. If Griffin were forced to play without his amazing athletic gifts, could he be useful? Lin doesn't have that kind of give in his game. He's essentially starting at that point and losing any of it could drop him back down quickly.
We quickly veer close to stereotypes if we talk about Griffin as a pure athlete and Lin as the cerebral underdog, but it's also true. The ankle won't cost Lin much time, but the pattern is one he'll need to address.
Kevin Durant (ribs)
Oklahoma City revolves around the freakish talent of Kevin Durant, so even a minor injury gets major attention. Durant took an elbow to the ribs in Saturday's loss to the Cavaliers, enough to leave him a bit short of breath. He was checked and then returned to the game.
While Durant's not fragile, he's always worth protecting like he is.
After a day off, Durant returned and played 28 minutes in Monday's win over Dallas, pulling in a double-double in the process. The type of high-tech pads that are starting to creep into football, such as the one used by Ben Roethlisberger after his rib injury, could be used in this type of situation sometime, but it doesn't look like this one warrants it.
The Thunder are one of the most progressive teams when it comes to both injury management and injury prevention. Taking a minor injury this seriously is one of the ways they avoid bigger issues.
Danny Granger (knee)
"Normal soreness" is an interesting phrase. It acknowledges that the strain of playing in the NBA leaves a player feeling less than 100 percent, but it doesn't tell us much beyond that. Danny Granger felt "normal soreness" after a scrimmage this week.
As he gets closer to a return to the Pacers' lineup, that phrase is certainly better than "setback," but by how much?
Granger's patellar tendinosis is a chronic condition, one that's not going away. At best, it will be managed, either by rest (as the Pacers have done through the first half of the season) or by more aggressive measures, which many are worried Granger is headed for after the season.
With a year left on his big deal, Granger will be a role player when he returns.
The team still hopes to have him back just before the All-Star break. Seeing how he plays in controlled, low minutes will help them gauge how his knee will respond and whether he'll have to play reduced minutes, skipping back-to-back games and such.
Granger figures to return to the Pacers at about the same time Rose returns to the Bulls. It's clear Rose is the better player at this stage, but how the coaching and medical staffs handle both could decide the Central Division race.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (concussion)
Concussions are often considered more of an NFL problem, but they're a big deal in the NBA as well. The NBA has done a nice job with its return-to-play protocols, but it has not done much in the way of prevention. Seeing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist unconscious on the floor, then carried off on a stretcher, reminds us just how dangerous the falls and flying elbows can be.
Kidd-Gilchrist should recover, as most concussion sufferers will in the short term. But he will need to meet some strict guidelines and pass some tests before he's allowed back on the floor. He is with the team and is cleared to fly, which is some indication that he's doing better.
Recovery time from concussions is difficult to predict. So the focus should be on his improved function.
Once Kidd-Gilchrist is back in shootaround, he'll be close. Given the Bobcats' record and the long-term potential of their 19-year-old star, they can afford to be conservative in their approach.