NBA Injury Report: Kobe Bryant's Ankle, Pau Gasol's Foot and More
It's All-Star Week here in the Injury Report. Big names are falling faster than Kentucky in the NIT. With all the big stars coming up injured here toward the end of the season, we have to at least bring up the elephant in the room—rest.
Last year, with a compressed schedule, there was a lot of discussion about how players would wear down. I'm not sure what the excuse is for this year, but there seem to be a lot more fatigue-related injuries. Even something like an ankle sprain, especially when they come late in a game, can have a component that comes down to fatigue. A tired player makes slower decisions, reacts a beat slower and finds himself in situations where otherwise he would have the power or energy to get out of.
There are always going to be traumatic injuries, but the NBA isn't doing a very good job of managing the fatigue of its players. Even with Gregg Popovich and a few others openly resting players, we still don't have a very good concept of how to keep these players from crashing, how they recover, how they sleep plus several other important data points.
While there's been something of a statistical revolution in the NBA, there's still not much of a sports medicine or "big data" revolution. The team that gets there first will have a bigger advantage than a shot sheet. Let's take a look around the Association:
Kobe Bryant (ANKLE)
The Lakers get a little lucky with the schedule as they deal with Kobe Bryant's sprained ankle. The injury itself isn't that bad, a mid-grade sprain that we all saw happen on that borderline defensive play.
Bryant was able to get right back on the floor last Friday in Indiana, but he had almost no first step and his lateral movement was even worse. The Lakers managed to pull out an important win and Bryant was able to push his "play through it" mentality even harder on players like Dwight Howard.
There's some part of the American sports machismo that loves these kinds of stories, but the fact is that Bryant could have very easily re-injured the ankle, missed more time and made things worse all around. The process was bad, but the result was good, which can lead to more bad decisions. Bryant has done this for years, so it's not going to change now.
When he's back on the floor Friday, look to see if he has any quickness and if he can go to either side on defense. I'm expecting him to shade a little bit, teasing the offensive player into going to his stronger side. That's smart basketball and playing dumb has never been the Kobe Bryant Way.
Pau Gasol (FOOT)
Kobe Bryant isn't the only Laker expected back Friday. Pau Gasol had an ultrasound imaging done on his injured foot on Tuesday. If the results come back as expected, Gasol will be back on the floor after missing seven weeks, which puts him dead center on the six- to eight-week expectation.
Gasol will be time limited, according to the LA Daily News, which reported that Gasol and Dwight Howard will play 16 to 20 minutes together. Gasol may not go right back into the starting lineup, but that will depend on his conditioning. We'll have a much better handle on that by Friday as well.
Gasol's plantar fasciitis is still something of a problem for him, so don't look for him to have full mobility. I'll be watching to see how his jumping is in the paint and how well he is able to establish himself on the post. Defenders will look to see how stable Gasol is by moving him with the subtle pushes and balance moves that we see down there.
Derrick Rose (KNEE)
The Bulls have a lot of home games coming up, which is leading to speculation that Derrick Rose will return during one of them. I've yet to find any solid evidence that Rose's mind is ready, but it's hard to have solid evidence of such a thing.
We know that Rose's knee has been cleared for games. We know that Rose has been practicing hard for a while, doing everything in practice that he would do in games.
Rose has said that he wants to be able to dunk off both feet before he returns, which is his way of judging his explosiveness and comfort, I guess. Rose also tossed in that he'd been having hamstring problems for the last month, but then backtracked quickly.
This is just a strange situation, one where I don't want to fault Rose for not getting out there when he's not comfortable, but one where its clear that the team thinks he should be. That balance is always difficult.
If Rose does make the decision to play—and let's be clear, it's his decision at this stage to not play—watch to see if he's making all the athletic moves. His first step, his lateral movement, even something like limp could come into play as we all try to peer inside Derrick Rose's head as much as we are his knee.
Kevin Garnett (THIGH)
It took more than a mere illness to take Kevin Garnett out of this weekend's huge game against the Heat. Garnett was sick and dehydrated, but he's also dealing with an injury that is being variously described as a thigh injury, a hip injury and an adductor strain. The adductor is better known as the groin, so maybe "thigh" is just a genteel way of discussing this.
The illness is going to be a matter of time and re-hydration, which is simple enough. Since Garnett made the team flight on Tuesday, we have to think there's been positive progress on that front.
The groin remains a different issue and one that will have an affect on Garnett's game until it has healed up. Given that the Celtics admit he could have played on it and that it was a big game, there's some mixed messages. It's one thing to risk re-injury against the Heat and another to do it against the Pelicans.
A groin strain like this will affect Garnett most on defense. His lateral motion will be compromised, especially pushing off. He won't be able to get into a good defensive position without taxing it, so he could have to play back more, allowing the jumpshot over the drive. All that assumes he plays this week and isn't given more time to rest, which is the most likely course of action.
Carmelo Anthony (KNEE)
Carmelo Anthony is expected to play on Wednesday, though he's officially a gametime decision. The knee issue that has kept him out for six of the last eight games is still an issue, one that seems to be exacerbated at times by playing. Anthony's knee has swollen so significantly that he's needed the knee to be drained twice in recent days. That's a very bad sign, since inflammation like that is the body's way of protecting itself.
The real functional issue for Anthony is stiffness in the knee. Given the reports that the drainage was taken from the hamstring and not the knee itself, the problem would appear to be in the back of the knee, around the popliteal tendon.
This is the injury that plagued Kevin Garnett a couple seasons back, though Anthony seems to be selling that this knee issue is actually the result of a past hamstring strain. That doesn't pass the smell test given how he's reacted on the floor and the treatments.
Anthony's functional issues are going to be about comfort and recovery. The Knicks can't allow Anthony to play through something that needs to be drained over and over again, for the risk of long-term damage and short-term infection. How he responds once he gets back on the floor will be key, but how his knee responds afterwards is even more key.
Tyson Chandler (NECK)
The Knicks just can't stay healthy. Besides Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd has a banged up wrist and Tyson Chandler came back from a knee injury only to injure his neck. Imaging showed a small bulge in one of his cervical disks, which is actually better from a function standpoint than the neck sprain that he was originally diagnosed with.
The Knicks medical staff should be able to get the mild herniation under control and get Chandler back to a functional position with a bit of rest and treatment. The week off that is being estimated matches up with past injuries of this type.
The worry, of course, is that Chandler gets hit or falls or does any of the other things that could cause an exacerbation of the injury. He'll have to play careful for a bit, which isn't usually something players do easily.
Look to see if Chandler is back in practice by the weekend. Once back, the key will be keeping him upright and away from the kinds of falls that he takes regularly in the paint.
Kyrie Irving (SHOULDER)
Uncle Drew is going to be out for three to four weeks, which could amount to a season-ending injury. Kyrie Irving separated his shoulder (also called an AC sprain) against Toronto last week. It's his left shoulder, which could help for most players, but Irving uses both hands significantly as part of his dribble and passing game.
The Cavs are buried in the standings and won't risk bringing Irving back early. In fact, about the only thing left on the schedule is a late season game against the Heat that I'm sure Dan Gilbert has circled on his calendar. If the Heat are still on their streak at that point, getting Irving back might keep the Cavs from getting completely blown out.
Right now, all signs are that Irving is, in essence, done for the season. The Cavs will shift Shaun Livingston into the starting role and hope that they can find more help for Irving in the lottery.
Dion Waiters (KNEE)
Cleveland doesn't just have problems with one guard. Dion Waiters is going to miss at least a week as the medical staff tries to get him through a small meniscal tear. The hope is that rest and treatment will have him ready to come back and play, but there's a chance that his season will end early if surgery is necessary.
While the tear itself isn't that big a deal and the surgery is as routine as it comes, it's the timing. With Kyrie Irving out, the loss would be amplified. If Waiters can play, he's going to be very risky, but he's not in danger of making the situation worse. The tear will need to be repaired, given, but that scope can come after the season and not now.
There's no way to guard the knee. Watch to make sure that Waiters is running and stopping well once he comes back. The biggest concern is that he protects the knee, consciously or unconsciously, and ends up hurting something else, which is a typical pattern. The medical staff will have to watch closely to make sure that doesn't happen.
David West (BACK)
Lower back injuries aren't uncommon in big men. The banging they take down in the paint and from the rapid, plyometric jumping they do on rebounds, all while being shoved in awkward positions makes it a bit more surprising that there's not more injuries than what we see.
Some of that credit goes to the players, who have adjusted to this kind of mistreatments on their bodies. Some goes to the medical staffs who keep the players productive despite the beatings.
David West's injury is a bit more unusual. He has a lower back sprain. A sprain is always damage to a ligament, rather than the more common muscular injury that we see in this area.
It's not the simple "muscle spasms," in other words, but a structural issue. That makes it a longer term issue, though West's sprain is said to be low-grade. It's still a very painful injury and one that has to heal through rest and treatment.
Look for West to miss at least a few more games, letting Tyler Hansborough take the starting role for now. With West out and Danny Granger still out for another week at least, the Pacers find themselves in a very dangerous part of their schedule.
Tony Parker (ANKLE)
Tony Parker is making good progress with his sprained ankle, enough for him to be out of the walking boot and back at practice on Tuesday. It's not enough that he'll play Wednesday, but the return is getting closer. The Spurs have some cushion to work with and have been playing well enough without Parker that there's no reason to rush him back.
Expect Parker to have limited minutes at first as Will Sevening and the medical staff in San Antonio try to protect the ankle from a recurrence. He's very likely to be braced, which could reduce his lateral movement slightly. That should show more on defense than offense, where he's forced to react.
Look for Parker to be back in the lineup sometime next week and to work toward the playoffs over the next few games. While a recurrence is always possible, the Spurs seem to have a good handle on this one and have shown they know how to manage precisely this kind of situation well.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Basketball Prospectus.
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