For some teams, the most important roadblocks they face are injuries. The Minnesota Timberwolves were one team with high expectations this season, but weren't even able to stay in the playoff race due to recurring injuries of their best player—Kevin Love.
Although it's later in the season, injuries during this time of year are far worse than ones in the offseason or even near the beginning of the season. The Indiana Pacers have remained relatively healthy for most of the season—barring Danny Granger's knee injury—but they are probably suffering the biggest injury hits to their roster since the start of the season.
In the Pacers' most recent victory over the Atlanta Hawks, three players in their starting lineup sat out due to various injuries, along with Granger, who's out indefinitely.
Granger's injury is the most questionable because it's still not a sure-fire fact that he would return to play again this season. The Pacers have compiled their outstanding 44-27 record without him in the lineup for most of the season, but his presence will definitely be missed in the playoffs if he's still sidelined.
Furthermore, George Hill and Lance Stephenson have both been major contributors to the Pacers' winning mentality, and it would certainly cripple the team if both of them sustain nagging injuries as the playoffs approach.
Obviously, David West's lower back injury is the one of most concern. Not only are back injuries one of the worst injuries that a big man could suffer, but it will also limit West's play on the court. Additionally, West has been the Pacers' most consistent offensive player this season, and probably the best scorer that the team possesses.
Even without four key players in the lineup, the Pacers were still able to lead by as many as 28 points against a playoff-contending Atlanta Hawks team, which just shows how great this team's philosophy on defense is.
Scott Agness @ScottAgness
Pacers hurting. Both Hill (left groin strain) and Stephenson (right hip flexor strain) join West and Granger in street clothes tonight.3/25/2013, 9:47:19 PM
At the end of that game however, the Pacers nearly gave up the lead and allowed the Hawks to come surging back in the fourth quarter. That obviously wouldn't be the case if a player like West were playing in that game since he is more than capable of stopping a run by scoring at will or drawing a foul.
The Pacers have prepared themselves to make a long playoff run and ultimately contend for a championship, but they won't be able to accomplish this if they're being limited by injuries to several key players.
Coach Vogel should let West, Hill and Stephenson rest for the remainder of the season so that they are fresh and ready to go in the playoffs. Granger will probably return when he's ready, but there's still no timetable because of his recurring knee problems.
If the Pacers are unable to stay healthy during the playoffs, it may be their downfall. It would be a very sad ending to one of the Pacers' best regular seasons in the last decade, but sometimes injuries cannot be controlled.