NBA Injury Report: Latest on Kobe Bryant, Ty Lawson, Kevin Garnett and More
Here we are, 10 games or so away from one of two endings for all NBA teams. They're either headed to the playoffs in various states of readiness, or they're headed to the lottery and the promise of a better tomorrow.
There's no team that personifies both, and the perils of these scenarios, like the Los Angeles Lakers. Beset all season by injuries, coaching changes and bad chemistry, the Lakers still, on pure talent, were able to hang on and maybe sneak into the Western Conference playoffs. There, who knows what could happen? Instead, the end of the season brought a physical breakdown that has likely pushed them into an area this franchise simply hasn't been.
Around the league, there appears to be a dividing line between teams that have managed to avoid, or at least adjust to, injury and the teams that didn't. Wasn't it just last year that the "compressed schedule" was going to be the downfall of players and lead to increased injuries? The long NBA season appears to break many, but it may be as much about wearing them down over time as it is about wearing them down due to a lack of rest.
Maybe we'll all look back at this basketball season and realize that what NBA teams do is for the most part, not working, and that only a handful of teams really have a handle on managing the medical side of things. For all the hope that statistical analysts are bringing to teams, an increased focus on the medical and conditioning side might bring quicker results.
Let's take a look around the Association.
Kobe Bryant (FOOT)
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As if all the other injuries, to Kobe Bryant and around Kobe Bryant, weren't enough, he's got another one to try to play through. Bryant hobbled through Thursday's loss to the Bucks and explained that he has a bone spur in his heel. The area is inflamed, but Bryant thinks he can play through it.
It's unclear if this is related in any way to his recent ankle problems. It's not normally a correlated injury or one that comes up due to a cascade—protecting one injury that leads to problems in other areas—but at this stage in Bryant's career, he seems closer and closer to a full systemic breakdown. Bryant's longstanding knee issues could also be involved, or it could be unrelated.
Bryant's season has been defined by injuries, and while he's been effective playing through them, the performance of Bryant and his teammates, as well as the death of owner Jerry Buss, may result in wholesale changes. The offseason is going to be a long one for Bryant in many ways, but most of it is going to be focused first on healing and then on better figuring out how to avoid these types of injuries next season. If he can't, even at age 35, Bryant may walk away while he still can, literally.
Metta World Peace (KNEE)
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Metta World Peace had surgery at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic Thursday to fix the torn lateral meniscus in his knee. This surgery normally takes between four and six weeks to return from, meaning that Peace would be out through at least the second round of the playoffs. With the Lakers in a tight position to even hold on to the eighth slot, that's an unlikely place.
Peace should have no trouble coming back from this surgery and should show no real effects, short or long term. He should be back to his same role by well before training camp, no matter what jersey he's wearing.
For more details on Peace's injury and rehab, click here.
Derrick Rose (KNEE)
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No one knows, seemingly even Rose himself. He's been given every medical clearance, passed every physical test, but as yet, Rose still hasn't given himself the green light to play. Since Rose is doing very little publicly, it's impossible to say what he can and can't do. Since he says he needs to be able to dunk off his repaired knee, I have this image of him jumping in the gym, trying to dunk in the way I did when I was a kid and the goal was just eight feet. (I never did.)
Rose is taking a very interesting and potentially dangerous course with this injury. While sports in general have been moving away from the paternalistic approach to injuries and sports medicine, there has never been a case this visible where a player is holding himself out. As the games tick down, it is becoming more and more possible that Rose is not going to return at all. If this slides into the playoffs, the Bulls coaching staff is going to be in a very awkward situation.
Joe Johnson (LEG)
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The Brooklyn Nets managed to win Thursday with Joe Johnson on the bench due to a quad injury, but they're clearly a better team with him in the lineup. The bruised quad wasn't quite ready to let him out there on the floor, and his Friday game is in question as well.
The injury is not severe, but it is one of those that in the short term is limiting and carries the risk of drawing things out if he tried to play through it. Bruises heal up with little more than rest and time, but trying to shorten that time for a deep bruise on a must-use muscle is often counterproductive.
Remember that Johnson is also dealing with a heel bruise that has kept him out of a couple games. The short break should help with that as well, giving the Nets a boost as they push toward the playoffs. With 10 games left, the Nets are trying to push their crosstown rivals for third place in the East, which would likely get them away from the dangerous Bulls in the first round.
Kevin Garnett (ANKLE)
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Kevin Garnett won't be back until the very end of the regular season, but for the Celtics, that one- or two-game swing might be just enough. They're all but locked into the playoffs and into the No. 7 seed, but there's hope of getting up to the sixth and the danger of the Heat-facing eighth slot.
If Garnett can come back healthy, the Celtics will be as whole as they can be—a combination that even without Rajon Rondo at the point has been reasonably effective. Jeff Green has stepped up in a big way, hitting a game winner on an emotional night. Green dedicated his game to his heart surgeon who helped him continue his career after an aortic aneurysm.
Garnett shouldn't have much trouble once he does return. Extra bracing on the ankle should protect him against a recurrence, and he isn't being rushed back. Garnett has adjusted as he's aged and lost some of his amazing athletic ability, so a minor adjustment to an ankle sprain shouldn't be a big shock to the system.
Kevin Love (HAND)
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There are some very positive signs pointing to the imminent return of Kevin Love. Love has been shedding his dapper duds for a jersey and shorts, working out with the team in anticipation of a return. Love has been able to keep his cardio up while he was out, but he's at a stage where he's participating in practices and back to almost full activity, though the hand is being protected.
Love will head back to his doctor next week for the final clearance and could be cleared return to games shortly thereafter. The question then shifts from whether he could play to whether he should play. The Timberwolves are well out of the playoff race and with only a handful—no pun intended—of games left, the risk of a recurrence, as Love has already had, is tough to gauge.
My guess is that Love will play, but that he won't be allowed to go full minutes. This is more of a "show me" for Love and for the fans, allowing both to get a bit of confidence heading into what they hope is a turnaround season next year, with one more lottery addition and a bit of luck they were missing this season.
LaMarcus Aldridge (ANKLE)
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Ankle injuries are just ugly. When you see the foot roll, the leg touch the floor, the pain on a player's face as he feels it, it just looks bad—often worse than it actually is. The injury itself tends to look and feel pretty ugly too. It swells quickly, making treatment and differential diagnosis very difficult.
This is why you see so many sprained ankles head for x-rays. First, it's a quick and easy test that can be done right at the arena. It rules out one of the worse outcomes, though it doesn't really tell much about the more serious possibility of ligament damage.
LaMarcus Aldridge could be back as soon as Friday's game despite how ugly his ankle sprain looked. More intriguingly, we have to wonder if Aldridge's pregame sickness might have had him in a fatigued state, which could lead to slower reactions and may have contributed to the ankle sprain. It's connections like this that are nearly impossible to see that make keeping a player and a team healthy so difficult.
Ty Lawson (FOOT)
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Mars Blackmon, where are you? With all the money spent on shoes in the NBA, there have been a lot of heel problems this season. Ty Lawson is the latest to have this issue. Lawson missed three games with the issue, then came back for limited minutes in a big game against San Antonio.
The heel was clearly an issue, with the Nuggets saying that Lawson will likely miss Friday's game against the Nets. Lawson's issue was thought to be a simple bruise, but news broke on Friday that the injury is actually a small tear in his plantar fascia (via the team's official Twitter account). Surgery isn't necessary due to the size and location of the injury, but it is a very painful one. Pau Gasol isn't a good comparison, though his time and return show the ups and downs of this kind of injury. Rest and treatment should get him back, though the timing remains in question.
Denver is going to have to balance getting Lawson healthy and ready for the playoffs, and fighting to hold or raise their playoff position through the last couple weeks of games. Watch to see if Lawson has his normal quickness once he returns, or if he's laying up a bit in hopes of staying healthy while contributing what he can.
Andrew Bynum (KNEE)
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The 76ers have to be asking themselves "is that it?" Bynum's surgery on both knees did little more than a clean out, removing some debris and smoothing out the rough surfaces. If this was all the problem was, and it was able to be fixed in this manner previously, there has to be some real question about why it wasn't done sooner.
Bynum was followed by multiple doctors during the season, including the ones from the 76ers that approved his medicals during the trade. The surgery was performed in New York by David Altchek, best known for his work with the Mets, including the shoulder surgery on Johan Santana. Oh.
The more amazing thing is that Bynum will hit the free-agent market, coming off a lost season and with chronic knee issues, and will be one of the top targets for several teams. NBA fans can only hope that these teams have a much better handle on what Bynum can and can't do and where exactly those knees will be come the start of next season.
At least he's managing his money well...
Danny Granger (KNEE)
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The Pacers finally said what a lot of us had been thinking for a long time. Danny Granger's knees weren't going to make it back this season. Instead, they'll try to win without him and send him off for surgery in hopes that next year isn't lost as well. Granger ends the 2012-13 season having played only short minutes in five games.
The Pacers medical staff consulted with Dr. James Andrews on this case, and finally the decision was to go to surgery rather than continue the various courses of treatment that simply weren't effective. The tendonosis in the knee is going to have to be heavily debrided, in hopes that it can heal up and get him ready for next year.
While early expectations are always positive, with the Pacers saying they expected Granger to be ready for training camp, this kind of chronic knee issue doesn't have a great track record, even with Andrews' magic in play. Expectations should be very low, with any sort of return by Granger a bonus rather than a real expectation. The Pacers may even try to replace Granger's role in the draft.