There are just a handful of games left on the long NBA calendar. Teams are fighting for position or playing out the string, but many of the teams are starting to plan a bit ahead. Some are resting players for the playoffs. Some are trying to figure out how much they can get out of their limited players. Others are already thinking ahead to next year.
There's never a time that the medical staffs around the league really get a chance to rest. Everything is forward looking while having to make time for the reactive time that every team will need for those traumatic injuries.
The patterns are almost fully developed and one of the most interesting is that injuries are up slightly. It's enough to wonder if it's just noise or luck, but comparing a full season, with the normal rest and prep time, to last season's compressed but shorter schedule is interesting. It's one I know the league is taking a close look at to see whether there's a better way to get players through the season.
Big players on the bench is good for no one, especially the fans, and as we see more and more chronic and degenerative issues happening earlier in careers, the NBA is face by a major challenge. Ticket sales and TV money are predicated by stars doing their amazing things on the floor, not being a fashion show on the bench. In that regard, this season has been something of a failure.
Let's take a look at the injuries around the Association:
With the streak over, the Miami Heat are starting to focus on the playoffs. It's hard to think of winning as a distraction, but the team has the Eastern No. 1 seed locked up, making the rest of their games more of a problem than an opportunity. They'd have rather broken the record, but in the long run, rest might help LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
James missed the last couple games as he rests a mild hamstring strain. This is a real injury and not one to keep Pat Riley away from a league-imposed fine, as the Spurs got hit with earlier this season. James had been playing through the strain, self-limiting himself at times in order to not make it worse.
He can obviously run and jump, so it shouldn't be a problem down the line. The rest will do nothing but help and I don't expect James to miss much more time, though expecting his minutes to go down is reasonable.
Things are a bit more serious with Wade, but not so much that the Heat are worried long-term. Wade has missed four of the last six games with knee and ankle problems. The knee was just minor soreness from wear and tear, but the ankle was a bit of a cascade, leading to a mild but painful sprain. Wade's game against the Hornets reportedly "re-tweaked" all his minor injuries, but there was also a bit of gamesmanship coming against the Spurs.
Look for both players to rest a bit more before getting into full-on playoff mode, with the same true for the rest of the team. With only two weeks left in the season, it will be interesting to see where the Heat drop that marker.
It's a much more serious situation for Manu Ginobili. The 35-year-old shooter has a moderate hamstring strain that is right in the belly of the muscle, making it very difficult for him to accelerate or jump. He's expected to miss three or four weeks, and the Spurs are focused on getting Ginobili back for the playoffs—a tall order for Will Sevening.
The Spurs just aren't the same team without Ginobili, and the idea of playing without him in the first round is a tough one. The Spurs were beaten by the Heat despite James and Wade sitting out, showing there are some major weaknesses. While the Spurs are used to playing in the regular season without some of their top players, like Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, the playoffs are an entirely different challenge.
While they could likely make it past their first-round matchup, they get some very difficult possibilities, such as the very athletic Clippers in the second round. Without Ginobili or with Ginobili hobbled by the injury, the Spurs' position as the top team in the West just isn't as solid.
The Rockets are keeping one eye on the playoff seeds and the other eye on James Harden and his injured foot. Balancing the two is going to be a very difficult task for Kevin McHale over the next two weeks. How well he and the medical staff do it could determine how deep the Rockets can go in the playoffs or perhaps even whether they make it.
Harden has missed only a couple games over the past few weeks while he's dealt with the injury, playing well, but clearly bothered by the injury. The Rockets have kept the specifics of the injury very close to the vest, though all the treatments point to it being some kind of traumatic injury such as a bruise rather than something more chronic or developing, such as a mid-foot sprain or stress fracture.
Harden is still hitting the floor and working with the team, so he could play if needed. If the Rockets' medical staff could get the length of this road trip to work on Harden while the team loses no ground in the race, it could push them through and put Harden back on the floor, where he's been on a roll since the All-Star break.
While Derrick Rose continues to decide whether or not he wants to play this season, Joakim Noah continues to try to play through a painful foot condition. The Bulls rested Noah a bit in hopes of calming down the inflammation in his foot as a result of plantar fasciitis.
Noah has been dealing with the chronic injury for a while, but as in many cases, the pain and inflammation is cyclic and exacerbated by trying to do too much. Noah should be trying to self-limit a bit, but that is a very tough task for a high-level athlete, even when it means putting himself through more pain.
Noah will be back in the next few games, according to ESPN Chicago. That could be something of a positive, indicating that the rest has done his foot some good. I'm a bit more worried that the Bulls are left trying to control symptoms at this stage of the season and are just hoping their work in rehab holds up long enough to get them where they need to go.
Limited is a difficult word to use in relation to Blake Griffin. His athletic gifts, freakish as they are even among the stars of the NBA, make judging limitations difficult. Griffin was limited by a calf strain in the Los Angeles Clippers' last game against the Indiana Pacers, but he still managed to put up solid production and some highlight-reel moves, all while helping his team to a win.
Vinnie Del Negro acknowledged that Griffin was playing through an injury, but also said that there is "no time for rest." That makes it a bit tougher for Griffin to heal up. Given what we know about his playing style and the injury, dropping him for a game or two would appear to be exactly what he needs.
Even with just a handful of games left, there's often a bias to the playoff needs over the regular season. The Clippers must think Griffin is the difference between the No. 3 and 5 seeds, which is reasonable.
Without rest, how the coaching staff handles Griffin over these last games is going to have to be monitored closely. Any rest that can be given or limitations on his minutes, especially if there's any sort of exacerbation, is key to the team's playoff hopes.
The Los Angeles Lakers hope to get Steve Nash back on Friday as they continue their push for the playoffs. With Metta World Peace out and Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant playing through injuries, getting Nash back at the point could be key.
Nash has missed time this season with a hip injury as well, which has to be considered interrelated to this latest hamstring issue. Nash will likely still be limited if he gets back on Friday, both in first-step quickness and in minutes. These injuries have been lingering, so it will be interesting to see how the Lakers and Nash adjust to any limitations. It's very likely his minutes will be reduced.
The Lakers aren't completely sure about the Friday return, though Mike D'Antoni was only hedging a bit when discussing the team's plans on Tuesday. The light schedule does help this week, but things get more hectic over the last two weeks of the season.
The Knicks got a little bit of good news as Tyson Chandler made it back on the floor, albeit for limited minutes. Chandler's neck didn't get much of a test, so we'll have to wait to see how it responds and whether he has any real limitations getting into more serious minutes.
Chandler went for 24 minutes, but was hardly a factor on the stat sheet. His movement appeared guarded and limited, while his conditioning was off a bit. That latter is a bit disappointing, since even with a neck injury, a player like Chandler has many options to keep his cardio up. He did have a key block late in the game, which was the most positive sign.
ESPN reported that Chandler was taped up in some way to limit his movement. That's likely some sort of restrictive use of kinesiotape. The stretchy tape can be used in a way where it tightens up when a player moves in a certain way.
It's an interesting technique that the Knicks are using and indicates both creativity and some caution. We'll have to see how Chandler's game evolves over the next few outings to know how effective this was.
Minutes are a zero-sum game in the NBA. Even when a star like Kevin Garnett is out, someone has to be on the floor during the minutes that Garnett would not be.
In the positive cases like how Jeff Green has played, it makes it significantly easier to keep a player out, allowing him to heal up as fully as possible. There's always a danger that the injured player is displaced—is there an NBA equivalent of Wally Pipp?—but it's usually a better thing for the team concept.
Garnett continues to rest and rehab his sprained ankle, allowing Green to put up big and emotional games in his absence. This is giving Garnett even more time, if needed, to heal up and rest his 36-year-old body. Garnett is expected to be back sometime next week, but Green's play might allow him to stretch that or to at least cut down on minutes once he's back.
That's good for the Celtics and bad for fantasy players. The Celtics are going to need a healthy Garnett as they chase the Bulls for the No. 6 seed and potentially face the Knicks or Pacers in the first round. They're getting a bit lucky, but depth is more design than luck.
The Brooklyn Nets have a tough choice. Do they go with Joe Johnson Wednesday night against the Cavaliers or save him for Thursday against the tougher Bulls? As they fight for the No. 4 slot with Atlanta, the Nets have to maximize their opportunities.
Getting Johnson back from his heel injury is a huge positive, but he's not yet ready to go in back-to-back games. That's a definite sign that he's not back to 100 percent. Johnson is dealing not only with the heel bruise, but also a very mild quad strain that's likely a cascade from the heel. The team definitely wants to make sure that Johnson isn't at risk of a recurrence when he does return.
Look for Johnson to play limited minutes in at least his first couple games back. With the tight race for home court in the first round of the playoffs, Johnson's ability to contribute in the last couple game and into the playoffs is going to be key for how far the Nets go in their first season in Brooklyn.
Eric Gordon has missed time throughout the last two NBA seasons and yet, the New Orleans Hornets saw enough potential to match a big offer from the Suns. As they transition to the Pelican era, the team is counting on Gordon to get healthy.
He's going to spend the bulk of the offseason working on just that. The Hornets and Gordon are putting together a plan of rest and rehab that they hope keeps him healthy and productive. Of course, there have to be questions about why this wasn't done last season.
Gordon has been more productive, but will just barely make half of the Hornets games while seeing a drop in production off his 2011 levels. The worry now is that his leg issues are chronic enough that we're just seeing the start of a descent into irrelevance.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Basketball Prospectus.