NBA Injury Report: Who's Hurting Most Heading into the 2013 Playoffs?
Rather than looking at individual players this week, there's 16 playoff teams that are in various states of health heading into the long NBA playoffs. It amounts to a second season in many ways, with compression in many cases as well as a possibility of long layoffs.
Some teams are coming in healthy, while other come in hobbled. Sports medicine can, at times, act as a kind of multiplier on a team's true talent. Being able to put the best possible team on the floor for the longest period of time is key in the regular season, but things shift in the playoffs. Time and talent compresses, and the NBA's clear preference for stars comes into clearer focus. It's how the league and the playoff format is designed to work.
It's clear who is most healthy, but underneath the simple knee sprains and hamstring strains, there's the less obvious issues of fatigue and maintenance. It's hard for the average fan to see how the hard work in the back room of NBA locker rooms pays off, but you're not an average fan, are you? NBA medical staffs are the duck's legs, paddling like crazy beneath the calm surface of the water.
So let's look around the Association as teams and athletic trainers make that last push to be healthy enough to win a ring:
Miami Heat (1)
The Heat came off their long winning streak with plenty of time to rest their stars. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the squad have had plenty of chances to rest their minor issues in order to get ready for what they expect to be a long road back to the championship.
James sat out six games late in the season, just following the streak. Listed as out with a mild hamstring strain at first, it was later shifted to "coach's decision," which indicates just how minor the initial injury was. There's little chance that it will affect James' game or his availability in the playoffs.
Dwyane Wade had more serious issues—a lingering ankle sprain that he played through during the streak and then a mild hamstring strain that may have been related. Again, Wade has had plenty of rest and treatment and showed no issues while playing recently.
Point guard Mario Chalmers dealt with a late season ankle sprain, but it was never serious enough to keep him out long. His availability has been more of an issue of making sure it didn't become a long-term problem rather than the problem actually being severe.
Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier have minor issues—an ankle sprain and a knee sprain, respectively. Both should play their normal minutes and are unlikely to have any change in their games. There's some mild concern of recurrence and depth with these two, though.
New York Knicks (2)
The Knicks became all about Carmelo Anthony about two-thirds of the way through the season—and it worked. Anthony went on a hot streak and stayed healthy while the rest of the lineup went up and down with injuries. The team now comes into the playoffs as they were all season, talented but fragile and needing a bit of luck and a lot of ice to make it through.
Anthony missed the last couple games of the season with a shoulder bruise, but there's nothing to worry about here. The Knicks were simply trying to rest their superstar with the No. 2 seed in the East already locked up. Anthony's shot was not affected by the bruise and he's had plenty of time to see it clear up.
Tyson Chandler is much more of a concern. He missed 10 games with a neck injury, came back, and then sat out the last six games of the season in order to make sure that the neck was healthy. It's still not fully healed, and how Chandler is able to stay functional through the playoff run is likely to be the key point in determining how far the Knicks make it.
Amare Stoudamire is questionable for when he returns. It's been six weeks since his latest surgery and when he'll be physically ready is unknown. There's been no real sign of progress, which would indicate that he is not close, but that's speculation outside real knowledge.
Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert, who came back from ACL surgery in-season, were all rested late, but they should have no major issues heading into the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers (3)
The Pacers spent the bulk of the season transitioning from being Danny Granger's team to being Paul George's squad. It went quicker than most would have expected, and the loss of Granger for all but a handful of games was handled well by the coaching and medical staffs. Granger won't be back for the playoffs, but the team is well past missing him in all but depth.
David West has had some on-and-off issue with a lower back strain during the second half of the season. His physical style indicates that this could become an issue again, especially with several potentially physical matchups and the rougher style of the playoffs. The Pacers didn't rest West at the end of the season, and Frank Vogel explained that this was due to his earlier time off. We'll see how that works out.
George Hill sat out a few games at the end to rest a groin strain, but it was one that he had played with for a portion of the second half. It cost him more on defense due to the increased lateral motion, but it didn't affect him at the point.
Paul George has a mild abdominal strain that he picked up against the Knicks, which cost him the last couple games of the season. It was a rest and relax issue, though, and George should be ready to play without limits. The Hawks will look to body up on George early to see just how healthy he is.
Brooklyn Nets (4)
The new-look Brooklyn Nets come into the playoffs relatively healthy. They've been through the long grind of 82 games, so "relatively" is the key word here.
The Nets think Joe Johnson is over the heel/foot/ankle issue that plagued him in the middle of the season. They were able to buy him some extra rest at the end of the season, and in between, he came back to his normal production. Maintenance of that issue on a compressed schedule will test both Johnson and the medical staff, but there's positive indicators here.
Deron Williams eschewed his normal need for anti-inflammatories in his ankles in the last part of the season. There didn't seem to be any real consequences, though it bears watching through the playoffs.
Chicago Bulls (5)
The Chicago Bulls made it back to the playoffs and all the way to the No. 5 seed without Derrick Rose on the floor at all. Rose's struggles to return from ACL surgery have been well documented, but now as the playoffs open, the shadow of Wes Unseld is looming.
Rose was cleared to play in February and passed even his "final test"—dunking off his left foot—a few weeks back. It was confidence, not the knee, that kept Rose off the floor. The Bulls have been patient and there's no clarity on whether the team would use him if he decided that now would be a good time to come back. All outward signs are that it's possible, but there's certainly no indication that it's probable.
While most of the league was resting in the last few games, the Bulls pushed to get Joakim Noah a bit of run in the last two. Noah was very limited over the last few weeks of the season due to plantar fasciitis. The Bulls medical staff have tried everything to get him functional, so the maintenance of that will be the key to his effectiveness. He was only able to go 14 minutes in each of the last two games, which speaks to a plan, but it also makes us question how much more than that he can go in the playoffs.
Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng look to be over the mid-season leg injuries that tested the Bulls' depth. Neither should see any reduction in minutes, especially with Butler's 50-minute display last week. Deng is more likely to lose some minutes, as his hip still has him moving a bit gingerly.
Atlanta Hawks (6)
The Atlanta Hawks come into the playoffs with just a few minor injuries, and the team's overall depth is more of a question than any acute issue with one of their players.
Josh Smith had a mild knee injury that pushed the team to rest him down the stretch, but it was a mild issue that no one seems terribly concerned with. The Pacers will test him quickly in the series to see whether or not it is still limiting his movement. Watch to see how the Hawks play Paul George defensively in order to see how serious they think this is.
The other injuries are all mild and of no real concern. Devin Harris and Kyle Korver both had toe injuries that they have played through, and they are showing no issues now. Al Horford has played through a series of muscular injuries this season, so he's not at 100 percent, but he is as close as he's been in a while. He'll be tested by the Pacers' size.
Boston Celtics (7)
An older team is not necessarily at increased risk for injury. There's a survivor effect to elite level athletics, where a player that is older but still playing at a high level is likely to have been more healthy earlier in his career. Recovery is an issue, but there's an experience versus athleticism argument that can be lodged there as well. The Celtics may be older, but here they are, taking one more run at the playoffs. Instead of hobbling, they're still dangerous.
The Celtics have to keep their two key players, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, ready to go despite their ages. Garnett had a moderate ankle sprain over the last couple weeks of the season. After his return, the C's put him out there just enough to know that he could play, and they then rested him to try and make sure that he can play enough come the postseason.
Pierce was rested periodically down the stretch with an ankle sprain of his own. When playing, he showed he could still be effective and take normal minutes. There's no reason to expect that will change in the playoffs.
They will, of course, be without Rajon Rondo, who missed half the season with an ACL sprain and will likely not be ready for the start of next season.
Milwaukee Bucks (8)
The Bucks have almost no national profile, which is a shame for an exciting team to watch. They'll get a bit of a national stage as they play the part of "Heat Opponent No. 1" in this season's production of the NBA playoffs. While few expect them to be much of a challenge for LeBron and Co., the Bucks should be healthy enough to give their best effort.
Brandon Jennings is the key to the Bucks offense, and his late season Achilles issues appeared to be more about fatigue rather than an acute issue. Jennings seemed to adjust in the last few games, while getting enough rest to play extended minutes in the playoffs.
The Bucks also need Ersan Ilyasova ready to go, in one of the few positive matchups they have in the first round. Ilyasova was rested to get his bruised wrist a bit of extra treatment and to make sure that his legs were under him. Ilyasova extended his minutes this year, building on last season's breakout.
The Bucks are a bit more concerned about Larry Sanders. He missed the last four games with what was alternately described as a lower back strain and a lower back contusion. Either way, the big man is going to take a lot of elbows in his back, so his minutes may be a big question.
Oklahoma City Thunder (1)
If the medical team and a focus on both sports medicine and sports science is a leading indicator, there's a reason why the Thunder and Spurs are jousting for the top spot in the West this year and this decade. This isn't just a strong point for both teams, it's a priority that has come from the top down and has seen amazing execution as well. Of course, it also helps to have Kevin Durant on your side.
Befitting that status, the team is relatively healthy as they head into their playoff reunion with James Harden and his Houston Rockets. There are some minor injuries—a hamstring strain to Kendrick Perkins, a sore back for Kevin Martin, and a mild groin strain for Nick Collison—but they all got rest at the end of the season and the team has all hands on deck to make sure that they're as ready as can be.
The Thunder have enough depth that minor injuries can be handled by small changes in the rotation, something that Scott Brooks has been great at doing over the last couple seasons. The Thunder can focus on the continued maintenance they do with all of their players, and they should be ready to handle any acute issues.
San Antonio Spurs (2)
The Spurs get the Kobe-less Lakers in the first round as something of a reward for falling down from the No. 1 seed. Unlike the Lakers, though, the team has been able to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. It's a testament to Will Sevening and his staff that they've done this despite increasing age and workload.
The Spurs' biggest issue is making sure that Manu Ginobili is fully healthy from his moderate hamstring strain and that he doesn't overtax it. There's no time to rest during the playoffs if there's a recurrence. Seeing Ginobili back on the floor was a very positive sign for the Spurs, but there's questions about how many minutes he will be able to go in the initial stages of the playoffs, putting more pressure on Kawhi Leonard and the other starters.
Boris Diaw's back surgery has his return unclear. The team adjusted with it's depth, putting more minutes on Tiago Splitter rather than shifting minutes to Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich is likely to lean a little bit more on Duncan in the playoffs, but there's a balance to that. Tracy McGrady is a bit of a wild card in this role as well after his late season signing.
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both fought minor injuries throughout the season. Duncan's knee and Parker's ankle are things that have been maintained and will be something they deal with throughout the playoff run, but neither injury should affect their play or minutes.
Denver Nuggets (3)
Late nights with League Pass were a pretty good deal this season, as time zones often led the exciting Denver Nuggets to being the late available game. Their style and speed turned them into one of the "oh wait, the Nuggets are on" sleep-killers.
The Nuggets rode that exciting style and a breakout season from several players into the No. 3 spot in the West. Unfortunately, they'll have to defend that seed without Danilo Gallinari, who was lost for the season and beyond with an ACL sprain. He's had the slot filled with an offense-defense mix involving Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, but Gallinari's production hasn't been replaced.
The injury that the team should be concerned with the most is the moderate ankle sprain to high-energy Kenneth Faried. His style is not one that will adjust well to such an injury, and the depth isn't there on the Denver bench to replace his production. The ATF sprain is likely to linger through at least the first round, so watch for George Karl to try and buy Faried some rest and hope that he'll be more functional in the second round.
Los Angeles Clippers (4)
Lob City has been a pretty healthy place to be this season. Even with possibly chronic issues like Chris Paul's knees and Chauncey Billups returning from Achilles surgery (Lakers fans, take note), the Clippers have taken their high-flying style through the season without any major injuries derailing them.
Caron Butler had another solid season, with the Clips' medical team doing a great job on the maintenance his knees require and adjusting his game to fit what he's athletic enough to do now. Butler should be available throughout the playoffs.
Billups is still making that kind of adjustment. After coming back from the Achilles injury, he's seen a number of minor leg injuries, likely cascade injuries due to gait changes or muscle loss during the rehab. His minutes remain limited, but the Clippers have adjusted well by using Jamal Crawford and Willie Green.
Memphis Grizzlies (5)
New ownership and the hiring of hoops guru John Hollinger had many thinking that the Memphis Grizzlies were going to turn into the NBA's "Moneyball" team—and not the kind at the end of the rack during the three-point contest.
It's too early to see how the influence will play out, especially with several other data-driven teams in the West. What the team will need to do is follow the Spurs' and Thunder's focus on sports medicine if they hope to move up the charts.
They have a good start on it this year, with no major injuries heading into the playoffs. Marc Gasol returned earlier than expected from a late-season abdominal strain and showed no ill effects when he did.
That's really the only significant injury that this durable team has had. Keeping Zach Randolph and Mike Conley healthy are nice feathers in the cap of Drew Graham, something that's allowed the Grizzlies to remain competitive in every game and likely will make them a tough out for the Clippers in the first round.
Golden State Warriors (6)
Some teams are carried by one player. Some teams are felled by one injury. The Warriors could be either, depending on how Stephen Curry holds up throughout the playoffs. His ankles are a chronic concern, though he did play in 78 games this season. Curry and the Warriors' medical staff seem to have a good handle on how to maintain them, which is a massive positive.
The other maintenance concern is Andrew Bogut. Bogut just hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his NBA career. The ankle injury that ended his season last year remained problematic, forcing the Warriors to rest him regularly and set up strict usage patterns that will be difficult to maintain in the playoffs. Trying to run with the Nuggets won't help him either.
The Warriors are also working to make sure that Draymond Green is ready to go through the playoffs. Knee soreness sidelined him for the last few games of the season, which leaves some uncertainty about how much he can go and how effective he will be. Harrison Barnes will take more minutes, but with a running team like Denver, both will work against the Warriors' game plan.
Los Angeles Lakers (7)
The Lakers will be playing without Kobe Bryant, but does "no Kobe" mean "no wins?" Does it mean there will be no "Mamba mentality" to fight through injuries and obstacles? That's less of an injury question than one for the sports psychologists, but the Lakers have plenty of injuries and obstacles in their way.
Dwight Howard is playing through a shoulder labrum tear, but he seems to have adjusted to it after the initial injury and the one setback. His shoulder is at most risk when outstretched and pulled down, something he's been able to avoid, though he does go up for some rebounds essentially one-handed. The maintenance on the shoulder has held up, and the surgery won't be until after the season.
Metta World Peace returned in just 12 days after arthroscopic knee surgery, a very fast but not unheard of time. He showed no problems after his return and surprisingly little deficit. Peace's high energy style isn't one that should have adjusted well, but he's never been normal.
The Lakers will also have to spend time continuing the maintenance on Steve Nash's sore legs and Pau Gasol's feet, but that will be just a continuation of what they've been able to do through the second half of the season. Mike D'Antoni will have to focus on their minutes and function, something few have confidence that he can do adequately.
Houston Rockets (8)
Despite a lineup that has been a bit fragile at times and plays with a physical style, the Rockets come into the playoffs as one of the healthiest teams. That said, they did slide down to the No. 8 seed with that same kind of health, so there's a limit to how much health can be a multiplier to true talent level.
The most acute injury the Rockets have is the moderate calf strain to Chandler Parsons. He returned for the final three games after missing several others and showed good function, going 45 minutes in the last game against the Lakers. His strain shouldn't affect him.
James Harden and Jeremy Lin have been very healthy and durable all season, though some question whether either wore down a bit under the workload. With no rest at the end of the season, a quick exit might lead to more questions for Kevin McHale on that front, but the results and lack of options are as much of an issue there as any coach's decision.