20th century poet T.S. Elliot once wrote that "April is the cruelest month."
This is true for the NBA, which recedes to the back-burner during the month of April, having been pushed aside by the collegiate ranks and baseball's spring rebirth, all while the NBA continues its long, churning grind towards the playoffs.
Cruelest of all is this spring’s injury bug, an epidemic that has claimed the fortunes of some of the league's elite players. Sidelined are the likes of megastars such as Memphis’ Rudy Gay, New Orleans’ David West and Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison. Not to mention the long stretches of time missed by players like Brandon Roy, Chauncey Billups and Tyreke Evans.
While the city of Sacramento clings to their Kings who teeter on the brink of relocation from California's capital, the team itself has its fate tied to the success of their star Tyreke Evans. Injuries have limited the second-year guard to only four games since the All-Star break.
The 2010-2011 season has been a disappointment for the former rookie first-teamer, whose production is a mere shell of a rookie campaign that drew comparisons to LeBron James' 2003 rookie season.
The comparison to James came with justification since Evans’ rookie season placed him among Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James as the only first-year players to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per contest.
The Kings 21-54 record, currently good for second worst in the West, has the team preparing the final weeks of the season as a tryout for 2012.
Allocating minutes to Sacramento’s youngsters appears to be the requisite path considering the Kings have been playing the role of spoiler since February. This may mean that Evans will be given abundant opportunities to rest during the team’s remaining two weeks of games and in turn, players like Francisco Garcia, Marcus Thorton and Beno Udrih will all see added floor time.
On the opposite coast, Chauncey Billups missed a handful of games in March, leaving UConn's Kemba Walker as the only point guard to light up Madison Square Garden in Billups' absence. Billups has been an integral piece of New York's offense since joining the team nearly a month ago. As Billups goes, so does his team. The Knicks are 5-15 with him suiting up; however, it is a statistic that could be attributed to running an entirely new offensive system.
Knicks head Coach Mike D’Antoni will continue to ride Billups as his marquee floor general despite the strong play of late by young Toney Douglas, who averaged a career best 13.6 PPG in March. Billups has long been a scoring point guard who can distribute at an efficient level, but his 5.3 APG last month ranked as one of his least productive months all season.
With the Knicks jockeying for playoff position it seems that the big apple will rest in the hands of the veteran Billups.
Like Billups, Portland’s Brandon Roy has seen his role change since the ’10-’11 season commenced. A perennial all-star, Roy has carved out a niche as one of the game’s elite, but lingering knee issues have slowed Portland’s star guard to a reserve role. Roy hasn’t appeared in the Trail Blazers’ starting lineup since December 15th and his eight shot attempts per game is a stark contrast to the 20.7 he attempted early in the year.
Just ahead of Memphis and New Orleans, Portland has little margin for error if they want to avoid playing the Lakers or the Spurs in the opening round. The Trail Blazers have come to the realization that their franchise guard may never return to his original form, but Portland is in desperate need of whatever Roy has left.
Memphis’ Rudy Gay seemed on track for a career season before ultimately shutting it down officially on February 15th due to shoulder problems in his non-shooting arm. Gay’s injury affected more than just his playoff-bound Grizzlies. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge looked to reacquire former high energy guard Tony Allen, but because of Gay being shelved the Grizzlies then claimed Allen untouchable at the trade deadline.
Allen’s availability would have left the Celtics content to hold onto center Kendrick Perkins and thus, rendered their trade for Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green unnecessary.
Allen has proved to be an indispensable piece to Memphis’ playoff success, as it is the first time in the veteran guard's career that he has been able to fully exhibit his full multitude of talents.
A career 7.5 PPG player, Allen had a career month in March, averaging 14 PPG in just under 29 MPG. April has been even sweeter thus far for Allen who is fresh off back-to-back double-digit scoring performances and shot a combined 12-25 from the field. Since being inserted into the starting rotation on February 22nd, Allen has six 20-plus scoring performances including a 9-10 shooting night that saw him total 23 in a win over the first-place Spurs.
Allen’s red hot spring will put Memphis in a position to make a decision about his role going forward, but a strong playoff performance will certainly bode well for Tony Allen’s future as a Grizzly.
Battling against the resurgent Grizzlies are the New Orleans Hornets, who hold just a three-game lead over the Houston Rockets and are on the outside looking in on the current playoff picture. Should the Hornets hold on and receive a birth in this year’s playoffs, the achievement will come as a testament to the team’s survival without star forward David West who was lost to a season-ending ACL tear on March 24th.
Since West’s injury the Hornets have pieced together an offense that has produced a 2-2 record entering the final full week of the season. Without their star forward New Orleans has relied heavily on Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza to pick up much of the scoring load.
The lost of West’s 18.9 PPG has left a gaping void in the Hornet offense, but injury reserve forward Carl Landry has averaged 20.5 PPG and six RPG as a starter. Landry’s presence on the glass will never force Hornets fans to forget about West, but Landry’s gaudy scoring output gives New Orleans hope that they can inflict some damage come playoff time.
Written by Conor Gereg exclusively for www.thefantasyfix.com
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