HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Oklahoma City, Memphis and Miami, feel fortunate, very fortunate, and proceed with caution.
As the regular season churns down to a handful of games over these final 16 days, the three teams above are the only ones of the 16 current playoff teams, plus the desperately-trying-to-get-in Los Angeles Lakers, currently unaffected by injury — or injuries.
Playoff seeding, and ultimately playoff series, could tilt on an injury report that seems to grow with each passing game.
The Grizzlies caught a break with the quick return of center Marc Gasol from an abdomen injury. Initially the team listed him as out “indefinitely.” Later, Gasol said he’d be back for the playoffs. Next thing you know he’s back after missing just two games and right back on his game.
The Heat missed Dwyane Wade for a couple games during their win streak and, of course, he, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers came down with those, ahem, previously unreported injuries prior to Sunday’s game at San Antonio. Speaking of the Spurs, Manu Ginobili‘s most recent ill-timed injury (hamstring) has put the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed firmly in play Thursday night when San Antonio visits a Thunder team as healthy as any can be 70-something games in.
Few are so fortunate, and let’s start with the carousel of injuries that have beset the Lakers. Kobe Bryant continues to play through a sprained ankle and whatever else, Dwight Howard still deals with the sporadic shooting pain from the torn labrum in his shoulder and Pau Gasol is finally back. But Metta World Peace (knee) won’t be back and Steve Nash (hip) is “doubtful” for tonight’s big showdown against the never-say-die Dallas Mavericks (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
The Lakers won’t receive sympathy cards from Denver, which could be without spark plug point guard Ty Lawson (heel) until the playoffs. As soon as Chauncey Billups (groin) finally returned he was gone again, and couldn’t the sinking Clippers use him right about now?
Houston’s All-Star James Harden can’t seem to shake a sprained right ankle. Jazz reserve big man Enes Kanter (shoulder), whose March was his biggest month of the season, is out indefinitely. Golden State is essentially healthy, having lost Brandon Rush way back in the opening days of the season.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls shake their heads at any team ruffled by a single injury, or two. The Celtics, having adjusted to life without Rajon Rondo, plus rookie Jared Sullinger are without Kevin Garnett (ankle) and Paul Pierce missed Monday’s loss at Minnesota for “personal reasons,” according to coach Doc Rivers. Meanwhile, Boston is dangerously close to slipping into eighth place and a first-round matchup against the Heat.
In the Big Apple, the injury list goes on and on: Tyson Chandler (neck) remains wait-and-see, Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) and Kurt Thomas (foot), very likely could join Rasheed Wallace (foot) as being shut down for the season. The Knicks, busting through it all with an eight-game win streak, continue to battle for the No. 2 seed with the Indiana Pacers, who have five straight and learned last week that Danny Granger (knee) won’t be making the late-season comeback they had expected just days earlier.
And those scrappy, scrappy Bulls by now must be resigned to a full season without Derrick Rose (knee), and they may have lost Rip Hamilton (back) for the season. They hope to soon get center Joakim Noah (foot) back in uniform, as well as Marco Belinelli (abdomen).
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets, finally with Deron Williams healthy and playing like an All-Star again, would love to say the same about Joe Johnson (heel).
As the playoffs quickly approach, time is running short for players and teams to get healthy.