DENVER – It was the day the power forward universe shifted. It began before the Nuggets’ light workout on their practice court upstairs inside the Pepsi Center. Kenneth Faried, given the chance to stand for an interview session, jumped up on top the hard-plastic lid of a trash can in the corner. That was a pretty good injury update.
About two hours later and a couple miles away, David Lee of the Warriors was talking about an ache in his right hip so bad that nothing is comfortable, not even sleeping. As he stood on the sideline before a practice he would not be able to join, Lee said there is no response on that side of the joint when he simply tries to raise his leg.
The Nuggets, already leading 1-0 in the best-of-seven first round, took more control of the series before another game had been played, when one update on the power forward front would have been significant enough — two became a linkage impossible to avoid.
Denver’s starter was hopping on objects when it would have been acceptable to stand. Golden State’s was standing because nothing else felt any better.
And the difference in severity is obvious, too. Faried had a sprained left ankle that cost him all of three games, including the playoff opener, and most of a fourth. Coach George Karl said there was a chance Faried could have played Saturday, and a good chance if the Nuggets had built enough of a cushion to cushion the mistakes of a rusty player. While the health concern was a big deal because of the timing, it was a relatively minor issue.
The Lee setback, though, is huge. His season is over, even if the Warriors make it to the Finals. His chance to participate in the USA Basketball mini-camp in July, a stepping stone to making the Team USA roster for the 2014 World Cup, is over barring an unexpectedly quick recovery. That the typical recovery time for a torn hip muscle should allow him to be ready for the start of training camp will have to do for encouraging news.
“It’s a tough day,” Lee said Sunday. “I knew last night when I did it. I felt it pop. I knew we were going to get the results that we did this morning. I went to run back on defense [after being hurt] and had absolutely no sensation in my leg. It wasn’t even painful as much as it was just dead. That wasn’t anything I had felt before. I had pulled muscles or strained muscles before, so I knew it was something different. It’s a disappointing day for me. I’d waited eight years for [the playoffs], and to have it come such an abrupt end with something that’s out of my control is frustrating. But at the end of the day, our team has still got a good chance, I think, in the series, and I’m going to put all my effort toward that. It’s easy to kind of sit here and worry about yourself, but I’ve been a leader all season long and I’m going to continue to be one. Guys need to see me be positive right now. I’m going to do my best to be that guy.”
Coach Mark Jackson purposely avoided anything resembling a clear answer on his lineup response, not wanting to give the Nuggets any help in preparation time before Game 2 on Tuesday, but he has options. The Warriors could elevate Carl Landry from dependable backup to starter, obviously a hit to front-court depth but the move that would require the least adjustment. Or, they could go small and add Draymond Green or Richard Jefferson alongside Harrison Barnes and still have a true power forward, Landry, to bring off the bench.
Meanwhile, Denver gets deeper and stronger, even with Faried not having played a full game since April 12. Two seasons into the league, his energy has already become dispensable, as in 9.2 rebounds per game in just 28.1 minutes, and his return could jump start the Nuggets’ transition game that got mostly shut down in the opener.
“He’s our hustle guy,” Karl said. “He’s our rebounder. [Saturday] night I think we missed him. You’ve got two teams that like to run and when you take your best big runner off the court, it’s going to effect the flow of the game a little bit. His offensive rebounding is probably the reason we’re No. 1 in offensive rebounding, point blank. He’s the guy that always goes and is always there. Those extra points. I tell teams so many times, even in the regular season, in the playoffs it’s magnified. Little things win close games. Little things win games of equal talent. He’s probably the one guy on our team that gives us the little things as much as anybody.”