Posts Tagged ‘Danilo Gallinari’

Progress Reports on Injured Stars

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

The NBA offseason is a time for most players to relax and mentally prepare for the upcoming season. But for those recovering from injury, it’s all work as they try to get back into the game.

Here are 10 key players rehabbing this summer, with best guesses on when they are expected to return.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Injury: Ruptured Achilles tendon (April 13, 2013)

Progress: Bryant’s 2012-13 season came to a sudden end when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the Lakers’ stretch-run toward the playoffs. The initial diagnosis for his injury was 6-9 months, but recent reports have suggested the star could be back by the start of the 2013-14 season. This would be the best of news for the Lakers, who will struggle to win without Bryant.

ETA: It’s not hard to imagine Bryant being ready by the start of the season. But it’s downright easy to imagine this injury staying with him all season.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Injury: Torn ACL in left knee (April 28, 2012)

Progress: If you go by some of what you see on Twitter, then Derrick Rose was ready to return two months ago during the Chicago Bulls’ series against the Miami Heat, but he chose not to because he’s not “competitive enough.” Thankfully, the saga surrounding Rose ended when the Bulls were eliminated in five games and Rose was allowed to have the entire summer to continue his rehab. A video surfaced earlier in the week of Rose dunking on an eight-foot hoop. It seems likely the former-MVP will be ready by the start of training camp.

ETA: Reports signal Rose is comfortable on the court again and has regained his muscle memory, so expect him back for the entire 2013-14 season.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Injury: Lateral meniscus tear in right knee (April 24, 2013)

Progress: Westbrook underwent surgery on his right knee in late May after he tore his lateral meniscus during the first round playoff series against the Houston Rockets. The recovery time initially called for Westbrook to be back for the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Based on the amount of recent videos of Westbrook dancing, it would appear he will be ready.

ETA: It would take an unlikely setback for Westbrook not to be ready by training camp. But don’t be surprised if this injury inititally diminishes Westbrook’s level of play.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Injury: Torn ACL in right knee (January 25, 2013)

Progress: Rondo’s knee injury in late-January knocked him out for the rest of the 2012-13 season and proved to be the last time he would play with future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and be coached by Doc Rivers. Rondo is reportedly right on schedule for his recovery, but the team he is preparing to return to is moving in a completely new direction. It will be interesting to see how Rondo handles his new leading role on the team and if he can get along with new head coach Brad Stevens.

ETA: All signs point to Rondo being ready for the start of the season.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Injury: Surgery to remove scar tissue in left knee (April 8, 2013)

Progress: Kevin Love missed the beginning of the 2012-13 season with a broken hand sustained by doing knuckle push-ups. After he returned from that injury he played 18 games before he broke the same hand again. Before he could return for a third time, he became bothered by left knee pain and chose to have season-ending surgery to remove scar tissue in his knee. The normal recovery time for this surgery is 4-6 weeks, so Love should be right on schedule to return for training camp.

ETA: Love will most likely be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season … unless he decided to do more knuckle push-ups.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

Injury: Knee complications beginning in 2010

Progress: Andrew Bynum underwent his first knee surgery on July 28, 2010 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year, knee troubles caused the  center to miss the entire season after he was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in a summer blockbuster trade. The washout of a season was initially due to a setback Bynum suffered while bowling. Now a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bynum says he will be ready by training camp. But it’s important to remember he said those same words last season, too.

ETA: Few will believe the big man is back until they see the big man back, but it seems likely he will be healthy for the start of the season.

Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

Injury: Torn ACL in left knee (April 4, 2013)

Progress: Similar to Rondo, the team that Gallinari is set to return to is a lot different than the one he left. Gone are Andre Iguodala, head coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri. But new head coach Brian Shaw should help to inspire the team and a healthy Gallinari would certainly help. The initial timetable for his return was the middle of next season, but recent reports suggest he may be back sooner than that after the surgery was simpler than expected.

ETA: The best-case scenario for his return seems to be December.

Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

Injury: Blood clot developed in left lung following surgery (January 10, 2013)

Progress: Varejao was having his best NBA season when it was unexpectedly cut short after doctors discovered a blood clot developing in his left lung. This potentially fatal condition was quickly treated by surgery, but it caused Varejao to miss the remainder of the season. Varejao should be fully prepared to return by the start of training camp.

ETA: It would be a surprise if Varejao isn’t ready to step into the front line of the improving Cavs by the start of the season.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

Injury: Patellar tendinosis in left knee since the 2012 offseason

Progress: Granger attempted to return midseason last year but was able to play in only five games before he had to undergo another surgery. His absence allowed All-Star Paul George to emerge as the go-to star for the Pacers, who reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Heat. Still, Granger’s offensive firepower would be a welcome addition off the bench.

ETA: While recent reports suggest that the former All-Star should be ready by training camp, lingering knee injuries are nearly impossible to predict.

Greg Oden

Injury: Lingering knee injuries since 2007

Progress: Speaking of lingering knee injuries, here’s Greg Oden! The first overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft is reportedly ready for a comeback after being out of the league for the entire 2012-13 season. He’s receiving heavy interest from several NBA teams. There’s no way to predict what Oden has left in his knees, but if he can stay relatively healthy for the majority of next season then his extreme size and skill will be a huge benefit.

ETA: There have been limited reports on Oden’s recovery progress, but the amount of interest he’s received from teams must signal that the big man is on track to return for most of next season.

Shaw Tries To Bring Stability To Nuggets

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LAS VEGAS – This is instability?

This?

Give Brian Shaw a minute. He needs to break out laughing.

“There’s instability and there’s dysfunction that I’ve been a part of and through all of that stuff,” he said. “To me, this is nothing. Change happens.”

Well, it’s something. And change may happen, except that this is really a lot of change all at once for the Nuggets. Masai Ujiri is gone as head of basketball operations and replaced by Tim Connelly. Coach George Karl gone after being named Coach of the Year and replaced by Shaw. Lastly, superstar Andre Igoudala is gone from the roster and truly replaced by nobody. Denver has fallen face-first into an unwanted transition in the aftermath of a 57-win season, albeit followed by a first-round playoff loss.

summer-league-logoBut Shaw played for the Lakers when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were standing back to back and counting off 40 paces. He was an assistant coach for the Lakers under Phil Jackson, a man who looked at locker-room tension as a sociology experiment. Shaw knows turbulence.

Whatever Shaw’s primary qualifications to get the Nuggets job, and there are many, it doesn’t hurt that few can rival his experience in dealing with drama. There will be a learning curve as a first-time coach, just not an uncertainty on how to handle the hectic offseason, beginning with Summer League and continuing into a question-filled training camp.

“Life is unpredictable and you just have to be ready for whatever it is that you have to face,” he said. “Nothing is insurmountable and in this business you’re going to see some crazy things. I think for me, I have a steadying hand. I have to be calm. If I’m nervous and I’m looking like I’m not confident about what’s going on, it’s going to trickle down to the team. I’m laid back by nature, so I just want to exhibit that calmness and not get too high or not get too low.”

His background will be a plus, in other words, in more ways than 14 seasons as a player and eight as an assistant with the Lakers and Pacers.

“I don’t think that that happens overnight,” Shaw said of bringing stability. “Naturally they should feel a little shaken because they have a new general manager, a new coach, a new assistant general manager. One of the best players, if not the best player on the team, is gone now as well. So the reality of the situation is there has been a lot of change. But what I think it’s my job to do is to try to simplify everything so that they can just concentrate on playing the game and understand that with all those changes being made, the guys that are here are the guys that are going to be counted on and to give them confidence in that.”

Shaw will also contend with the other roster absence, the knee injury that the Nuggets say is expected to keep Danilo Gallinari out until near midseason. Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post reported last month Gallinari could be back by December, but Shaw said he has not been given any update by the medical staff.

The Western Conference Gets Tougher At Top, But Is It Really A Power Shift?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dwight to Houston and Iggy to Golden State. What a day. So, how much did Friday’s free-agent action shift the balance of power in the Western Conference? Perhaps the biggest shift will be the return of a healthy Russ in Oklahoma City come November.

The West certainly got more top-heavy and more intriguing on a wild day that finally delivered Dwight Howard‘s decision, however awkwardly. The big man is leaving the domineering Kobe Bryant and his rapidly aging Los Angeles Lakers to join The Beard, James Harden, and his young-and-gunning Houston Rockets.

While Howard spent Friday in Aspen, Colo., surely studying the California state tax hit on the $30 million more the incumbent Lakers could pay him, the Golden State Warriors’ aggressive front office was busy selling off expiring contracts to create the cap room needed to reach a rather stunning agreement with Denver free agent Andre Iguodala. It positioned the Warriors perfectly to craft a deal if the desperate Lakers bellied-up seeking a sign-and-trade for Howard while simultaneously strengthening their club for next season if not.

Still, did Dwight to Houston and Iggy to Golden State boost either team to the level of the West champion San Antonio Spurs, to OKC with Russell Westbrook returning or even to the Doc Rivers-coached and Chris Paul-led Los Angeles Clippers?

The West is so stout at the top that while Houston and Golden State began to emerge last season with Harden coming to the Rockets and Steph Curry rising to star status in the playoffs (and both teams will co-chair the NBA’s committee for must-watch teams next season) they might find themselves battling it out for homecourt advantage in the first round. And that’s having not even mentioned the post-Lionel Hollins Memphis Grizzlies now under rookie coach David Joerger returning as a top-five team.

But back to Iguodala and his one-year stopover in Denver. If there is a power shift in the West it’s the potential for a Nuggets avalanche down the standings to open a spot in the top four. Denver finished the season as the No. 3 seed, but since Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in early April it’s been a steady stream of body blows. Denver lost to Golden State in the first round. Coach of the Year George Karl was fired and executive of the year Masai Ujiri left to run the Toronto Raptors. Now Iguodala is gone and Denver might be on the playoff bubble.

As for the Lakers, it’s disingenuous to talk about the loss of Howard as creating a major power shift within the conference. L.A. hasn’t escaped the second round in three years and with Howard last season it squeaked into the playoffs in the final days of the season as the seventh seed. Kobe Bryant hopes to be back for the start of the 2013-14 season, but there’s no guarantee as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.

With a roster badly in need of patching all over, might the Lakers, who — ready for this? — apparently chose a future with Mike D’Antoni over the 27-year-old Howard, be the most likely candidate to fall out of the top eight and open a playoff path for a lottery team such as the loaded — and presumably healthy — Minnesota Timberwolves?

Huh, the Timberwolves passing over the Lakers? Now that would be a power shift.

Karl Badly Wanted This Nuggets Team To Change Playoff Fortune

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Apparently it was a bad year to coach your team to a franchise-record number of wins.

George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins each guided their respective clubs to new regular-season heights and now the coaches of the West’s playoff seeds 3, 4 and 5 all might be shown the door. Del Negro, who led the Los Angeles Clippers to a franchise-best 56 wins and a first-ever Pacific Division title, was first to be told he won’t be return.

Hollins, a lame-duck coach all season like Del Negro, led the Memphis Grizzlies to a club-record 56 wins and a first-ever Western Conference finals, and also likely sealed VDN’s fate with their first-round playoff win after the Clips held a 2-0 lead. Still, before Hollins could even reflect on the season that was, he was told by the organization’s new brass to talk to whichever team caught his fancy.

Then Thursday morning news hit that the Denver Nuggets will part ways with recently crowned Coach of the Year Karl after nine seasons and a franchise-record 57 wins. Karl, apparently unwilling to enter next season under the final year of his deal as his two counterparts did, has lost that power struggle and is out.

Hollins remains the lone wolf that isn’t all the way out. At least not yet as Grizz ownership/management figure out what they’re doing.

Now the 62-year-old Karl, who has twice turned back cancer, will be coaching somewhere else next season if he so chooses, perhaps even Del Negro’s attractive old gig with the Clips (considering Chauncey Billups‘ affinity for Karl and Chris Paul‘s trust in Billups, this could be a scenario that ensures the free agent CP3′s return to the Clips. Billups is also a free agent).

Karl dearly hoped that this season’s Nuggets would be the team to turn his inexplicable postseason fortunes around. In eight previous seasons under Karl, Denver had advanced past the first round just once. The 2008-09 team with Carmelo Anthony lost to the Lakers in the West finals. Before and after, with Melo and without, it’s been one-and-down.

This year was different, he wanted to believe. He had a complete team that played his up-tempo style to perfection and could run-and-gun any opponent off the floor. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari were emerging as stars. Andre Iguodala provided the perimeter defense his teams lacked in the past. They had depth, they had belief and they had the West’s No. 3 seed.

They managed the latter despite Gallinari being lost for the season in early April to a torn ACL, and Lawson missed chunks of time late in the season with plantar fasciitis, making his playoff-readiness uncertain.

When the Nuggets — who recently lost general manager Masai Ujiri to the Raptors — visited the Dallas Mavericks on April 12, it was obvious how much Gallinari’s injury — and at the time Lawson’s ailing foot — had shook Karl’s faith in the possibility of a long playoff run.

“All year long the league has seen this, the national image of the Nuggets, that they’re not a playoff team, they’re not built for the playoffs, they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” Karl said, lamenting on the season-long criticisms of his club. “And I just wish we would be healthy just to show some people so we could tell them to shut up. Now I don’t know what percentage we’re down, but a full tank would be better than a three-quarter tank. The matchup that we get I think we’re going to be excited about and I’m confident that we’re going to play well in the playoffs.”

The matchup that they got was the upstart, sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who beat the shorthanded Nuggets in six and then put one heck of a scare into the eventual West champion San Antonio Spurs.

Who knows what happens if Gallinari is healthy and the Nuggets are playing at full strength.

Injury misfortune aside, it was quite a season. So good that just 29 days ago, Karl tweeted this message:

That was his last tweet until today:

Steve Nash Is Done — For Now

LOS ANGELES – Steve Nash is focused on 2013-14.

“Put it this way,” Nash said, “I am optimistic and I feel like I’ll be great next year.”

This year, however, is over. The 39-year-old point guard will end his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers essentially the way it began — in pain.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni officially ruled out Nash for Sunday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, TNT), a must-win for L.A. to force an improbable, seemingly impossible, Game 5 in San Antonio. For the first time during this lopsided series that the Spurs lead 3-0, Nash was not in practice gear and was not available following a Lakers workout.

“It’s the worst,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose San Antonio teams have long and colorful playoff history against Nash and his old Phoenix Suns. “It’s not just that he’s a good player, a great player, he’s a competitor. He’s one of the all-time competitors. To see him sitting on the sideline, you got to know that it’s killing him, it’s just killing him. I feel bad in the regard.”

Nash is dealing with back, hip and hamstring problems that are all related. He tweaked the injuries on the final play of Game 2, tried a cortisone shot to his hip and two epidural shots to his back in hopes of taking the court in Game 3, but he couldn’t do it.

“The irony, I guess, is that the back doesn’t affect me functionally, but the back is probably the root of all the problems,” said Nash, who has dealt with back issues for years. “It’s the hamstring and the hip that really prevented me, and I tweaked the whole system there on the last play of the half and it all went downhill from there.”

The Lakers’ ridiculously long injury list grew by one — and why not? — with Metta World Peace removing himself from Game 4 after sitting out the second half of Game 3. He irritated the right knee that he had surgically repaired just a month ago. Also out for what will will be Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and, obviously, Kobe Bryant.

“It’s just been a crazy year. You can point back to the very start,” Nash said on Friday. “The bottom line is there’s no one reason, it’s just bad luck and a bunch of circumstances and, you know, it’s a shame.”

But Nash, as physically fit and nutritionally conscious as any player in the league, is planning for big things next season when the Lakers could well put essentially the same roster back on the floor if they re-sign Dwight Howard this summer. Pau Gasol could be gone, and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are free agents along with Howard.

Nash has two more seasons on his contract at $19 million. When training camp opens next October, speculation will be if Nash’s body can hold up. This season started with a freak incident, a broken leg and nerve damage in the second game of the season at Portland. Nash will turn 40 before the next All-Star Game.

Nash said he doesn’t discount the destructive forces of time on the body, but he said it’s unfair to blame this season’s series of ailments strictly on his age. His durability over 17 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He missed 32 games this season, four times as many as in any recent season. He sat out eight in 2008-09, and you have to go back to 1999-2000 to find a season when he missed more.

“It’d be foolish not to say that it [age] could play some part, but I also think it’s really myopic to say that because I finally had an injury bug it’s age,” Nash said. “I think the biggest scenario is that everybody gets hurt at some point. The fact that I’m getting hurt now and haven’t been hurt before, it’s easy for everyone to say he’s getting old. I mean look around the room, what about the other guys? Is it because they’re getting old?”

Look beyond the Lakers. Look at the unfortunate injury list across the league: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (meniscus tear) is 24. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is 24. Golden State’s David Lee is 29. Boston’s Rajon Rondo is 27. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is 24.

Barring a miraculous comeback by the Lakers starting with Sunday’s Game 4, we have seen the last of Nash for this season.

But he’ll be back, and D’Antoni, whose greatest success came with Nash in Phoenix, believes he’ll have plenty left.

“I mean he’s dying inside,” D’Antoni said of Nash missing playoff games. “Then again, I think he’s excited about trying to get his body straight and coming back and having a great year. They’re on a mission, he, Kobe, Steve Blake, all of them are getting ready for another year.

“That’s them. We’re trying to lengthen this [series] and trying to win a game on Sunday.”

Series Hub: Spurs vs. Lakers

Lakers Near The End As Spurs Get Started

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LOS ANGELES – It’s still difficult to process the devastation, that these are the Los Angeles Lakers. The 16-time champs. The team that coulda-woulda won 70 this season, yet suffered a third consecutive playoff loss and their worst one ever at home Friday, 120-89, to the San Antonio Spurs.

The classic gold uniforms emblazoned with purple down the sides and LAKERS racing across the front looked the same as playoffs past. But who were those guys wearing them? Even Jack had to raise his shades.

Guys named Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris and Chris Duhon and Earl Clark were forced to play minutes better suited for a Vegas Summer League game. Meanwhile, $34.2 million of Laker payroll — or the club’s top four guards, including a cat named Kobe Bryant — watched from the bench, injured and dejected.

Actually, Black Mamba never even made it courtside. He probably knew what was ahead and knew he couldn’t stomach it, knew he couldn’t contain himself out in the open in front of restless fans, his fans, and grinding his teeth into talcum powder right there on the floor he’s so accustomed to dominating this time of year. Hidden from view, Bryant probably sent himself a thousand tweets.

After the game, being whirred away in a golf cart and wearing a gold Lakers t-shirt and a protective boot rising halfway up his left leg, Kobe was asked if it was hard to watch. “Of course,” he said, turning his palms up as if to say #WTH.

The game was uglier than even expected and the final result fit the description Mike D’Antoni used before the game for his state of mind considering the injuries and the crew he had left for a must-win Game 3: “As a coach you sleep like a baby and every 15 minutes you wake up crying.”

Then asked if his newly-christened backcourt of newbies Goudelock and Morris might actually improve the team’s perimeter defense from that of Steve Nash and Steve Blake, D’Antoni first laughed out loud, then said, “Uh, no.” He kept laughing.

Earlier in the day, the coach and his players tried to paint a scenario of success, talking of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol taking care of the paint and the NBA D-League MVP Goudelock, thrilled for his first NBA start, he said, so his parents back home in Atlanta could watch him on TV, would go off as if Friday night was just another D-League Showcase. At least the kid came strong, and at least the Lakers didn’t allow their first 18-point deficit in the second quarter to wipe them out without a fight. The second one in the third quarter did, and then came the cheap “We Want Phil” chants, first short-lived and then more robust during the Spurs’ runaway fourth.

And with that, this stink-o, injury-ravaged Lakers season is finally in the spin cycle and ready to drain.

The San Antonio Spurs, with five players scoring in double figures and 13 in all scoring, seek to wrap up this fraudulent first-round series Sunday back at Staples. If accomplished it would be the second broom taken to the proud Lakers in three seasons. The unceremonious end will officially begin the unceremonious “Where’s Dwight Going?” reality show. Get your popcorn.

Of course, there’s still basketball to be played in L.A. as soon as Tuesday night when the toast-of-the-town Clippers and the once-upon-a-time-Lakers-bound Chris Paul return home for Game 5 against the Grizzlies. The Spurs, assuming they do close this sack of a series on Sunday, will go home to begin an extended rest awaiting the high-speed winner between Denver and Golden State, two clubs themselves that aren’t whole.

The Warriors’ David Lee (torn hip flexor) and Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL), two high-scoring, highly productive forwards instrumental to their teams’ success, are each out for the duration. Oklahoma City now feels their pain. Point guard Russell Westbrook will have surgery, the team announced Friday, to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.

The Thunder and the Spurs, last season’s Western Conference foes, figured to be so again. OKC’s side of the bracket with the Clippers and Grizzlies has sprung wide open. And suddenly it’s the Spurs who look primed to make a real run at a fifth championship in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era, a number that would tie the 37-year-old wonder in rings with Kobe.

“We’re good. Health is good,” Popovich said prior to Game 3. “The last few weeks haven’t been great health-wise, but we’ve slowly gotten better and better. Considering how many people have problems around the league, and the Lakers having theirs, we’re feeling pretty fortunate in that regard.”

Only a few weeks ago, the Spurs were the walking wounded and now have their Big Three healthy and with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker returning to All-Star form.

Of course health this time of year is fleeting and that fact came crashing home as starting center Tiago Splitter, having his best season in the NBA, hopped off the floor with his left foot dangling in mid-air and left the arena on crutches.

X-rays were negative, but chances are slim that he can play Sunday. It will leave the Spurs a little light in the middle for one last stand from Dwight and Pau, one, if not both of whom might be playing their final game in Laker purple-and-gold.

–Series Hub: Spurs vs. Lakers

Clippers’ Butler Feels Their Pain

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LOS ANGELES – Caron Butler feels their pain.

Golden State Warriors All-Star forward David Lee became the latest out-for-the-season casualty with a complete tear of his right hip flexor in Saturday’s Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets. He reluctantly joins the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (Achilles) and Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (knee), two players sidelined by devastating injuries just before the start of the playoffs.

That leaves three Western Conference playoff teams down a star player.

“I think about it all the time,” Butler said of that dreadful day, Jan. 1, 2011, when his right patellar tendon ruptured during a game in Milwaukee, making him a bystander and cheerleader for the rest of the season as the Dallas Mavericks went on to win the championship.

“Every time I lace up and step on the court I think about it because that could have easily been my last time playing the game of basketball as a professional. It’s one of those things that I don’t take for granted. I was truly humbled by that experience and I learned a lot from it.”

Butler is now in his second season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting small forward. He had an excellent Game 1 with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes as the Clippers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 112-91. Game 2 is tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) at Staples Center.

“We’ve got a number of guys that have had injuries and come back from them,” Chris Paul said. “But Caron especially, when you’re injured and trying to work through an injury you feel like you’ll never be back to who you were. To see Caron playing the way he is, it’s exciting and great to see.”

Yes, Butler is finally healthy. He began to think he was snakebit when he broke his left hand in last year’s playoff opener and was feared lost for an extended period. He somehow played through it, determined not to miss more precious postseason time.

“I was not going to miss it,” Butler said.

“It’s frustrating, extremely frustrating,” Butler continued. “Being part of a team and building up to the ultimate goal to compete for a title and not being able to compete on the court is always frustrating. And then you just have to think team first and add all the little intangibles you bring to the table besides being on the floor — being vocal in the locker room, the experience in the locker room, staying in guys’ ears.”

To this day, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle talks of the gruesome nature of Butler’s injury, how his knee cap became completely dislodged and how Butler walked off the court under his own power, not wanting to scare friends and family who came to watch him in Milwaukee, near his hometown of Racine, Wisc.

And Carlisle relays the heroic nature in which Butler attacked rehab for months, desperately attempting to make it back for even one game of the playoff run only to fall short.

“It was so painful just not to be able to show your gift like what you’re capable of doing on the biggest stage in the sport,” Butler said.

Now 33 and in his 11th season — and sixth postseason in which he’s actually able to play — Butler said the 2011 season has come to define his approach to the rest of his career.

“It’s made me a much more motivated, a much more focused player, a much more mature player,” Butler said. “And that’s why I’m always — I’m much older now — but I’m always wanting to be out there on the court. I just want that opportunity to be out there all the time and to have my impact and influence on the court felt, not just in the locker room.

“It’s something I really look forward to, these opportunities to go into a postseason relatively healthy and being able to perform at a high level.”

He suspects the same will be true next season for Kobe, Gallinari and Lee.

Because Butler feels their pain.

The Starting Five: Playoff Wild Cards



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The start of the NBA playoffs is just days away and that’s always a signal for superstars to ready themselves to step into the spotlight on the game’s biggest stage.

It’s also the time for those unsuspecting guys, the unsung contributors on playoff teams from throughout the league, to raise their level of play with their respective seasons on the line. We like to call them Hang Time’s Playoff Wild Cards, guys who will impact their teams and potentially the outcomes of their respective team’s first round series.

The Starting Five of HT’s Playoff Wild Cards Team (and just like Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, we don’t get caught up in positions. We’re going with the best five Wild Cards):

JEREMY LIN, PG, HOUSTON ROCKETS

By now Rockets fans know that the star point guard they snatched away from New York last summer is not the same guy who inspired Linsanity. What they’ve got is a guy who is much steadier and just as productive, statistically, through 82 games with the Rockets (13.4 ppg, 6.0 apg and 3.0 rpg) as he was in 25 games with the Knicks (14.6, 6.2 and 3.1). What makes Lin a Wild Card is knowing that he’s capable of getting on the kind of roll that created the Linsanity phenomenon. The right matchup in the playoffs could be all he needs to morph back into the player we saw during his magical ride in New York.

DANNY GREEN, SG, SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Green is easily overlooked on a team with superstars like Tony Parker and even Tim Duncan who are often foolishly overlooked by the masses when the conversation turns to the true superstars in the league. What cannot (and should not) be overlooked is Green’s season-long penchant for taking and making big shots, not to mention his 43 percent shooting (for the second straight season, mind you) from beyond the 3-point line. Green is the beneficiary of defensive attention being paid to Parker and Duncan, and he takes full advantage of defender’s inattention to detail all the time.

JEFF GREEN, SF, BOSTON CELTICS

If the Jeff Green that showed up after All-Star weekend is the same Jeff Green that shows up for the playoffs, the Celtics will be one of the postseason’s most dangerous lower seeds. Green has averaged 17.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.7 apg in 34.1 minutes a night since the break (compared to the 10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 1.0 apg he posted in 24.6 minutes before the break). Green has the size, athleticism and skill on both ends of the floor to battle elite small forwards. The Celtics need him to do it every night in the postseason.

JIMMY BUTLER, SF,  CHICAGO BULLS

In a season when Derrick Rose‘s supporting cast has been under scrutiny every single night, Butler has shined in his opportunities to contribute, particularly on the defensive side of things. He’s the battled the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and more than held his own in those matchups. Some young players struggle with a sudden increase in minutes, many of them spent in different roles. But not Butler. The more he’s played the better he’s played, giving Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yet another rugged contributor on a team filled with them. If Butler continues to score the way he has recently (15.6 ppg on 53 percent shooting in his last five games), he’ll have an even greater impact than expected in the playoffs.

COREY BREWER, SF, DENVER NUGGETS

This Wild Card thing is easy for Brewer. He does it daily for a talented and deep Nuggets team that has thrived all season by unleashing that depth on the opposition. What makes Brewer so effective in this role is his non-stop motor, his activity on both ends of the floor, his ability to shoot it from distance and the fact that he finishes at the rim and in transition. It’s pretty remarkable considering he doesn’t appear to have gained a single pound since middle school (we’re joking here). Brewer averages 12.2 ppg without any plays being called for him … ever. He should have “Wild Card” stitched across the back of his jersey instead of “Brewer.”

We’ve got our Starting Five Playoff Wild Cards.

Who are yours?


Karl Wishes For A Silencing Playoff Run

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DALLAS –
 If someone granted Denver Nuggets coach George Karl three wishes today, here’s No. 1:

“I just wish we would be healthy just to show some people so we could tell them to shut up,” Karl said prior to Friday’s game at Dallas where he eased point guard Ty Lawson back into action off the bench. Lawson, the Nuggets’ super-charged point guard, leading scorer and most imperative player for a deep playoff run, had missed eight of the last nine games with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

Lawson provided an encouraging report after scoring 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, a club that had reeled off — crippling injuries be damned — 20 wins in their last 22 games before Friday’s 108-105 overtime loss to the Mavericks, second-leading scorer and top 3-point threat Danilo Gallinari will only walk through that door on crutches. He tore his ACL eight days ago and won’t be back until next season.

So, yeah, Karl, a top candidate for Coach of the Year, wishes he had his full squad available for the postseason. He badly wants to prove that his blue-and-gold blur of a track team, so good now for three-plus months, doesn’t have to be a regular-season anomaly.

“All year long the league has seen this, the national image of the Nuggets as well, that they’re not a playoff team,” Karl said. “They’re not built for the playoffs; they can’t do this, they can’t do that. Now, I don’t know what percentage we’re down [due to injuries], but a full tank would be better than a three-quarter tank.”

Don’t mistake this as a ready-made excuse if his team gets bounced early with no Gallo and Lawson’s rocket-propelled lower limbs potentially not at full burn when things get rolling for real next weekend.

“The matchup that we get I think we’re going to be excited about.” Karl said, “And I’m confident that we’re going to play well in the playoffs.”

Friday’s loss was costly. Combined with Memphis’ win at Houston, the Nuggets and Grizzlies are tied at 54-25 for the No. 3 seed. The Clippers, also winners on Friday, are just a game back. Denver holds the tiebreaker against both. The The third and fourth seeds will open the playoffs at home with the third seed avoiding Oklahoma City until the conference finals.

Denver, 36-3 on their home floor, doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

If they get the No. 3 seed they’ll face either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. Denver is 7-0 against those two foes this season.

And if the Nuggets face Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round (or possibly the first)? They’re 5-2 against both.

Oklahoma City in the West finals (or possibly second round)? Try 3-1 with a recent resounding win on the Thunder’s home floor.

“We got a bunch of guys that know how to play together,” said Corey Brewer, a member of the Nuggets’ high-scoring bench that never allows an opponent to catch its breath. “We’re all about one thing and that’s winning, one goal. Every night we come out and figure out a way to win no matter what it is.”

This hyper-explosive, deep and versatile, and super-resilient team might not boast an All-Star, but it tips the scales in entertainment and few squads are as dangerous.

And Karl so badly wants to prove that this style, this team of workers can go deep when so many of his Carmelo Anthony-led teams did not. The knock on this team is they don’t have a go-to scorer in crunch time, that they won’t see the open floor like they do in the regular season and they won’t get in the paint in a seven-game series with the same ease they do in blowing away the league in paint points.

So what about the playoffs when the game slows, defenses adjust and halfcourt offense becomes the supposed law of the land? What then for the Nuggets, a juggernaut Karl said can get the ball in a scoring area in three seconds flat and would do so quicker if humanly possible?

“That’s what everybody says. We’ll find out,” Karl said. “I’m not saying that we can pick the tempo up in the playoffs. OK, so we score 105 points a game (105.8 in the regular season, third in the league). OK, we’re going to score 101 or 102 a game (in the playoffs)? I want to score 110. But if we play certain teams I think we’ll score.

“If a team is going to try to slow us down, check our record. Check our record under 100 points. Check our record. What do you think it is? When we don’t score 100 points or when the other team doesn’t score 100 points, it’s like 29-3. If I’m playing us, I’m going, ‘We want to play a slow-down game when they’re 29-3?’ OK.”

When the Nuggets fail to score 100, which doesn’t happen often, they’re 10-9. But to Karl’s point is his team’s understated ability to lock horns — ranking 11th in field-goal percentage defense — and win lower-scoring games. When the Nuggets hold opponents to under 100 points, they’re not 29-3 as Karl said. They’re 33-3.

“Our team has a mental competitiveness to it, a spirit of competing no matter what the problem or how badly we’re playing or how good we’re playing,” Karl said. “They compete and have a very high level of integrity of doing it the right way.”

Let the playoffs begin.

Don’t Count Out The Nuggets

HANG TIME WEST – This is new because it’s an injury. New because it’s an injury to Danilo Gallinari in particular, and because it’s the Nuggets in something other than an underdog role.

But this is the same.

Denver is in a bad spot, again. And probably, even understandably, they’re being dismissed again. Gallinari was the starting small forward, the team’s second-leading scorer, third-leading rebounder and that rarity of a dependable Nugget at the line. It is a huge loss for a team in the final days of a tense race for slots three-four-five in the Western Conference and heading to the playoffs after what had been a very encouraging second half of the season.

The player, the timing, the standings. So much just went wrong.

Losing Gallinari is obviously a setback, but these Nuggets are masters at shrugging at predictions of impending doom. There has always been something unique about this group in that way, a special personality trait since the Carmelo Anthony trade of February 2011 brought Gallo, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, among others, and established the core of a roster that already included Ty Lawson. Arron Afflalo was an important part of that, too, until being traded to Orlando before this season.

Once Anthony had leveraged his way out of town, the Nuggets would obviously fall off the map until the rebuilding process took effect. They clearly had no chance to compete with that post-trade roster. Easy call for the lottery.

Or not.

Immediately after the ‘Melo deal, Denver won 9 of 11 and kept winning. The guys with no chance for the playoffs made the playoffs with an 18-7 post-trade record, then lost in five games in the first round to Oklahoma City, becoming a road mark in the Thunder’s ascension.

Last season, Denver finished second in the Northwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference, just the spot to become the sparring partner for the Lakers in the first round. L.A. was bigger, stronger and more experienced. The Nuggets, though able to play much faster, had no chance. After losing the opener by 15, they were done.

Except…

The next thing anyone knew, it was Game 7 at Staples Center. The Nuggets evolved that series into a team that knew it could play with the best and sent a statement, even in defeat and elimination, that it had grown into a legit threat in the West moving forward. After acquiring Andre Igoudala from the 76ers in the summer deal that also sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum to the 76ers, no one could question that.

They were no longer the team being counted out. A jagged start with a brutal road-heavy schedule the first half of 2012-13 gave way to the affirmation that the Nuggets really were good enough for the top four and home-court advantage at least in the first round, not at the Oklahoma City-San Antonio level, but clearly a team capable of a long playoff run.

And then came Thursday night at Pepsi Center and Gallinari planting on a drive down the lane in the second quarter against the Mavericks.

The immediate response — the 132-114 victory over the Rockets — could be dismissed as just one game, the Nuggets playing at home, Houston on the second night of a back-to-back, etc. Fair points. But people have spent years waiting for just one game to give way to the inevitable reality check, and look what Denver has done with those expectations in the past. Besides, that one game was against the possible first-round opponent.

There is no way to predict the Nuggets’ playoff fate without knowing the matchup, only that this team is not going to suddenly blow away in the wind. Getting Lawson back from a heel injury ASAP is obviously key, with no timetable other than the hope that he will return before the end of the regular season. But coach George Karl loves the fighting personality of this team. Somewhere, while wincing at losing Gallinari, they no doubt are loving whatever doubt just crept in.