Posts Tagged ‘injuries’

Miami lineups change, LeBron plays on

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron dunks on the Bucks on a night when he rested during the fourth quarter

MILWAUKEE – In the last game of LeBron James‘ seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he took the floor against Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Combined points-per-game of the four starters besides James: 50.9.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, James stepped on the court with Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas, James Jones and Udonis Haslem. Combined scoring average at tipoff of this “supporting cast”: 26.2.

This was not what the smoke, lasers and dance music were all about back in July 2010.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has shuffled through 19 different starting lineups in 72 games this season. One – the familiar one from the past two Finals, with James, Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier – has been used 30 times,with the Heat going 20-10 in those games. The other 18 actually have yielded better results – 30-12 – despite none getting more than eight starts together and eight of the combinations going one-and-done.

None of this is by design, mind you. Injuries and ineffectiveness have pulled the handle on Miami’s lineup slot machine, not Spoelstra, the fruit tumbling and landing based on who’s available and contributing. Everyone knows about Wade, whose increasingly brittle body has been nursed through the 2013-14 schedule (51 games in, 21 games out) as if it’s Stephen Strasburg‘s right arm. Ray Allen at times has looked every bit of his 38 years, eight months, one week and three days. Battier’s planned retirement after this season has had a few false starts.

Eternally rehabbing Greg Oden has been more mascot than center, the way this season has gone.

“People think we’re overanalyzing it, we have some plan right now,” Spoelstra said Saturday evening before his guys did their work early in the 88-67 breeze past the Bucks. “Guys who are able to play right now are playing, period. Guys who cannot play, who are not passing the test, they’re not playing. The thing about this season, we’ve had a lot more of those than we’ve had in the past where guys aren’t able to play.”

In the middle of it all stands James. He’s the constant in the Heat’s season of change – OK, Bosh has missed one game and Norris Cole none but they orbit James the same as Miami’s other planets and moons. The four-time MVP has missed three games himself – broken nose, groin and ankle sprain, he recounts swiftly when the topic comes up – but no one on the roster has played within 300 minutes of his time. At 2,592, he has played nearly seven full games more than Bosh (2,258) and the equivalent of twice that compared to Chalmers (1,887).

James sat down after 30 minutes Saturday, skipping the fourth quarter entirely thanks to the score and who the Heat were playing. He orchestrated and facilitated more than dominated – two shots and two points in the first half, 13 points and seven rebounds by night’s end – but he was out there. Wade again was sitting on the bench in a suit. Chalmers and Oden were sidelined, too, and the flu sweeping through Allen’s family kept him off the three-game trip entirely.

Frankly, James would be within his rights to look around and wonder whether this patchwork attack and relative M*A*S*H unit of teammates will be enough to reach and win another Finals. And if he did, the opt-out in his contract this summer would loom so large, it’d throw a shadow over Miami’s entire postseason.

If James’ teammates feel sheepish or some extra obligation to pick up the pace and durability in fairness to him, they’re not saying. “We’re a team. We have to come through for each other,” Wade said after the Milwaukee game. “So we all are obligated for each other. Obviously myself, LeBron and Chris wanted to play together.”

Then again, if his heavier work load while others sit is an issue, James hasn’t let on.

“It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even think about it,” the Heat star said, “and if I’m in the lineup tonight, then I’ve got to do my job. You just worry about controlling things you can control. Us having injuries, us having guys in and out of the lineup, that’s something I can’t control.”

It is something he’s noticed, at least. Never before has James played for a team with such a revolving door on its trainers room.

“I can’t really recall it, as many guys as we’ve had [out],” he said. “In that sense it’s challenging, not only for myself but for the guys who are in – they may not have played for two months – and then out and they may not play for 14, 15 games.

“It’s the luxury of having unselfish guys. That’s what we have. I don’t know too many teams who can do this – that can have guys like James Jones who – I don’t know, has he played this year [before Friday]? – then to start [in Detroit] and contribute. Guys like that, it’s amazing.”

For the record, Jones had played a total of 70 minutes in a dozen games across Miami’s first 70, before logging 54 minutes in the back-to-back against the Pistons and the Bucks. But what about James? Has fatigue made him crave a couple games off just to rest or reset?

“Only if I’m injured, for the most part, will I sit down,’ ” James said. “I don’t have too many ‘mental days.’ “

In past seasons, when Miami’s playoff berth has been secured, Spoelstra has spotted James a game or two to set up for the playoffs. He will again, unless Indiana keeps the East race for No. 1 close till the end.

But the Heat aren’t there yet. And James has no hand up in search of a breather.

“If I tried to sit him out of a shootaround or a practice, he would look at me cross-eyed,” Spoelstra said. “This summer he had more rest than he’s had any other offseason. So that’s probably triple [rest] for most people, because he loves the game so much, he loves to compete.”

Consider Friday, the day Miami played in Detroit. James showed up at Oakland (Mich.) University not long after sunrise to work out at the gym where his childhood friend and high school teammates Sonny Weems serves as an assistant coach. Then he went through the Heat’s shootaround later than morning. Nine or 10 hours after that, he posted a triple-double against the Pistons.

During warmups against the Bucks, James took time to meet and visit with Ebony Nettles-Bey, a girls high school basketball player from Verona, Wis., who is battling a Stage 4 cancer. He shot around with her prior to tipoff, then spoke warmly about their encounter after the final horn.

“What she’s going through every single day, the challenges she’s facing every single day with the Stage 4 cancer that she has,” James said, “she’s the stronger one out of us two.”

After that, any further questions about work load and rest, not just James’ but any NBA player’s, seemed a little silly.

“There’s no such thing as well-rested at this point,” James said. “Every season is different. My mentality changes from season to season. Every challenge is different. You just go about it however it presents itself.”

One Gear, One Grind Again For Bulls

Tom Thibodeau has built a reputation as a coach (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau has built a reputation for playing his players for long minutes. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – All hail the conquering heroes! The Chicago Bulls overcame a 19-point deficit against the Denver Nuggets Friday night to wrap up the month’s schedule at 8-0 and nail down the NBA’s unofficial preseason championship. So unofficial, of course, that it doesn’t even exist.

Baseball lore has Reggie Jackson and these days Carlos Beltran, but the NBA doesn’t do much celebrating of Mr. Octobers. For obvious reasons.

While other teams with designs on reaching The Finals in June sat key players as their slates of tune-up games wound down, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau – with less than four minutes left in the finale – had Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy on the court. Taj Gibson had sat down moments earlier, and the only reason Joakim Noah wasn’t out there was that he still was nursing a groin injury suffered in the first week of camp. Oh, and Kirk Hinrich was on the side after dealing with a concussion and sore shoulder.

That accounts for Chicago’s top eight players, still grinding or still recuperating in the dwindling minutes of the preseason. Which is the point.

Starting center Noah logged less than 20 minutes in a single preseason appearance 10 days ago and is questionable for the regular-season opener at Miami Tuesday. Hinrich, the third guard, is iffy too. And the black cloud of injuries that has hung over the Bulls in recent seasons will be looming large again at the start of this one.

Playing harder and generally longer than the next guy is the Thibodeau way. It worked well enough to earn the Bulls the NBA’s best record in the coach’s first two seasons (112-36) and pushed them – without Rose all season, with pieces from the spare-parts bin – past Brooklyn into the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring.

But Deng, Hinrich and Noah all were hobbled at various points, the revolving door to the trainers room kept spinning and the Bulls never did get what they really wanted.

So it has to be asked: Might there be a better way? Some contenders ease their way through the regular season, eyes firmly fixed on April, May and June. Yet here are the Bulls, gutting out the preseason, nailing down that top defensive rating (87.9 points per 100 possessions) for what it’s worth.

“You’re building winning habits all season long,” Thibodeau had said before tipoff Friday. “If you try to establish your habits when you get to the playoffs, I don’t know what you get done there. It’s too late.”

Afterward, in vintage Thibs form, he offered a glimpse at those habits: “Each and every day is important. You can’t skip a day. You can’t only work when you feel like it, if you feel good. You have to work on the days when you’re not feeling great. You’ve got to help push the team forward. And everyone has to work together.”

The rap remains, though, that Chicago players log too many minutes in meaningless stretches until they get hurt and aren’t logging any minutes at all.

“Right now, that seems to be what everyone says,” Thibodeau said. “So like, when a guy plays 20 minutes a game and he gets hurt, does anyone say he got hurt because he’s not playing enough? Injuries are part of the game. You have to do all the things necessary to condition yourself to go through a long season. it’s very competitive. When you look at the makeup of teams, a guy like LeBron [James], a guy like [Kevin] Durant, a guy like Paul George, they’re going to play big minutes. Most teams, two or three guys are playing a long time.”

Never mind that he-pulls-a-knife-you-pull-a-gun thing from the movie. With the Bulls, the Chicago way is grinding down the competition. And sometimes oneself.

“I only know one system, that’s Thibs’ system,” Gibson said. “Where guys tend to want to be out there. Guys want to go out there and keep playing. It could be a flaw – who knows? But right now, we just focus on what we think. We don’t really worry about what the whole league thinks.”

It made sense that Rose played heavy minutes this preseason – he’d been out for 17 months, he was healed and fresh and he needed to get in game shape and flake off rust. That led logically to teammates playing longer, too, to adjust to Rose’s game and speed.

But as players go down and come back, there’s a chasing-their-tail element, too. For instance, Thibodeau has made it clear that the rotation guys will need to work in Noah’s game – the play-making center – when he returns. So Deng, Boozer, Butler et al will face extra burn for that. And so on.

Deng, who played banged-up last season until complication from a spinal tap made even that impossible in the playoffs, loves heavy minutes … at least when he’s surviving them. Taking all 82 games seriously in search of the No. 1 overall postseason seed is a worthy goal, he said.

But losing it after one or two rounds is true Gift of the Magi stuff, if they’re undermanned by the time they get there. So how do the Bulls find their balance?

“I don’t know,” Deng admitted. “It’s a long season. We’ve got to do a better job ourselves. The trainers are doing a better job of just focusing on that, on each individual. Derrick is doing an amazing job. Jo is in there. It’s also maturing and taking care of your body.

“We’ve got to be healthy when it comes to April and then get going. I think we understand that even more now.”

Then, as he spoke to a small cluster of reporters late Friday, Deng’s tone shifted.

“It’s different for everybody. I believe that it’s good for me. I’ve been through different coaches. I’ve been with coaches who didn’t practice as much, I’ve been with coaches who didn’t push you as much. I think some guys suffer from it and I think some individuals really excel from it. … I don’t know if we’re there yet to give guys three days off and come back. I don’t know – we never tried it.”

Turns out, though the reporters had their backs turned, Deng had seen Thibodeau walk into the nearly empty locker room to grab a cold drink. The Bulls veteran finally broke out laughing.

“You saw how I answered that when he walked in?” Deng said. ”’He’s the nicest guy ever. The nicest guy in the world!’ “

Laughing about their grinding ways, like winning, is OK in October. But it would mean so much more if Deng and the Bulls could do that come June.

Timberwolves Dread ‘Next Man Down’ Repeat of Injuries

Luke Ridnour played 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season – yeah, he was the one – and 206 of a possible 230 in three seasons there, qualifying for some sort of iron-man award.

Owing perhaps to his relative lack of time in the Wolves’ trainers room, the Bucks’ 10-year veteran guard had no theories about that team’s miserable run of injuries and bad luck. But he wasn’t exactly surprised, either, when he learned Monday afternoon that his former teammate, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger, was hurt again.

“When I was in Minnesota, everyone was hurt,” Ridnour said. “I don’t know what the deal is but … we had a good team but when you get banged up, it’s hard to do anything.”

That’s why the latest about Budinger was so potentially demoralizing: The Wolves announced Tuesday that the small forward underwent surgery on his left knee for a meniscectomy, performed by noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. Last November, Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in the same knee and missed 59 games, returning only for the final four weeks of the season. He was thought to be nearly full strength for camp but now will be out indefinitely.

And it’s only natural that, given the recent snake-bit history, other Wolves might be glancing sideways, wondering who’s next. Coach Rick Adelman talked at Media Day Monday about the road – to emergency rooms and operating arenas – that none of them wants to go down, as reported by Mark Remme on the team’s Web site:

On Monday at Target Center, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Budinger is a tough loss at small forward to start the season. That entire crew projected to play the 3—Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad—is either new to the team or to the position. Budinger was the most experienced player at that position within Adelman’s system. Brewer is the favorite for the starting nod.

“I just felt so bad for [Budinger],” Adelman said. “He’s the type of player who can really add to what we do offensively. I feel bad for him, and I really don’t want it to become a trend. With last year it really became a trend.”

To be specific, Minnesota lost 341 “man games” to injuries in 2012-13, led by Brandon Roy‘s 76, Kevin Love‘s 64, Malcolm Lee‘s 63 and Budinger’s 59. Point guard Ricky Rubio missed 24 in his return season from ACL/LCL surgery the previous spring. Even Adelman, who cobbled together 16 different starting lineups, missed games in midseason while attending to his wife Mary Kay‘s medical condition.

High hopes of ending an eight-year playoff drought fizzled into a 31-51 record and 12th place finish in the Western Conference.

“Basketball, [injuries are] part of the game,” said Ridnour, who started all 82. “A lot of ours, they were just freak deals. A broken bone? You can’t do anything about that. Bone spur, you can’t do anything about that. Kevin Love’s [twice-broken] hand – it wasn’t even during practice. So it’s just freak deals.”

Various tongue-in-cheek theories about the franchise’s bad luck have been floated at moments of past breakdowns, such as here and here. Several NBA teams, including the Wolves this season, have bulked up their strength and conditioning staffs, and some are exploring advanced analytics that might apply to training and physiology. But good fortune and pacing might play considerable roles, too.

Said Ridnour: “You look at the teams that do well, they stay healthy. Most of the time – the top seven guys play the majority of the season. It’s a grind. That’s something that’s made San Antonio so successful, knowing how to keep their older guys fresh. You look at ‘em, those guys stay healthy. They don’t care what [resting guys] looks like.”

Some of the biggest storylines in the NBA as camps open involve injury comebacks, from Love and Chicago’s Derrick Rose to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Boston‘s Rajon Rondo and Lakers star Kobe Bryant. And just for the record, none of the 30 organizations is immune.

Moments after Ridnour talked about the Wolves, an old pal from his first stint in Milwaukee ambled out of the locker room. Small forward Carlos Delfino, who fractured a bone in his right foot during Houston’s first-round series, signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract as a free agent to return to the Bucks. He still was in a walking boot Monday, will miss all of camp and has a return date as indefinite as Budinger’s.

Heat Not Lulled By Bulls’ Inactives

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MIAMI – As usual, the Chicago Bulls are undermanned, so they should have the Miami Heat precisely where they want them.

Only the Heat are wise to that game. As far as the defending champions are concerned, the Bulls not only have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich available for Game 1 and each subsequent contest in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, they might as well have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier.

“We don’t play the personnel, we play the jerseys. We play the team,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, avoiding any discussion of specific absent Bulls players. “This team proved that no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to do the little things that’s going to give them the opportunity to win games.”

With Rose (knee surgery) a constant all seasons and Hinrich (bruised calf) a game-time decision, Deng is the most pressing and serious. The illness that led to his precautionary spinal tap led to a complication that sent him back to the hospital over the weekend. Deng’s plan, after the Bulls’ Game 7 first-round victory at Brooklyn Saturday, was to meet the Bulls in south Florida for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But he was not in Miami Monday for shootaround sessions and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t know if Deng would travel in time for Game 2 or await the series’ shift to Chicago.

That wasn’t anything that the Heat players were willing to engage.

“No change,” forward Chris Bosh said when asked about Deng. “It’s all the same. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s how you get beat. You think that just because Deng’s not playing, you look at the other guy and change your mindset. That’s when things start to go wrong. So we can all learn from Brooklyn’s mistake.”

With Deng, with Rose, with Hinrich, with whomever, Bosh said, Miami is approaching the series as if all Bulls are ready to hit the streets of Pamplona.

The All-Star power forward did watch Game 7 of Nets-Bulls, however, in which Chicago produced one of the great upsets in recent NBA playoff history. Star-laden teams never get the chance to know the exhilaration of giant-killing quite like that.

“Yeah. I mean, my days in Toronto I know what the underdog feels like but we never had a chance to win a playoff series or anything like that,” Bosh said. “Honestly, I don’t want to be in that position.

“It really just comes down to playing the game. You can’t really worry about who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite. If you sleep on those guys, if you think you just have to show up to win the game, you’re wrong. Chicago has a work ethic. They’re going to play together, they’re going to make it tough. And if you underestimate them, you will get beat.”

The Heat and the Bulls split their four meetings this season. Miami last played on April 28, and it’s eight-day layoff is the longest between series of its three-season run since Wade, Bosh and LeBron James joined forces in 2010.

Hinrich Iffy For Game 6, And Don’t Bother ‘Going There’ On Rose

DEERFIELD, Ill. – The timing was impeccable. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said for the third or fourth time that guard Kirk Hinrich‘s bruised left calf was healing, Hinrich emerged for a cluster of reporters to limp 20 yards toward the locker-room hallway at the team’s Berto Center practice facility Wednesday afternoon.

Long John Silver, Fred Sanford and Jabba The Hutt would have been glancing over their shoulders, laughing, in a foot race. If the Brooklyn Nets have anyone on their bench with whom Hinrich in his current condition can keep up in Game 6, it’s coach P.J. Carlesimo. Maybe.

So it’s a long shot Hinrich — who injured his leg in Chicago’s triple-overtime victory in Game 4 Saturday and sat out the Nets’ Game 5 victory at the Barclays Center Monday — can play Thursday night at United Center. He only ditched a walking boot Wednesday, has yet to test his left leg by running or jumping and said he would have to improve further for his “game-time decision” to go thumbs-up.

That puts instant-offense guy Nate Robinson, the team’s third preferred option at point guard after Derrick Rose and Hinrich, in the likely starter’s role again.

Thibodeau also delivered the news that forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson were sick and skipped the practice, further thinning the ranks if only for Wednesday. He didn’t sound optimistic about rusty veteran Rip Hamilton, who hasn’t played since the series’ opener, making an appearance in Game 6, though.

So naturally, it was time to ask about Rose. Hey, he’s moving way better than Hinrich.

“There’s always a chance,” Thibodeau said straight-faced. Then a twinkle appeared in his eyes for what would be a fresh quote on the stale subject. “Small as that might be.”

Chuckles all around. But it scarcely could get smaller at this late date. Rose — whose ACL surgery on his left knee know requires a year reference (April 28, 2012) — still hasn’t felt comfortable enough in his recovery, apparently less for physical reasons than trust and confidence in his game, to return. To do so suddenly for Game 6 or even if his teammates advance to the next round against Miami would be like turning from a standing stop onto a freeway where every other vehicle is going 80 mph, no merge lane, nothing.

That hasn’t stifled impatience and criticism from within the team’s fan base, which has watched a parade of other players — from Hinrich throughout the season and Gibson (strained knee) to center Joakim Noah‘s ongoing plantar fasciitis — gut through discomfort while less than 100 percent.

Thibodeau and Hinrich both said again that the Bulls have Rose’s back.

“We know what kind of guy he is, we know what kind of teammate he is. We don’t feel that way,” Hinrich said. “I haven’t heard one ill word said [among teammates] about it.”

Said Thibodeau: “There’s a big difference between the type of injury he’s had and all these other injuries. We certainly appreciate what all the other guys are doing. But Derrick has had a very serious injury. It requires time. He’s 24 years old. We’re not going to rush him back. When he’s completely comfortable, that’s when we want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait till next year, so be it. We want him completely comfortable. We’re not going to make that mistake.”

Criticism from outside of Chicago tossed at its native son, one of the most competitive and popular performers ever for the city’s pro sports teams, means nothing, the Bulls coach said.

“Derrick owes it to do what’s right. And the more I’m around him, the more I’m impressed by this guys’ character. He’s not being swayed by anybody. He’s not quite there, and we made that clear to him from the beginning — we’re going to support him in every way possible. I would never question him. Ever.”