Will injuries ruin the NBA’s most important stretch of the season?
With so many players going down this season, it’s time the league took action to preserve them. The arrival of the All-Star break in the NBA signifies two things; first, it’s a chance to celebrate all the strong seasons the league’s biggest stars are having, but it also means things are about to get very feisty in the race for the title.
The show’s over
Once the last alley-oop has been lobbed and all the exhibitionist tricks and stunts have been put to bed for another year at Madison Square Garden, the remaining regular-season games get back underway with the fight for the playoffs intensifying.
At least it would do if the amount of injuries the players are suffering wasn’t threatening to derail what is historically the most interesting and dramatic stretch of the game’s marathon campaign.
There are currently 67 players listed as injured across the NBA. 13 of those have had their seasons ended prematurely by the knocks they have picked up, with a whole host of others looking at indefinite layoffs.
No time for r and r
It should be that the All-Star break allows most franchises to enjoy an extended period of rest, recharging their batteries for a full-blooded run at a postseason place in the home-stretch, instead many clubs are either patching up their marquee names or formulating plans to continue without them. Hardly an ideal base for winning basketball.
Of the two conferences, it is arguably the East which has the more interesting playoff race. Four teams, maybe five at a stretch, are looking to gun down the Miami Heat (who are sweating over the return of Dwyane Wade) in eighth place in the standings. The Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers are all within two wins of overtaking the Heat, but have men missing.
The Pistons and Pacers are the worst affected. The former’s point-guard Brandon Jennings was putting up computer-game numbers before his season was ended with an Achilles injury in late January, while the Pacers have been without the face of their franchise, Paul George, all season.
It’s not just the clubs chasing the playoffs that are walking around in bandages. The seventh-placed Charlotte Hornets saw Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo, two starters and a key role player, all fall foul of knocks in the space of two weeks.
Further up the conference, the Washington Wizards, in fourth, have seen both Bradley Beal and Kris Humphries hit the physio room in quick succession, while the sixth-standing Milwaukee Bucks have had five men ripped out of their lineup since Boxing Day.
Things don’t ease up in the West. Three Dallas Mavericks starters, Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis, have fallen foul of 2014/15’s injury curse, the latter two even getting hurt in the same game. Nestled nicely into fifth place in the conference, the Mavs will thank their lucky stars they are seven losses away from falling out of the playoff picture.
Three leading big men in the conference are also suffering. Dwight Howard became an indefinite absence for the Houston Rockets on January 23rd with a knee problem, although the 7-3 record they hold without him suggests he isn’t a great loss.
Blake Griffin was sidelined on February 8th an elbow infection, deciding to defer his spot in the All-Star game in order to fix it and focus on the LA Clippers’ remaining schedule.
Pivotal Portland Trailblazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge requires surgery on an injured thumb, but like Griffin put the needs of his side at a greater value in forgoing that operation until after the season.
Even the showpiece All-Star game has suffered from this poisonous run of injuries. Kobe Bryant, Griffin, Wade and Anthony Davis were all ruled out of the action, denying the public the players they voted to see in New York and leaving them without their favourite stars.
Time for action
Injuries in the NBA are as commonplace as the layup or the three-point shot. The unrelenting regularity of games means that knocks and scrapes are unavoidable, but now the entertainment of the sport is becoming compromised.
It’s time that commissioner Adam Silver protected his assets, the players, and enhanced the viewing experience of the fans by reducing the number of games in a regular season, or else there may not be anyone left to field an All-Star roster soon.