The hits just keep on coming for Larry Sanders and the Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Larry Drew announced before Monday night's matchup with the Boston Celtics that the rim-protecting big man would be out until at least the All-Star break after suffering a broken bone near his right eye.
Sanders sustained the injury early in the Bucks' 101-95 loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. With just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter, Sanders and Harden each reached up to try to rebound a missed jumper by Bucks swingman Khris Middleton, and Sanders got the worst of it:
After Harden's left elbow collided with his face, Sanders went crashing down to the court along the baseline under the Bucks' basket, prompting Milwaukee teammate John Henson to take a foul to stop play. Sanders writhed in pain for a bit before being helped to his feet and off the court by the Bucks' medical staff; he would not return, finishing with two points on 1 for 3 shooting and four rebounds in 4:323 of playing time.
As Sanders later showed on his Instagram account, the elbow left one heck of a shiner:
The swelling and bruising is bad enough, but the blurred vision from which Sanders is reportedly suffering makes matters even worse, impeding the 25-year-old big man's progress just as he was starting to get into a little bit of a groove, according to Andrew Gruman of FOX Sports Wisconsin:
"That's really unfortunate because the kid has been play well," Drew said. "He was starting to play with a rhythm and played two of his better games this year. It's just real unfortunate that he sustained the injury."
Sanders was beginning to regain form of late, averaging 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 63.3 percent from the field in three February games before having to leave just four minutes in on Saturday. [...]
"He was starting to get that energy back, that fire and passion," Drew said. "It's just really unfortunate."
"Unfortunate" is probably the best word to describe the way this season has unfolded for Sanders, who has had all kinds of trouble since signing a four-year, $44 million contract extension with the Bucks this past summer. (Maybe we should have seen that misspelled tattoo as a dark omen.)
Expecting to be a big part of new head coach Drew's rotation after inking his new deal, Sanders saw his minutes curtailed somewhat to start the season, leading him to bristle at his diminished role just three games into the new campaign. Shortly after voicing his displeasure about playing time, Sanders' troubles moved off the court, as he was involved in a fight at a Milwaukee nightclub during which he sustained a torn ligament in his right thumb that required surgery that kept him out for 25 games. Milwaukee went 5-20 without him, and Sanders was later cited for disorderly conduct and assault for his role in the nightclub scuffle. (Shortly after his surgery, news circulated that he had also been cited twice in January 2013 for leaving two German shepherd puppies outside in the freezing cold.)
Five games after Sanders returned to the lineup, he got into a locker-room shouting match with teammate Gary Neal, who reportedly chastised Sanders' work ethic and play during a loss to the Phoenix Suns: "I earned my money. Why don't you try it?" (Neal has made just four appearances since, has been open in discussing his frustration, and has repeatedly seen his name included in trade rumors as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches.) One week later, Sanders was ejected from a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder after just 6 1/2 minutes of playing time after getting an elbow near the head of rookie center Steven Adams.
After all the fits and starts, though, as Drew said, Sanders seemed to have turned the corner of late, averaging 13.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and three combined blocks and steals in just under 32 minutes per game over his last five outings before the injury, and shooting 57.7 percent from the floor. The Bucks were still bad when he was on the floor during that five-game stretch, being outscored by nearly two points per 100 possessions and conceding points at a rate even worse than their already awful full-season defensive efficiency mark. But they were far, far worse with him off it, being outscored by just under 23 points-per-100 during his time on the bench. Things weren't great, but they seemed, at least, to be showing signs of getting better ... and now Sanders finds himself back on the mend for an indeterminate amount of time.
The good news — such as there can be good news for the 9-41 Bucks, or, at least, non-Giannis Antetokounmpo-related good news — is that Sanders' return to the injured list should only help their unintentional trip to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and bolster their chances of locking down a league-high number of ping-pong balls in this coming spring's 2014 NBA draft lottery. Given all the injury-sparked aid they've already had in that department, though, you'd suspect the Bucks brass and their fans would just as soon have their 25-year-old defensive centerpiece back in the fold for long enough to get a look at what the team will be paying $11 million a year for over the next few seasons. Instead, neither the Bucks nor Sanders figure to be seeing much of anything too clearly for a little while.
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