The NBA's preseason and slate of exhibition games are often full of bumps and bruises. Or, more specifically, the fatigue-related joint injuries that stem from the fact that no matter how hard you train or prep during the offseason, nothing can replicate the demands of an NBA training camp. Every team works through these setbacks; but when you're coming off of a relatively major tear in your knee, or you've been schlepping through NBA training camps since the last century, things tend to get even more complicated.
When you're being relied upon as heavily as Jeremy Lin and Dirk Nowitzki are, by their respective teams in Houston and Dallas, these setbacks shape up as a little frightening. One is a star slightly past his prime, hoping to lead his squad back into the championship picture. The other is an up and comer attempting to make his team relevant again. And both are hitting the ice and ibuprofen pretty heavily, with the start of the 2012-13 season just a few weeks away.
Lin, who missed the last month of the 2011-12 regular season and all of the playoffs with a meniscus tear, admitted that even 6 1/2 months removed from the tear he still has a little ways to go. From the Houston Chronicle:
Lin had always maintained that he was 100 percent healthy, though Rockets coach Kevin McHale had often spoke about Lin's comeback. On Tuesday, Lin said he expected to be at full speed in time for the Oct. 31 opener, but was not there yet and does not expect to play extensively in the preseason opener.
"My speed and my explosiveness and my agility (are not) there yet," Lin said. "I'm still trying to recover from knee surgery and get to where I was pre-surgery. I probably won't get to play too much. Hopefully, as the preseason goes on I'll get to play more and more to build that endurance."
Lin doesn't mention it, but his ability to go all out on pell-mell drives to the hoop was part of the reason Lin was such a successful (and entertaining) contributor last year in New York. If he's nervous or hesitant, coming off of the first major injury of his pro career, the mental hurdles might stack higher than the physical ones. Ideally, enough preseason in-game reps would force such worries to the back of his mind, but it's not easy. Especially for a guard, working in amongst the trees.
Nowitzki's situation is a little more worrying.
The Mavericks legend went all out during Dallas' long run to the 2011 title, but he admittedly took most of the resulting offseason and extended NBA lockout break off. Using most of the 2011-12 season to work himself into game shape, Dirk missed four contests and contributed the fewest minutes and minutes per game since his rookie year in 1999. The "1999" aspect of it all stands out, as the 34-year-old 7-footer attempts to play that perimeter-based game all over again in the hopes that the Mavs can surprise and "matchup" their way deep into the playoffs again.
For Dirk's knee to be bugging him, after just over 2,200 combined regular and postseason minutes between the 2011 title and this year's training camp, is a red flag. One that might require some corrective surgery.
"We'll see how it responds," he said. "But the longer we wait, obviously the worse it is. If we have to do something, it'd be better to do it quick.
"But we're still hopeful that this is a temporary thing. If we relax and rest it for a week and see how it goes, then we'll have a better idea."
"There was some swelling already when we started last week and the last two days, it didn't really respond too well," he said.
"Scared is a strong word," he said. "Obviously, it's unfortunate. Last year, we dealt with it. Hopefully, it'll respond here in the next week or so, and I'll play throughout the whole season.
"The good thing, or different thing, this year is that my legs are actually pretty strong. I lifted all through the summer. So hopefully this is just temporary."
Sefko reports that a cleanup procedure could take place, arthroscopic surgery that would clean debris and allow the swelling that results from athletic wear and tear to cause Nowitzki less discomfort and more range of motion.
And, because the surgery could take place in mid-October instead of the middle of the season, the recovery time could be partially couched by games that don't count. Just three weeks into the season, he'd be as good as new.
Still, as was the case with Lin, Nowitzki would have to learn to overcome the setback on the fly — his first surgery as a pro some 15 seasons into his NBA career. Nowitzki was famously knocked out of the 2003 NBA playoffs with a knee strain, but that injury didn't require any surgery. Even relatively minor procedures such as arthroscopic surgery can still act as a cause for concern, for player and team.
These are cheery times, with every team tied for first and the promise of a new season just weeks away, but iffy times down in Texas. No typical training camp bumps and bruises, here.