Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Tuesday morning, I gave Tim Duncan's(notes) ankle injury a shrug of the shoulders. The Spurs are in no danger of losing the top seed in the Western Conference to the Los Angeles Lakers, or the Southwest Division to the Dallas Mavericks. They've gone strong early, earning the ability to not worry about losing their best player for the next two or three weeks.

Any time beyond that? It's a bit of a worry.

Because the final night of the regular season is three weeks from Wednesday. And the playoffs will start for San Antonio any time between the afternoon of April 16 and the evening of April 17. Could Duncan be out that long?

Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News has the latest news:

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said that Duncan's injury is between a grade 1 and 2 ankle sprain. He will miss games at potential Western Conference playoff foes Denver on Wednesday, Portland on Friday and Memphis on Sunday.

"He had an MRI this morning that confirmed what the X-rays showed last night. It's structurally looks good," Buford said. "We will have a better idea of what the timeline is over the next 48 hours. But he won't travel on the trip and he'll be receiving daily treatment here."

Buford said a prognosis on how much time Duncan could miss could be coming after the swelling on the injury lessens — likely in the next 48 to 72 hours.

It's a typical thing, but not a good thing, that the Spurs can't even tell how long TD will be out because the ankle is still so swollen. And as Kurt Helin pointed out Tuesday, the difference between a Grade 1 and Grade 2 sprain is the difference between two to four weeks.

And, as Zach Lowe detailed earlier Tuesday, the difference between the Spurs with Duncan and the Spurs without Duncan is the difference between a championship contender, and middling also-ran.

Duncan is the main (and possibly only) thing standing between the Spurs and defensive mediocrity. He is the team's sole reliable rim protector, and the Spurs have quietly allowed a whopping six more points per 100 possessions with Duncan on the bench this season, according to Basketball Value. For the 28 minutes Duncan is on the floor every game, the Spurs defend only a smidgen worse than Boston and Chicago — and that difference vanishes once you factor in how much more potent Western Conference offenses are than their counterparts in the East. With Duncan on the bench, San Antonio defends like a league-average team.

Yikes. OK, first? Some good news.

The first round takes ages to complete. A full seven-game series could take two weeks. So we'd be looking at a Game 7 played on April 30 or so in case the Spurs struggle in their first-round series. Even with a Grade 2 sprain hampering things, Duncan should be alive and kickin' five weeks from now. Assuming the Spurs get to five weeks from now.

Because the Memphis Grizzlies are currently slated to play San Antonio in the first round, and the Spurs are still nursing the wounds of a 16-point loss to Memphis from three weeks ago. Prior to that, San Antonio beat Memphis in two close games, with one going to overtime. This isn't to say Memphis has its number. This is to say Memphis is a very good basketball team that could be playing a team that either may be without its best player, or a recovering, B-level version of its best player.

That, my friends, is your worst-case scenario.

The most likely scenario? Yes, Tim looks a little gimpy around this time next month. And as the first round battles out and the four and five seeds likely go the full seven games, he gets ample time to rest between games and probably series'. And this time two months from now, today's ankle injury will seem as far away as, I don't know, the buyout wars over Troy Murphy(notes) were.

We hope.

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