Impartial league-watchers held their breath last week when several key cogs to a series of important teams went down with what appeared to be a series of key injuries.
First, there was Boston's Nenad Krstic, who appeared to have torn ligaments in his right knee in a Boston loss on Thursday, only to find out that the matter was just a simple bone bruise. He'll be back this week.
Both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum came up lame for the Lakers on Sunday, though both appear to be in the right, and Dwyane Wade suffered a painful thigh contusion in Miami's win over New Jersey on Sunday. Worst, Shaquille O'Neal strained his calf the same day, and dubious NBA followers aren't exactly optimistic about the return of a player whose age (39) towers over the amount of games (37) he's played this season.
And yet, none of these nicks and cuts will likely have the same impact as Philadelphia 76er guard Lou Williams' strained right hamstring.
The flash Sixer combo guard isn't much of a household name, but his offensive work and improving defense have been a huge part of Philadelphia's turnaround in 2011 under Doug Collins, and hamstring tears don't go away lightly, especially with just a week to go in the NBA's regular season. Off the Dribble's Rob Mahoney broke down Williams absence yesterday:
When Williams is in the lineup, Philadelphia is a deceptively good team; they boast a top-10 defense, have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and maximize their offensive talent by limiting turnovers while working towards quality shot attempts. Without him, Philadelphia maintains its defensive efficacy, but doesn't stand a chance on offense. Shot creation is already a rare commodity and the removal of Williams -— its best individual creator -— from the mix leaves the 76ers in an unenviable situation.
This may seem like a bit much to attribute to a shot-happy sixth man who plays just 23 minutes a night, but consider Williams's function within Philadelphia's offense. As both a point guard and one of the only Sixers who can actually generate an open shot by his own devices, Williams is functionally fulfilling the role of a star.
Mahoney is spot on, in that regard. If Chicago's Derrick Rose tweaked his hammy, the story would lead every cable sports show imaginable tonight. But though Williams plays less than half the game, he essentially serves the same purpose Rose does -- a go-to guy who can create looks late in games, on a defensively-minded team full of good athletes, but poor dribblers and shot-creators.
Williams is listed out for the remainder of the regular season, which isn't the worst thing because the Sixers are more or less locked into that sixth spot out East, ahead of New York and behind Atlanta. But if this injury keeps him out of playoff action, or (more than likely) has him working a B-level come the postseason, Philadelphia is in trouble.
Sure, young Jrue Holiday and underwhelming Evan Turner can attempt to recreate what Williams brings to the table, but all indications point to a failure on that end. We've seen Elton Brand have his moments late in games this season, but big men are notoriously tough to rely on as game-sealers in the clutch. What the Sixers need is a Lou Williams-type.
What we're hoping they get, in about a week and a half, is exactly what they need.