Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has watched as the list of injured NBA players grows longer by the day. And like many in the league, Van Gundy has wondered if the decision to have shortened training camps after the lockout and a 66-games-in-124-days schedule has contributed to the problem.
"Guys are playing big minutes and they are playing a game every two weeks more than we normally do," Van Gundy said. "You've given them less preparation and a more demanding schedule. Especially early in the year, that's not going to be a good thing for the players."
Chris Paul left Saturday night's game with a strained hamstring. (US Presswire)
A partial list of players who have missed games this season because of injury.
torn pectoral muscle
lower back strain
torn pectoral muscle
fractured rib cartilage
torn knee ligament
sprained, strained calf, sore foot
torn knee ligament
Some of the names among the league's infirmed read like a potential All-Star roster: Derrick Rose; Chris Paul; Dwyane Wade; Paul Pierce; Manu Ginobili; Eric Gordon; Zach Randolph; Al Horford; Nene; Brook Lopez. That doesn't include Kobe Bryant, who has been playing with a torn ligament in his shooting wrist.
Some of the injuries – like Ginobili's broken hand – can be written off as flukes or bad luck. Still, in the season's first three weeks, there have been a large number of strains, sprains – and even the bizarre: In the span of two days the Atlanta Hawks' Horford and Golden State Warriors' Kwame Brown, both centers, tore chest muscles that required surgery and will sideline them for at least three months.
"You don't see that," Van Gundy said. "Those are football and weightlifting injuries. You see a lot of defensive linemen, offensive linemen and weightlifters get that. From the time I've been in the league, I can't remember another guy with a torn [pectoral]. I can't remember that.
"It's a strange injury for our league. You're used to knees, ankles and an occasional shoulder. But a torn pectoral?"
NBA players often spend time in team-training facilities during the offseason to work out with strength-and-conditioning coaches. Nearly all of that valuable time was lost this summer because the league forbade team personnel from having contact with players during the lockout.
Teams also couldn't communicate with injured players or the people providing them medical treatment. Before the lockout began, the Warriors scheduled guard Stephen Curry to have surgery on his right ankle with a specialist in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. But the team wasn't allowed to participate in his rehabilitation.
While the extended offseason allowed Curry more time for his ankle to recover, he has already sprained it three times since training camp began. The latest injury has sidelined him for nearly two weeks.
"The doctor I had in Charlotte that did my surgery was one of the best on the East Coast," Curry said. "He's worked on some of the Bobcats. I had a good [rehab] team around me.
"But I would have had more eyes to see what was going on [if the Warriors could have been involved]."
Magic guard Jason Richardson stayed in shape during the lockout by working with former Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets strength-and-conditioning coach Erik Phillips in Denver. Many players worked with personnel trainers and played in charity games and pro-am leagues. A handful, like New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, played overseas.
And yet Richardson believes the inability of players to work out and scrimmage at team facilities – under the watchful eyes of team trainers – has contributed to the large number of injuries.
"I'm surprised a lot more guys aren't going down," said Richardson, who has missed two games after spraining his left knee on Thursday. "There is definitely a correlation. You can't simulate NBA games no matter what you do. I worked out the whole summer at altitude. This is probably the best shape I've been in my whole career, but I got to playing and I was out of sync. It's scary right now.
"Most of the time, rookies, second-year and third-year players stay in the city they play year-round, especially the summer. They do it just to get better, get used to the NBA system. I think [the lockout] slowed a lot of guys' progress down."
The lockout ended early on the morning of Nov. 26 with training camps beginning Dec. 9. Teams were limited to two preseason games before the season started on Dec. 25. The preseason is usually a month long with teams playing eight exhibitions.
"It was a difficult scenario for both parties: the organization and the players," said San Antonio Spurs guard T.J. Ford, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a torn left hamstring. "Everything had to be rushed, and the process had to be speeded up, as far as training camp and getting a couple [preseason] games in to start the season. I think everyone understood the risk."
Curry thinks his recovery from ankle surgery would have been helped had he had a regular training camp. "Sometimes your body doesn't catch up as fast as your mind would want it to," he said.
"There are always going to be injuries," Curry said. "But I'm sure if you ask around, most guys would say you can't substitute practice time and game time in those two months for workouts with the grind that the NBA season takes on a body. It's going to catch up with you, regardless. I'm sure everybody was in shape with what they could do during the offseason. But there is no substitute for being in game shape."
One NBA trainer whose team doesn't allow him to comment publicly on injuries said this season's players, "for the most part," are in better shape than players were after the 1999 lockout ended. But he also thinks the compressed schedule has already taken its toll on teams, particularly those, like the Boston Celtics, whose roster is filled with older players. In a little more than three weeks, some teams have nearly played 25 percent of their 66-game schedule.
"I think if you have an older team, you're seeing the wear and tear a little bit more with the pace [of the season]," the trainer said.
Players have also realized that missing two weeks with an injury this season could mean sitting out as many as 10 games. Each missed game carries more importance with the shortened schedule. Of the Warriors' 13 games, Curry has played just five.
"Getting healthy is more important right now," Curry said. "I'm keeping the big picture in mind."
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