We’re past the midpoint of the NBA season by now, about to dive into the whirlwind that tends to hit as teams try to tick off extra wins before the All-Star break and before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Complicating matters for three significant teams is the health of All-Star big men Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, and Joakim Noah. All three have missed recent games, and all three act as a linchpin defensively for teams that rank from the very good to very poor to outright dominant on that end.
Tim Duncan’s injury is the least stressful of the three -- though all of San Antonio looked on in stunned silence as he limped to the locker room in partway into Saturday’s 96-86 win over the Washington Wizards. Wizards wing Martell Webster fell into Duncan’s legs, often a guaranteed ligament killer, but an MRI performed on Sunday revealed no structural damage in Duncan’s left knee. Duncan also rolled his right ankle on the play, which could keep him out for Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Luckily for San Antonio, that’s the only contest between the Wizards win and a trip to meet the lowly Detroit Pistons on Friday. The team has three days off in between current contests, an eternity at this point in the NBA’s year.
If it feels like an eternity since the Chicago Bulls featured a full and healthy roster, it’s because the team rarely has had such an opportunity since the franchise acquired Tom Thibodeau and Carlos Boozer in the summer of 2010. Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and (obviously) Derrick Rose are all frequently injured, though that sometimes has no bearing on whether they play or not.
Noah is currently out with plantar fasciitis, a fatigue injury that may have been caused by overuse and Noah’s 38 minutes per game average. Because only rest truly heals this particular injury, Noah is dealing with a frustrating waiting process, as he worries if it will cost him weeks of games as was the case when he worked with the ailment in 2010.
After Friday night's game in Brooklyn, Noah said he is "trying to be smart" about dealing with plantar fasciitis, whose effects are considered tricky and unpredictable. Three seasons ago, that condition in his left foot caused him to miss 18 games.
"The last time, I tried to keep fighting through it," he said. "I'm hoping that with a little bit of rest I'll be all right."
Noah is technically listed as a game time decision as the Bulls as they gear up to visit Indiana and the white hot (sometimes literally) Indiana Pacers. “Game time decision” will no doubt earn a few laughs from ardent Chicago followers, because the team’s coaching staff has seemed to have no problem in the past both playing players that should be sitting, while seeming complete incapable of actually admitting before game time that, yeah, so-and-so is going to be out tonight.
Chicago handily dismissed the Atlanta Hawks in Georgia on Saturday without Hinrich (suffering from an elbow infection), Boozer (pulled right hamstring), Noah, and of course Derrick Rose out of the lineup. The difference on Monday is that the Pacers are a professional outfit that has won 14 straight home games, whereas the Hawks seemed to want nothing to do with playing in front of its home crowd over the weekend.
Considering who is already on the shelf, and the fact that Chicago has already run out to a 29-18 record that seems well above their station without Rose on hand, Monday night might be a night to run the ringers. Plantar fasciitis is just too tricky and to painful to tempt with a quick comeback. Of course, these are the Bulls we’re talking about.
And when are we never talking about the Los Angeles Lakers?
The team mucked its way to a punchy road victory in Detroit on Sunday, but Dwight Howard continues to sit and has already proclaimed himself out for Tuesday’s trip to see Dwight’s beloved Brooklyn Nets. Howard is dealing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, a very painful injury that is magnified by the sheer amount of hits Howard takes both unintentionally and intentionally as opponents send his iffy free throw stroke to the line.
Kobe Bryant, who has dealt with shoulder issues before, but not the same amount of pounding Howard takes, just about comes out and demands that Howard work his way back onto the court sooner rather than later. From the Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina:
“I’m probably just crazy,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 98-97 win Sunday over the Detroit Pistons. “There’s certain players that don’t mind and play through all kinds of [stuff]. I’m one of those players.”
“That’s an evaluation he’s going to have to make with the training staff,” Bryant said. “If it’s an injury like a stinger but it won’t get worse, play through it. If the pain is going to be there for a day or two, play through it. If it’s going to threaten your career or threaten your season, chill out. That’s a decision he has to make.”
Bryant would obviously like Howard to make that decision soon. After all, the Lakers (22-26) are scrapping their way out of the Western Conference basement.
“I’m worried about it because we need to be having everyone out there and playing with some kind of rhythm,” Bryant said. “This is we where we start establishing an identity. We’re doing that. Now we have a little setback.”
“I’m not really sure,” Bryant said. “When you get hit on those things, your arm is going to go dead. That’s how it is when you deal with shoulder injuries. It’s going to be like that for a while.”
The Lakers have won twice in Howard’s absence, but the team is still three and a half games out of the West’s playoff bracket. And Kobe is probably none too pleased about Howard’s last trip to the shelf, done right before the team was whomped in three straight games by the Rockets, Spurs, and Thunder. Los Angeles has six games packed into its schedule between now and the All-Star break, including toughies against the Nets, Celtics, Heat, and Clippers.
In short, this is bad timing. Story of the season for the Lakers, all told.
No injury never comes on the heels of great timing, but the particulars behind Duncan, Noah and Howard’s setbacks – scary advanced age, teams already lacking depth, a season gone wrong – make these maladies a bit more unwelcome than the typical midseason dings.
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