Full-Court Press: Injuries can reveal value
NOV 25, 2012 9:14p ET
As much as Kevin Love's and Andrew Bynum's freakish injuries might still have the power to induce laughter and speculation about what the real stories might be, we're getting to the point where these early-season health problems are becoming more consequential. A chasm is forming between potential contenders and the lottery-bound. Four weeks into the season, it's much clearer which of the hobbled NBA stars are disposable, which are irrelevant, which need to get back pronto and which teams need to cut bait and move on.
Amar'e Stoudemire leads the ranks of the disposable. His Knicks are 9-3 without him and seemingly flourishing. Trade him or just give him to the Lakers to help with their Mike D'Antoni experiment, and it's hard to imagine New York would really bat an eyelash. Every team should be so lucky.
Almost worse is John Wall's fate: utterly irrelevant. The winless Wizards seem pretty much past the point of resuscitation just 11 games in. If there's any player who's trapped right now, it's Wall. He's stuck on a team with little hope of crawling out of its self-dug hole, and he's done next to nothing as a pro to make another team covet him. Washington is so much farther from Kentucky than you'd think.
And then there are the injured Timberwolves, Love and Ricky Rubio, who are counted on to be the sparks who transform their team into a contender. Three games into Love's season, that hasn't happened yet. But when Rubio returns in December, there will be ample opportunity, and the team hasn't been affected by the continued breakdown of Brandon Roy's arthritic knees. Same thing goes for Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas; when he comes back, the Mavericks will be ready for their leader and possibly still in a position to make some noise. Steve Nash, too, will face a similar welcome in Los Angeles whenever he returns to the court, with the perfect coach and the perfect system for his style. So what if you're 38, Steve, and so what if you're injured. The pieces are waiting.
While the Timberwolves, Mavericks and Lakers wait, several teams will be forced to forget or shift focus. Chief among them are the 76ers, who announced Saturday that Bynum is out indefinitely. They are looking like the latest victims of the Lakers' evil genius. But Philly has won three of its last five and seems to have accepted that it needs to win without its centerpiece, and teams like the Bulls ( Derrick Rose) should follow suit. Of course, the Rose story is less salacious, but he too is without a precise return date, and to count on something so abstract would be a mistake.
So what's worse: to wait to get back to a winner or to know your team is a lost cause? To be disposable or to know that your presence will be too little, too late? It's hard to say, but with the exception of Wall and the Wizards, none of these injured players or teams seem quite out of it yet. Actually, far from it.
Difficulty in the Big Easy
The Hornets are mired in a seven-game losing streak, in which they've fallen to both the struggling Pacers and the hapless Suns, both in overtime. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis hasn't played since Nov. 17, Eric Gordon has escaped to rehab his phantom injury in Los Angeles, and a team that looked halfway decent on paper just weeks ago is devolving into something of a train wreck.
What's most discouraging is how close New Orleans has come, especially in those losses to the Pacers and Suns. They're the kind of games after which it's all too easy to imagine what things would be like with Davis, even with Gordon, who's growing more loathed by the day among Hornets fans. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, yes, but perhaps one that would show a hint of what the team might be capable of once its core matures and jells. Now, things are looking more and more dysfunctional.
Golden State watchable?
In the past 10 days, I've gotten a chance to watch the Warriors twice, in two wins over the Timberwolves, and they haven't looked half bad. In the first game, they managed to hold a lead despite a comeback attempt, and in the second, on Saturday, they were the ones coming back and pulling away at the end. Granted, it's still hardly elite play, but David Lee looks good, Steph Curry seems deserving of his big-time contract, Klay Thompson might be finding his shot and Harrison Barnes is playing better than expected. If things keep clicking in the Bay Area, the Warriors could very well be one of the West's final playoff seeds.
The Nuggets, who started the season 0-3 and have had two three-game losing streaks in their first three weeks, have strung together four wins. They beat the Grizzlies on Monday, the Timberwolves on Wednesday, the Warriors on Saturday and the Hornets on Sunday, pushing their record to 7-6. Equally encouraging is offseason addition Andre Iguodala's offense, which is improving after a two-game dip into single-digit scoring.
Nash, who still is not able to jog or do on-court work, has been ruled doubtful for the Lakers' Tuesday game against the Pacers. Nash hasn't played since Halloween, when he knocked knees with Damian Lillard, and his projected recovery time has been growing as time passes. The pain in his fractured leg flared up a week ago, which pushed the recovery process back, and the longer Nash is out, the longer it's going to take the Lakers to fully transition into new coach Mike D'Antoni's system.
Best of the week
Team: How can you not give this to the Bobcats? They won their seventh game Saturday night, albeit in overtime against the Wizards, matching their win total for all of 2011-12.
Player: Lillard, who averaged 21.7 points and six assists for the week and has quickly established himself as the Trail Blazers' most valuable weapon, even as a rookie. Against Phoenix and Minnesota, he scored 24 and 28 points, and when he then put up 13 on Sunday against Brooklyn, it seemed like an off night. When you're 12 games into your career and that kind of scoring (along with seven assists) is an off night — well, you know you're in a good place.
Return from injury: Love, who returned from his broken right hand on Wednesday about two weeks earlier than expected. Love's doctor cleared him to play Tuesday, and he made a surprise return to the tune of 34 points and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Worst of the week
Team: The Wizards. Enough said. Until they get that elusive first win or make some kind of dramatic change, they may be stuck in this odious spot.
Player: Pau Gasol, not necessarily for his performances, but for everything he's gone through since the Lakers hired D'Antoni. First, there were the trade rumors, now the reports that he's already butting heads with his new coach about post play. To make matters worse, he was benched for the final 13 minutes of the Lakers' Friday loss to the Grizzlies and baby brother Marc.
Coach: Randy Wittman, who's led the Wizards to their 0-11 start. When my League Pass flashed to an image of him drawing up a play with 1.6 seconds left in the first overtime on Saturday against the Bobcats, my first thought was "Do the opposite of whatever he says!" And then, of course, 1.6 seconds and then another overtime later, they lost.
Telling stats of the week
67 points: Kevin Durant finished Saturday night's win over Philadelphia with 37 points, Russell Westbrook with 30. It was the 10th time in the past two seasons that the Thunder teammates have each scored 30 or more points in a game.
26.4: Anthony Davis' Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the highest of any player in his age-20 season since 1979-80. Granted, Davis is just six games into his rookie year, with plenty of time to see that number dip, and he's been battling injuries, but if any statistic measures how much the Hornets need him back, it's this one.
399: That's the number of 30-plus-point games in Kobe Bryant's career. He's had two this week, passing Oscar Robertson for fifth-most all-time. Through 13 games, Bryant is averaging 27.5 points, down slightly from last season, but his 50.8 percent shooting from the field thus far is the best of his career.
What we heard
"That'll get me a Popsicle."
— Bernie Bickerstaff on his 4-1 record as the Lakers' interim head coach, which was good for the best winning percentage of any coach in Lakers history.
"It was that part of being an average player . . . Can I live with that? Can I go back and play and live with those results?"
— Brandon Roy to The Oregonian, discussing his comeback just days before undergoing a Nov. 19 arthroscopy on his right knee that will keep him out for about a month.
"@WojYahooNBA Lol... So how good you are should determine if you get the proper support for a medical condition? Baffling!"
"@WojYahooNBA Things in the article aren't true, and they were REPRESENTED as fact, not even a source to back them up! Where do they do that?"
— Royce White on Twitter, attacking Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski for a perfectly fair and hardly radical column saying that through his public war with the Rockets, White may be throwing away his chances at a successful NBA career. (White still has not returned to the Rockets, and his absence is nearing two weeks.)
Knicks at Nets, 7 p.m. ET Monday: This is a rescheduled game after Hurricane Sandy postponed the Barclay's Center's debut on Nov. 1, and it'll pit two division rivals against each other. And with the Knicks having finally lost and the Nets coming a bit more into their own, this could be a fun matchup, cross-city rivalry or not.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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