After a relatively healthy start to 2017, the latter part of January has featured a multitude of injuries you’re going to want to be on top of this week before wagering on NBA action.
Even with Blake Griffin scheduled to return this week, the L.A. Clippers will be in scramble mode without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who will be sidelined for six to eight weeks after thumb surgery. L.A. has already dropped the first two games without him and will rely on J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton to help bridge the gap.
After a tight loss to a Timberwolves team that hadn’t won a game all season decided by four points or less, the Clips were beaten by 25 points in Denver on Saturday to open a stretch of 10 of 11 on the road. The lone game they play at Staples Center (Feb. 2) will see them in an underdog role against Golden State, who they will also visit this Saturday night.
Getting Griffin back to run offense through with Paul gone should ease the burden on everyone else, but he’s returning from a five-week absence and figures to require an adjustment period that the heavy road schedule isn’t going to facilitate.
The Clippers are going to rack up the mileage, having traveled to Atlanta from Denver and immediately heading to Philadelphia after Monday night’s game. They’ll have a few days in between leaving the East Coast for Oakland for this weekend’s clash at Oracle, so perhaps that’s when Griffin will be able to truly get comfortable returning and not having Paul out there with him.
A second five-game road swing just before the All-Star break will see L.A. visit Boston, Toronto, New York, Charlotte and Utah, so there’s a chance things could go south for this group, which may be destined to wind up as the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed.
The team most likely to be waiting for them as the No. 2, San Antonio, has also hit a rough patch trying to keep their veterans healthy. While marvelous depth has helped Gregg Popovich give older players nights off for years to ensure they’re fresh for April, May and June, legitimate injuries, and not Pop’s maintenance program, could force key Spurs out over the next month or two.
Pau Gasol broke his hand warming up last week and will be out for at least a month, probably two. Although he’ll be able to keep up with his conditioning and should be better off for it through fresher legs come postseason, his absence increases David Lee’s importance. Guards Tony Parker (left foot pain) and Manu Ginobili (back spasms) are legitimately feeling discomfort and may be in and out of the lineup on the rest of a four-game road trip that began with Saturday night’s upset in Cleveland.
Rookie Dejounte Murry scored 14 points against the Cavs, following up a career-high 24-point night in a blowout win over Denver, so he could be the beneficiary of increased opportunities over the next few months that should help get him prepared in case he remains a key contributor. This is a new-look Spurs squad being built around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, so it will be fun to see guys like Jonathan Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon, Kyle Anderson, Murray and Davis Bertans getting minutes and improving.
Despite being led by the new guard, San Antonio has only lost consecutive games once all season, way back in early November. Guys are hungry and playing the right way, so it wouldn’t be smart to begin fading the Spurs simply because Gasol is out, and vets like Parker and Ginobili will be cautious with their bodies going forward.
The race for No. 8 in the West was heavily impacted by injuries as Sacramento lost Rudy Gay for the season after tearing his Achilles. It remains to be seen whether the Kings can hang without their second-leading scorer, even though he had been in and out of the lineup. Anthony Davis suffered a nasty fall last week, so he’s been playing with numerous ailments that required multiple x-rays. It remains to be seen whether there are lingering effects as the Pelicans continue perhaps their most important homestand of the season with games against the Cavs, Thunder, Spurs and Wizards this week.
New Orleans opened the six-game run with a 118-98 win over Orlando, but were trounced 143-114 by lowly Brooklyn on Friday night and will try and rebound against an angry Cleveland team coming off a home loss to San Antonio. Denver and Portland entered the week tied for the eighth and final playoff spot, so keep an eye on the Nuggets getting a boost from Gary Harris’ return from a sprained ankle that cost him three games. He hit all four of his 3-pointers in Sunday’s 111-108 loss to Minnesota and is a major upgrade at shooting guard due to his defensive prowess. Denver will need him to stay healthy.
Detroit got good news in shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returning to the lineup after a shoulder strain. He serves a similar role to Harris’ in Denver as the Pistons’ top two-way wing. Cleveland’s Kevin Love also returned after dealing with back issues, so while teams in the Central are getting closer to full strength, the Atlantic was bit significantly by the injury bug.
Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan will miss at least two games with an ankle sprain and may be out all week if the Raptors are rightfully cautious with him, while Boston’s Avery Bradley remains out with a strained Achilles and won’t play in a week where the Celtics will be tasked with four games in five nights.
Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid will also miss at least two games due to knee pain, stunting the momentum of the surging Sixers, while Nets guard Jeremy Lin has been ruled out for an additional 3-to-5 weeks after suffering a setback in rehab by aggravating his left hamstring. Brooklyn enters the week as the only team still stuck in single-digits in wins.