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Anthony Davis walked off the floor after New Orleans’ latest loss on Sunday, getting no time to process a tough 101-92 loss at Oklahoma City where he played a season-high 43 minutes because he needed to undergo x-rays on a sprained right foot.

Fortunately, the news was positive and the NBA’s leader in scoring (31.8) and blocked shots (2.75) isn’t expected to miss any time, but other teams haven’t been as fortunate in keeping their catalysts healthy.

There are just some players teams can’t do without. Even though he’s been with the team for just a few months, Boston badly missed Al Horford’s presence at both ends of the floor while he dealt with the lingering effects of a concussion. The Celtics went 4-5 in his absence. Bradley Beal missed three games in mid-November, all Wizards losses, before returning to spark a resurgence by scoring 30 or more points in four of his next seven games.

Paul George has dealt with lingering ankle pain and missed three games to try and get healthy, returning at Staples Center on Sunday to hit a dagger of a 3-pointer to wrap up Indiana’s second win over the Clippers this week. To be fair, the Pacers went 2-1 without George, but trust me, they miss him.

As we enter December’s first full week, there are three major catalysts who remain out, generating terrible headaches for coaches and teammates.

Paul Millsap has missed three games with a hip injury and entered the week as a game-time decision for Monday’s encounter with Oklahoma City. The All-Star forward hadn’t bothered with an MRI all last week according to head coach Mike Budenholzer, which suggests this is a nagging issue that could linger throughout the next few weeks if he doesn’t get proper rest.

The Hawks have been among the Eastern Conference’s top teams in each of the past two years, but they unquestionably became Millsap’s team after Al Horford and Jeff Teague departed this past offseason. Dwight Howard came on board and Dennis Schroder has taken on greater responsibility at the point, but Millsap is the driving force. His strength makes him a tremendous, versatile defender. His will and skill extend far beyond the points and rebounds he racks up. 

Howard’s leadership has always been called into question, but it wouldn’t be fair to put the Hawks struggles on him. He’s still carving out his role and has been an asset on the floor, but expecting to put the burden of ending a run that has seen nine losses in 10 games and began when Millsap was actually available is unrealistic. 

The Hawks are a rudderless ship and need their anchor back. Over the weekend, the sinking ship actually sank with losses against the Pistons and Raptors by a combined 80 points. It hasn’t helped that Kyle Korver is shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range all season, going 0-for-6 in the blowout losses. He’s 5-for-21 during Atlanta’s six-game losing streak they take into the Thunder game.

At this point, the Hawks become the top fade target in the NBA. Because of their recent success, dominating against the number over the past two years, spreads may be friendlier with unassuming teams like the Heat, Bucks and Magic on tap over the next week. Those teams have issues of their own, but unless Millsap returns and looks like his normal self, they’ll pale in comparison to the baggage Atlanta is carrying.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is entering his second week of inactivity after being diagnosed with fractures of his lower back following a Nov. 28 home loss to Charlotte. He’s not expected back until the first week of 2017 at the earliest. 

Yes, that’s potentially crippling. 

While Marc Gasol has put Memphis on his back in lifting it to home wins over the Magic and Lakers, both of those games came down to the final possession and displayed how tough life is going to be without Conley. Andrew Harrison has taken over as the starter while veteran Toney Douglas has been signed with an injury exemption to help rookie Wade Baldwin IV in a backup role. 

This puts the Grizzlies in a significant bind, made only worse by the fact that Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and James Ennis are also out with numerous issues, hence that aforementioned injury exemption. With a back-to-back to start the week against New Orleans and Philadelphia, Memphis again has an opportunity to stay afloat by thriving through this tough time. 

The next 10 days will then be unforgiving, starting with home games against the Trail Blazers and Warriors this weekend and a home-and-home against the Cavaliers to open next week. For the Grizzlies, December has become entirely about not digging themselves too big a hole to dig out of before Conley, the player who landed the NBA’s richest contract for a reason.

Dirk Nowitzki has long been the Mavericks’ heartbeat, but he appears to be in the midst of his final season, spending the bulk of it on the bench in suits thus far. The German future Hall of Famer played three of the first five games this season but has missed 14 of the next 16 to start the week and has been ruled out indefinitely due to a sore Achilles tendon. 

While the 38-year-old Nowitzki has seen his best days, he was still a dependable shooter who seemed to save his best for clutch situations. He spaced the floor, creating and balance and inspiring confidence, so it’s no surprise that Dallas has stumbled to the league’s worst record. The only bright spot is that Nowitzki’s absence has made it easier for offseason acquisition Harrison Barnes to assert himself, but illusions over the Mavs making a 16th playoff appearance in 17 seasons look to be fading away.


About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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