Playoff teams missing key players.
There are very few teams who will be at full strength when the playoffs start two weekends from now. But two of those teams are last year’s NBA Finals combatants, which could make for a relatively mundane postseason.
Do the Nuggets really have a chance to make any postseason noise without Gallinari and Ty Lawson, their two leading scorers? Are the New York Knicks really better without Amar’e Stoudemire? Can the San Antonio Spurs win the West with their four best players at less than 100 percent?
“We’ve just go to figure things out and don’t feel sorry for ourselves, just hang in there and continue to figure out how our team fits,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
“We’re not in a great rhythm right now,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, nursing a sore knee. “Honestly, the injuries are hurting us right now.”
Here’s what we like to call relevant information: The Spurs have started 13 different players this season and have had their ideal starting lineup for 30 games. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had the same starting five in all but three games.
With no more than six games remaining for every potential playoff team, let’s take a look at the injury issues for each and assess whether they are still contenders, or just pretenders.
ATLANTA HAWKS: They weren’t challenging for the title anyway, but the season-ending injuries to Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia have depleted their bench and elevated rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott to roles above their heads come playoff time. Devin Harris, who often plays alongside fellow point guard Jeff Teague, has missed three straight games with a toe injury. PRETENDER
BOSTON CELTICS: Anybody still think they’re better without Rajon Rondo? After that initial hot streak without their point guard, the Celtics are 12-14 with two road wins vs. winning teams. Another overlooked loss is Jared Sullinger, whose absence has turned midseason signee Shavlik Randolph into a rotation player. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett played Sunday for just the third time since March 13 due to a sore left ankle that has the team insisting this isn’t like 2009, when Garnett missed the entire postseason. Which, of course, means it’s like 2009. Their pride won’t allow them to quit, but they don’t have enough without Rondo. PRETENDER
BROOKLYN NETS: Relatively healthy. Biggest concern is in the backcourt, where Deron Williams is skipping the final round of cortisone shots for his ankle and Joe Johnson recently returned from a five-game absence due to thigh, knee and heel ailments. Keep in mind that they are strong at positions where Miami is not. And Evan Abrams, our gambling columnist, says they offer the best value on the futures market. CONTENDER
CHICAGO BULLS: As banged up as any team and going nowhere. Forget about Derrick Rose. The question that needs to be asked is whether coach Tom Thibodeau pushed the rest of the roster too hard as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli all have had late-season breakdowns. They used just seven players in Friday’s one-point home win over Orlando. PRETENDER
DENVER NUGGETS: The metrics say the Nuggets are much better with Gallinari, whose plus-334 led the team. But I saw too many games recently where they play through him late and the offense breaks down because he will settle for the hoist. More important is Lawson, the fifth gear in their transmission who has a heel injury that won’t get better until the offseason. He is expected to return
before the playoffs and play hurt. CONTENDER
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Their only concern is center Andrew Bogut, who makes them better defensively and seems to be past his ankle issues but now has a cranky back. He has played 30-plus minutes just six times, but all have come since March 4. If Golden State hangs on to the sixth seed, it likely will get a track meet with Denver. PRETENDER
HOUSTON ROCKETS: Health took a hit recently when top scorers James Harden (foot) and Chandler Parsons (calf) both sat out with injuries. Harden has returned and Parsons is expected back before the postseason. But even at full strength, the Rockets don’t have enough to bust the bracket. PRETENDER
INDIANA PACERS: When Danny Granger was declared out for the season, the Pacers knew their rotation wouldn’t be dramatically changing in May. That may help continuity, but at some point Indiana will be let down by its shooting guard duo of Lance Stephenson and rookie Orlando Johnson. David West appears recovered from his back injury. CONTENDER