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Eastern Conference Insider: Injury epidemic

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Nov 11 2008 11:32AM

Nurse, I need scoring and assists, stat!

We're not even two weeks into this 2008-09 NBA season and the Eastern Conference benches are littered with stars and their various injuries.

Looking for a nasty thumb injury that requires surgery? Check. How about a knee? Yep. Anyone sprain an ankle? Oh, we have plenty of those.

This list grew very long this week. Milwaukee's Michael Redd sprained an ankle on Nov. 2 and has been day-to-day ever since. Josh Smith of the undefeated Atlanta Hawks will miss two to four weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain. New Jersey's Devin Harris turned his ankle during his electric 38-point performance and hasn't played since. Indiana's Mike Dunleavy's been on the shelf all season with tendinitis in his right knee. Then there's Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, who tore a ligament in his right thumb and will be out three months. Next to Smith's absence, Hinrich's injury throws a wrench into the Bulls' development and throws a spotlight on a certain No. 1 crush.

"It puts a lot of pressure on Derrick Rose," one NBA scout said, "a lot more pressure. It also looks like Ben Gordon will get more time."

Hinrich's injury will more than likely move Gordon into the starting lineup and give Rose a permanent spot as the Bulls' point guard.

"With Gordon healthy and Rose emerging, I think Hinrich was going to get Wally Pipped anyway," said another NBA scout. "But the Bulls need Hinrich. When he played well, they went to the playoffs.

"What happened last year when he didn't play well. They missed the playoffs. They weren't close to the team they were supposed to be. I won't be surprised that he won't be the starter when he returns, but they need him in the long run."

Meanwhile, the so-far, so-good Hawks can't afford to have Smith lose a significant amount of time.

"I think they'll miss him a lot, especially on blocking shots," said our first scout. "He's able to defend in the post and on the wing. And they're not as deep at that post position. They've lost a lot of athleticism at the four."

The Hawks will try to fill Smith's considerable shoes with Zaza Pachulia or Mo Evans. Solomon Jones, a third-year forward from South Florida, will also see his minutes increase.

Teams getting bit by the injury bug early in the season, specifically teams that are installing new systems with new coaches such as Chicago and Milwaukee, will be especially hamstrung.

"I think it affects them a lot," said our second scout. "The Bulls, Bucks and Hawks are all three potential playoff teams or teams with playoff hopes. It's tough to lose these guys who play significant roles early."

"Because you're always fighting for a spot."

No Rest for the Weary

In the NBA, the only thing coaches want more than wins and that ring, is practice time.

With grinding road trips and back-to-back games, every NBA coach, especially teams with new coaches installing new systems and incorporating new players, desperately seek practice time to teach and tweak, mentor and monitor. Lack of practice time isn't germane to one team as every team's schedule has its own respective Death Valley.

In the next two weeks, the Milwaukee Bucks travel through theirs. With eight games in two weeks and 12 games in 19 days, the Bucks will see plenty of game action, but little, if any practice time.

"We have eight back-to-backs before the end of November and 20 out of [our first] 33 on the road," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "While we're re-doing our philosophy, for the lack of a better way of phrasing it, we still need to get enough wins to hang in there until the schedule swings back our way."

Skiles hopes to find some work, rest and practice equilibrium so that the Bucks don't get that deer in the headlights look in December.

"I know we're going to start playing some really good basketball at some point," Skiles said. "We have to hang in there during the first couple months of the season so we're no far out of it. It'll be a tough balance. There'll be some days we have to work and some days logically, we'll need to get these guys off their legs, so it's going to be a bit tricky."

Feel the Burn

Unlike my dispassionate, evenhanded, objective reporting, I don't often offer fantasy advice because I'm emotional and impulsive when it comes to fantasy hoops. Still, if you need some points and boards off your bench, pick the Knicks' Wilson Chandler off the waiver wire.

Here's why. It appears the Knicks like Chandler's reality well enough -- 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game -- that they have moved him into the starting lineup as a second small forward and placed David Lee to the bench.

"It's a good offense, the court is spread," Chandler said. "Everybody can get looks. Not just one player, not just two players, but everybody: starters, people off the bench.

"It's a fun offense."

At 6-8, 220, Chandler is a rangy, athletic small forward fits perfectly in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, kind of like another small forward who once played for D'Antoni: Shawn Marion, who is 6-7 and 228. While Chandler's no Matrix, the second-year player from DePaul could appear on the fans' and opponents' radars soon.

Randomness

That Raptors at Celtics game on Monday night was one of the best early regular season games I've seen until Toronto's Jermaine O'Neal committed two turnovers and Jose Calderon missed a bunny under the hoop in the game's last two minutes. I was hoping for overtime ... After starting 1-2 with losses against Boston and New Orleans on the road, the Cavs have won four straight and some guy named LeBron earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors ... Late Monday, the Detroit News reported Tayshaun Prince would begin to handle the point forward duties. Somewhere Paul Pressey smiles...

And Finally...

At 5-0, are the Atlanta Hawks for real? They've won their first five games four times in franchise history and haven't been this fast out of the gate since 1997-98 when they went 11-0.

This week will test their mettle as they head to Chicago on Tuesday, Boston on Wednesday and New Jersey on Friday. We'll let you know what we see when we catch the Hawks at the IZOD Center this weekend.

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