Posted Apr 23 2010 11:05AM
The hope is repeated every year going into the playoffs, on every team, from every coach and every player. Health is the hope. Who doesn't want to play the most important part of the year with the team that everyone envisioned?
Rarely does that come to pass, though. And while the injury bug is a part of the game, a few teams in this postseason have to feel unfairly stung.
The Jazz knew they were beginning their first-round series without Andrei Kirilenko. Utah then lost starting center Mehmet Okur to a ruptured left Achilles in the opener against Denver.
"That's just part of basketball," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "Not anything you can do about it. We still have to play. We just wish him the best trying to recover. We can't just give up on the season just because we don't have those guys out here."
A season's worth of malady for the Blazers somehow wasn't enough. Brandon Roy suffered a torn meniscus and underwent surgery two days before the playoffs began. So what happens in Game 2 against Phoenix? Nicolas Batum hurts his shoulder.
Neither the Blazers nor Jazz have given up. Despite being shorthanded and on the road, both teams actually wrestled away home-court advantage in their respective series by splitting the first two games. (Portland has since given it back with Thursday night's blowout loss at home.)
"Unfortunately, injuries to some key players seem to have hurt the Denver Nuggets," NBA TV analyst Steve Smith said. "They're kind of going into that second game thinking, 'No Okur, no Kirilenko.' No guy wants to admit that you take the other team lightly, but how can you not? I think the same thing happened to Phoenix in the first game."
The Bucks, down 0-2 to Atlanta, are also dealing with a major loss. Andrew Bogut broke his right hand and dislocated his elbow nine days before the end of the regular season, joining Michael Redd in Milwaukee's sick bay.
But teams don't reach the playoffs without overcoming some adversity along the way. As much as losing key guys is disruptive, there are games to play.
"You can't let yourself feel like you don't have a chance or that your season is over," Portland point guard Andre Miller said.
The Blazers have remained together despite losing centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla to season-ending knee injuries. Roy also missed a number of games at midseason with a strained hamstring. The trade for Marcus Camby helped, as did reassuring words from select teammates.
"It's the veteran guys like Andre and Juwan [Howard] who have helped most of us deal with all of the injuries," Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "They're like the little birds in our ears, always talking, always saying the things we need to hear.
"They tell us that injuries are just part of the game and everybody has to deal with them. They've constantly told us that everybody has to keep doing their job, keep playing their own game and you just go on."
The opposition isn't going to let up, either. Denver forward Kenyon Martin missed 18 games in the regular season with a knee injury and is still far from 100 percent. He's listed as a game-time decision for Game 3 in Salt Lake City.
Martin, likely echoing the opinion of his teammates, wasn't devastated when Okur pulled up lame.
"This is probably going to sound bad, but I'm not worried about who's not playing," Martin said. "I feel sorry for him. I don't want to see nobody go down due to injury, but you've got to worry about the guys on the court."
Losing starters, especially at this point of the season, leads to some on-the-fly rotation adjustments. Utah coach Jerry Sloan, though, downplayed how much can really change. The Jazz plugged little-used center Kyrylo Fesenko into Okur's spot and kept going.
"We are who we are," Sloan said. "We're not going to be able to do too much, other than play some of the younger guys that maybe haven't had a chance to play."
Dealing with injuries doesn't fall on just those who move up the depth chart. Playoff teams are built around more than one of two players, so those starters who are still healthy find themselves picking up the slack.
Williams, for example, came through with an historic effort in Utah's Game 2 win at Denver earlier this week. His 33 points and 14 assists marked only the second time in the last 43 years of the playoffs that a player had at least those numbers in a road victory. The other was Oscar Robertson. Miller had 31 in Portland's win.
Roy is holding out hope he can return before the first round is up. Kirilenko is doing the same.
But both are fighting the odds, as are their teams.
"Then you get the argument all summer: If the Jazz had this or if Portland had that, how would they have done in the playoffs," Smith said. "How good would the Bucks be with Bogut and Redd? It's just unfortunate."
And it happens every year.
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