Posted Jan 17 2012 9:47AM - Updated Jan 17 2012 10:49AM
Al Horford, set for shoulder surgery Tuesday, represents the costliest injury casualty so far. He fell hard a week ago and tore his left pectoral muscle after getting his shot blocked by Roy Hibbert. The injury probably had little to do with a merciless schedule that's putting players through a physical gauntlet, although it will be guilty by association anyway.
Yes, players are grabbing knees and hamstrings and even chest muscles -- Kwame Brown mysteriously suffered the same injury on the same day as Horford -- and fair or not, the tight schedule is being blamed for a majority of the pain. Coaches and players are beginning to feel the pinch, and while hoping the worst is over, are fearful the injuries are destined to increase.
"I just find it unusual that you see so many," said Wolves coach Rick Adelman. "Maybe because the season is so compressed that you dwell on it quicker and more often, since you don't have time to rest. But it just seems rash. Someone told me that between now and February (the Wolves) have two days off. That's not a lot of time to rest or get healthy."
Rest. Recovery. Athletes will tell you they need both, but the only R-and-R this season is run ... and run some more. Such is the steep price of doing business in the lockout, which tightened the season and put physical therapists on alert.
Here's a small sampling of aches and pain in a season that turns one-month old this week:
• Dwyane Wade is still recovering from an ankle sprain and given his injury history, Miami is being extra cautious.
• Another fragile star, Chris Paul, has a sore hamstring, setting a personal speed record for pulling up lame.
• Derrick Rose has missed two games with a sore left toe, which allowed us to see what the Bulls are like without him.
• Zach Randolph is hoping for a return in March from an MCL injury that sent the Grizzlies scrambling to replace his scoring and rebounding.
• Stephen Curry is still bothered by an ankle sprain that could annoy him all season, although he could return Tuesday for the Warriors.
• The Hornets don't expect Eric Gordon back from a knee injury until next week at the earliest.
• Kobe Bryant continues to play with a bum wrist -- not that it has discouraged him from shooting.
• Carmelo Anthony has a sore left wrist, and after going 9 for 27 against the Magic on Monday, said: "Even though I had two hands on the ball, I was really shooting with one."
• Michael Beasley remains out with a sore foot, putting pressure on Kevin Love to score for a Minnesota team that lacks punch.
And those are just some of the notables. You can find a player in pain on nearly every team in the league, some players more important than others, some injuries harder to deal with than others.
The big question is whether these injuries would've happened in a normal season, or if they're a direct result of the 66-game schedule. Perhaps the obvious answer is "both."
The schedule hasn't helped. This much, we know. Not only are the games coming fast and furious, there isn't much time for bodies to heal. Days off are infrequent. Also, training camp was limited and therefore players weren't afforded much time to prepare their bodies, unless they were diligent during the lockout.
"Everyone's losing someone," Adelman said. "I don't know what the reason for it is, but it just seems like it's going on around the league. Some teams have to deal with it night in and night out. Look at Atlanta, with Horford going down. That hurts them."
Horford is perhaps the biggest loss because he's all but gone for the regular season, and the Hawks were fighting for division supremacy when he was healthy. They're thin up front anyway, and now must give important minutes to a D-Leaguer, Ivan Johnson, who's more undersized (6-foot-8) in the post than Horford.
Unless they're willing to pull off a trade for a better replacement (Chris Kaman or someone similar) the Hawks must get more production across the board to cover for the defense and rebounding Horford gave them. At least Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have responded, both delivering big efforts for the Hawks since Horford's loss. But Atlanta surely will feel it in the playoffs, assuming they make it, and assuming Horford returns close to 100 percent, if at all.
If the injuries continue to pile up, and if it affects the quality of play or causes a big name to miss the entire postseason, the owners might regret going 66 games when they could've settled for 50. That's how many games were played in the last lockout-shortened season.
Everyone knew going into the season that conditioning would be an issue, and bodies would be sore, and four weeks later, that's certainly the case. Calling the 66-game schedule a grind is being kind. It's an endurance test, filled with mines, and come June we may crown the healthiest team, not necessarily the best.
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