Curse thou, NBA playoff injury bug. Why dost thou mar a glorious display with your vile presence and wretched sting?
I’m going to bail before I actually get rolling on this Shakespearean soliloquy, but it’s quite disappointing that these NBA playoffs are being stained with injuries less than a week into the first round. Going into Saturday’s Game 1s the playoffs were already going to begin without Robert “Time Lord” Williams, Ben Simmons and Luka Dončić. With the Boston Celtics having the clear upper hand on the Brooklyn Nets, and the Dallas Mavericks pulling out a win without their star and evening their series at 1-1, it looked as if those players might be making their way back to the court and injuries would have done minimal damage to the NBA Playoffs.
Then Tuesday and Wednesday came along, and the late game saw key players for serious championship contenders go down. On Tuesday night, Devin Booker got hurt during the No. 1 seed Phoenix Suns’ 125-117 loss to the No. 8 seed New Orleans Pelicans. Today, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Booker could miss 2-3 weeks of action. On Wednesday, the No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks not only lost 114-110 to the No. 6 seed Chicago Bulls, they also lost their second-best player, Khris Middleton, to a sprained MCL.
The Suns should still be able to get past the Pelicans, provided that Chris Paul and the rest of the team avoids injury in the first round. The Bucks, however, are down their all-star scorer and one of the long, rangy players that makes that defense so ferocious. They’re in for a battle against the Bulls who have two long all-star perimeter players capable of putting up humongous numbers.
Even if last year’s conference champions make it through the first round, they could both be facing teams whose health will be improving while theirs is still in decline. Williams might be back for the second round if the Celtics win, and if the Nets recover from a 2-0 deficit, Simmons will likely be able to play. If the Mavericks get Dončić back soon they’ll win, and if not then the undermanned Suns will have to take on the Jazz in the second round with Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Mike Conley Jr. healthy.
Year after year, we just can’t get teams in the NBA Playoffs at full capacity. At the beginning of this season, Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray were rehabbing ACL tears from last year. Then for the Nuggets, one of their worst fears came true as Michael Porter Jr. needed a third back surgery after signing him to a max rookie extension. That left the Los Angeles Clippers out of the playoffs, and Nikola Jokić’s historic statistical season possibly swept out of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors who are gradually getting healthier.
For the last three seasons it has been the Warriors catching the brunt of injury misfortune dating back to Kevin Durant in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers spent the year hovering around the No. 2 seed, and injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis dropped them to the play-in, and a first-round series against the team that would eventually become the No. 2 seed, the Suns. James wasn’t at full strength, Davis went down, Paul would go down, and then fight through injury to return as the Suns pulled out a six-game series win in what should’ve been a great second-round matchup.
The Nets lost Harden and Irving damn near at the tipoff of their highly anticipated second-round series against the Bucks last year. The Bucks won and would face the Atlanta Hawks in the most anti-climatic Eastern Conference finals of all time, after Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young both missed the final two games of that series.
Can basketball fans catch a break? We slog through this regular season of load management and too many Lakers and Knicks games on national TV, for the playoffs to turn into which team is able to prop themselves up with popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue long enough to get through the two-month, 400-meter dash to the title.
I know injuries and other strange circumstances happen every postseason, Tom Haberstroh wrote in 2020 about how every NBA Champion should be asterisked even though some of his points were in gesture. But the last two seasons have been just awful, with the stars going down on the regular as now there’s a chance for a Suns vs. Jazz semi-final because of a Dončić injury during the final game of the regular season, and it will be played with no Booker.
Maybe every team’s best three players should be placed in hyperbaric chambers when they travel from now on. Something has to be done. All of modern science and load management available and we as a society can’t keep NBA players on the court from April-June. It’s so sad, almost as sad as getting a Shakespeare assignment at the age of 15.