At the rate things are going, this year’s NBA playoffs will go down in history as the year the title went to the least-injured, and perhaps luckiest team in the NBA. With a big number of stars decommissioned or barely able to play due to injuries as well as the COVID restrictions, the playoffs now resemble a medical ward where the wounded are brought in and tended; and hopefully, cleared to go right back to the frontlines. While the battle is raging and at its most critical stages. When the skills, the stamina, and the spirit of every warrior/player are tested to the max. Where the lack of fresh troops, and the failure to bring in fresh reinforcements could spell the difference between life or death.
It is a scene right out of the movies, as injuries pile up, and surviving soldiers heroically fight for flag and glory. Picture Kevin Durant soldiering on with Kyrie Irving and James Harden crippled and wheeled back to sick bay. Picture Paul George, taking over after Captain Kawhi Leonard falls in battle.
From the 8 conference semifinalists, here’s how it is stacked up.
The Brooklyn Nets are playing without Kyrie Irving, downed by an ankle sprain in Game 4 of the ongoing Nets-Bucks series. They are now forced to bring back James Harden, earlier deactivated for a hamstring injury. It is Game 7 and Harden will be needed for this crucial face-off. The erstwhile heavily-favored Nets must now conjure ways to survive against an almost complete Bucks line-up, if they are to move forward to the Final Four.
The eastern conference top-seed Philadelphia 76ers entered the playoffs with Joel Embiid (knee injury) and Ben Simmons (back injury) fresh out of the injury list. Both have not been playing their A-game, giving the Atlanta Hawks the confidence to fight fire with fire against the more-favored Sixers. With the series tied at 3-3, the Hawks have gunner Bogdan Bogdanovich listed as unsure due to another injury.
In the west, the Phoenix Suns blew away an undermanned Denver Nuggets team, who were minus top guard Jamal Murray (knee injury). Prior to dispatching the Nuggets, the Suns got lucky against the injury-riddled LA Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Lebron James had barely come out of the injury list (ankle sprain), when Anthony Davis fell (groin injury). With that crumbled the Lakers’dream for a 2nd consecutive title. Well rested, the Suns will however miss Chris Paul “for an indefinite amount of time” after being placed under the NBA’s COVID protocol. Paul’s absence will be critical for the Suns to accomplish their campaign plan.
Finally, in the other western semifinal match-up, the LA Clippers are minus topgun Kawhi Leonard, after he injured his knee in Game 4 of this crucial match-up with the Utah Jazz. Despite that, the Clips surprised the Jazz, who were in turn battling with a clearly-hobbled Donovan Mitchell (ankle sprain) and a barely-recovered Mike Conley (hamstring injury). The come-from-behind win by the Clippers, while heavily impacted by the injuries to these key stars, saw the coming of age of fresh recruits, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann.
With all these injuries distracting from the hardcourt battles, it is time to refocus on the prize at hand. We are down to the last 6, with the western slots resolved. In the west, we will see the Phoenix Suns drawing swords against the LA Clippers. The Suns will be minus Chris Paul (under COVID protocol) in the early going; while the Clippers will be without Kawhi Leonard (knee injury) for an undetermined period. In the east, both series pitting the Phila 76ers – Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets – Milwaukee Bucks will be resolved thru a winner-take-all Game 7. With both early bets 76ers and the Nets hobbled by injuries.
As I predicted earlier, it will be the Suns vs the Clippers, and the Nets vs the 76ers for the conference finals. (Please read: Who Will Be Crowned the Next NBA Champs?) After which, it’s on to the NBA Finals. Let’s see how the drama unfolds.
Photos courtesy of Sports Chat Place, CBS Sports, marca.com, SI.com, sportskeeda, oregonlive.com, and Bleacher Report. Cover photo courtesy of diggingsports.com.