Short schedule, long toll for Wolves and other NBA teams

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2012 - 6:35 AM

Are the many injuries in the NBA this season just bad luck or the product of the lockout-shortened schedule? Regardless, many teams and players have suffered.

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The Wolves suffered through plenty of injuries in the compressed NBA season, including the one to starter Ricky Rubio.

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The Timberwolves' game on Sunday against Golden State was the perfect example of how injuries can derail a season. The Wolves played without guards Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour and forward Kevin Love. Warriors coach Mark Jackson is dealing with so many injuries that he has been starting four rookies.

The NBA's condensed, post-lockout regular season is coming to an end. Many anticipated that the schedule, which had teams playing so many games in so few nights, would result in a leaguewide rash of injuries.

And while official injury stats have not yet been analyzed, there is no question that the 2011-12 season will be remembered as one with significant injuries. Teams played 66 games over 123 days (one game every 1.9 days); the traditional 82-game season is spread over 173 days (one game every 2.1 days).

Wolves fans know the litany here. Rubio was lost to torn knee ligaments March 9. Love suffered a concussion April 11. Ridnour hasn't played since spraining his right ankle April 2.

And that's just a start. J.J. Barea missed 22 games because of various injuries. Center Nikola Pekovic had his breakout season slowed by bone spurs in his right ankle and then by bronchitis.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman admitted he has never seen a team deal with so many injuries. Golden State played Sunday without Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry and David Lee.

The question is this: Is it just bad luck or the product of the schedule?

"I don't believe in luck," Jackson said. "I believe at the end of the day [the schedule] probably plays a part. But look at Bogut [broken ankle] or Curry [sprained ankle], they had nothing to do with the schedule."

Would a normal schedule have prevented Rubio's injury? Probably not. And a stray elbow like the one JaVale McGee caught Love with could happen at any time.

But Pekovic speculated that a more stretched-out season might have prevented the bone spurs from becoming a problem. And, as Adelman has pointed out, the compressed schedule means that any player missing any amount of time was likely to miss a lot of games.

Stars on the sidelines

There is no question the playoffs will be affected by injuries. Orlando center Dwight Howard is out for the season because of a herniated disk. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was playing heavy minutes until a shin injury forced him out of seven games; how will he hold up during the postseason? In Chicago, star guard Derrick Rose has battled right foot and ankle injuries, and last year's NBA MVP recently added fluid on a sore right knee to the list.

The Knicks are without Jeremy Lin and played without Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire for stretches of the season. Miami's Dwyane Wade has been dealing with a sore ankle.

"There has got to be something to it," Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said of the compressed schedule. "I don't have the data to support it, but it is a battle of attrition. You see some of the star players in our league who are out. Would have been out in an 82-game season? Who knows? It's speculation, but it is a different grind."

Another factor was the lockout itself. Not allowed to have contact with players, teams weren't able to monitor offseason training. When the lockout ended, some players might not have been ready. That plus a shortened training camp made players vulnerable. "You can look at that as well," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said.

The key to some playoff matchups will be which team is healthiest. Indiana coach Frank Vogel believes that will be a big advantage for his team. "We're fresh right now," he said. "We're unique in that we don't play anybody big minutes. I think Danny Granger [33.3] is our biggest minutes guy."

Older guys get a break

Almost as newsworthy is what some coaches have done to avoid injuries. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, with a roster full of older players, has at times rested his players. Most recently, he didn't even take stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to Utah for a game.

"We're trying to survive," Popovich said at the time. "Our schedule speaks for itself."

He might have been right. The Spurs are currently atop the Western Conference with 47 victories.

Boston coach Doc Rivers has been careful to keep his older stars fresh, and the Celtics have finished strong. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has done the same thing.

Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.

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