Scratch the whole two team race thing. Or the playoff rich and the playoff middle class model. Injuries are making everyone vulnerable. It is at a point where the better question to ask is not who is hurt but who is not on the sidelines in a suit. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are out. Marcus Smart won’t play until the playoffs. Kawhi is still not back and it’s anyone’s guess when his doctors will clear him, creating more San Antonio soap opera mess. Jimmy Butler is missing a whole bunch of games and until Kevin Love returns the Cavs are looking like an 8th seed masquerading as a 3 seed. Whiteside is iffy for the Heat. David West has a cyst in his shoulder. A bunch of players have soreness and everyone is pretty exhausted. The boastfulness that the schedule was going to prevent injuries because the season started in mid-October has a thousand holes poked into it.
The great thing about contending teams is they all have a 6th man. They have a person who comes in off the bench and keeps the lead, increases the lead and allows stars to rest. Jamal Crawford for Minnesota. Eric Gordon for the Rockets. Lou Williams for the Clippers. But in March, the player having the most impact is the injured man. He can’t get on the floor because his body is broken (temporarily). The Rockets make a whole bunch of sense right about now stockpiling shooters. It is insurance for when players are dropping right and left.
There is the hope that when the injured stars return to the court their bodies will be rested and maybe, yes. But they will have to get back in the groove of things too. Kevin Love, for instance, who has been out for weeks, will have to get back into basketball shape. That takes time. Same with Steph.
So what’s the big picture?
There isn’t an overwhelming favorite to win the title. There is no one you really trust. Toronto fades in the playoffs. The Cavs have nothing at the rim. The Wizards are the same old thing. The Celtics have Kyrie and Marcus Smart issues. The Pacers are Victor Oladipo or bust. Milwaukee is the poster child for underachievement. Philly are still kids.
The Warriors are banged up and arrogance will only get you so far. The Rockets have to prove they can win if threes don’t go in. The Spurs probably won’t make the playoffs. The Thunder have an atrocious bench. The Blazers and Pels are absent help. The T-Woves don’t guard anybody.
Suffice it to say, all these injuries are doing fans a favor. If it is the Warriors or the field, I’m taking the field. 2018 playoffs are probably going to be the best ever, with a bunch of upsets sprinkled in and if not upsets, game 7’s with a lot on the line and players facing pressure who have not had to achieve under stress, make shots when it counts or just be tough. We’ll see who has what beating where and who is scared and how the NBA sells a Finals that may not have LeBron James or Steph Curry.