Monday Morning Point Guard
The first week after the All-Star break was filled with disappointment, as the trade dud, um, deadline featured some dull deals based mostly on economics rather than basketball, while several star players were forced to missed significant time -- or the remainder of the season -- because of injuries.
Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady has been a shell of his former self all season and declared himself done for the season with microfracture surgery -- which stunned his coach, Rick Adelman, who had to find out in the newspaper. The San Antonio Spurs learned that they will have go the next two to three weeks without Manu Ginobili after team doctors discovered a stress reaction in his troublesome right ankle. Then, three days after making his first all-star appearance, Indiana's Danny Granger suffered a partial tendon tear in his right foot. That same night, Boston's Kevin Garnett hobbled off the floor in Utah after straining his right knee trying to catch an alley-oop dunk. And finally, on Friday, the Phoenix Suns lost all-star forward Amare Stoudemire for the remainder of the regular season after having surgery to repair a partially detached retina.
Who wouldn't like to have a healthy starting team with McGrady and Ginobili in the backcourt, Stoudemire and Granger at the forwards and Garnett at the five? That's a pretty nice squad.
The injuries haven't totally derailed their respective teams thus far. Houston has won its first three games since McGrady's peculiar announcement. The Spurs have won their past two games and are 9-8 this season without Ginobili. The Pacers were already a longshot for the playoffs -- especially since Mike Dunleavy is out with a mysterious knee injury -- but they have won their past two games. After an impressive 128-108 win in Phoenix on Sunday, the Celtics are 4-0 this season without Garnett and 13-3 overall without their ulta-intense, foul-mouth leader. The Suns, who fired Terry Porter and elected to keep Stoudemire after receiving some underwhelming trade offers for his services, are 1-1 since he went down.
Houston has the depth to possibly withstand the loss of McGrady. But even with two former MVPs in Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal and Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry bringing back Mike D'Antoni's seven-seconds-or-less offense, the Suns will be hard-pressed to stay in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. This should stand as a measure of Stoudemire's value, with him eligible for free agency in 2010. He could emerge as a long term winner should the Suns fail in the short term without him.
The two teams that have to be worried over the next few weeks are San Antonio and Boston. Both teams have championship aspirations but are pretty flimsy when it comes to overall depth. The Spurs are currently in second place in the Western Conference, but have just a 2 ½ game lead over fourth place Portland. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will have to keep San Antonio among the top three teams to avoid meeting the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.
As for Boston, the Celtics have been going back-and-forth with Cleveland for most of the season and will have to stay on their breakneck pace without Garnett because the Cavaliers are virtually unbeatable at home (25-1). Homecourt advantage throughout the postseason will likely determine which team advances to the NBA Finals. The Celtics know that it meant everything to them last postseason, when they won two Game 7s at TD Banknorth Garden, including one against LeBron James's Cavaliers.
Stars go down every year, but part of the reason that the league has seemed so watered down this season is because the top talents have been forced to miss significant time. The Washington Wizards have been dealing with the loss of Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood all season, leading to a lost campaign in the District. But this calendar year has particularly hard on the NBA.
Since we welcomed in 2009, the Orlando Magic has lost Jameer Nelson for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder; the Los Angeles Lakers lost Andrew Bynum for the second straight season with a knee injury; New Orleans has practically been without Tyson Chandler (who was nearly traded to Oklahoma City before he flunked his physical) because of sprained ankle and turf toe; Philadelphia has lost Elton Brand for the season with a dislocated shoulder; Minnesota's Al Jefferson tore his anterior cruciate ligament; In Milwaukee, Michael Redd blew out his knee, Andrew Bogut suffered a stress fracture in his lower back and even the team mascot, Bango, tore his ACL; Dallas has been without Jason Terry and his broken hand; and Utah's Carlos Boozer has been out after having knee surgery.
For NBA fans who wish to see the best go at the best, this season has been knocked down a peg. This is brutal.
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