Coming into the NBA season, it was expected with the move back to home arenas from the very successful bubble in Orlando that Covid-19 numbers would surge, directly affecting playoff races throughout the league. What has happened instead is several key injuries to many of the league’s top players have had a profound impact on the current standings as the regular season finishes. This may speak to the historically short offseason that the players have had to battle through amid much less than normal circumstances.
As the league kicked off games in December after finishing the season in late October, it was a top priority of every organization to keep players safe and protected from the virus while they traveled from city to city playing. Since then, pretty much every team- including several of the top contending teams- have had to make major adjustments to their rotations and lineups to accommodate for the league wide health/safety protocols.
When it came to the league attempting to hold an All Star Game, an event driven by fan support and enthusiasm, LeBron James was quoted as saying, “I just think under these circumstances with what we’re going through still with the pandemic and everything with the season, I just thought we could’ve looked at it a little bit differently. But that’s out of my hands. I can only control what I can control.” It was a topic that was widely debated, but with vaccinations becoming more and more commonplace the event was able to go on in a relatively successful fashion.
Lately it has been the injuries facing teams that have controlled the headlines, not any serious Covid-19 outbreaks.
Beginning with the reigning champs, the Los Angeles Lakers have suffered key blows to their top two players in Lebron James and Anthony Davis. James was coming off of one of the best seasons of his illustrious career in which he won his 4th Finals MVP and led the NBA in assists per game. (10.2) There is no clear return date in sight for either player. Davis was averaging 23 points and 8 rebounds a game and hasn’t played a minute of game time since he injured his right calf on February 14th in their game against the Denver Nuggets. Meanwhile, James has been out since spraining his ankle on March 21st. He recently posted a video of himself working out in his home gym in Southern California, so hopefully the return is sooner than later. He was averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game before his injury put a halt to an already impressive 41 game start to the season.
Another key blow in the Western Conference came to a Denver Nuggets squad that met the Lakers in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Jamal Murray, the team’s starting point guard, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. The Nuggets were looking to get back to the point that they did last year and hopefully overtake the Lakers after making several big trade deadline acquisitions.
It is just as hectic and chaotic on the Eastern side of the league. Brooklyn has dealt with injuries to Kevin Durant and James Harden as of late. Durant suffered a strained left hamstring and missed 23 games as a result, with Durant returning recently and seemingly picking up right where he left off before the injury, the Nets will look to him to be a leading scorer for them after Harden injured his right hamstring in a similar injury. The Bucks are, like the Nets, looking to navigate a top seed in the Eastern Conference. They will have to do so without the two time defending league MVP and defensive player of the year, Giannis Antetkoumpo, who has missed the last handful of games with a sore left knee and no solid timetable for return.
In a hectic season where the unpredictable has become the new expected, the team that can manage to stay the healthiest and have their top players on the court the most will most likely be the team walking away with the Larry O’Brian trophy come June.