NBA Playoffs 2012: Injuries to James Harden and Others to Decide Title
Injuries to the reigning Most Valuable Player, the Defensive Player of the Year and this year’s likely Sixth Man of the Year will have huge implications on who raises the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
The Chicago Bulls are tied with San Antonio for the league’s best record at 49-16, despite Derrick Rose missing 26 games due to a myriad of issues. With C.J. Watson starting in his place, the Bulls went 17-9 without Rose’s 21.8 points and 7.9 assists in the lineup.
However, in the playoffs, when the pace slows and points are harder to find, the Bulls need Rose’s scoring and shot creation. How well Rose recovers from the groin, ankle and foot injuries that have slowed him this season will decide if the Bulls can reach the Finals. In April, he has averaged only 15.2 points per game.
The Bulls will have no trouble in the first round against Philadelphia, even if Rose is not 100 percent. The Sixers limped into the playoffs and pose no threat to Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau’s vaunted defense. However, if New York is their opponent, Rose will not have the luxury of working his way into shape—the Knicks are capable of an upset.
A potential series against the surging Boston Celtics in the Conference Semifinals will require a healthy and conditioned Rose. Rose is the focal point of the Chicago offense, and without him, who will get shots for the others? Carlos Boozer? Rip Hamilton?
The best option would be the excellent passing big man Joakim Noah, but that is a dramatic drop-off, nonetheless. He will also be required to check Boston’s Rajon Rondo on the defensive end.
In order for the Bulls to reach the Conference Finals—presumably against the Miami Heat—the team will need Rose to return to his MVP form of a year ago. For the Bulls to reach the NBA Finals, he will need to go even higher than his performance last year.
How James Harden recovers will determine if the Thunder advance.
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Out west, Metta World Peace’s elbow to James Harden’s head must have Oklahoma City wondering how quickly he will bounce back. Harden likely will be named the Sixth Man of the Year, and the Thunder will have trouble without him being healthy.
While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook garner most of the headlines, Harden is the Thunder’s best all-around offensive player. Harden often takes on a playmaking role, as seen in his 3.2 assists per game to go along with his 16.8 points per game.
Who can forget when he led the Thunder past the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs last season with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, while handling the ball in place of Westbrook?
Harden has been cleared to play, but how he returns will be critical to the Thunder’s success. As a team with no post scoring whatsoever, the perimeter trio carries the offensive burden each game, and Harden also leads the bench when Durant and Westbrook rest.
A first-round matchup against the Mavs without a healthy Harden could bring a quick end to the Thunder’s terrific season.
Orlando’s playoff hopes began to dwindle when Dwight Howard began campaigning for a trade and asked for—or didn’t ask for—coach Stan Van Gundy to be fired. The Magic‘s hopes burst into flames when Howard underwent back surgery and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Without Howard, the Magic will be steamrolled by the Indiana Pacers in the first round. If Howard were healthy and engaged, he could have dominated the series, but now the Magic should just start planning their vacations.
Without Dwight Howard, the Magic have an uphill battle.
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Other key players for playoff teams are injured. In the Boston-Atlanta series, the Celtics don’t know how much Ray Allen can contribute with bone spurs in his right ankle. Hawks center Al Horford has already ruled himself out as he recovers from a left pectoral tear.
The Memphis Grizzlies are still working on incorporating Zach Randolph back into the lineup after he tore his right MCL in January.
New York Knicks point guard sensation Jeremy Lin is aiming for a potential second-round return. Amar’e Stoudemire is also working his way into game shape following another back injury.
Heat superstar Dwyane Wade suffered a dislocated finger but is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
With injuries to contenders across the board, the championship will be decided by who can stay healthy. Who would have thought the older San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers would be two of the healthiest teams after a condensed schedule?