Triple Threat Weekly: Injured State of Mind

Weekly NBA Content by Back of the Jersey

As many teams gear up for the final playoff push these last few weeks of the regular season, Jim and Tyler go through the teams who find themselves banged up at the end of March. There are many candidates, but these three seem to really be limping into the post season.

Wes Matthews goes down with injury.

Portland will have a hard time competing without their Shooting Guard Wes Matthews.
(Photo courtesy of Oregon Live)

Portland Trail Blazers

Tyler

Outside of OKC, I would argue that Portland has had the most difficult time with injuries this season. Robin Lopez missed significant time in the middle of the season. Their two biggest guns, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews, have really been hit the hardest. Aldridge has been incredible all year long, despite battling the hand injury for months now; clearly limiting his effectiveness a bit. Matthews went down for the year in early March with a torn achilles and since his departure, the Blazers are just 4-6. Matthews was undoubtedly the X-factor for Portland, however, if there is any good news: they acquired Arron Afflalo at the deadline. Afflalo should be able to play that role for the Blazers, but it may take a while for him to gel with his new teammates. And, by that point, the Blazers may be watching the NBA playoffs from their couch. They still have a healthy Damian Lillard, which is never a bad thing. I’m interested to see how it all plays out for the Blazers, who are one of the best NBA success stories over the last two seasons.

Jim

The only two healthy teams that are playing well right now in the West are the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Depending on how the match-ups shake out, I fully expect these teams to meet in the Western Conference Semis or Conference Finals. Portland certainly took a huge hit when Wes Matthews went down earlier this month. Less talked about are the injuries to Nicolas Batum and Chris Kaman that have also robbed Portland of its depth. Good news for Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge and Batum have both been upgraded to questionable for tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz.

I don’t see the Blazers winning more than one playoff series. They are the only team of the 8 current West playoff teams with a below .500 record in their last 10 games (4-6) and with this latest spate of injuries to Aldridge (finger), Batum (back) and Kaman (ankle), I just don’t see the Blazers staying upright for a 2-3 round run in the Western Conference.

Serge Ibaka.

The Thunder may not be able to recover from a Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka loss.
(Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Oklahoma City Thunder

Tyler

It’s been a wild season in Oklahoma City. Between deadline deals and bruised stars, the only thing consistent for OKC has been their injury report. Kevin Durant has been the obvious killer for the Thunder’s playoff and title chances. But, in combination with the recent loss of Ibaka, Collison, and Adams, it seems that every Thunder player has been left hobbling at some point this season.

Fortunately for them, Russell Westbrook has played out of his mind and may very well win the MVP. Due to the play of the flashy former UCLA point guard, OKC is in the playoff hunt and remains a tough opponent in any seven-game series. All they need is KD (Durant hasn’t played at all in March) and Ibaka back, which seem very unlikely at this point, to truly make a run at a title. This team has a lot of depth, and their only hope now is to rely on it. The one question continues to linger: has the window closed in OKC?

Jim

OKC has become the Chicago Bulls of the Western Conference. Since the spring of 2012, each of these teams have been riddled with injuries up and down their roster. The addition of Enes Kanter at the trade deadline has sparked OKC’s offense…and Russ has quickly gelled with Kanter on the high pick-and-roll.

The problem is on the defensive end. OKC currently ranks 13th in defensive efficiency (tied with Boston), which is due in large part to Kanter’s inability to protect the rim and help weak-side on the defensive end. Durant is likely done for the year but if Ibaka is able to return with a few games left in the regular season, this team will be an extremely tough out for the Warriors in Round 1. Without Ibaka, this team is ousted in no more than 5 games.

Chicago Bulls

Tyler

Just like the two teams above, Chicago has certainly had a tough time with injuries this season. Taj Gibson missed a good amount of games earlier in the season. Jimmy Butler has been run into the ground by head coach Tom Thibodeau. And, of course, Derrick Rose.

Unlike the Blazers and Thunder, the Bulls are regaining their strength at the right time. D-Rose is expected back within the next few weeks. Jimmy Butler played Wednesday in a win at Toronto, and played very well. Taj Gibson is also seeing extended minutes (although with the rise of Nikola Mirotic, Gibson’s role may begin to take a hit. More on that at another time). Can the Bulls make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs? Absolutely. If they’re healthy, Chicago is the second-best team in the East behind Cleveland (Sorry, Atlanta). Come playoff time, we could see a healthy D-Rose, Pau Gasol, and Jimmy Butler on the court at the same time. That is certainly worth the price of admission.

Jim

The Bulls have an advantage despite their bevy of injuries because of their superior front court play. With Taj Gibson back in the fold, they have a legitimate 4-man rotation at the 4-5 spots, in Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic (who has been a revelation in his 1st year in the league).

Even if Rose were not to come back, this is still an extremely formidable team that wins Round 1 going away against a reeling Milwaukee team and then would likely run into Cleveland in the 2nd round (winner of 3/6 plays winner of 2/7 series). The health of Derrick Rose is the absolute cornerstone of Chicago’s success in this potential 2nd round matchup. Without Rose playing at a similar level to the 46 games he suited up for earlier this season, the Bulls don’t match up against the backcourt trio of Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert and LeBron. They need to Rose playing at 75% to counter Irving and have a shot at ousting the Cavs in the 2nd round. The NBA is a guard’s league and without their best player, the Bulls don’t win more than two games against the Cavs.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

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