Seeming rash of injuries could shape NBA playoff picture


On a court in Denver, Knicks fans watched Carmelo Anthony leave early to get to the locker room as his knee was clearly bothering him into another bad shooting night. Later he was on a plane back to New York to get fluid drained from that knee and other procedures to get him back on the court.

On a court in Atlanta, Lakers fans watched Kobe Bryant go down and twist his ankle on a final shot. He limped off the court but afterwards said he was out indefinitely.

Injuries that shape the playoffs are nothing new — remember Derrick Rose last year? — and there are not really more this season than any other. It just feels like it (as it does every year).

But a series of injuries old and new are going to shape the race up to the playoffs and then the playoffs themselves.

• Kobe Bryant’s ankle. This one could potentially keep the Lakers out of the playoffs, although I wouldn’t bet on it. Mostly because the wheels are coming off the Jazz (half a game back of the Lakers on Thursday) and they are not running away with a playoff slot with Utah having a tough schedule ahead. The door opens for Dallas a little, but just a little. Also, this is Kobe, who deals with injuries about like the Black Knight of Monty Python fame (“’Tis a flesh wound”). He will be back on the court as fast as his body allows. That could be a week, it could be three, but bet on the lower end of that scale. Still, in recent weeks the Lakers have run a tight 8-man player rotation and even with that when Kobe sits the Lakers offense has been unimpressive. They need to find some points, fast.

However, the Lakers could be in trouble even when Kobe returns. Los Angeles has been winning lately but the margin for error with this team remains small — it had to come from 25 back on the Hornets and beat the Raptors in overtime. That margin is a whole lot smaller against the Thunder or Spurs. Kobe has taken over the role of playmaker on the Lakers (with Steve Nash playing off the ball) and if he is half a step slow in the playoffs because of his injuries the Lakers will go from “long shot” to “never got out of the starting gate.”

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• Carmelo Anthony’s knee. He walked off the court during another unimpressive outing — much to the delight of Nuggets fans — because as much as he has tried to play through it for weeks, Anthony realized it was time something had to be done about his continuing knee issue. In the short term, he is flying back to New York and will get his knee drained. He’ll miss a couple games. That doesn’t really help the Knicks in their quest to retake the No. 2 seed from Indiana (or even stave off the Nets, the four seed that is 1.5 games back of New York) but it has to be done.

Because come the playoffs, if the Knicks are going to be the team that breaks out of that clump fighting to be the second best team in the East and to challenge the Heat, they are going to need the best of ‘Melo. He has to be healthy, he has to be on fire. Fluid buildup in the knee is a symptom of some other irritation, so if the Knicks stick around in the playoffs Anthony might need to have it drained again. But certainly the status of Anthony’s knee impacts the Knicks.

• Tyson Chandler’s knee. It looked scary when it happened and the tough-guy Chandler had to be helped to the locker room in Denver Wednesday night, but after the game he was walking without crutches and it didn’t seem to be serous. Which is great news for New York — besides Carmelo the other thing the Knicks must have in the playoffs is better defense than they have been playing of late. And that starts with the former Defensive Player of the Year. He has to be a defensive terror in the paint in the postseason for the Knicks to make a run.

• Danny Granger’s knee. The Pacers have a championship caliber defense, but they have a terrible offense. Danny Granger was their leading scorer last year and it was assumed that when he returned to the lineup the Pacers offense would pick up. It didn’t. Then Granger barely played and had to sit out again. Unless Granger can get healthy and the Pacers offense can find steady points — and stop taking those 5 minute breaks mid-game — the Pacers are not breaking out of the pack in the East.

• Derrick Rose’s knee. The Bulls are another strong defensive team whose offense was fully based around the former league MVP. When he went down in the first round of the playoffs last year the No. 1 seed Bulls were pushed aside by the Sixers. Without him all season the Bulls offense has been bottom 10 in the league. The theory goes that with him — even 70 percent of him — and the Bulls offense returning to good, they could be the team that beaks out of the pack in the East and gets a run at Miami. But Rose isn’t coming back until he is over the mental hurdles of trusting his knee, and if that means he misses the season he’s good with that. If he returns, we’ll see where the Bulls stand, they have struggled of late and need to get Joakim Noah and Luol Deng a little rest, too.

• Tony Parker’s ankle. The Spurs are the top seed in the West and Tony Parker was having the kind of season that could have him No. 3 on a lot of MVP ballots at the end of the season (if you put him in front of LeBron and Durant, you’re doing it wrong). As we have seen the last few years, the Spurs execution in the regular season can be countered some in the playoffs, but this year feels different — the Spurs are defending again and guys like Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard are not just system guys but quality players. The Spurs have a real shot to beat the Thunder is seven games and get back to the finals, but not without 100 percent of Tony Parker slashing up the OKC defense. He is the guy that makes it all go for them in crunch time and if he is not fully ready for the playoffs the Spurs could see another early exit.

Isaiah Thomas rewarded on epic flop with offensive foul call vs. Heat

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Why do NBA players flop on defense? Because it works.

While there is less of it than there was a couple of years back — when the NBA made a big show about calling more flops and warning (then eventually fining players a pittance) for the move — it still exists. Case in point, this impressive one from Isaiah Thomas of the Lakers on Tyler Johnson of the Heat Friday night (hat tip AminElHassavag at NBA Reddit).

Was there a little contact, sure, but Thomas fell back like he was shot by the second gunman on the grassy knoll. He exaggerated the contact, which is the definition of flopping. Thing is, he got the call (the ref who made the call, from his position, might only have seen the contact and not necessarily the extent of exaggeration, but that’s where the other officials need to step in).

Not that everything went Thomas’ way Friday night.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley fined $25,000 each for knocking down Ricky Rubio


Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley got off light.

There should have been suspensions involved for the cheap shots leveled on Ricky Rubio by the pair during Thursday night’s blowout Jazz win. Instead, the pair were fined $25,000 a piece by the league Saturday for this incident.

Rubio has a knee contusion from the incident Jazz coach Quin Snyder confirmed, however, Rubio is available to play Saturday vs. the Kings.

Dudley was given a flagrant 2 and ejected at the time, Chriss was handed just a flagrant 1 for his escalation. I don’t completely buy Dudley’s explanation here either — I think they were pissed Rubio stepped over a down Chriss to inbound the ball and made him pay for it — but he did own up to it being excessive.

So to be clear, if you throw a haymaker and miss — as Aaron Afflalo did recently — that’s a two-game suspension. But if you throw or body check a player to the ground, that’s just 25 large, no time missed. Players wanting retaliation will take note of that.

Roulette tables are less random than the NBA’s enforcement policies.

Check out Terrance Ferguson’s acrobatic layup vs. Clippers (VIDEO)


It was supposed to be an alley-oop.

However, Raymond Felton‘s pass was low. And not just a little low, a few feet low.

Oklahoma City’s athletic rookie Terrance Ferguson was leaving the ground as the pass was thrown, meaning he had to make an in-air adjustment — and the results were spectacular.

Corey Brewer continues to be key, scores 22 as Thunder beat Clippers 121-113

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Five starts, five wins for Corey Brewer with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The recent addition scored 22 points and matched a career high with six steals to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Clippers 121-113 on Friday night.

The 32-year-old Brewer was bought out by the Los Angeles Lakers late last month, allowing Oklahoma City to pick him up as a free agent. As a starter with the Thunder, he is averaging 14.8 points in the shooting guard spot vacated when Andre Roberson ruptured his left patellar tendon and had season-ending surgery.

Brewer said it has been easy to fit in because he played college ball for Thunder coach Billy Donovan at the University of Florida.

“I won’t say it’s surprising,” Brewer said. “It’s a comfort level. I keep telling everybody, coach Donovan makes me feel really comfortable. I won two national championships with the guy. It’s just his demeanor and the faith he has in me that makes the game easier.”

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his 22th triple-double of the season and the 101st of his career. Brewer said playing Westbrook’s up-tempo style has been fun.

“Yeah, I love to run,” Brewer said. “That’s my game. I can run all day, so having Russell Westbrook pushing on the break just running to get a layup – it’s easy.”

Paul George scored 19 points and Steven Adams added 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder, who swept all three games from the Clippers this season.

Oklahoma City, one of several teams in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, won its fifth straight and clinched a winning season. It was the start of a difficult closing stretch against mostly teams in playoff contention.

Adams created problems for the Clippers all night.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I almost think that’s a slap just to call him and energy player because he is a skilled basketball player with high IQ and is just extremely physical. It seems like every time we got a big stop, he got it back for them, so you just have to give him credit.”

Tobias Harris scored 24 points and Austin Rivers added 23 for the Clippers, but the Thunder scored 31 points off Los Angeles’ 23 turnovers. DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 21 rebounds.

“They are fifth in the league for fast breaks,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You don’t turn the ball over. You turn the ball over that many times, you’re going to lose the game.”

Brewer and Adams carried the load in the first half, scoring 14 points each to help the Thunder take a 63-56 lead.

Terrance Ferguson got a 3-pointer to rattle in early in the fourth quarter to give the Thunder a 94-87 lead. He later caught a pass in midair around his waist, and then kicked his legs out and hesitated before making a reverse layup to bump the lead to 96-88.

Westbrook clinched the triple-double on a rebound in the fourth quarter. His mid-range jumper gave the Thunder a 116-107 lead and forced a Clippers timeout, and Oklahoma City maintained control from there.