NBA tries to learn from painful injury lessons of last year

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(AP) — The potshots have come at the Golden State Warriors from all directions this offseason. Some rivals have dismissed their breathtaking championship run with a wave of the hand and a snort.

The Warriors just got lucky, they said. They were able to stay mostly healthy for the entire grueling season, avoiding the big injuries that plagued so many other contenders, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

Considering the stack of injuries that ruined some seasons, keeping 15 players healthy should be viewed as a tremendous accomplishment, not just a random gift from the basketball gods.

As the NBA prepares to tip off the regular season on Tuesday, the biggest issue facing a league on the upswing may not be labor strife or the age limit for draft eligibility. After a season in which star after star missed huge chunks of time, one of the biggest priorities is player health.

“I think what we saw in this season and in the playoffs, especially, is there is no question that injuries had a big impact on the competition,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “Not that that’s anything new. One of the things we’re looking at as a league is what can we do to keep players on the floor?”

The numbers last year were staggering. Eight players on the NBA’s list of most popular-selling jerseys missed at least 15 percent of the 82 regular season games, including LeBron James (13 games missed), Blake Griffin (15), Derrick Rose (31) and Russell Westbrook (15).

Kevin Durant (55), Carmelo Anthony (42), Dwight Howard (41), Paul George (76) and Kobe Bryant (47) are among the stars who missed at least half the season and seven of the top 10 draft picks – not including Philadelphia’s Dario Saric, who played in Europe – missed significant time with injuries.

Injuries to Cleveland stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the playoffs hampered the Cavaliers’ ability to hang with the Warriors in the finals, while the Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed 58 games combined) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka missed 88 games) did not make the playoffs for the first time in years due mostly to their missing stars.

From overtraining at the AAU level to poor sleep patterns developed during the season’s unforgiving travel schedule, the theories are many as to the number of injuries. And efforts are coming on all fronts to address the scourge.

The NBA appointed Dr. John DiFiori as the league’s director of sports medicine, partnered with GE Healthcare to research musculoskeletal injuries and formed a board of physicians around the league to examine the issue. The league also changed the schedule to drastically reduce the number of back-to-backs and stretches of four games in five nights in hopes of easing some of the stress on players’ bodies.

The NBA Players’ Association hired Joe Rogowski, a well-regarded strength coach and athletic trainer, as its new sports science guru.

And teams across the league are revamping their training and medical staffs and building new practice facilities to try to cater to player health.

The Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons have all brought in new medical and/or training personnel while the Wolves have partnered with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic to open a $25 million practice center that includes a chef on site to prepare healthy meals and a sports medicine wing with MRI machines and physicians available for immediate consultation.

“I think it’s still too early to say this is why these injuries are happening,” Rogowski said. “But we are doing our due diligence. There are so many variables that are involved with injuries. So being able to look at all the different variables and not just one thing is very important.”

Silver is pushing teams to share more on what methods and technologies they are using to combat injuries. Some teams consider that proprietary and are reluctant to give it.

“I don’t want to see our teams just competing in terms of best practices when it comes to the health and welfare of the players,” Silver said. “Teams can learn from each other and can apply it to the league as a whole. As you heard (Warriors coach) Steve Kerr say, as great as it is to win, you want to win with both teams best players on the floor.”

It’s a good line, but one that may fall on deaf ears when presented to hyper-competitive teams looking for any edge.

“The league feels like it’s a priority, but it’s a little interesting,” Dallas Mavericks head athletic trainer Casey Smith said. “Every team is their own entity. There are many of us that do share best practices quite often on all levels and there are some, frankly, that don’t. That’s their decision.”

Smith has kept the Mavericks at the forefront of sports science technology for years, teaming with coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban to aggressively examine ways to keep their players healthy. From sleep studies to biomechanics and GPS tracking technology, the Mavericks are throwing everything they have at one of the league’s fundamental problems.

While they have embraced the need for players to rest during the season, Smith said it’s also important to make sure a resting player gets in a hard workout on his “off day.” Dirk Nowitzki may not do the cutting, accelerating and decelerating and physical contact that he does during a game, but he will go through a weightlifting and cardio workout so that his body remains in “active recovery.”

“Although we may limit them from the court at times, we still very much expect some type of demand on their bodies to keep them at that highest threshold,” Smith said, “which I think surprises people sometimes.”

Smith is a big believer in studying movement patterns and trying to reduce the biomechanical asymmetry that can put greater stress on joints and muscles. That also requires athletes to do the same, often tedious, warmups and exercises every day to foster the needed muscle memory.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders coaxed long-time Pistons physical therapist Arnie Kander out of retirement after enduring a season when 10 of his players missed significant time because of injuries. Kander spent more than two decades in Detroit and gained a reputation for using unusual methods and contraptions to help keep players healthy.

“When you have four or five of your best players out, the game is less,” Kander said. “I’m a basketball fan. I happen to work in the NBA. So I like to see a better game.”

This story has been corrected to show the last name of the NBA director of sports medicine is Dr. John DiFiori, not Fiori.

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.

https://twitter.com/CallieCaplan/status/1619016699289956353

Boban? Crowder? Holmgren? Exploring player votes for All-Star starters

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Four NBA players — not one as a joke, but four… as a joke — voted for injured Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to start the NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA All-Star Game starters were announced Thursday, chosen from a weighted vote of fans (50%), media (25%) and current players (25%).

While most NBA players may take their All-Star Game starter votes seriously, some do not — they vote for friends, college teammates, guys with the same agent, or just whoever they feel like.

Which is comedy gold once we comb through the public vote (Note: names are not attached to who cast a vote, but we do see who got votes). This season, that list of players getting at least one vote to be an All-Star starter include:

Bol Bol (Orlando Magic, he got six votes)
Willy Hernangomez (New Orleans Pelicans, he got five votes)
Juancho Hernangomez (Toronto Raptors, he got three votes)
Omer Yurtseven (Miami Heat, he got three votes)
Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers, he got five votes)
Ochai Agbaji (Utah Jazz, he got four votes)
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Oklahoma City Thunder, he got three votes)
Bismack Biyombo (Phoenix Suns, he got three votes)
Jae Crowder (Phoenix Suns, he got two votes)
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat, he got two votes)
Blake Griffin (Boston Celtics)
Boban Marjanovic (Houston Rockets)
Kemba Walker (Dallas Mavericks)
Kendrick Nunn (Los Angeles Lakers)
Ish Smith (Denver Nuggets)
Torrey Craig (Phoenix Suns)
Luka Garza (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings)
Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers)
R.J. Hampton (Orlando Magic)
Johnny Davis (Washington Wizards)
Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers)
MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee Bucks)
Paul Reed (Philadelphia 76ers)

That is just a fraction of the entire list.

Three things to Know: Knicks win another in clutch, beat Celtics in OT

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Knicks win another in clutch, beat Celtics in OT behind 37 from Randle

It will surprise Knicks fans, but New York has been a good clutch team in the tightest of games this season: In games within three points in the final three minutes, they are 11-9 with a +7.8 net rating.

The Knicks didn’t look like a clutch team — but did what Knicks fans expected — when they blew a 13-point lead by scoring just four points over the final 5:20 of the fourth quarter. Combine that with Jayson Tatum scoring 11 in the frame, and the Celtics came back to tie the game and force OT.

However, in the OT, the Knicks had RJ Barrett knocking down big shots.

And, with the game on the line, they had Jalen Brunson with the block.

With that, the Knicks went into Boston and pulled out the 120-117 OT win over the East-leading Celtics. Julius Randle had 27 points and nine rebounds (and hit the free throws that put the Knicks up for good in OT), Brunson scored 29, and Barrett added 19.

There are promising signs for Knicks fans:

Brunson and Randle just out-dueled Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

The Knicks have now racked up back-to-back wins against the Cavaliers and Celtics.

New York will need more wins like this because they will be battling the Heat, and maybe the Pacers, for that No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in the rest of the season. But don’t sleep on a couple of quality wins.

2) Luka Doncic leaves game with ankle sprain; Mavericks win anyway

Name the team that could least afford to lose its superstar.

The Mavericks — with their heliocentric offense built around Luka Doncic — have to be at the top of the list.

Dallas could be without Doncic for a few games after he sprained his ankle just minutes into Thursday night’s contest against the Suns. Doncic drove on Cameron Johnson but when he couldn’t get to the rim he stopped, spun, tried to step back, stepped on the foot of Mikal Bridges and rolled his left ankle.

Doncic left the game and he did not return. Dallas can’t afford to be without Doncic for long, it gets outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits. He is an All-Star starter and in the MVP mix. He averages 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Just to prove that last paragraph wrong, the Jazz went out and beat the Suns 99-95 without Doncic behind a season-high 36 points from Spencer Dinwiddie, plus Dorian Finney-Smith chipped in 18 points and 12 rebounds.

3) LeBron, Antetokounmpo captains as All-Star starters named

Last season, Team LeBron won the All-Star Game partly because LeBron James had Giannis Antetokounmpo on his team.

Not this year. It will be Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis, they received the most fan votes in their conferences and will be the captains for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth time LeBron is a captain, and his teams are 5-0.

In a new twist, James and Antetokounmpo will choose their teams right on the court before the game — true playground style. The captains will draft from a pool of starters announced Thursday — selected by a vote of fans, media, and current players — and then the backups from a list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week).

Here are this year’s starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players from each conference):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
Luka Doncic
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic
Zion Williamson

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
Donovan Mitchell
Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jayson Tatum

Joel Embiid was the odd man out of a tight race for the final frontcourt spot in the East (because the fans voted him fourth, the media and players each had him third, but the fans count for 50% of the weighted vote). This will be the first start for Williamson (if he’s healthy enough to play) and Mitchell.