Injuries Give Western Conference Round 2 Extra Intrigue

downloadIt’s unfortunate that injuries exist—that some of the top teams have to go into the playoffs not at full strength. It’s part of the game, though, and it certainly adds a wrinkle to potential outcomes.

This year, we’ve seen some of the bigger stars go down, primarily in the West.

The Golden State Warriors were the favorites to win the championship coming into the playoffs. They’re coming off the greatest regular season in NBA history, posting a 73-9 record. Stephen Curry was lights out for an entire 82 games, shattering his own three-point record and becoming the first player to ever knock down 400 long-range shots.

Round 1 of the playoffs changed everything for the Dubs. Stephen Curry suffered an MCL sprain that has held him out of action since the first half of Game 1. Still, Golden State easily handled the Houston Rockets in five games and now head to the conference semi-finals to face off against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Wait, what?

The Blazers were ranked as one of the bottom five teams during the preseason by many media outlets. Losing four of their starters, including All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, wasn’t going to be easy to overcome. However, C.J. McCollum’s emergence gave Portland one of the league’s most prolific backcourts. Damian Lillard and McCollum averaged 46 points per game, with the latter winning this year’s Most Improved Player Award. The Blazers entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, much to everyone’s surprise.

The Los Angeles Clippers held a 2-1 lead against Portland during Round 1, and seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Chris Paul was having big games as was Blake Griffin, who looked unstoppable at times. Toward the end of Game 4, though, both Paul and Griffin suffered season ending injuries. The former suffered a hand fracture while Griffin re-aggravated a previous quad injury. The Blazers won Game 4 and the following two contests to finish the Clippers off in six.

At first, it seemed like the Curry injury was going to benefit the Clippers. Chris Paul would’ve been a much tougher matchup for Shaun Livingston than Houston’s Patrick Beverly, and Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would cause the same problems they cause for everyone else in the league. Without Curry’s 30 points per game, the Warriors were likely to run into some problems considering LA is just a better overall team than the Rockets.

Now, the Warriors get the Blazers instead, which is still no cake walk. They’ll still face the same issue they would’ve faced with a healthy Clippers team. Lillard is a big-time scorer, and he even handed the Warriors one of their nine losses during the regular season when he led the Blazers with a 51-point outburst.

Golden State still has the superior team, and it showed it by protecting homecourt through its first two games. However, there is a likelihood Curry misses the entire series despite his desire to return as soon as Game 3, per ESPN. Head coach Steve Kerr remains patient while his MVP rehabs, and rightfully so as the Warriors have shown they can win without Curry.

Once Curry does returns, it’ll likely still take him a game or two to get back to speed. The Blazers can make a competitive push in this series, especially if Lillard and McCollum are firing on all cylinders. The Blazers’ dynamic backcourt averaged over 55 points against the Warriors during the regular.

The playoffs have certainly been changed due to injury, and let’s not mention some of the officiating debacles we’ve seen in the past few game nights. The NBA’s Officiating Report revealed there were eight incorrect non-calls in the final two minutes—five in the last 13 seconds—of Game 2 between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. There was also a big miss in Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers.

Still, the favorites to come out of the Western Conference are the Spurs and Warriors, despite the Curry injury. The league MVP will likely be back by the time Round 3 starts should Golden State advance. If San Antonio advances, we could be seeing the greatest playoff matchup of all time, just in terms of regular-season record and performance.

If Oklahoma City advances, though, there will be no shortage of star power and high-powered offenses running back and forth. After all, these two clubs gave us the best game of the 2015-16 season.

Injuries are impossible to predict, so let’s just hope and cross our fingers that no more major losses occur for the remaining eight teams.