The broken face of the playoffs

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
5:45
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Manu Ginobili
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
Injuries are more the rule than the exception for top players in the 2010 playoffs.

There was a moment shortly before halftime on Monday night when the Suns' Goran Dragic barreled headlong into Tim Duncan's carefully sleeved left knee.

It was a classic case of youth, verve and momentum meeting experience, age and grit.

Ouch.

Duncan had already been moving gingerly -- no, he would not be able to get between a quickly moving Amare Stoudemire and the basket -- and this only made matters worse.

As he stood there, tenderly attempting to flex and weight the knee in the aftermath, I had this feeling of: Well, that's a shame. It'd be fun to see Tim Duncan at his healthy best.

One must be resilient as an NBA fan, however. So we'll watch Steve Nash instead. But wait, he has recently been complaining of some kind of serious hip trouble, to complement his ongoing back issues. Bring on Manu Ginobili! He's playing well enough, but he is wearing a mini-trapeze on his face, apparently to keep his nose in place. (Doctors have designed him a fantastic Hannibal Lecter mask, but he refuses to wear it.)

All this came shortly after watching LeBron "elbow bruise" James underperform against a defense led by Kevin "knees will never be the same" Garnett. In the other West series, it's worth checking in to see if Kobe Bryant can jump again. If he can't, his teammate Andrew "partially torn meniscus" Bynum better have a great game, or else Deron "bruised left elbow" Williams, Carlos "it's always something" Boozer might sneak the road win, even if they aren't joined by Andrei "strained left calf" Kirilenko and Mehmet "Achilles ended the season early" Okur.

In other words: Lots of the best players in these playoffs are banged up.

If you take the 15 players who made last year's first, second or third All-NBA teams, you know how many of them are anything close to full strength and alive in the playoffs? You could just barely pull together a starting five:
  • Out of the first five, there's one, Dwight Howard. (Bryant and James are banged up, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki are watching on TV.)
  • Out of the second five, I guess banged up Paul Pierce counts as healthy. (Duncan is moving slowly, Yao Ming and Chris Paul missed big time, and Brandon Roy was sent home by the Suns.)
  • Out of the third five, Pau Gasol is functioning nicely, Shaquille O'Neal is a shadow of his former self, Tony Parker is great but not the athlete he once was, and Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups have been knocked out.

By this measure, one round into the playoffs, injuries or losses have slowed or stopped more than two-thirds of the league's biggest names.

It's never a bad time to resurrect the idea that the NBA season may be too long and too hard on players' bodies. But assuming that won't change any time soon, don't you find yourself wishing they could just hit the pause button and give everybody a week off? The basketball would improve enough, I presume, after some time on the beach to heal, that we'd soon stop missing Ginobili's amusing face full of tape.

Henry Abbott | email

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