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Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: April 28, 7:30 PM ET
Key playoff injury concerns

By Stephania Bell
ESPN.com

There has been no shortage of injuries in a shortened NBA season. Whether the altered schedule has contributed to the plethora of injuries is unclear, but the only thing that matters for teams still in contention is that those blows come to a halt now. For those players who have recently been on the receiving end of such injuries, the question is whether there is enough time for them to heal to the point where they can contribute effectively. Not all those who are ailing will be able to make it back in time for the playoffs, but for the overwhelming majority, there are at least some encouraging signs. Their teams are holding out hope they can at least hang on until their stars can return.

Howard
Howard

Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
Injury: Herniated disc, lumbar spine (low back)
When It Happened: It's not necessarily possible to pinpoint when a disc begins to structurally decline, but Howard began having symptoms in the form of spasms and missed his first game on April 1. He returned to play four days later but was ineffective. A better performance two days later was encouraging, but two days later Howard was out again, this time for good.
Status: Howard underwent surgery on April 20 to remove the problematic disc fragment and alleviate pressure on the affected nerve. The procedure, a microdiscectomy, is a minimally invasive procedure designed to cause minimal trauma to the surrounding soft tissues. While Howard won't be able to compete in the playoffs or this summer's Olympics, the hope is that he will be ready to participate in training camp this fall. In fact, Howard was up and walking through the hospital the day after surgery. He will undergo a structured, supervised rehab program directed primarily at training the core abdominal musculature that supports the spine. Howard will remain in California for the next three weeks during the initial phase of his rehabilitation. While Howard's staying away from Orlando may lend itself to many interpretations, the fact is long plane flights are not conducive to recovery from back surgery. If all progresses well, Howard should be able to return to basketball activities within the next three to four months.

Rose
Rose

Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls
Injury: Which one, you ask? Rose has dealt with a multitude of injuries, including back spasms and a groin strain, but most recently a sore right foot and a sprained ankle have been giving him trouble.
When It Happened: The ankle started bothering Rose after he injured it in a game in early April. The foot soreness ensued about a week later.
Status: After missing more than 25 games (nearly 40 percent of the regular season!), Rose was able to play in two of the final three games of the season (the final game was a deliberate choice by the team to rest him). Given his challenges throughout the season, including just recently, it would be na´ve to think Rose is out of the woods for the playoffs. While the injuries have been reported as separate events, it is difficult to imagine they are entirely unrelated. It just seems as if Rose's body could never catch up. For instance, it was in Rose's first game back from the groin injury that he sprained his ankle. His performances since mid-March have been inconsistent at best but largely underwhelming in general, no doubt a reflection that his body is just not at full strength. Perhaps it will require an entire offseason for him to fully recover from these successive blows, but the Bulls are hoping he can not only survive but deliver during the playoff push. It won't be for lack of effort, but rather the physical impairments that likely will prevent Rose from playing like his 2011 MVP self. (Note: Rose tore his ACL late in Game 1 of the playoff opener against the Sixers and is done for the rest of the season.)

Bryant
Bryant

Kobe Bryant, G, Los Angeles Lakers
Injury: Left shin, tenosynovitis (inflammation of tendon sheath which causes pain as the tendon slides within the sheath, in Bryant's case during flexing of the foot and ankle)
When It Happened: Bryant was kicked in the shin on March 31 in a game against the New Orleans Hornets. The area became progressively more painful to the point where it hurt Bryant just to flex his foot. Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti told the Los Angeles Times in early April that when the injury was not improving with Bryant trying to play through it, the only option became to shut him down completely. Bryant wore a walking boot around the clock and missed seven games while he continued to rehab the leg.
Status: Bryant returned to a bit of a slow start in his first game back on April 20, playing just 30 minutes. Most importantly, however, he showed no signs of discomfort either during or afterward. By the following outing on April 22, Bryant looked more like himself while playing the majority of the game. The Lakers opted to rest him for the season finale. The expectation is that Bryant will be ready to go for the playoffs, but as is the case with any inflammatory condition, the possibility exists that it could flare up again. Don't expect that possibility to hold Bryant back when it comes to the playoffs.

Stoudemire
Stoudemire

Amare Stoudemire, C, New York Knicks
Injury: Bulging disc, lumbar spine
When It Happened: As noted with Dwight Howard, there is no way to pinpoint definitively when the actual structure of the disc becomes compromised, but Stoudemire's troubles this season began with back spasms in late March. Stoudemire has dealt with back pain in the past, as recently as last season.
Status: Stoudemire received an epidural injection (an injection directly into the involved area in the spine to help combat inflammation) and underwent physical therapy. After sitting out for 13 games, he was able to return on April 20 and play the final four games of the regular season. The most important outcome was Stoudemire's ability to get through those games without a recurrence of his symptoms, which bodes well for the playoffs. Back problems are known for being repeat offenders, as Stoudemire is aware, but the hope is that his recent efforts at managing it will pay off down the stretch.

Lin
Lin

Jeremy Lin, G, New York Knicks
Injury: Meniscus tear, left knee
When It Happened: Lee began having soreness in his knee in late March, although it's unclear when the injury actually happened.
Status: Lin underwent surgery on April 2 and was initially projected to miss approximately six weeks. After initial range of motion and strength work, Lin has begun jogging and shooting, even working in some light practice this week. The main goal currently is to gradually increase the level of Lin's basketball activity without overdoing the effort and suffering a setback. According to ESPN New York, coach Mike Woodson is hopeful Lin could return for the second round of the playoffs, assuming the Knicks find themselves there.

Allen
Allen

Ray Allen, G, Boston Celtics
Injury: Bone spurs, right ankle
When It Happened: In mid-April, the team indicated Allen was dealing with a "sore" right ankle; a subsequent MRI revealed the spurs.
Status: Originally, Allen was expected to play when the playoffs started despite missing 14 games with the injury. After not practicing Friday, Allen's status came into question, and it is now looking very possible that Allen could miss the first playoff contest. Naturally, that does not bode exceptionally well for him going forward, but it looks as if his status will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. Spurs, which typically cause pain as they limit joint motion, will not go away on their own, so it becomes a question of whether Allen will be able to function in their presence.

Horford
Horford

Al Horford, C, Atlanta Hawks
Injury: Torn left pectoral muscle
When It Happened: Jan. 11. Horford heard a "pop" while going up against the Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert for a rebound.
Status: Horford underwent surgery to repair his torn pectoral muscle on Jan. 17. He was cleared for contact work exactly three months later. Still, it takes additional time to regain full strength of the muscle. That weakness may have made Horford apprehensive about returning too soon, and he will not be available for the first round of the playoffs. Horford may be able to participate in the second round should the Hawks advance, but it's safe to say he would not be at full strength.

Harden
Harden

James Harden, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Injury: Harden absorbed an elbow to the back of the head from Metta World Peace and it knocked him to the floor. He was able to walk off the court under his own power but was diagnosed with a concussion.
When It Happened: April 22
Status: Harden sat out the final two games of the regular season following the concussion. He was cleared to return to practice after passing league-mandated concussion tests and is expected to be available for the first round of the playoffs. According to the Oklahoman, Harden will not be on any type of minute restriction when he returns.

Gasol
Gasol

Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Injury: Left knee bone bruise
When It Happened: On April 15, Gasol hyperextended his knee, resulting in the bruise.
Status: Originally, it appeared as if Gasol would miss the game following his injury, but he was able to not only play, but do so for more than 30 minutes. His knee clearly tolerated the action, as Gasol was able to finish out the regular season. So far the knee has not appeared to be a limiting factor, nor has the sprained right ankle that caused him to miss a game in late March. Expect Gasol to be available as usual during the playoffs.