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Injuries to Paul, Curry could alter history but that's nothing new

Injuries to Paul, Curry could alter history but that's nothing new

Injuries change everything, to which teams advance in the playoffs to who wins a championship to whom gets fired as coach. Chris Paul broke a bone in his right hand last night as his L.A. Clippers fell into a 2-2 tie with the Portland Trail Blazers. Stephen Curry is out at least two weeks with a right knee sprain while his Golden State Warriors lead the Houston Rockets 3-1. If it weren't for injuries, Scott Brooks probably wouldn't be the Wizards' coach right now.

Brooks was fired by the Oklahoma City Thunder after the 2014-15 season when they missed the playoffs for the first time in his first full season as head coach. They still won 45 games despite losing Kevin Durant for (55 games), Serge Ibaka (18) and Russell Westbrook (15) -- his three best players -- to injuries.

Brooks, who agreed to a five-year deal worth $35 million last week, is expected to be introduced at Verizon Center on Wednesday now that it has been finalized.

Brooks won 62% of his regular-season games with Oklahoma City, went to three conference finals and the NBA Finals. But Billy Donovan has taken over the Thunder while Brooks sat out this past season as the Wizards struggled to a 41-41 finish and out of the postseason.

Beyond that, if John Wall hadn't broken his left hand and wrist in the conference semifinals last season, would the Wizards have gotten past the Atlanta Hawks rather than losing in six games? Probably. Would that have positively impacted the franchise in the offseason in terms of luring that one big-name free agent that could've helped them get back to the postseason? Who knows. 

But just as the Clippers' chances seemed to improve in the West when Curry went down on Sunday, they went into the tank with Paul likely being done for the playoffs and Blake Griffin also re-injuring the left thigh that ruined his regular season.

Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the Finals on the back of LeBron James after losing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Now all three are healthy though the Cavs are hardly a lock to repeat in the East.

The 67-win San Antonio Spurs are pretty good (and healthy). The Miami Heat (minus Chris Bosh) are embroiled in a 2-2 series with the Charlotte Hornets (minus Nic Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Both would be significant threats to the Cavs, and still are despite their problems.

The march to the NBA Finals is a marathon. It's an 82-game season and then the first team to win 16 times in the postseason. If the Clippers falter, they'll look a lot different than next year and who knows what that means for coach Doc Rivers.

During the 2010 NBA Finals when Rivers was coach of the Boston Celtics, they lost Kendrick Perkins while leading that series 3-2. Is losing Perkins on par with the loss of Curry or Paul talent for talent? Absolutely not. But it was a series-changing loss for Boston which was thin in the low post. 

Rasheed Wallace provided quality minutes in Game 7 but his back spasms flared up and he couldn't play. Glen "Big Baby" Davis wasn't a low post option, especially when the Lakers had the likes of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum inside. So yes, losing Perkins who was a bruiser was a major loss and the Lakers came back to win that series. The Lakers were plus-13 in rebounding in each of Games 6 and 7 (compared to minus-5, minus-7 and minus-1 in the three games Boston won with Perkins).

Rivers would leave Boston a few years later for L.A. Perkins would never be the same player. For that matter, neither would Kobe Bryant but he earned his fifth championship and finally beat the Celtics in the Finals. 

Just like that, history changes on a dime. If Golden State can persevere without Curry for this stretch and still win the championship after a 73-win regular season this one will be even greater. 

If the Cavs can win now that they're at optimum health so be it. But no one gets a free pass because everyone gets injured. What if Griffin didn't get injured during the regular season? Do the Clippers get a higher seed to put them in better position to advance in these playoffs? What if the Spurs had a major injury (they didn't) would they be a No. 2 seed?

Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks lost their starting small forward, Caron Butler, to a knee injury at midseason and lost starting guard Roddy Beaubois after 28 games and still upset the more talented Heat with James for the 2011 championship. And they swept Bryant's defending champion Lakers in the process.

The Mavs had more time to adjust but it can be done. It requires a superb coach with a system that doesn't disintegrate when one part goes missing. It requires one player who can still get his shot no matter what the opponent throws at him. It requires belief even when the likes of a Brian Cardinal has to take the floor. It also requires a will that can't be measured by any statistic.

If a team doesn't have those qualities, and the Cavs did not last season, they won't overcome. The jury is still out on the Clippers and Warriors. 

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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