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.