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The Rundown – 11/22/19: Key Injuries Changing the Landscape, Blazers Lose, Pelicans Win

How tough injuries to Stephen Curry, Gordon Hayward, Nikola Vucevic, Khris Middleton and Eric Gordon have or could change teams' fortunes.

How Injuries Have Already Affected the 2019-20 Season

As is usual every season in recent memory, everyone had their eyes focused on the Golden State Warriors. For the better part of the last five years, you had to go through Golden State if you wanted to have a piece of an NBA Finals celebration and parade in the month of June. It never happened from 2015 forward. In 2014, it was the San Antonio Spurs that were tough to go through.

Today, after injuries and aging players (and coaching philosophies), the West is wide open – in fact, people are circling Golden State and San Antonio on their NBA schedules for an entirely different reason. They know that it’s almost a certain win for their team, given the fact that the Spurs have lost seven straight and are 5-10, after starting 4-0, and Golden State is a paltry 3-13, worst record in the NBA in the strangest of twists of fate.

Let’s look at five key injuries that have made or will make the remaining 68-70 games of this NBA season a bit more interesting (or devastating) than it already is or has been:

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – If things weren’t already bad enough with Kevin Durant (25.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.4 apg as a Golden State Warrior) leaving and Klay Thompson (21.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg) hobbled until at least March, if not the entire season, it was loosely calculated that Stephen Curry would have to average around 40 points per game through 82 for the Warriors to have a sliver of a chance of getting into the playoff picture as the seventh or eighth seed in the wild, wild West. Four games in, Curry would break his hand after an awkward fall with Aron Baynes of the Phoenix Suns. Not only would the Warriors lose their third time in four games, but x-rays would reveal that the three-time champions would also lose their MVP, the face of their franchise. Rumors automatically began to circulate that Curry would sit the season, devote more attention to wife and kids, and the Warriors might be positioned to add Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman or LaMelo Ball to complement a healthy starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and a plug and play center of their choice to be named at a later date and time. Curry, who was averaging 20.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.5 apg at the time of his injury, quickly put the kibosh on that rumor, and is said to be planning on returning this season, and will begin traveling with the team after the first of the year. I’m still hoping for the mock draft, top three pick scenario and a Ball pairing.

Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics – Gordo became sidelined with a fractured left hand after crashing into San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge while setting a pick. After surgery on his hand, the Celtics announced about a six week time table for a return to action. Hayward is about two weeks into that absence so far and word is he’s working through the rehabilitation process with good conditioning. It is his non-dominant hand. Hayward was averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists, all above his career averages through the first eight games of the season. The Celtics have managed very well in his absence, partly because Hayward and the Celtics have been through this before, back in 2017, about five minutes into his first game as a Celtic, when he broke his leg. Boston was 7-1 with Hayward, and 4-2 in his absence. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum have filled in with 22.6 points and 20.9 points, respectively, to lead the Celtics to the second best record in the East (after Milwaukee, who claimed that title with a win over Portland last night).    

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks guard is slated to miss about 3-4 weeks with a leg injury, listed officially as a deep thigh contusion, putting the pressure on Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Eric Bledsoe to step up their game(s) and carry the 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists that Middleton brought to the table through the Bucks’ first 10 games. Milwaukee’s other assets include Donte DiVincenzo, and veterans like Wesley Matthews and Pat Connaughton need to step up and fill the void through Christmas Day. If they wanted, the Bucks could look at people like Joe Johnson or Jonathan Simmons. Andre Iguodala is sitting in limbo on the Memphis Grizzlies’ roster and is looking for a contender to sign with (likely via sign and trade). There are options, and you could always cut a Frank Mason, Cam Reynolds, or Thanasis Antetokuonmpo to get a proven championship caliber guy like Andre Iguodala.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – Probably the most devastating injury to a franchise this side of Stephen Curry is the Orlando Magic losing Nikola Vucevic for the next four weeks. Both Vucevic and teammate Aaron Gordon went down with ankle injuries in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game in Toronto. While Gordon was diagnosed with a bruised right ankle and his return is conditional on how he responds to treatment, Vucevic is out at least four weeks after leaving ScotiaBank Arena on crutches and a walking boot. Vucevic was averaging 17.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, and 3.5 apg and will have to be replaced by Mo Bamba and Khem Birch between now and Christmas. Gordon is averaging 13.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.9 apg.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets – Gordon is a hard one to figure out. I could have, and maybe should have, included Kyrie Irving or John Wall in this slot. But Eric Gordon signed for a boatload of money this offseason and hasn’t lived up to it yet, Averaging only 10.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, and 0.8 apg, Gordon is well below his career averages, given the four year, $76 million extension he signed over the summer. Arthroscopic knee surgery performed last Tuesday put Gordon’s timetable around the first of the year for a 2020 return. While Gordon’s stat line is lower than his pulse, he did bring an energy and an ability to drain clutch shots to the table, which earned him the extension and big bucks. His numbers as a Houston Rocket are at 16.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, and 2.9 apg, but his shot selection are what make him marketable and while Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore should be able to cover his stat game, they may not be sufficient enough to pick the right spots on the floor. Again, I’d be looking for Joe Johnson’s cell number.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors; Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors; Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets; Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers; John Wall, Washington Wizards

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Last night’s games …

Bucks Jump All Over Wounded Trailblazers

Portland Trailblazers (5-10)129
Milwaukee Bucks (11-3)137

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – A 72 to 58 first half butt kicking was all the distance the Milwaukee Bucks needed to keep the Portland Trailblazers at arm’s length, despite a 71-65 second half from the visitors, and walk away with win No. 11 securely tucked away last night. 

Eric Bledsoe rang up a game high 30 points to take some pressure of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokuonmpo, who scored 24, had 19 rebounds and 15 assists. Bledsoe also shot a perfect six of six from the free throw line. Pat Connaughton poured in another 18 on 70 percent shooting, Donte DiVincenzo added 16 and six, Wesley Matthews chipped in 12, and Brook Lopez finished with 10 points. Milwaukee shot 47 percent to Portland’s 48, but murdered the Blazers on the boards, 58-41. It was Antetokuonmpo’s second triple double this season.

Portland was led by C.J. McCollum’s game high 37 points. He also had six rebounds and 10 assists. Anthony Tolliver may have started for the injured Hassan Whiteside, but it was Skal Labissiere who shone off the bench with 62.5 percent shooting to net a 22 and 12 night. Carmelo Anthony finished with 18 and seven on slightly better shooting, Gary Trent Jr. started alongside McCollum and added 13 points on 71.4 percent from the field, and it was 12 points and 11 points from Nassir Little and Rodney Hood, respectively.

Blazers
PTS: C.J. McCollum – 37
REB: Skal Labissiere – 12
AST: C.J. McCollum – 10

Bucks
PTS: Eric Bledsoe – 30
REB: Giannis Antetokuonmpo – 19
AST: Giannis Antetokuonmpo – 15

NEXT UP
Blazers at Cavaliers – Saturday
Pistons at Bucks – Saturday

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Pelicans Swoop in on Suns

New Orleans Pelicans (6-9)124
Phoenix Suns (7-7)121

Phoenix, Arizona – The Phoenix Suns weren’t figured into the Western Conference scene as a contender, even with the hiring of Monty Williams. A flurry of personnel moves still didn’t guarantee them anything this season. But then, the Suns rose quickly with a 6-3 start, including three in a row to bridge the months of October and November and a shocking win over Philadelphia that started teasing people and thinking they had what it takes to be a contender.

After last night, they’re a .500 team since losing four of their last six, including last night to the New Orleans Pelicans. Brandon Ingram scored a game high 28 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, along with eight rebounds and five assists. J.J. Redick added 26 points on 71.4 percent shooting (14 points in the first quarter alone), Jrue Holiday pumped in 23 points and also had nine assists, and E’Twaun Moore finished with 19 on the night.

Phoenix was led by Kelly Oubre, Jr.’s 25 points and six rebounds. Devin Booker had 19 points, five rebounds and seven assists, making last night’s game the second time this season he hasn’t hit 20 points. It was 14 apiece from Frank Kaminsky and Cam Johnson, Elie Okobo added 11 points, and Mikal Bridges scored 12 points, had six rebounds, three assists, and three steals. It was The Suns’ third straight loss. Despite it all, Phoenix still holds the eighth spot in the Western Conference … for now.

Pelicans
PTS: Brandon Ingram – 28
REB: Brandon Ingram – 8
AST: Jrue Holiday – 9
Suns
PTS: Kelly Oubre, Jr. – 25
REB: Kelly Oubre, Jr. – 6, Mikal Bridges – 6
AST: Devin Booker – 7, Elie Okobo – 7

NEXT UP
Suns at Timberwolves – Saturday
Pelicans at Utah – Saturday

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TONIGHT’S GAMES/MY PICK ‘EMS
Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons – 7 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Detroit
Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards – 7 p..m. EST – NBC Sports Washington
Sacramento Kings at Brooklyn Nets – 7:30 p.m. EST – YES
Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls – 8 p.m. EST – NBC Sports Chicago
San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers – 8 p.m. EST – ESPN
Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder – 8 p.m. EST – Spectrum SportsNet
Cleveland Cavaliers at Dallas Mavericks – 8:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southwest
Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets – 9 p.m. EST – NBC Sports Boston
Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz – 9 p.m. EST – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers – 10:30 p.m. EST – ESPN

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The Rundown w/T-Money is a daily column “all things NBA” that will run through the entirety of the season, and the playoffs through the NBA Finals
Tracy Graven is a Senior Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA for the last two decades and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in Orlando, Boise (G League), San Antonio, Phoenix, and Oklahoma City.
He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife and five children.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia

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