Injuries defining NBA playoffs - what might that mean for Hawks?

If these NBA playoffs came down to talent alone, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers still would be taking up most of the oxygen in the room.

If it were all a matter of coaching, maybe the Boston Celtics at least would have made a little bigger noise than a death rattle. If everything else were equal, then the Clippers-Jazz series would be more basketball art, less anatomy lesson.

Instead, injuries are taking a massive toll on this postseason and assuming an almost unnatural importance in the deciding of a champion. Less is not more when the subject is star power, and the NBA is facing a debilitating drain of guys you want to see play right now.

Already, eight All-Stars have missed at least one playoff game – a record I’m told by those who keep such grim actuarial numbers. A ninth, Phoenix guard Chris Paul, is in COVID-19 limbo. (Memo to the complacent: That still is a thing.)

For those still standing – the Hawks very much included – so much will come down to who wins the sprain and strain and tear lottery. Teams like to believe they have some control over decisive factors such as personnel and strategy, but here is a vital variable that truly is a blind draw, guided by a cruel and indifferent Fate. That’s why when Trae Young rests on the bench with his shoulder bubble-wrapped, all of Atlanta aches. Sympathy pain isn’t just for expectant fathers anymore.

It’s always the way of any competition more physically strenuous than chess that injuries play a role. This NBA postseason seems to be taking that to an extreme.

For instance, in the East, where the Hawks live, the Brooklyn Nets are short-staffed because of an ankle injury to Kyrie Irving. James Harden hasn’t been himself trying to play through hamstring woes. The Big Three there – add Kevin Durant – have played together only eight games this season because of their various pains. They have a viable excuse in their back pocket should they not get past Milwaukee.

And in the Hawks’ series against Philadelphia, the overarching question is which Joel Embiid (knee) will we see day-over-day? The unstoppable freight train in 76ers colors? Or the hobbled big man with all the spring and stability of a two-legged barstool?

The all-seeing, all-knowing James has laid the injury outbreak at the manicured feet of league leadership and the decision to play a condensed season over an even more condensed schedule. Too many games played with too little rest, said the fellow whose L.A. Lakers couldn’t overcome assorted lower body injuries to Anthony Davis in the first round. It’s all the fault of uncaring capitalism, said the earner of $39 million this season.

It required three installments over the limited framework of Twitter for James to get his point across.

I’ll summarize for you:

I told you so.

Don’t you miss me now?

The league countered with its own assertion that the injury rate this season was down a little from the COVID warped season before and in line with the past five years. But, no doubt, injured marquee names such as Boston’s Jaylen Brown (wrist), the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (sprained knee) and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring) have made that high class of player seem more vulnerable.

Let’s get practical here, with the only question that matters locally: How is any of this likely to affect the Hawks?

The Hawks had their share and more of injury issues all season and can only hope they purged themselves of that plague in advance of the postseason. Can’t say that for sure because every future flight to the basket comes with the threat re-entry poses to any number of joints and ligaments. And sure enough, Friday night, Hawks shooter Bogdan Bogdanovic sat out the end of Game 6 with Philadelphia with a sore knee.

Of course, they still miss De’Andre Hunter (knee) and all the promise he brings to both ends of the floor. But everyone still playing is grappling with the consequences of a hard season. In relative terms, the Hawks are in better shape than many, pending Bogdanovic’s condition.

The right-thinking never wish injury upon an opponent – the cheers from the Hawks crowd when Embiid appeared to tweak his knee in Game 3 embarrassed everyone in attendance and invited karma’s cold vengeance.

On the other hand, if by chance injuries line up in such a way to make your path more promising, you have no choice but to try to take advantage. It is the natural, uncompromising law of sport.

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