As the 2012 NBA postseason continues on, playoff injuries have mounted. Due to the lockout-compressed season, many big names have fallen prey to the injury bug. While most teams are concerned about playoff chances without their All-Star players, the misfortunes of the league’s top players could directly put USA Men’s Basketball hopes of Olympic gold in jeopardy.
In Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series, Los Angeles Clippers All-Stars, and Olympic team finalist, forward Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul, both sustained injuries in the Clippers’ 92-80 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedExForum. CP3 jammed the middle finger on his right hand in the first quarter before straining his right hip flexor in the fourth-quarter. Paul re-aggravated the same right groin that had kept him sidelined during the Clippers’ regular-season finale, in a loss to the Knicks, which ultimately cost L.A. the No. 4 seed. He finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, but grimaced early in the fourth and was forced to sit out as the Clippers trailed by eight and attempted another late rally– but to no avail.
Griffin went down after a hard foul from Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, suffering a sprained left knee –the same knee that sidelined him for his entire rookie season with a broken patella– towards the end of the third. Despite the initial scare, Griffin was able return to the game in the fourth quarter, to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes, but it was clearly visible that the knee hindered his ability on the court.
Griffin and Paul’s mishaps are the latest in a string of player misfortune that is an increasing concern for teams in the playoffs. Injuries have greatly altered the outlook of this year’s postseason, as the top-seeded Chicago Bulls have seen their championship hopes extinguished after losing former MVP Derrick Rose six to nine months to a torn ACL in Game 1 and starting center Joakim Noah to a sprained ankle in Game 3 of their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers advanced passed the Bulls 4-2 to become only the fifth, eighth seeded team, to upset a No. 1 seed in NBA history. The sixth-seed Orlando Magic were easily disposed off by the third-seed Indiana Pacers in round one. The Magic were forced to play without their dominant center Dwight Howard, who underwent season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. With CP3 and Griffin injured –and forward Caron Butler playing with a fractured hand, suffered in Game 1– the Clippers can ill afford a Game 7 back in Memphis. But more importantly than the playoffs– Team USA’s chances of Olympic gold-medal repeat is endangered without D.Rose, Howard, Paul and Griffin on the squad.
According to a USA Today report, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo asked for and received an extension on selecting the final 12-man roster for the men’s Olympic team. The original deadline set by the U.S. Olympic Committee was June 18, but Colangelo will now have until July 8, two days after the start of training camp in Las Vegas, to submit the final roster.
After losing Howard and Rose, the U.S. recently added Oklahoma City Thunder swingman James Harden and the Naismith and collegiate Player of the Year Anthony Davis to its pool of finalists. Now with CP3 and B. Griff’s status unclear, Colangelo will have to re-evaluate his 18 player pool, before selecting his 12-man roster.
Davis, who is expected to be the No.1 overall pick in the NBA draft, led Kentucky to the NCAA championship, winning the Most Outstanding Player award at the Final Four. Thunder guard Harden, who helped OKC sweep the defending NBA champion the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, en route to being named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, is a bona fide starter for any team. Davis and Harden join Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Lamar Odom, as the remaining healthy finalists. Paul and Griffin are also finalists, but with recent injuries, their status is uncertain.
Granted, Team USA has enough weapons to sweep the globe in the tournament –with two of the top players in the world in Kobe and LeBron locked in– but as we’ve seen in recent years the gap between USA basketball and the rest of the world is closing. With the Americans frontcourt decimated by injury, the U.S. will face tough competition in Group A of the Olympic games. The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker and swingman Manu Ginobili both threaten Team USA’s gold-medal defense. Parker will lead France (possibly alongside Noah) and Ginobili will try to bring the gold back to Argentina, who won the coveted prize in Athens in 2004 and gold during the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship. Tunisia rounds out the group.
But it is Spain who poses a real threat to Team USA. Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol will lead the second-ranked squad in the world with his brother Marc Gasol– sans Ricky Rubio, who tore the ACL in his left knee against the Lakers back in March– to avenge their lost to the Redeem Team in the tightly-contested gold medal game in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. With D.Howard out and Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star center LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined for the year with an abnormality in his right hip, the brothers Gasol stand tall as a formidable challenge to the U.S. repeating as gold-medalist.
As the deadline nears, Colangelo can only hope that we have seen the worst. But he will be prepared to assemble the best team USA Men’s basketball has to offer. The Americans have stared down adversity before and prevailed. Now, it’s up to Colangelo to find the right core to bring home the gold.