In one day, the balance of power in both the Eastern and Western Conference Playoffs shifted dramatically.
“[It is] tough, man, especially with everything I’ve been through pretty much this season,” Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant said, per ESPN NBA insider Tim MacMahon on April 16. “My main focus was to be out there for my guys. It’s another incident where that’s pretty much in jeopardy.”
Morant suffered a hand injury on a nasty-looking fall in the fourth quarter of Memphis’ 128-112 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He immediately went back to the Grizzlies locker room and was quickly ruled out.
X-rays on the hand came back negative, according to head coach Taylor Jenkins.
— Diamond Dog (@DiamondDogzzz) April 16, 2023
Morant was not the only one that suffered a serious injury. Lakers’ star Anthony Davis seemed to suffer a serious shoulder injury that wound up being just a scare.
Elsewhere things were much more concerning.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a back injury after a hard fall during a 130-117 loss to the Miami Heat in their Game 1 matchup. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said that Antetokounmpo’s scans also came back “clear”.
“We’ll monitor him and see how he wakes up tomorrow,” said Budenholzer.
In that very same game, Heat star Tyler Herro suffered what turned out to be a broken hand. Head coach Erik Spoelstra said the guard is out for the remainder of the postseason.
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro broke the middle and ring finger on his shooting hand and is expected to be out approximately 4-6 weeks, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) April 17, 2023
The injury bug was not done either with Los Angeles Clippers backup big man Mason Plumlee suffering a dislocated finger against the Phoenix Suns.
Winning an NBA title is never easy but a few teams figure to benefit the most.
Playoffs Set Up for Historic Showdown
Pending the full update on Antetokounmpo, and without completely writing off the Heat despite the loss of Herro, the East is now set up nicely for the Boston Celtics to make a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Assuming they finish what they started against the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers – who are up 1-0 on the Brooklyn Nets – in the second round would be their toughest matchup on paper. The Cleveland Cavaliers or New York Knicks may feel they have something to say about that but neither has more of a chance than the 76ers.
Out West, this is an obvious boost for the Lakers who, depending on how long Morant is out, could use the rest of this series to fine-tune things on both sides of the ball.
Their trade deadline moves have clearly paid off.
"I see the type of player he is, but he can become…in order for us to reach the goal that we want to reach, he has to be a huge part of that." @KingJames on Rui Hachimura's ceiling following Game 1 pic.twitter.com/LFfBJE5A6K
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 16, 2023
But the West is even more wide open than the East with four teams boasting legitimate playoff experience. That is not even including the Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, or even the third-seeded Sacramento Kings.
Weakening the No. 2 seed helps everybody.
Injuries Impacting NBA Playoffs
The most troubling part about all of this is that we are just in the opening games of these series. Injuries are a part of the game. And they have played a prominent role in multiple title runs both positively and negatively. It all just depends on which side of the injury report your team lands on.
There will be more names added and players taken off the floor by injuries. Whoever stays healthy and/or withstands those losses will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.