For a little while, it looked like the landscape of the league might change. LeBron James strained his groin on Christmas against the Golden State Warriors, and amateur lip-readers noticed him saying he felt a pop. This could have been a major blow for a Los Angeles Lakers team that has exceeded expectations thus far, but they got lucky when they found out it wouldn’t keep him out for long.
A couple recent and relevant injury updates: Chris Paul remains out with a strained hamstring and Markelle Fultz might actually play another game this season.
We have every single NBA injury chronicled here and updated often to let you know who is in or out each night and beyond. But this page will look at the most important injuries in the NBA and how they are affecting teams and players moving forward.
NBA’s biggest injuries
Dec. 27 update: The Lakers managed to hang on and blow out the Warriors on Christmas Day after James left the game in the third quarter with a groin injury. An MRI revealed nothing more serious than a strain, and James tweeted on Wednesday that he had “dodged a bullet.” He didn’t travel with the team to Sacramento and will miss Thursday’s game, but he will be day-to-day after that. The Lakers begin a four-game homestand when they host the Clippers on Friday.
Paul strained his left hamstring in the Rockets’ 101-99 loss in Miami on Dec. 20, but they earned good wins over the Spurs and Thunder after that. The front office addressed their sudden lack of backcourt depth by signing Austin Rivers on Christmas Eve, and he fared well in his first appearance. If Rivers ends up being a good fit in Houston for the rest of the season, then perhaps there will be a silver lining to what looked like a devastating turn of events. The Rockets have won seven of their last eight games, with James Harden again playing MVP-caliber ball.
The Raptors thought Lowry would return to the lineup on Wednesday in Miami, but his back flared up in the morning. He’s already been ruled out for Friday’s game against the Magic. Incredibly, through 36 games, Lowry has only played with Kawhi Leonard 21 times — in the other 15, one of Toronto’s stars has played without the other, per The Athletic’s Blake Murphy. Regardless, the Raptors have the league’s best record, and Fred VanVleet has averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 46.4 percent and 44.4 percent from 3-point range in nine starts.
Washington has been without Porter for eight games — he hurt his right knee on Dec. 10 in Indiana — and it sure could use him. The Wizards are 13-22 and have lost eight of 10, and they needed three overtimes and 40 points from Bradley Beal to beat the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 22. Still, they are only four games out of the playoffs in the East, and a healthy Porter is essential if they still care about salvaging this season.
Prince has been sidelined since hurting his left ankle late in the Hawks’ loss to the Warriors on Dec. 3, and coach Lloyd Pierce said Wednesday that the forward has only done light shooting and likely won’t be back until January, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore. The injury has resulted in a return to the starting lineup for Kent Bazemore, who tied a career high with 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting in a loss to the Pacers on Wednesday.
Raymond Brothers, Fultz’s agent, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the guard has been regaining strength and mobility in his shoulder and will return to the court before the end of the regular season. This followed Sixers general manager Elton Brand telling reporters that he couldn’t say whether or not he would play again this season. Fultz has mainly been working out in Los Angeles, but he was in Boston for Philadelphia’s Christmas Day game and a member of the team’s medical staff reportedly attended each of his meetings with specialists.
Waiters hasn’t played in more than a year, but has been cleared to take contact and said that he could have played last weekend if the Heat wanted him to. Waiters also said his ankle still sometimes feels funny, and the discomfort would likely persist for at least a little while. Miami had won five straight games before blowing a lead against the Raptors on Wednesday, and, when Waiters returns, he will have to adjust to a team that has a different feel to when he last suited up — Goran Dragic is hurt, Dwyane Wade is back, Justise Winslow is playing point guard and Josh Richardson is the Heat’s go-to-guy.
Mbah a Moute’s sore left knee was not seen as a big deal when it started bothering him two months ago, but it wound up derailing his season. He tweeted on Monday that he will be back “soon,” but the Clippers have yet to officially update his status. When he does return, they will be an even more versatile team than they already are, but coach Doc Rivers will have an even tougher time trying to balance their rotation.
This is a bummer: Despite the fact Parsons has been cleared to return from yet another bout of knee trouble, he will remain a “healthy inactive” for now, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff did not rule out the possibility of Parsons playing before the end of the calendar year, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening.
Dec. 21 update: The Knicks announced Friday that Porzingis would be re-evaluated in mid-February, a year after he had surgery to repair his ACL. According to the team, his knee is “healing well” (!) and he has made “good progress with rehabilitation” (!!) and will do on-court work with his teammates once he has reached “the remaining rehab benchmarks” (!!!). Reminder: On Nov. 13, GQ published a story quoting Porzingis as saying his rehab was “coming to an end” and his return was so close that he “can taste it.” Regardless, I don’t know any New York fans who are desperate to see him come back as soon as possible — they’re all too focused on Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.
Dragic had surgery on his troublesome knee on Wednesday after only appearing in two games in the last month. This will keep him out an additional two months, which is rough news but at least gets rid of the ambiguity about when he might come back and save the day. On the season, the Heat are 22nd in net rating, but have outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Dragic on the court. The good news, however, is that they have won their last three games without him. Their defense is good enough for them to turn this season around.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday that Teague, who has missed their last two games with an ankle injury, won’t be back for another week to 10 days. Derrick Rose played a whopping 38 minutes (and scored 33 points) in Minnesota’s loss to Detroit on Wednesday, and Tyus Jones will continue to get backup point guard minutes. The biggest change in the rotation without Teague, though, is the reemergence of rookie wing Josh Okogie, who had basically been buried since the Jimmy Butler trade.
Mirotic could still be a few games away, per the New Orleans Times Picayune, and he has missed the Pelicans‘ last three games since aggravating an ankle injury. Julius Randle was putting up big numbers as a starter, but he’s now dealing with an ankle injury himself. Why can’t New Orleans ever be whole?
Bagley suffered a bone bruise in his left knee against the Warriors a week ago, and remains sidelined. He’s missed the last three games, and forward Troy Williams has benefited the most in terms of picking up minutes. The biggest news he has made recently, though, has nothing to do with his injury: Kings coach Dave Joerger essentially said he was the next Kevin Durant, which, I mean, wow.
Baynes had been in the Celtics’ starting lineup in place of Horford when he broke his left hand two minutes into Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix. Boston is extremely deep, but its depth is being tested now — Baynes will miss four to six weeks, and coach Brad Stevens will have to rely on Daniel Theis and Robert Williams until Horford is back.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t officially rule Smith out until after Christmas, but he said it’s unlikely that the guard will play on their road trip. Smith has missed seven of their last eight games, which has resulted in Luka Doncic putting up even more ridiculous numbers than usual and another rookie, Jalen Brunson, showing that he is ready for more minutes than he’d been getting.
The backup big man sprained his ankle in the Bulls’ 96-93 loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday, and the team announced he’d be out for two to four weeks. Portis has only played nine games this season, which is certainly not what he or Chicago had in mind after he looked so good in training camp and had 20 points and 11 rebounds on opening night. If there’s a silver lining here for Bulls fans, it’s that the team needs to tank anyway and rookie Chandler Hutchison could see an uptick in playing time.
Dec. 14 update: The big man was having the best statistical season of his career before landing on Malcolm Brogdon’s foot on Monday, and will now be out two-to-four weeks. Cleveland started Channing Frye in Thompson’s place on Wednesday, but the bulk of the center minutes went to Larry Nance Jr. Thanks to Thompson, the Cavs had been a decent rebounding team and an excellent offensive rebounding team, even without Kevin Love, but that will no longer be the case for a while.
Valanciunas scored six points and grabbed seven boards in just eight minutes in Oakland on Wednesday before a nasty collision with Draymond Green dislocated his thumb. Mostly coming off the bench, Valanciunas has only played 18.8 minutes per game but never averaged more points, a credit to him thriving in his role and the Raptors making a point to involve him in the offense. In his absence, Toronto can turn to veteran Greg Monroe, give two-way player Chris Boucher (who dropped 47 points for Raptors 905 on Wednesday before his call up) a chance or take a look at small lineups with Pascal Siakam at center.
The good news: Cousins has been practicing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, playing five-on-five and even dunking. The bad news: He likely won’t be back until January or even February. Cousins said Wednesday that he’s in a good place but his legs are “extremely fatigued,” via the San Francisco Chronicle. In the meantime, Golden State coach Steve Kerr is pleased with Kevon Looney, saying that he has “firmly established himself as our best center” and will keep starting until Cousins’ return, via The Athletic.
Dec. 9 update: Millsap is integral to Denver’s fourth-ranked defense, and the team has also been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better on offense with him on the court this season. As long as he’s out, Trey Lyles will get major minutes, and coach Michael Malone will have to figure out whether or not he is comfortable giving Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee more minutes together. As we saw last season, the Nuggets are a completely different team without Millsap, but his absence will be felt even more now that two other starters — Gary Harris and Will Barton — are out of the lineup.
Harris is not having his most efficient season, but Denver still relies on him to fill in the gaps as a playmaker, floor spacer and defender. This team is now awfully thin on the wing, with Torrey Craig forced to start at shooting guard and Juancho Hernangomez at small forward. The Nuggets are lucky that Monte Morris has been so solid; Malone will play the backup point guard next to Jamal Murray in the backcourt when he can get away with it.
Reporters watched Roberson’s post-practice work on Nov. 29 and came away impressed, and Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he has “been on a really good track,” per The Oklahoman’s Erik Horne. A day later, the team announced he’d suffered a setback in his recovery, as an MRI revealed an avulsion fracture, and he would be re-evaluated in six weeks. Oklahoma City deserves all sorts of credit for having the best defense in the whole league without Roberson, who is a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber stopper when healthy.
Jones had surgery on Wednesday, and he might be out for the remainder of the season. The Warriors announced he will “begin the rehab process” six weeks after the surgery. Jones had started in 22 of his 24 games this season, but only averaged 17.4 minutes — Golden State takes a platoon approach to the center position. If he’s done for the year, Golden State will rely on Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell in addition to the still-sidelined Cousins as its traditional 5s. Of course, its best look in the playoffs will probably remain Green playing “center” with Kevin Durant next to him in the frontcourt.
Nov. 29 update: Love appeared on ESPN’s The Jump with Channing Frye and former teammate Richard Jefferson on Nov. 20 and said that he expected to return “after the new year.” He had surgery in early November and has been seen rehabbing without a walking boot recently, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor. The Cavs were probably never going to be good this season — they started 0-4 with Love in the lineup — but his absence has been devastating to their hopes of being competitive. Cleveland is 24th in offensive rating and 29th in effective field goal percentage largely because it hasn’t had the guy who was supposed to be the focal point of its attack. The bright side: It will all but certainly keep its top-10-protected first-round pick now.
There is never a good time to suffer an ugly leg injury, but it’s particularly awful when you’re playing at an elite level for the first time. LeVert wasn’t even penciled in as a starter before he started schooling everybody in scrimmages a couple of months ago, but he was so phenomenal at the beginning of the season that the Nets were thinking big. He might have been an All-Star this season, and he might have led them to the playoffs. Since he went down, Brooklyn has gone 2-6, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: Its offense is extremely dependent on Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell, and fourth-quarter execution has been a major problem. LeVert is obviously missed, but at least the damage wasn’t as serious as it looked live.
The hyperactive Barton isn’t usually thought of as a calming presence, but I believe he could bring some stability to a Denver team that has been excellent in the big picture but, sometimes frustratingly, inconsistent. While Juancho Hernangomez, Torrey Craig and Malik Beasley have largely held the fort, I’ll bet the Nuggets wouldn’t have lost six of seven games in the middle of the month if Barton was filling the gaps for them. They need his playmaking, especially in crunch time, and they could use his defensive versatility, too.
The Pelicans’ preferred starting five — Payton, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis — has a plus-21.5 net rating, but they’ve only shared the floor for 65 minuets spread over five games. Payton had surgery last week and it came with a recovery timetable of six weeks, so New Orleans is looking for answers at the point guard spot aside from simply asking Holiday to do everything.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich revealed Wednesday that Pau Gasol has a stretch fracture in his left foot, so he will be out for a while, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. It sort of feels like San Antonio’s season is cursed, and Popovich was correct when he said the team missed his passing on the second unit. It’s messed up that the Spurs don’t have many good passers anymore. Gasol hasn’t played since Nov. 4.
Howard now needs back surgery on two discs, per Stadium’s Shams Charania, and the optimistic timeline is set at eight weeks. It is tempting to say that the Wizards, an awful defensive and rebounding team, could use Howard in the lineup. This, however, ignores that they have actually been worse on both ends with Howard on the court this season. If he ever eventually helps Washington, it will be because he addresses the injuries that have bothered him all season — rather than accompany the team to New Orleans on Wednesday, he went to Los Angeles to see a nerve specialist to try to do just that.
Thomas doesn’t officially have a timetable, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in early November that he should be back at some point in December. We should all hope that, this time, he is fully healthy and capable of doing the things he did a few years ago. The tricky part about this situation, though, is that backup guard Monte Morris has been way too good for the Nuggets to simply sideline him. Minutes are going to be hard to come by.
The mysterious Porter continues to be out indefinitely despite saying he was pain-free in the summer. The 20-year-old was only available to the Nuggets because he had two back surgeries, so he should be seen as a long-term, low-risk, high-upside play. There is no meaningful analysis to be done here, but Denver would love to look brilliant for taking him at No. 14 in the draft if/when he is healthy down the road.
This sucks so much for both him and the Spurs — Murray is the their best defender, and they have been 23rd in defensive rating. He was supposed to take the leap this season, but that went out the window when he crumpled to the floor in a preseason game. On offense, San Antonio has relied on DeMar DeRozan’s playmaking even more than it planned to, and Bryn Forbes has stepped into a starting role at point guard. We will soon find out if Lonnie Walker can earn a role in the rotation, too.
The Bulls have been hit with a whole bunch of injuries early in the season, from Markkanen’s elbow to Bobby Portis‘ knee and Kris Dunn’s knee. Valentine is on this list because he is done for the year after undergoing what the team called an “ankle stabilization procedure” on Tuesday — his injury was initially described as a moderate ankle sprain in September.
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