When Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook’s hand was broken in Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, it was the latest significant injury to one of the NBA’s top players.
That string started with Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George’s gruesome leg injury during a U.S. team scrimmage Aug. 1. Since then, the list of big-name players has grown, with most being injured during training camp.
Before Westbrook was injured — he’ll be out at least a month — he saw teammate Kevin Durant, the NBA MVP last season, sidelined six to eight weeks with a foot injury that required surgery. Then OKC 3-point shooter Anthony Morrow injured his right knee in practice during training camp. They are among seven Thunder players hurt.
“There’s been a lot of guys hurt, especially a lot of the top guys,” Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans said. “You try not to think about it, but then you’re looking at TV, and there’s another guy injured. All you can do is take care of your body and hope for the best because injuries are part of the game, but it does seem like a lot.”
Also on opening night, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Julius Randle’s leg was broken. Some of the other injured players are Pistons guard Jody Meeks (back, out till mid-December), signed to a multi-year deal this past summer; Indiana point guard George Hill (foot), Orlando guard Victor Oladipo (facial fracture), Washington guard Bradley Beal (wrist), Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder) and the Lakers’ Nick Young (thumb). Most of those players are out until late November, at least.
The Spurs began the season without small forward Kawhi Leonard (eye), the NBA Finals MVP, and guard Patty Mills (shoulder) and center Tiago Splitter (calf).
“Whenever you’re in a situation where you lose guys, you think about simplifying your package,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams, whose team had three significant injuries last season. “We dealt with it for three years in a row. ...
“(The Thunder) had the advantage of knowing that (Durant) wasn’t going to be there to start the season. So I’m sure, you lose (Westbrook) for a few weeks, it changes even more. From my standpoint, you try not to put much pressure on the guys who are playing. Those guys were coming into the season, all summer, thinking about playing 10 minutes a night on a good night, and now they’re going to play 30, 35. That’s a totally different mindset.”
Three Pelicans coaches and a few players have said that rookie power forward Patric Young could walk right over from the team’s practice facility and join the Saints.
They mean that perhaps jokingly as a compliment to the physique of Young, a chiseled 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds. Young, though, said he has never played football.
“It’s been basketball and baseball,” he said, and he dropped baseball in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. “I was a pitcher. I was all right; just too tall. I just threw fastballs, a lot of heat.”
That helped him have a memorable accomplishment on the diamond.
“I threw a perfect game when I was 13 or 14 in the Highlands city rec league,” he said. “I just thought I had a better chance at a future in basketball.”
Evans and Dallas Mavericks point guard Jameer Nelson are from Chester, Pennsylvania, a town of about 35,000 located on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.
“I grew up watching Jameer,” Evans said. “He and my brother (Eric) used to play on some of the same rec league teams around Chester. Sometimes they played together, sometimes against each other. They went at it. They went to the same high school, Chester High.”
Evans said he has proud memories of Nelson in college as he became a first-team All-American. Nelson went to St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, a source of pride.
“When he was at St. Joe’s, he was unstoppable,” Evans said. “Every game, I was watching him on TV back home, and he was getting busy.”
Oh so close
Pelicans backup center Alexis Ajinca has his own motivation for wanting to excel against the Mavericks.
For one, the Mavs are a Southwest Division team. But Ajinca also played for them during the 2010-11 season after being traded in July from the Charlotte Bobcats with Tyson Chandler. Chandler played a big part in the Mavericks winning their first NBA title that season. Ajinca was traded again — to Toronto on Jan. 24, 2011.
Obviously, he didn’t get a ring. He holds no bitterness, he said, and understands why Dallas has won consistently over the years.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I learned a lot about how to persevere and about defense and leadership from Coach (Rick) Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.
“It’s a great organization. They know what to do to win games. They know how to put players in good situations so they won’t have to worry about anything other than play basketball. It doesn’t matter who they have; they always have a good chemistry So, it’s like a big family sometimes.”