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Four NBA Injuries Are Shaking Up the Playoff and Lottery Races

Kyle Lowry, Joakim Noah, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid all go down in a week’s span

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Post-All-Star basketball giveth — games are back! Boogie and the Brow! OKC just ordered chairs from Overstock.com for this novelty called a bench! — but after 50-plus games squeezed into four months, post-All-Star basketball, and its injuries, taketh away. Monday brought one long doctor’s note for the Eastern Conference, with four notable players needing extended leave, and news about a bone marrow injection (the WebMD kind, not the Top Chef kind) and a “loose bodies” removal (???) reminding us to definitely book a physical soon. Here’s a roundup of what’s going on, and what it means for each team.

Kyle Lowry

According to the above message from Toronto’s media relations Twitter account, Lowry is set to “undergo surgery Tuesday morning to remove loose bodies from [his] right wrist,” with a timetable for his return set for the postseason. Language, especially when there are only 140 characters of it, is important. “Aim to return” is the least-scary way of saying “we hope he’s back by then, but it’s indefinite.” This setback would be a bummer for any team, but especially for the Raptors, who used the trade deadline to fill key gaps, acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Toronto was all in and ready to give the playoffs — and LeBron — the old Masai Ujiri try.

The Raptors are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and it’ll be difficult to hold that spot without Lowry. They’re slated to play the Wizards, who are just a game ahead of Toronto in the standings, twice in a row in the coming week. DeMar DeRozan’s having a career scoring year with 27.7 points per game, and he’s already stepped up to win the two games in Lowry’s absence, scoring 43 points against Boston and 33 against Portland. Considering Toronto’s playoff-conscious trade moves, there are three hopes here: one, whatever “loose bodies” get removed from Lowry’s wrist aren’t the ones that give him this season’s 57 effective field goal percentage; two, Cory Joseph and DeRozan can hold on; and three, that Lowry’s “aim to return” hits a first-round target.

Joakim Noah

It was reported Monday that Joakim Noah’s five-points-per-game season is over, with the center expected to have arthroscopic knee surgery for an injury yet to be announced. For New York, which just waived Brandon Jennings but also failed to move Derrick Rose (who the team reportedly wanted gone so badly the return could’ve been Chipotle leftovers) and Carmelo Anthony (who, well, just follow Phil Jackson on Twitter), this isn’t necessarily the nail in their season’s coffin, it’s yet another nail. The Knicks are the top of the bottom tier of the East, pretending not to know the Nets, Magic, and Sixers when they run into each other at the bar — but have only two more wins than the latter two. A playoff appearance was a long shot before this; now, it’s more realistic to focus on other things, like the lottery. Heal up, Joakim, and take your sweet, four-year, $72.6 million time.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

Keith Pompey reported that Ben Simmons had bone marrow injected into his right foot to aid the recovery of his fractured fifth metatarsal. Originally, when the injury happened in September, Simmons was expected to miss just six to eight weeks, but last week Philly announced Simmons wouldn’t play this season. With a 22–36 record and no chance at the postseason, the rush to get him on the court is alleviated. What is the 76ers’ plan from here? If the recovery (and the bone marrow injection) goes right, Simmons will premiere his rookie season in 2017–18, and Joel Embiid, who also missed his rookie season (twice), will be with him. Though on Monday, Embiid’s own setback was announced as well, as he is out indefinitely with left knee swelling. Again, the news should be easy to swallow — Philly being nowhere near playoff contention is the closest thing the injured Sixers will get to a spoonful of sugar — and this summer brings another draft (the Sixers have their own pick, the Lakers’ top-3-protected pick, and the right to swap with the Kings) to select a big. I MEAN, to get excited about. With so many seasons spent planning for the future, the present might have a hard time ever catching up. At least they’ve got Dario Saric.