Welcome to the Hype/Concern Index, a semiregular post capturing the NBA news and events to get hyped on or concerned about. Today, we’re concerned about pre-playoff injuries.
Steph Curry, Warriors
It’s been nearly three weeks since Curry suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain, which means we’ve nearly arrived at the reevaluation portion of the injury process — which happens to coincide with the start of the NBA playoffs. I’d argue that any clarity about Curry’s timeline would be a bigger story line out of the first playoff weekend than any single game.
Golden State is going to need to get through its first-round opponent without Steph (Steve Kerr already told us “there’s no way he’s playing” in the series), but as Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area during Golden State’s game against the Suns, he hasn’t had “any setbacks” during rehab.
It’s hard to underscore just how important Steph is to this team, not just statistically, but culturally. Golden State is finishing the season losing six of its last 10 games, looking dispirited and disengaged, and even publicly disagreeing with Kerr. (What’s the opposite of flipping the switch?) This is the weakest the Warriors have looked in years.
Concern Meter: 9/10
Luc Mbah a Moute, Rockets
This one, more so than others, truly stinks. Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the more underrated players in the league, dislocated his right shoulder Tuesday night. While dunking. In a meaningless game against the Lakers. Ugh.
Mbah a Moute is “likely” going to miss at least Houston’s first-round series, according to a report by ESPN, which also says there’s no timetable for his return. This isn’t the first time this season Mbah a Moute has dislocated his right shoulder — it also happened in mid-December earlier this season and kept him out for 15 games. You’d imagine the urgency for him to return to the court might be higher come playoff time. And that’s because Mbah a Moute is as important to the Rockets defense as anyone. He’s able to guard multiple positions, centers even, and on offense he’s taking more 3s than last season and making them at a respectable 36.4 percent rate. Losing a 3-and-D guy is Mike D’Antoni’s worst nightmare.
Sure, he’s not James Harden, Chris Paul, or even Clint Capela, but if Mbah a Moute doesn’t return by Round 2, his absence could throw the Rockets off enough to put them in danger.
Concern Meter: 6/10
Joel Embiid, Sixers
Don’t be fooled. The Sixers might have won 15 straight and are flying high like Rocky in Russia, but you can bet there will be a sigh of relief once Embiid is cleared to play. The good news: Embiid has started doing light, non-contact conditioning. The bad news: Brett Brown said Tuesday that Embiid likely will not be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs.
Embiid is Philly’s best player, full stop. Ben Simmons is important, but no one can elevate Philly’s ceiling like Embiid. And the injury isn’t supposed to extend into further rounds, but for a newcomer in the playoffs like the Sixers, missing Embiid for even a single game could be costly.
Give us Masked Embiid sooner rather than later, please.
Looks like Joel Embiid is getting fitted for his mask pic.twitter.com/XxrvD7XOGQ— Kristen Rodgers (@KristenERodgers) April 11, 2018
Concern Meter: 8/10
Marcus Smart, Celtics
The chances of Smart returning this season seemed slim on March 13, when it was reported that Smart had a 50 or 30 percent chance to recover from a torn ligament in his right hand before the offseason. Then, other Celtics started to get hurt, most importantly Kyrie Irving, who is out for the season. When your backcourt is that hurt, well, that’s how you end up with Kadeem Allen starting an NBA game. And yet the Celtics persisted, kept the 2-seed, and are now going into the playoffs with a bruised roster and a nothing-to-lose style. Smart would give them an edge.
The shooting guard is reportedly set to return at the end of April, which could be at the end of Boston’s first-round series, or at the start of its second-round series. Smart’s impact on the roster will likely be felt right away. The East feels ripe for upsets and Smart might not be back in time to help the Celtics stave off elimination. But it feels like the Celtics are playing with house money this season. They’ll be fine in the long run.
Concern Meter: 5/10