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As NBA Playoffs Near, Teams Grapple With Injuries


There's one more week left in this lockout-shortened, action-packed NBA regular season and still it's anybody's guess which team will survive the playoffs and be crowned champion. You've got young, hungry teams, veteran teams trying to hang onto their legacies, and everywhere, it seems, injured star players. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me. Good morning, Tom.


NEARY: Tom, let's start with those injuries. Who's hurt and how's it going to affect the playoffs?

GOLDMAN: You've got Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers. He's got an owie on his shin. He's been out for a while but should be ready to play tomorrow. Derrick Rose of the Bulls, the reigning league most valuable player. He missed his 25th game of the season last night. He's been dealing with five different injuries. Dwight Howard is the center for the Orlando Magic, out with a herniated disc in his lower back. Not sure if he'll be ready for the playoffs. And Dwayne Wade, one of the big three in Miami, missed his 14th game last night. He's been dealing with a bad ankle. But he was really held out mainly just for rest.

Those are the key injuries to star players on the teams that could contend for the title. Most worrisome is Derrick Rose, because there's not a sense yet of when he'll be ready to play full time. And if he gets healthy, will it last, because he's been so fragile this season. The Bulls with him healthy are given a good chance to win the title. Without him - really no chance.

NEARY: Tom, wasn't this season condensed because of the lockout? Could some of those injuries be blamed on that NBA schedule this year?

GOLDMAN: You know, with a lot of players it has been due to this frenetic schedule, without much rest in between games. Part of it is also that some players, because of the lockout and the lack of access to team facilities during the work stoppage, weren't physically ready for the season when it started. Now, I should say, though, that most of the stars were ready. They were in condition, because stars generally do work the hardest. That's why they're stars.

NEARY: Well, going into the truncated season, it seemed like the younger teams with fresher legs would be better off. Now heading into playoffs, has that proved to be the case?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple of weeks ago looked ready to run past everybody. They are young and healthy and dangerous and one of the favorites, as are the relatively young Miami Heat.

But, you know, the older teams, at least the teams with older star players - San Antonio and Boston in particular - they're looking really good as well. The Spurs looked fabulous this week in a game against the Lakers. Boston has been rolling the second half of the season.

And credit that in large part to good coaching on those teams - resting players, not just down the stretch but early in the season, managing injuries and finding the right role players to fill in. The question is, can those oldsters keep it going through several grueling physical playoff series?

NEARY: And finally, Tom, I wanted to ask you about Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women's basketball coach. She's stepping down. Last year she announced she has early onset dementia. What is the impact of that going to be on women's basketball and the basketball world in general?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, there's sadness, certainly. And I think also some relief that Pat Summitt at the age of 59 is making this move now while she's still in pretty good shape. She'll still work with the women's basketball program at the University of Tennessee. We just won't see her on the sidelines.

It's not a shock because her role was reduced this past season. But, you know, she's coached 38 years. She had 1,098 wins, more than anyone in Division 1, man or woman. Eight national titles.

I spoke yesterday with one of her former players, Michelle Marciniak, who's now a business woman, started her own company. And she talked about beyond the sports world and the corporate boardroom she goes in. When people find out her basketball past, they always ask about Summitt and what it was like to play for her. So truly a national figure.

NEARY: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Thanks so much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on