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NBA PM: Top 5 Most Devastating Playoff Injuries

Losing Kevin Love hurts the Cavs’ title hopes, but it didn’t make our top-five list of most devastating playoff injuries.

Joel Brigham

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Most Devastating Playoff Injuries

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is angry, and he should be. Not necessarily because Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk did anything to purposefully ruin his summer, but because after toiling away on non-playoff teams his entire career, Love was finally in the postseason and moving on with a team that very well could have represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. He could have potentially even won a ring, but now he’s sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair his dislocated shoulder.

Now, the media is even more reticent to lean toward an Eastern Conference team winning the title than it was before the Love injury, mostly because Love was one of the reasons the Cavs were considered the East’s most likely Finals team. Now, though, he’s done for the season, and while the Cavs still are a strong team, they’re not nearly as formidable as they had been before that injury.

It was a knockout punch, both for the team and the city, but was it the worst instance ever of a team losing a star player right in the midst of a legitimate postseason run?

That’s what this list intends to explore. First and foremost, consideration is given to how good a shot a team might have had at winning the ring had this particular player not gone down. It doesn’t necessarily matter which round it happened in, just that the player being gone was enough to cause the team to lose. The more that was at stake – the more a team and its fan base lost – the higher on this list they will be.

Here they are, the top five most devastating playoff injuries:

#5 – Karl Malone, 2004 L.A. Lakers

Everybody expected the L.A. Lakers to win the championship in 2004 after adding Gary Payton and Karl Malone to a core that already included Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. However, they fell short, in large part due to Malone’s nagging knee injury. The Detroit Pistons, a team without a superstar, surprisingly won the title instead.

Malone hurt his knee about a third of the way through the 2003-04 regular season, but the damage ended up being more severe than team doctors originally thought. He played through the pain all season long, but by the time the Finals rolled around, Malone was clearly off his game. He ended up sitting out Game 5, even though the Lakers went into that game trailing the Pistons in the series, 1-3.

Needless to say, Malone’s injury wasn’t the only thing that prevented the Lakers from winning it all, but in truth, because of the injury they hadn’t had him at full strength for all of the postseason. Whether that cost L.A. the championship is up for debate (they boasted plenty of elite talent even with Malone sitting), but losing their starting Hall-of-Fame power forward certainly didn’t help.

#4 – Derrick Rose, 2012 Chicago Bulls

After missing about a third of the season with ailments to five completely different parts of his body, Rose damaged a sixth body part as the Bulls were gearing up for what looked to be a pretty promising 2012 postseason run. Chicago, the top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, won Game 1 of their first-round series against the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, but lost Rose for the season thanks to an ACL tear. That stomach punch allowed the 76ers to win the next three games of the series.

Joakim Noah eventually sprained his ankle in Game 3, which took him out of the next two games. While the Bulls did manage to eke out one last win in Game 5, Philadelphia moved on to the Conference Semifinals and nobody was surprised.

Chicago might not have gotten past the Miami HEAT that year anyway, but Bulls fans will never know what could have been. Even worse was that this knee injury was just the start of a long string of injuries that have plagued Rose ever since.

#3 – Kendrick Perkins, 2010 Boston Celtics

Perkins isn’t a star these days, and he wasn’t really one back then either, but his loss in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals was perhaps one of the most painful playoff injuries in the history of the game. The Celtics went into that game up 3-2 in that series against the Los Angeles Lakers, and were cruising right along when Perkins tore his MCL and PCL.

It’s hard to remember this now, but Perkins was Boston’s best defensive weapon against the Lakers’ two seven-footers, and his loss helped drive the Lakers to a Game 6 win. L.A. obviously won Game 7 too – despite the fact that Kobe Bryant went 6-24 from the field – mainly because they just banged the ball into the post the entire game.

Had Perkins been in the lineup, Kobe’s awful shooting night probably hands Boston their second title in three years. Instead, L.A. stole the title and Celtics fans still haven’t gotten over it.

#2 – Dirk Nowitzki, 2003 Dallas Mavericks

The 2003 playoffs included arguably the most impressive individual stretch of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. And frankly, had he not sprained his knee in the Western Conference Finals, he might have two championship rings right now instead of one.

Nowitzki started the playoffs that year with a 46-point outburst in Game 1 of round one against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then, in the second round, he pushed the Mavericks to a win in Game 7 over the Sacramento Kings with a monster 30-point, 19-rebound game. In the very next game, the first of the Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, he dropped 38 points and 19 rebounds on the road in San Antonio. But that’s where the string of monster games ended. By the end of Game 3, Dirk had a badly sprained knee that would keep him out of the rest of the series, giving Dallas no chance to top a tough Spurs team in its prime. San Antonio went on to beat the New Jersey Nets in the Finals, while Nowitzki had to wait eight more years before finally getting his first ring.

#1 – Magic Johnson/Byron Scott, 1989 L.A. Lakers

Let’s set the stage for this one a little bit: The Lakers had already won the 1987 and 1988 championships and had just swept every Western Conference opponent they faced in the first three rounds of the playoffs. They were 11-0 heading into the Finals, but starting shooting guard Byron Scott pulled a hamstring in practice before Game 1 had even started. Couple that with Magic Johnson’s pulled hammy (yes, the exact same injury—the basketball gods didn’t even have the decency to mix things up) in Game 2, and you’ve got two very unfortunate injuries early in the series.

The backcourt rotation just wasn’t deep enough to pick up the slack, and that was pretty much all she wrote in the 1989 postseason. To be fair, the burgeoning Detroit Pistons played pretty well that Finals, but the Lakers seemed destined for a three-peat and lost it because a couple of really important hamstrings broke bad at the wrong time.

Honorable Mention:

Kevin Love, 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s hard to call this one of the most devastating injuries ever because, as good as Love is, he hasn’t been anywhere near as crucial to the team’s success as Kyrie Irving or LeBron James. If the Cavs lost one of those two guys, there would be little expectation for them to win the East. The way it stands now, however, they still could advance to the Finals even without their starting power forward.

James Worthy, 1983 L.A. Lakers – This one doesn’t technically count because Worthy broke his leg with about two weeks left to go in his rookie regular season, but that injury did affect L.A.’s ability to repeat as NBA champions in 1983 so it deserves an honorable mention. That was Philly’s famous Fo-Fo-Fo championship year, and a big reason they won the title is because L.A. was too thin up front. That might not have been the case had Worthy still been playing.

Patrick Ewing, 1999 New York Knicks – It’s hard to call Ewing’s Achilles tendon injury back in 1999 devastating since, when Ewing finally dropped out of the postseason after Game 2 of the Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, the eighth-seeded Knicks made their way to the Finals anyway. They lost to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1, but the fact that they were arguably better after their superstar went down is both confounding and decidedly not devastating. It’s still worth mentioning here, though, because it did include a playoff team losing their star right in the thick of a title hunt.

The playoffs are supposed to be the most enjoyable and exciting time of the year for NBA fans, but when a major injury takes down an integral part of a championship-caliber team, things stop being enjoyable and exciting pretty quickly. That’s what Cavaliers fans are going through right now. Although to a lesser extent, fans of the Memphis Grizzlies feel it too, as they are hoping that Mike Conley finds his way back to the court sooner than later. But they aren’t the first teams to experience that pain, and they won’t be the last.

Injuries are a part of the game. It’s always been that way. You just hope and pray that, if there has to be some big ones, they don’t come at the worst possible time.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019

The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.

Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.

Here are some of the situation to watch:

The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.

Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.

There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.

The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.

With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.

UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm

Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation

Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.

“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”

On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.

To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.

That’s when something clicked in his head.

“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.

“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”

Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.

Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.

On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.

The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.

When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.

“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.

“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.

If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?

When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.

But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.

The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.

“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.

“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”

Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.

Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.

“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”

In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.

Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.

“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”

While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.

Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.

NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.

“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”

Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.

If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.

“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”

Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?

Schofield does.

And that’s what will separate him from the rest.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?

With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.

Matt John

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The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.

There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.

Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.

Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.

Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to

Get The Third Star

Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.

Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.

Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.

Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.

Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).

The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.

Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.

That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.

Get Reliable Role Players

The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.

Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.

You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.

Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.

Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer

Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.

The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.

There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.

There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.

All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?

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