While the NBA playoff picture remains clouded with less than a month to play, the top of the standings appear solidified with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami, and Chicago each dominating their respective conferences. Don't be surprised to see these elite teams give their stars the occasional day off down the stretch to prepare for an anticipated long playoff run following a condensed and grueling regular season. Gregg Poppovich has already given Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker various nights off and it seems like more are on the horizon. The Spurs finish the season by playing 13 games in 19 nights and it's a safe bet San Antonio's Big 3 will get a game or two of respite.
Wade missed a game earlier in the week with what the team described as a bruised knee but he returned to action the following night in a win over the Thunder. This seems like par for the course for the eight-time All-Star. In his nine NBA seasons, he's never played 82 games and he's averaged 13 missed games a season for his career. So far this season he's missed 10 games with a variety of ailments including foot, ankle, and knee injuries. It's worth keeping in eye on the situation moving forward but it appears the Heat were simply protecting Wade from making a minor injury a significant one.
A groin injury has sidelined Rose for 12 consecutive games but it seems he has finally turned a corner in his recovery and will return to action Sunday against the Knicks. The Bulls have performed more than admirably in his absence but need their MVP if they are to challenge for a berth in the Finals. Watch Rose on defense and when attacking the offense on Sunday to see how confident he feels. The motions performed by the groin muscles are vital in lateral movement and any strength loss or weakness would limit Rose's speed. It seems like the Bulls were extremely cautious with the point guard and I doubt they would let him back out their if he wasn't close to 100 percent. Plug him back into your lineups but show him a little bit of patience as he shakes the rust off.
A move to Washington has improved Nene's numbers but his chronic foot injury has limited his availability. In six games as a member of the Wizards, he has averaged 14.8 points on 54 percent shooting while adding 9.3 rebounds a game. Unfortunately since the trade, he's missed eight games, including four straight, as he battles plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia is a band of dense, connective tissue located on the bottom of the foot. It helps support the multiple arches of the foot, redirecting the various stresses placed through the foot while aiding in fluid foot motion. Unfortunately the plantar fascia can easily be irritated and become inflamed. Plantar fasciitis can be extremely painful and equally difficult to manage. If the source of the problem goes untreated, a bony heel spur may develop where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. If the condition progress to this point, surgical intervention is often required.
Plantar fasciitis is a common occurrence in big men. Players like Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah, and Drew Gooden have all battled the condition and now Nene can be added to the list. The problem isn't going to heal by the end of the season, making him a risky play moving forward. With teammate Trevor Booker also battling the ailment, Jan Vesley and Kevin Seraphin have moved into the starting rotation. Seraphin's play has earned him fantasy consideration as the 6'9" forward is averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a game in Washington's last five outings.
Kyrie Irving: The Cavaliers will miss their star rookie for at least a week after he aggravated a sprained shoulder in a blowout loss to the Spurs. He wore a protective sleeve in the game against San Antonio after a MRI revealed the sprain and a bruise. Don't be shocked to see him miss some more time as Cleveland protects the new face of their franchise.
Danilo Gallinari: Gallinari is targeting Monday's game against the Warriors to make his return from a fractured thumb. The thumb is not completely healed but Gallinari will be able to play because it occurred to his non-shooting hand. Expect some early struggles with his shot and a likely increase in turnovers until the thumb is no longer an issue.
Jason Kidd: The Mavericks will be without their veteran leader for at least two more games as he sits with a strained groin. Delonte West has taken over the starting point guard spot but he is still recovering from finger surgery and plays each game with the area heavily taped and padded. Rodrigue Beaubois returns to fantasy relevance but remains a tad inconsistent.
Jeremy Lin: Lin's surgery to repair a torn meniscus in left knee went well but it seems unlikely he will return at any point during the regular season. This offseason will be key for the breakout sensation. He'll need to prepare his body, particularly his legs, to withstand the rigors of a heavy workload in an 82-game season.
Luke Ridnour: A severe right ankle sprain will keep Ridnour out for at least a week. With Ricky Rubio out with a torn ACL, JJ Barea will be thrust into a starting role. Barea scored 15 points to go with eight assists in his first start of the year and should be a solid late season addition. Remember Barea collected a triple-double earlier in the season and proved his talent during last year's playoff run with Dallas.
Maurice Williams: The Clippers sixth man will return from an eight-game absence on Saturday. Williams suffered a sprained toe in a game against the Hornets and a subsequent MRI revealed the damage. He will be slowly reintegrated into the rotation but his presence should cut into the minutes of both Randy Foye and Nick Young.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for Rotowire.com. You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.