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NBA Injury Analysis: Dallas, Cleveland playing short-handed

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

As the calendar turns to 2011 and with the All-Star Game just six weeks away, injuries in the NBA are beginning to pile up and a prominent Western Conference team is at the forefront. The Dallas Mavericks will be without the services of swingman Caron Butler for the remainder of the season after the veteran underwent surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. Butler suffered the injury in a loss to the Bucks last weekend and underwent surgery on Tuesday.

The patellar tendon attaches the quadriceps muscle to the lower leg and the patella (kneecap) actually is embedded within the tendon. When the tendon ruptures, the kneecap retracts upward and the injured player losses the ability to straighten the leg. This fact alone confirms Butler's nickname of Tuff Juice is appropriate as the former All-Star limped off the court under his own power following the injury.
Unfortunately for the Mavs and Butler the procedure cannot be carried out arthroscopically and the joint must be opened up. The damaged tendon is surgically anchored back in place and requires an extensive recovery process. A general timeframe is six to eight months of rehab but New York's Kelenna Azubuike has yet to return after undergoing surgery for the same injury in November of 2009. For Butler the injury could not come at a worse time, as he is the final year of his contract and slated to become a free agent in the off season. In the meantime Shawn Marion has rejoined the starting lineup and becomes fantasy relevant in all formats. The Matrix has looked good so far, averaging 18.3 points in the three games since Butler went down.

Franchise stalwart Dirk Nowitzki is also sidelined for Dallas with a knee sprain. Since spraining the knee against the Thunder, Nowitzki has missed six straight games, the most games he has missed consecutively in his entire career. Clearly the Mavericks have made protecting Dirk a top priority and will not take any chances with the former MVP. Nowitzki has been limited to riding a stationary bike and while the knee is feeling better he will not play in Saturday's game against the Magic. The knee is still causing discomfort when he attempts to cut or perform basketball-related motions. The team will limit his activity until there is no pain and hope he will return next week.

Marion will continue to start at power forward until Nowitzki returns at which time he will move into the starting small forward role. DeShawn Stevenson would slide back over to the two-guard with Sixth Man extraordinaire Jason Terry returning to the bench. Both Terry and Stevenson have elevated their games with Nowitzki and Butler sidelined and fantasy owners should enjoy the temporary bump in production.

Like Dallas, Cleveland continues to play shorthanded with several key members battling injury. Guard Daniel Gibson is expected to miss an extended period of time with a sprained left ankle. Gibson, Cleveland's third-leading scorer, suffered the sprain in his first game back from a two-game absence due to a thigh injury. According to Gibson's Twitter account he has a considerable amount of swelling in the ankle, likely a condition known as pitting edema. Pitting edema is classified as a condition in which excessive interstitial fluid builds up in a joint to the point where if you were to push a finger into the affected area, the depression made would remain visible for an extended period of time. Pitting edema is common in lower extremity injuries, as the body's natural defenses must fight gravity to move out the fluid. It is also the reason why athletic trainers and other medical personnel stress elevation when recovering from an ankle sprain. Gibson will not travel with the Cavaliers on the team's five-game road trip and will be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Manny Harris.

Gibson's teammate Anderson Varejao could also miss a game or two with an ankle sprain of his own, suffered in a recent practice. Varejao was already dealing with a variety of ailments including a broken cheekbone and bruised ribs. The energetic center wears a flak jacket to protect the ribs from further injury and the broken cheekbone will require him to wear a protective mask until the fracture heals. Varejao is averaging career highs in points (9.3), rebounds (9.8) and minutes (32) but his wild style of play makes him susceptible to injury. He is listed as questionable for Friday's game.

It appears New York's Danilo Gallinari avoided a serious injury when the Pacers' Brandon Rush collided into his left knee. A MRI confirmed a Grade I sprain and the Knicks expect him to miss two to three weeks. The Grade I rating means the ligament was overstretched but did not tear. Unfortunately it does mean he will not be in uniform when the Knicks embark on a West coast road trip that includes games against the Suns, Lakers, Blazers, and Jazz. Ronny Turiaf has joined the starting lineup but played just 21 minutes in a win over the Spurs. It appears Gallinari's absence will most benefit Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas as they split his shots and minutes.

Stephen Jackson will be a game-time decision for Saturday's game against the Wizards after he had to have his left knee drained. The fluid accumulated after Jackson hyperextended the joint in a loss to the Heat. Jackson previously injured the knee in last year's playoffs and was diagnosed with a bone bruise. However the injury did not keep Jackson out of action then and it seems likely he will miss limited time with the latest setback. His presence is sorely missed with Gerald Wallace out with an ankle injury, DeSegana Diop sidelined for the year with a torn Achilles, Nazr Mohammed also nursing a bruised knee, and Tyrus Thomas now dealing with the flu. Unfortunately their replacements, Matt Carroll, Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown, and Kwame Brown, have little to no fantasy value and do not warrant a roster spot even in the deepest leagues.

Houston's Yao Ming underwent surgery on his fractured left ankle and is expected to miss seven to 10 months. While Ming remains committed to continuing his NBA career, it is hard to put much faith in the free-agent-to-be. He isn't worth owning even in keeper leagues.

Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.