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NBA Injury Analysis: Preseason Notes

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.

Dirk Nowitzki
After openly discussing how great his legs felt entering training camp, it was a bit surprising to see Nowitzki miss a preseason game with a knee issue. The team is calling the injury right knee effusion, meaning an abnormal amount of fluid has surrounded the joint. Before we can talk specifics, we need to review the history of Dirk and his knees.

During the championship season of 2010-2011, Nowitzki suffered a sprained right knee during a December game against the Thunder. He would miss nine consecutive games but the knee held up for the remainder of the season and throughout Dallas' playoff run. However, after a lockout-extended summer and a rushed training camp, the right knee flared up just one month into the season. He took time off, missing four games, as he got the swelling under control and reconditioned his body. Now the right knee is once again acting in a similar fashion, swelling and causing Nowitzki soreness. With the knee still an issue, the team has two options, conservative treatment or surgery.

The conservative approach has worked in the past, and it could once again. His previous successes are the result of multiple factors, largely Nowitzki's commitment to conditioning and the Mavs medical staff. The hours Nowitzki puts in at the gym have increased his flexibility and strength, decreasing his inherent injury risk while preparing his seven-foot frame for the grind of an NBA season. Nowitzki entered the season with improved strength in his legs that should give him an edge in recovery from this particular flare-up. Furthermore, the Dallas medical staff, led by head athletic trainer Casey Smith, will examine Dirk to determine if the issue is a muscle imbalance or deficiency and can be corrected. The team plans on giving their MVP the next week or two to see how the knee responds before considering the alternative, surgery.

Minor arthroscopic knee surgery is generally warranted when small pieces of cartilage, tissue, or meniscus are the cause of the chronic swelling and the only way to guarantee the problem subsides is removal. Recovery from the procedure would depend on the extent of the damage in the knee but generally takes between four and six weeks. For example, Jeremy Lin underwent surgery to repair a small tear in his lateral meniscus and missed the five remaining weeks of the Knicks' season.

If Nowitzki needs surgery he would be almost certainly be unavailable to start the season. However, if the surgery does fix the problem, it may be worth sacrificing several games early in the season to have a pain-free Dirk for the majority of the year. Expect the Mavs to explore all of their options before putting the face of their franchise under the knife, but keep in mind it may ultimately be the best option. Nowitzki remains an elite fantasy option, but may not be worth the gamble in the early parts of the first round.

Amar'e Stoudemire
Another power forward to keep an eye on is New York's Stoudemire. STAT reported to camp in good shape but has had several minor bumps and bruises early on in camp. He rolled an ankle the first week of October and suffered a bruised left kneecap on Wednesday. The ankle injury did not appear serious, but the knee did swell following the injury, preventing Stoudemire from playing in the preseason opener against the Wizards. The Knicks have stated he would have played had this been a regular season game, but the decision to tread carefully with this injury is a smart one.

The left knee has given Stoudemire the most trouble throughout his career and is the same knee that cost all but three games of the 2005-2006 season after he needed microfracture surgery to repair cartilage damage. Any swelling on the joint could be particularly problematic for the six-time All-Star, and he must take the necessary steps to insure the knee properly heals. Expect him to see limited action over the next week or so as the regular season quickly approaches. A disappointing 2011-2012 season has hurt Stoudemire's value, and an injury to the left knee would only knock him further down fantasy draft boards. However, he could be a nice mid-round addition with upside potential if he slips too far, especially if the knee ailment is as minor as the Knicks are suggesting.

Fast Breaks

Eric Gordon: The cause for concern surrounding Gordon continues to grow, as the Hornets guard will not practice this week. Persistent soreness is his right knee is keeping him off the court and is expected to sideline for at least one more week. Gordon underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee last February to remove loose cartilage pieces. He needs to get on the court to prove the knee can withstand the rigors of basketball, but for now, he will remain limited and continue with treatment. I'm downgrading him significantly in all formats.

Stephen Curry: So far so good for Curry, as he tries to once again overcome ankle problems. Curry's right ankle required he undergo his second surgery in a year after missing 40 of Golden State's 66 games. The debridement procedure removed several loose bodies in the joint, and the Warriors hope he will make it through this year without any problems. They have slowly increased his minutes in each preseason game, and the joint has yet to be an issue. Keep an eye out for any further developments, but it's encouraging to see a potential top-10 fantasy option showing signs of improving health.

James Harden: Harden will not play in Friday's preseason game against Utah. A mild groin strain is limiting the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and OKC is electing to play it safe.

Chris Paul: Paul has been cleared to participate in contact drills for the first time since undergoing offseason surgery on his thumb. All signs point to CP3 being ready to start the season.

Marcus Camby: The veteran center is currently nursing a strained calf but hopes to return to the practice court soon. Camby isn't the fantasy force he was earlier in his career, but he could be a decent source of blocks and rebounds. However, his injury risk is considerably high, so don't overreach here.

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