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NBA Injury Analysis: Big Names Return

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.

Jamal Crawford and Thabo Sefolosha
The Western Conference race continues to be a close one where a single loss can bump a team down in the standings. Two of the West's top teams will have to proceed without key starters as both the Clippers' Crawford and Oklahoma City's Sefolosha suffered calf strains.

The calf is not actually one isolated muscle but instead a muscle complex made up of two muscles with a conjoined tendon, the Achilles. The calf actively points the toes in a movement known as plantar flexion while also working eccentrically to slow the ankle in the opposite direction. It is key in stabilizing the ankle during dynamic motions like running and jumping, particularly during acceleration. Given its importance it should come as no surprise that a calf strain can be a very limiting injury that requires a substantial amount of time to heal. Additionally, a calf strain can have a cascade effect on other areas of the body leaving the individual vulnerable to other injuries including hamstring strains, lower back issues, and anterior knee pain.

Crawford's calf strain is considered mild, meaning it is likely a Grade I strain. The damage to the muscle is isolated to the microfibers of the calf and is the least severe. However considering the aforementioned risks associated with the knee, it will be crucial for his long-term health that Crawford does not return too quickly. Crawford has a history of injuries to his left knee, none bigger than the torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) suffered during the 2001-02 season. The Clippers have listed him as day-to-day but he isn't expected to play Tuesday against the Suns. Darren Collison and Willie Green will see an increase in minutes. Collison is worth a look after averaging 17.0 points and 2.5 threes in 29 minutes over his last two games.

Sefolosha wasn't quite a lucky as a MRI revealed his calf strain was significant and will keep him out at least four weeks. The established timeline of recovery suggests the strain is at least a Grade 2 strain, meaning actual muscle fibers were torn. Sefolosha does not have the injury history of Crawford, but will be out much longer given the severity of the strain. Perry Jones has seen some minutes at shooting guard but newly acquired veteran Caron Butler is expected to enter the starting unit when he joins the team. Butler is worth a speculative add though he may still be limited by a high ankle sprain suffered while with Milwaukee.

Anderson Varejao
The Cavaliers center has once again suffered an injury resulting an extended absence. For the fourth straight season Varejao has succumb to an injury that has cost him at least 10 games. In the 2010-11 season he missed 47 games after tearing the peroneal tendon in his right ankle. The following year he suffered a wrist fracture that cost him 41 games. Last season was the most significant and alarming injury as Varejao developed blood clots following surgery to repair a longitudinal tear in his quadriceps muscle. The surgery and subsequent clots sidelined him for the final 56 games of the season.

Now, with the Cavaliers attempting to make a late-season playoff push, Varejao remains on the sidelines nursing lower back soreness that has required a series of cortisone injections. His absence has led to an increase in minutes for Tyler Zeller and the recently acquired Spencer Hawes. Varejao believes he will be able to return to action sometime within the coming week, but Hawes and Zeller should be retained in the short-term as insurance. Back injuries can be easily irritated and Varejao's injury-riddled past doesn't inspire much confidence in his ability to remain on the court.

Fast Breaks
Arron Afflalo: Despite swirling trade rumors, Afflalo remained in Orlando. However a right ankle sprain has kept him out of the lineup for five straight outings. He is reportedly nearing a return, but those in weekly formats should keep him on the bench with the Magic scheduled for just two games this week.

Eric Bledsoe: The Suns guard continues to progress through his rehab for a torn meniscus. He recently returned to 5-on-5 drills in practice and remains on track to return sometime in the near future. Now may be your last chance to bid on Bledsoe at a discounted price.

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic: The Timberwolves welcomed back two starters over the weekend. Martin returned from a broken thumb while Pekovic overcame a case of Achilles bursitis. Both players didn't miss a beat, making an immediate impact in their return. Martin finished with 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting while Pekovic chipped in 20 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Kings. The value of Dante Cunningham and Corey Brewer take an obvious hit with the Timberwolves back at full strength.

Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker: The Spurs also got their entire roster back over the weekend with Leonard and Parker rejoining the team. Leonard missed 14 games with a non-displaced fracture of the 4th metacarpal on his right hand. He did not require surgery and returned wearing a protective brace. Often when a player is forced to wear such a device on his shooting hand, his short-term productivity and shooting percentages are negatively affected. However Leonard has looked comfortable in his return averaging 14.3 points on 55 percent shooting in his first three games back. Parker returned to action Sunday and lead the team to a victory of the rival Mavericks. He scored 22 points after sitting for six straight games with a myriad of injuries, including a left hand sprain and lower back pain. Fantasy owners should feel safe activating both players while anticipating a decrease in minutes for Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli.

Paul Millsap: The Hawks forward remains hampered by a right knee contusion suffered following a collision with Detroit's Greg Monroe. He missed his fourth straight game Sunday and his availability for the team's upcoming road trip is in doubt. Millsap's absence is amplified with Al Horford, John Jenkins, and Gustavo Ayon all done for the year with season-ending injuries of their own. Both DeMarre Carroll and Elton Brand will see an increase in responsibilities with rookie Mike Muscala worth consideration in deeper leagues.