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It's the Injuries, Stupid

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Quick, no peeking: who are the most disappointing teams in the NBA this year? Which teams are performing well below expectations considering last year's performance? And what one factor ties many of these teams together? Made your guesses? Read the title? OK, so you know the punch line, but here's the detail anyway to embolden you in future debate.

{styleboxjp width=200px,float=left,color=skyblue,textcolor=white,echo=yes} Memphis leads the disappointing pack hands down (29 fewer wins than last year, projected as of March 26th). Yes, Virginia, they were in the playoffs last year with the fourth best record in the West.{/styleboxjp} Really - we're not kidding, they were. You can look it up. Then come the Nets (projected to end up with 12 fewer wins than last year), Pistons (-12), Kings (-10), Bucks (-9), and our very own Boston Celtics (-9). Certainly calling the Pistons disappointing seems like a stretch when they have the best record in the East. Their decrease in wins is largely attributable to having done so well in the regular season last year (leading to every team's worst enemy: regression to the mean) - and of course to letting Ben Wallace go to Chicago. Sacramento, on the other hand, may well have been infected by a touch of Artestitis. Although Ron-Ron has played well this year, he's just an opportunistic virus waiting for a team to destroy. He's special that way.

What one factor do the other teams have in common? If you said a wealth of injuries, you get a gold star (or, perhaps more fittingly, a Tommy Point). {styleboxjp width=250px,float=right,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}The top five teams in terms of games lost to injury by their top four players (calculated through March 26th) are as follows: the Hornets (104), Celtics (102), Bucks (98), Heat (80), and Nets (69).{/styleboxjp} This list remains stable for injuries to the top seven players on each team, with the Atlanta Hawks joining the crowd. Atlanta did a bit better than the above teams at keeping its top players healthy (and maintaining its win totals), but lost supporting players Tyrone Lue and Speedy Claxton for extended periods this season.

{styleboxjp width=150px,float=left,color=grey,textcolor=black,echo=yes}Not surprisingly, three of the six teams with the greatest projected decreases in wins this year show up on the list of those losing the most games to injury by key players.{/styleboxjp} The Bucks lost Bobby Simmons (their second leading scorer last year) for the whole season, their one star, Michael Redd, for a quarter of the season, and the player (Charlie Villaneuva) for whom they traded away their starting point guard (TJ Ford) for a quarter of the season. The Nets in turn, a preciously thin team to begin with, lost Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic for significant chunks of the year.

As for the Celtics, you know the list as well as we do (and we didn't even count Theo when calculating games lost! We figure Danny knew he was a risk when he got him). Suffice it to say, if Pierce does shut down for the rest of the year, Allan Ray and Leon Powe may well be the 7th and 8th men in the Celtics' rotation.

Other teams, while performing more on par with last year, were still clearly affected by significant numbers of injuries. Although the Hornets will win about the same number of games they did last year, the acquisitions of Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler and the continued ascension of Chris Paul into the stratosphere of NBA stardom created expectations far beyond last year's 38 wins. These expectations have been derailed, however, by injuries to Peja, Paul, and David West. The defending champion Heat will likely stumble to the gate with around 45 wins (7 less than last year). That's what happens when Shaq, Wade, and Jason Williams go down for long stretches, leaving the round mound of poor shot selection, the artist formerly know as 'Toine, to boldly mislead the way.

{styleboxjp width=200px,float=right,color=maroon,textcolor=white,echo=yes} We do like to quantify the obvious - in fact, it's our specialty.{/styleboxjp} But, yes, injuries have a huge influence on a team's success. The axiom "good teams overcome injuries" may well be more applicable to the player-rich and system-driven NFL (ah, the beauty of an actual injured reserve list that allows you to replace someone on the 53 man roster) than to today's NBA. So let us all bow our heads and pray for the health of Pierce, Jefferson, Allen, and Szczerbiak next year. Given the 61% chance that the Celtics do not get Oden or Durant this summer, next year's win total is probably more dependent on the health of these four players than on anything else.