Vinny Del Negro's Chicago Bulls did something no other NBA team has been able to do this season on Monday night. They beat the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. It wasn't easy. The Bulls' dramatic 101-100 win came when Larry Hughes nailed a long jumper at the buzzer.
The Bulls, of course, didn't play a Jazz team at full strength. Far from it, in fact.
The Jazz were without two U.S. Olympians -- Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer -- as well as Matt Harpring, Jarron Collins, Kyle Korver and Brevin Knight.
Six Jazz players were out with various injuries.
"The Jazz, no question, are banged up," said first-year Chicago coach Del Negro. "But they are still very difficult to beat (in Salt Lake City). You never want players to be injured, but it's part of the game. Every team has injuries and you have to fight through your schedule. We go by the motto 'no excuses."'
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan isn't one for excuses, either. And injuries are indeed a major part of the game.
The fact remains that the Jazz have been bitten hard by the injury bug this season.
Consider that last year Jazz players missed a grand total of 45 games due to injury or personal reasons through the entire 82-game regular.
Through Friday night's home win over the Sacramento Kings, however, Jazz players had missed 52 games due to injury or personal reasons already. And that's in only 17 games.
Williams, Utah's unquestioned floor leader, missed 13 games with a sprained left ankle. His return this week has seemed to energize the entire club even though the Jazz are still missing Boozer, one of the few NBA players who can average 20-plus points and 10-plus boards.
So, all things considered, Utah's 11-6 mark through Friday night's game is impressive. It's just one game worse than last season when the Jazz were 12-5 after 17 games.
Perhaps the only other team that has been Utah's equal in terms of losing stars to injury is the San Antonio Spurs, who had both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker out for long stretches. The Spurs got off to a rough start, but are now back closing in on the Southwest Division lead and Ginobili and Parker are back in the lineup.
Utah and San Antonio's ability to tread water with star players out may bode well for the future of this season right into the playoffs. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as long as the teams can get to full strength by the stretch run and the playoffs. Backups, like Utah's Ronnie Price and Paul Millsap, have gained valuable playing experience as starters and will be better prepared in case they are needed later in the year.
Injuries are part of every NBA season, but this year has been particularly hard on stars' ankles. In addition to Williams missing 13 games, Parker and Ginobili were both out with ankle injuries. Other outstanding players missing time with ankle injuries include Milwaukee's Michael Redd, Atlanta's Josh Smith and Al Horford, Dallas' Josh Howard, Golden State's Monta Ellis and Sacramento's Kevin Martin.
Some teams, obviously, have been, well, hurt worse than others by injuries this season. Here's a list of the 10 teams that have been the most affected by injuries so far:
1.Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas, perhaps the Wizards' best player, hasn't played all season and won't be back until January, at the earliest, after knee surgery. Center Brendan Haywood (wrist) could be out even longer. The result has been a miserable start, which has led to the Wizards' coach, Eddie Jordan, already being fired.
2.San Antonio Spurs: It was easy to see Manu Ginobili's value to his team when the Spurs got off to a 2-5 start without him. Tony Parker was trying to pick up the slack, leading the league in scoring, when he got hurt too. Now both are back and the Spurs are climbing.
3.Utah Jazz: Carlos Boozer is an All-Star and all, but the Jazz's MVP is Deron Williams. Playing competitively without D-Will showed the rest of the Association that the Jazz have good depth. Injuries to Boozer, Matt Harpring, Brevin Knight, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko and Jarron Collins have also kept them out of games. Mehmet Okur missed four games to visit his ailing father. Yet the Jazz still have a winning record. It's quite amazing, actually.
4.Golden State Warriors: Monta Ellis was supposed to become the go-to guard in Oakland when Baron Davis left the Warriors to sign with the L.A. Clippers. Instead, Ellis has been sidelined all year thanks to an ankle injury suffered in a mo-ped accident. To make matters worse, Ellis originally lied about the accident, saying he hurt himself in the gym. Golden State suspended him for 30 games without pay because of the incident, but he was likely to miss 30 or more games anyway.
5.Houston Rockets: Shane Battier isn't one of the Rockets' "Big Three." But Battier is a key contributor and an all-around player who can knock down a 3-pointer and play defense with the best of them. Battier had surgery on his left foot during the off-season and only returned this week. The Rockets' star trio of Tracy McGrady (knee), Yao Ming (ankle) and Ron Artest (ankle) have all been hobbled at times this season too. Still, Houston hasn't had a real problem yet on the court, as the Rockets are right in the thick of the battle in the Southwest Division.
6.New York Knicks: How bad was the injury situation for new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni? So bad that he was wanting point guard Stephon Marbury on the court. Quentin Richardson (bruised forearm), Nate Robinson (groin), Cuttino Mobley (heart condition), Al Harrington (back) are just some of the maladies the Knicks have been dealing with of late. After a strong start to the season, the Knicks entered Saturday night's game under .500.
7.Sacramento Kings: Kevin Martin, the team's best player, has been able to play in only seven of 18 games this season because of an ankle injury. In addition, forward Francisco Garcia (calf) missed the team's first 17 games. Center Brad Miller has been hobbled this season as well, missing five games. The injuries, especially the one to Martin, is a big reason the Kings have struggled to a 5-13 start.
8.Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were the talk of the NBA after a 6-0 start to the season. Since then, however, Atlanta went 3-6 through Friday night's games. Part of the problem has been injuries to star forward Josh Smith (ankle) and guard Joe Johnson (sprained toe). Smith has played in just four games, but is expected to return next week. Johnson has played through his toe injury, but it seems to have affected his effectiveness. He went 12-for-42 in the three games prior to Saturday night's contest at Washington.
9.Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Redd, who was on the U.S. Olympic team for his outside shooting touch, had played in just four games this season due to an ankle injury. Milwaukee has missed his scoring, but he is returning soon. Redd isn't the only Buck that has been slowed by being hurt. Ex-Ute Andrew Bogut (bruised knee), Luke Ridnour (knee) and Charlie Villanueva (hamstring) have been hobbling around too. Not surprisingly, the Bucks wereonly 7-11 entering Saturday night's game vs. Cleveland.
10.Dallas Mavericks: Up-and-coming forward Josh Howard, the Mavs' second leading scorer, has missed six games with an ankle injury. In addition, veteran shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse has only appeared in eight games this year because of an injured right heel. Even before his injury, however, Stackhouse was unhappy in his role with the team and he has asked to be traded. Dallas, which was one of the top teams in the NBA not too long ago, is now struggling to be a .500 club.
The good news for all these teams is that the season is only a month old. There is plenty of time for most of the injured guys to heal and have productive campaigns. E-mail: email@example.com