Ten days into the NBA playoffs, it must be time for a top 10 list.
Either that or we need a timely topic to mask the fact that a) no one can tell you for sure whether Monday night was the last home game together for Karl Malone and John Stockton and b) we likewise can't yet single out one team in these playoffs that's absolutely rolling.
The league's injury epidemic thus becomes the topic of focus, after Monday's disclosure that the Lakers' Rick Fox will be sidelined for the rest of the postseason with a torn tendon in his left foot. The only upset Monday night, when Stockton-to-Malone couldn't hold an early lead to even their series with Sacramento, is that (thankfully) no one else went down.
The following top 10 compilation, Injured List Division, ranks the most hurtful health woes seen in the playoffs so far, based on the severity of the injury and how it affects that team.
1. Scottie Pippen, Trail Blazers.
Pip is simply Portland's most important player. Every poor stretch of the Blazers' season occurred either with Pippen sidelined or before coach Maurice Cheeks asked him to play point guard. Playing in only one game in the Dallas series because of ongoing knee trouble meant the Blazers had no on-court stabilizer, and even when he did play Pippen wasn't mobile enough to do what he does best against the Mavericks, which is disrupting the Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-roll with his long limbs and court sense. With the Blazers also losing Derek Anderson (knee) in Game 2 and Arvydas Sabonis (back) for Game 4, they clinched the top slot as a group.
2. Jamal Mashburn, Hornets.
The chip fracture in Mashburn's finger -- on his shooting hand -- typically calls for three-to-four weeks of rehab. That's why the Hornets don't expect Mashburn back in these playoffs unless they unexpectedly rally from a 3-1 deficit against Philadelphia to reach the second round. If it were his left hand, Mashburn would undoubtedly try to tape up the injury and play. Instead, without Mash, New Orleans is forced to try to outrun Philadelphia, which favors the Sixers. The Hornets came into the series hoping to slow the game down with their superiority on the boards and ability to score in the halfcourt. Playing Mash-less also means the Hornets are missing their tone-setter in the locker room. "The thing that I've been looking for on this team, since the death of Bobby Phills, is a leader -- because Bobby was my leader," Hornets coach Paul Silas said. "That's what Mash has been emerging as."
3. Rick Fox, Lakers.
Fox, at 34, had a sub-par season and wasn't having a great Minnesota series, either, after nearly 60 playoff games the past three springs. But don't buy Fox's self-deprecating jokes about the Lakers shedding their "dead weight." L.A.'s most tangible advantage over its West rivals, besides the obvious threat posed when Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are clicking, is the championship experience of support types like Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher. The Lakers will miss Fox's know-how, mainly on defense and especially if they do make it to a conference-finals rematch with the Kings, given Fox's past successes guarding Peja Stojakovic. They'll also miss his Phil Jackson-like ability to tweak the opposition with words and deeds; Fox is an irritant to the opposition and an outright villain in Sacramento. Now there can't be another round of Fox vs. Doug Christie until next season.
4. David Robinson, Spurs.
The Spurs figured they could handle undersized Phoenix without Robinson if necessary. They figured the series they'd need Robinson most is the potential second-round matchup with the Lakers, in which he'll be asked to guard Shaquille O'Neal for at least a half to spare Tim Duncan from early foul trouble. Of course, San Antonio has since struggled mightily with the Suns, even with Robinson missing only one of the four games so far. So the Spurs have to get to Round 2 (as do the Lakers) before they can even worry about how Robinson's back will hold up.
5. Chris Webber, Kings.
The Kings are deep enough to finish Utah off without relying heavily on Webber, so coach Rick Adelman would be wise to consider playing Webber sparingly for the rest of the series to guard against further damage to Webber's back. CWebb suffered the injury going for a rebound in Game 2, and Sacramento's championship chances would surely be affected if the pain -- like many cases of back trouble -- lingers. If it does linger, move him up the list.
6. Kobe Bryant, Lakers.
Much as Kobe continues to insist that his jammed right shoulder is no bother, the numbers suggest otherwise. Bryant is shooting just 31.6 percent from the field -- 30 for 95 -- since the first half of Game 1, and jarred the shoulder on a dunk attempt in the first quarter of Game 2. With Fox out and Shaquille O'Neal still prone to stretches of subdued play and limited mobility, the Lakers need a full-strength Bryant just to get past Minnesota, let alone complete L.A.'s four-peat bid.
7. Baron Davis, Hornets.
Davis is playing through his knee injury, and playing quite well judging by Monday's 34 points, but the bone bruise and subsequent swelling forced him to miss Game 2 entirely. Which didn't do much for the Hornets' start in the Philly series. The only solace: New Orleans is accustomed to playing without its stars, as seen last spring when Davis led the Hornets to the second round despite Mashburn missing the entire playoffs with vertigo.
8. Michael Finley, Mavericks.
The hamstring is OK, but Finley is still searching for some rhythm after a 13-game absence late in the regular season. He scored only 17 points in the two games in Portland, missing 17 of 24 shots, for a team that is also fretting daily about Eduardo Najera's gimpy knee. "Eddie's out there on blood and guts, but when we look at him on film compared to a year ago, before his knee got bad, we know he's not right," said Mavericks coach Don Nelson. The Kings have already proven they can beat the Mavericks in spite of a major injury -- Stojakovic in last May's playoffs -- but Dallas doesn't have Sacramento's depth to win a second-rounder without a healthier Finley and Najera.
9. Stephon Marbury, Suns.
Steph is a late entry here after suffering his second "stinger" of the season Sunday night in a collision with San Antonio's Malik Rose. He had no feeling in his right arm initially but played to the finish of a Game 4 triumph and says now that the injury shouldn't be a problem Tuesday night. Of course, if he takes another hit to that right shoulder, Steph might be moving up the list as well.
10. Chauncey Billups, Pistons.
It is Chauncey's left thigh, more than Ben Wallace's left knee, that has troubled the Pistons. Billups took a knock in Game 3, finished with only five points in that 89-80 defeat and has been moving gingerly ever since. Although Billups managed 25 points in Game 4, he missed 11 of 12 shots after a 16-point first quarter and finished just 6-for-20 from the field. The Pistons were counting on Billups to outplay Darrell Armstrong and Jacque Vaughn and be Detroit's big shot-maker in the playoffs. He's shooting 32.1 percent from the floor.