PER Diem: April 13, 2009

Few things are more exciting than seeing the league's biggest stars go head-to-head in the NBA playoffs.

On the other hand, few things are more depressing than seeing a contending team try to win a playoff series without one of its stars.

The fact it's such a star-driven league is fantastic, but the dark lining to that silver cloud is the havoc that injuries can wreak on otherwise solid teams. Unfortunately, it appears it's going to be a huge factor this postseason, in particular, given recent developments around the Association.

Here's a look at the injuries affecting contenders heading into the homestretch:

Boston Celtics
The most vital player on defending champion Boston, forward Kevin Garnett, has played only 82 minutes since the All-Star break thanks to a lingering knee injury that was originally expected to cost him just a handful of games. While the Celtics plan on playing him in Wednesday's regular-season finale, one gets the sense it's more because they're out of time than because he's back at full strength.

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio shut down ace sixth man Manu Ginobili for a stretch earlier this year, then declared him out for the season more recently because of an ankle injury that dates back to last season. If that wasn't bad enough, center Tim Duncan is hobbling along on two bad knees that have reduced his normally abundant production to something markedly more human.

Orlando Magic
Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu turned an ankle in Saturday's loss to the Nets, raising the question of whether the Magic's most vital ball handler would be able to contribute in the postseason. Meanwhile, All-Star forward Rashard Lewis has sat out with knee tendinitis; this after All-Star guard Jameer Nelson was already lost for the season with a separated shoulder.

Utah Jazz
Utah's Carlos Boozer has been back in the lineup for 23 games, but hasn't been anything like his normal self for any of them. And the Jazz -- one of the favorites in the West entering the season -- have gone into a tailspin that culminated in Saturday's embarrassing home loss to a Golden State team on a back-to-back with seven healthy players, four of whom were never drafted.

New Orleans Hornets
Another Western threat, New Orleans, has been laid low by injuries to center Tyson Chandler and forward James Posey; Chandler is their most vital defensive force, while Posey was the veteran bench ace they signed instead of adding more frontcourt help behind Chandler. Without either, last year's No. 2 seed in the West looks like first-round cannon fodder.

Houston Rockets
The third popular preseason pick out West, Houston, has already lost guard Tracy McGrady for the season and got a scare this week when center Yao Ming checked out with a sore foot. Tests showed no problems and he'll apparently play their final two games, but if Yao has to miss any time the Rockets are doomed. In fact, even with him they might be.

As a result of all the injury woes, we find ourselves looking at a postseason in which the most important factor may not be a team's talent, but rather how much talent is sitting on the sidelines.

The top two seeds, Cleveland and Los Angeles, may find themselves with an overwhelming advantage in the postseason thanks not only to their talent and home-court advantages, but also to having their rosters intact for the games that matter most. Cleveland's most likely foil (Boston) and the Lakers' most dangerous opponent (San Antonio) have been critically wounded by nagging injuries to their great power forwards, with Ginobili's season-ending injury an added dagger in San Antonio's case.

Even the healthy teams have their issues, of course. L.A. is still trying to work Andrew Bynum back into the mix after he missed most of the second half of the season, though the young big man looked strong in an extended stint in Portland on Friday. Meanwhile, the Cavs just got Ben Wallace back in the mix and may be without him again after he bruised his knee in Sunday's rout of the Celtics.

Yet their problems pale in comparison to those of their most talented competition. With the Magic and Celtics both compromised by injuries, the Eastern Conference increasingly looks like the Cleveland Invitational. Ditto for the normally vicious West, where only Portland and Denver appear to have both the health and the talent necessary to make the Lakers break a sweat en route to a conference title.

Not that the suits mind, of course. A Kobe-LeBron showdown in the Finals would be one for the ages as far as TV appeal goes, and it appears we're on a collision course for that battle royale. It would be nice if we had a little more drama along the way, though, and with everyone else's star players dropping like flies, it doesn't appear we're going to get it.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.