Injuries to NBA stars Giannis, Ja dim start of postseason

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo lays on the ground after an injury during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff game Sunday, April 16, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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AP Sports Writer

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer expressed cautious optimism regarding the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo after the two-time MVP left Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference playoff opener with a bruised lower back.

Antetokounmpo isn’t the only prominent player already dealing with a health issue after the first weekend of the playoffs. Injuries to some of the NBA’s top stars have dimmed the start of the postseason, with title hopes possibly fading just as quickly depending on how bad they’re hurt.

Budenholzer said Monday that Antetokounmpo underwent an MRI after the game that revealed “everything’s clean.” The Bucks lost 130-117 to the Miami Heat on Sunday and trail the best-of-7 series 1-0 heading into Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“I would say he’s still sore, but I think progress,” Budenholzer said. “He’s getting some treatment. I think we’ll just continue to monitor him for the next day or two. We’re probably fortunate that (we have) two days between games. I think (we’re) still mostly positive, mostly optimistic, but we’ll see how he feels over the next day or two.”

Injuries over the span of a couple hours Sunday also sidelined two-time All-Star Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro, keeping them from finishing their playoff openers.

Anthony Davis scared Los Angeles Lakers fans by grabbing at his right shoulder and saying he couldn’t move his arm. Luckily for the Lakers, Davis rebounded from a stinger and returned for the start of the third quarter of their 128-112 victory over the Grizzlies.

Both Antetokounmpo and Morant were hurt on drives to the basket where each landed awkwardly.

Antetokounmpo came down hard on his backside after being fouled by Miami’s Kevin Love. The Bucks’ forward got up slowly with 4:13 left in the first quarter. He picked up his second foul about 2 1/2 minutes later but played about 11 minutes for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

The Bucks went on to lose 130-117 to Miami. Herro broke his right hand late in the second quarter, apparently while diving for a loose ball. The Heat disclosed the severity of his injury at halftime.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Herro, seen with a cast on his hand after the game, won’t play Game 2 on Wednesday night and the Heat will figure out what to do next.

“I got the same diagnosis that you all heard,” Spoelstra said.

Morant came into Sunday’s first-round Western Conference series with his right hand already bandaged after being hurt in a win that clinched the No. 2 seed for the Grizzlies.

Then he drove to the basket against the 6-foot-10 Davis with 5:48 left, with Memphis trailing the Lakers 105-101. His right hand appeared to bend the wrong direction as he hit the court. Morant writhed in pain, then ran toward the Grizzlies’ bench letting out a yell near midcourt before sprinting to the locker room.

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said X-rays were negative and the Grizzlies will do further testing taking this injury one day at a time.

“I’m not the medical expert,” Jenkins said.

Morant said he’s doubtful for Game 2 on Wednesday night with Memphis down 0-1 following a 128-112 loss.

“Tough man, especially with everything I’ve been through pretty much this season,” said Morant, who was suspended by the NBA for eight games in March after livestreaming himself holding a gun at a Denver-area strip club.

The guard who set the Grizzlies’ single season scoring record averaging 26.2 points a game wants to play. Memphis already is without center Steven Adams because of an injured knee and reserve big man Brandon Clarke tore an Achilles tendon in March.

“Another incident where that’s pretty much in jeopardy,” said Morant, who missed the final three games of Memphis’ semifinals loss to eventual champ Golden State with an injured knee.

Pain level and how effective he can be will decide if Morant can play.

“I feel like I can go out there and be somewhat myself, I’ll be playing,” Morant said. “If not, I don’t want to do anything to hurt the team.”

The Clippers survived their opener by beating No. 4 seed Phoenix 115-110 without eight-time All-Star guard Paul George, who’s been sidelined by sprained right knee since late March.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham may have been the happiest coach after sending Davis to the locker room with 1:15 left in the second quarter to make sure the medical team started working on the eight-time All-Star immediately.

“Just happy he’s OK,” Ham said.