There is an NBA player who could challenge Bulls forward Jimmy Butler for the league's Ironman of the month for April.
Kobe Bryant's minute count was 48, 47, 43, 47, 41, 48 and 45 over seven straight games -- until he tore the Achilles tendon in his left leg late Friday night against Golden State and will be sidelined 6-9 months.
This injury adds to the epidemic of serious injuries to NBA stars. In just over a year, there have been ACL tears by Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. New York big men Tyson Chandler (bulging disc) and Amare Stoudemire (knee) are questionable for the playoffs. Minnesota's Kevin Love and Indiana's Danny Granger missed most of the season.
Bryant already had surgery Saturday afternoon and is talking about being ready for the start of next season. That one seems optimistic, since many athletes who have been through it have said an Achilles tear is one of the toughest injuries to overcome.
The Lakers, with two games left in the regular season, are battling Utah for the final playoff spot in the West. But they weren't expected to stick around very long, anyway, so Bryant's absence will be more of a long-term problem.
Already, the debate has begun about whether Bryant's minute count led to the injury. Butler has played at least 42 minutes in nine of the last 11 games -- including all 48 against Toronto last Tuesday and 50 in the overtime win over New York two days later.
But while Butler is 23 years old, Bryant is 34 with 17 NBA seasons and roughly 1,400 games under his belt, including playoffs.
In an interview with nba.com, renowned personal trainer Tim Grover, who has worked with Bryant, weighed in on the topic of overuse.
"The one thing about an Achilles, it can happen any time, under any stress movement," Grover said. "You could walk off a sidewalk and pop your Achilles. It's just one of those injuries. People get hurt. I can't blame anyone for this. I don't think it had anything to do with the minutes he was playing. It's a freakish injury that just happened."
Just like we can't say that heavy minutes caused Bryant's injury, we also can't rule it out as a contributing factor.
It's similar to Rose's experience last year. His usage cannot be blamed for the torn ACL in the playoff opener, but playing 39 and 41 minutes in a couple of April games as he returned from other injuries probably would be avoided, if the Bulls had it to do again.
While we're asking questions that can't be answered, maybe Michael Jordan's baseball break helped save him from a serious injury late in his career. Jordan didn't miss a game in the 1996-98 championship seasons and played all 82 for the Wizards in 2002-03 when he turned 40.
Richard Hamilton won't play against Miami on Sunday. He was suspended one game for hitting Toronto's DeMar DeRozan with a forearm in Friday's loss. Hamilton was also tossed from the game for the offense, which happened with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
Brooklyn or Indiana:
After losing to Toronto on Friday, the Bulls dropped a half-game behind Atlanta into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The teams are even in the loss column, however, and the Bulls won the season series against the Hawks, so if the Bulls win their final three games, they would be guaranteed to snag the No. 5 seed.
Atlanta's last two games are home against Toronto and at New York.
Finishing sixth doesn't guarantee a matchup with Indiana. The two potential first-round opponents played each other Friday and Brooklyn won on the road. The Nets are now 2 games behind the Pacers for third in the East and own the tiebreaker.
Indiana finishes at New York, at Boston and Philadelphia at home. Brooklyn is at Toronto, then gets Washington and Detroit at home.
Power Trio prepared:
The Miami Heat is expected to have all three of its stars on the floor against the Bulls on Sunday afternoon. While the short-handed Bulls are trying to survive the regular season, LeBron James is still thinking about the physical play he complained about after the Heat lost in Chicago on March 27.
"I expect nothing less than physical," James said, according to Fox Sports Florida. "Everything the whole game will be physical. If it's guided toward me, if it's guided toward everyone, I look forward to it."