Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports

On the other side of this weekend’s all-star break wins will be at a premium as teams try and secure one of the top eight spots in their conference.

On the surface the teams that will come out of these scrums may appear obvious, but the great equalizer – the injury bug – might just be rearing its ugly head and wreaking havoc on the Western Conference. Here are some of the biggest names on the injury list that might affect everything we thought we knew about these NBA Playoff contenders.

1. Dwight Howard, Knee injury – Out 6-8 Weeks

Howard has been a force for the Rockets this year, averaging a double-double with 16.3 points per game and 11 rebounds per game. Without Howard, the Rockets face the unenviable task of holding off the Mavericks, Clippers, Trail Blazers and Spurs – all of whom are within 2.5 games of Houston. Odds are the the Rockets will still be a playoff team when all is said and done, largely thanks to James Harden, but Howard’s absence could greatly affect their seeding and consequently their ability to make a deep run into the playoffs.

2. Blake Griffin, Right Elbow – Out At Least 3 Weeks

While the Clippers may have a cushy looking eight game lead over the Thunder and the Pelicans, the injury to Griffin is definitely worrisome. The Clippers certainly have the man power to maintain their sixth seed standing, and maybe even improve it, but the injury to Griffin is an opportunity for the now-healthy Thunder and the other teams that trail the Clippers to gear up for a late-season run.

3. Anthony Davis, Shoulder Sprain – Day-To-Day

Davis is unquestionably a top MVP candidate this season. Averaging 24.5 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game and 2.7 blocks to boot makes him utterly irreplaceable if the Pelicans are planning on making the playoffs. Davis makes the list purely because of how invaluable he is to his team. Without him the Pelicans would probably be closer to being in the Jahlil Okafor sweepstakes than in the playoff race. Davis’ injury could make the eighth seed a two-team race between Oklahoma City and Phoenix.

The Question Mark – Oklahoma City Thunder  

As it stands now the Thunder may well be in the best position of any team outside looking in to snag a playoff berth. The question that remains is can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook stay healthy for the rest of the season and through the playoffs. If either piece of OKC’s two-headed monster goes down so do the Thunder’s playoff chances. Durant has played in less than half of the team’s 52 games and Westbrook has missed 14 himself due to injuries. If they can stay healthy they will overtake Phoenix for the eighth seed and could possibly move higher. Without them, the bottom could fall out completely.

It’ll be an interesting race to the finish line for certain. In a perfect world injuries are a non-factor when it comes to the success of a team but we all know that isn’t reality. Hopefully the stars can stay healthy and the teams that are shorthanded can make due until they return.

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