OAKLAND, Calif. — David Lee’s latest injury with Golden State has been keeping him awake at night wondering if he will ever get to go through the playoffs healthy.
After tearing his right hip flexor in his first postseason game last year, Lee is trying to rehabilitate an even more perplexing injury at the worst time again. The power forward said he has damage in the nerve that connects from his back to the upper part of his right hamstring but hopes to return for the playoffs, if not sooner, though his recovery could take longer.
"I’m so frustrated that I’m almost not frustrated anymore," said Lee, who missed four games in last year’s playoffs before playing limited minutes with the hip injury. "Even watching practice is just miserable for me. It’s such a fun time of year, and obviously I’d be lying if last year how the season ended didn’t factor into that."
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The Warriors’ co-captain participated in a portion of Wednesday’s light practice, working up a sweat on his gray shirt before shooting free throws when reporters were allowed to enter the gym. He said he feels no pain while running, but when he tries to push off or make sharp cuts, his leg shuts down.
Lee has missed six straight games and is expected to sit out again Thursday night against Denver. After hosting the Nuggets, the Warriors (48-29) have only four games left in the regular season.
Lee said there is no timetable for his return from the injury, which the team initially called a strained hamstring. He said the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process is that unlike muscle strains or bone breaks, nerve damage is more difficult for doctors to predict how long he will be out.
"That’s the only thing that has really worried me," Lee said. "Just because if they were to tell me it’s going to be two weeks, I can mentally think, `All right. I can be back in a week. I think I’m a pretty fast healer. We can go from there.’ But just the fact that they say sometimes these heal in two days, sometimes it takes two months. We don’t know. But the good thing is, from what they’ve told me, as long as it continues to progress they think it’s going to be weeks still. So I have a good chance of being there when I need to be there."
Coach Mark Jackson said versatile forward Draymond Green will continue to start in Lee’s place. But he hopes for the team and for Lee — who made the playoffs for the first time in eight years in the NBA last season — that his starting power forward can suit up when it matters most.
"I’m sure it’s frustrating," Jackson said. "He’s a guy that’s waited a long time to be in this position and, once again, not a hundred percent. He’s a guy that works his tail off and he’s doing everything possible, just like last year, to make sure he’s able to contribute and do his part for this basketball team."
Lee’s injury occurred in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s loss to San Antonio on March 22. He dribbled to his right and spun left, then got bumped in the side and came down awkwardly after making a hook shot.
At the time, Lee said he thought he pulled his hamstring. But a few days later, he felt pain when he tried to play. Lee said he had two MRI exams last week — one on his hamstring, and a follow-up one on his back — that revealed the nerve damage.
He said he rested Monday and Tuesday and took medication to help the inflammation subside. He plans to do some light workouts and strength training the rest of the week and, if his body allows, get back on the court in hopes of playing before the playoffs.
"The important thing is I’m feeling better each day," Lee said. "The only thing that would be really a concern to me is if I was plateauing out or I was feeling worse and worse. Things are on the right track."