Forty two days ago, Harden caught Sanders with an elbow while tracking down a rebound. The collision resulted in much more than Sanders being forced to miss the rest of the game.
The encounter resulted in a fractured orbital bone for Sanders and after missing the last 18 games, Milwaukee announced the injury will keep him out for the remainder of the regular season.
The news marks the latest setback for the Bucks this year.
After signing Sanders to a four-year $44 million contract extension last August, the 2013-14 campaign was disappointing for both Milwaukee and it’s franchise center as he failed to live up to expectations.
Last year, Sanders emerged as a defensive force, swatting away 2.8 shots per game, the second most in the NBA, while he averaged 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Instead of issuing a rebuild, team owner Herb Kohl opted to bring in veteran free agents to make a run at one of the last playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Any thoughts of the post season were quickly dashed when an incident away from the court derailed the season for Sanders.
A video was released depicting Sanders throwing multiple objects, likely bottles, after multiple people attacked him during the incident.
The injury forced Sanders to miss 26 consecutive games and Milwaukee posted a 5-21 record in his absence.
When he finally returned, the 6-foot-11 center failed to provide the impact necessary for a turnaround.
Sanders averaged 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in 23 appearances this season.
His presence wasn’t able to provide a much needed impact on the offensive end for the Bucks, as they are averaging just 94.8 points per game, the third fewest in the NBA.
For one night in Denver, Sanders played like the franchise player Milwaukee was anticipating after signing him to the contract extension.
Sanders posted 25 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field, totaled 15 rebounds (eight on the offensive end) along with two assists, a steal and a block.
The effort wasn’t enough for the Bucks to leave the Mile High City with a victory, but marked his finest performance of the season.
Less than five minutes into his next game, Harden swung his arms after securing a rebound, inflicting multiple fractures to the right orbital bone of Sanders.
While Sanders claims to be progressing well from his surgical procedure, he will be forced to miss the last 13 games of the year.
The loss of Sanders will only increase the likelihood of Milwaukee obtaining the best odds to land the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The team with the worst record in the league holds a 25 percent chance of securing the top pick next June.
The Bucks are looking to join Cleveland, Orlando and the Clippers as the only teams to win the draft lottery on three occasions. The Cavaliers are the only franchise to win the top choice four times.
Since 1985, only the San Antonio Spurs have won a championship after winning the top draft lottery on multiple occasions.
The 2014 Draft Class boasts numerous players with the potential to become a cornerstone of a franchise and the Bucks believe a combination of Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo and a lottery pick this summer can return the team to post season contention.
One of the most important factors of a turnaround is a healthy and contributing Sanders.
The announcement of his exit for the rest of the season should have him fully healthy by the time Milwaukee opens training camp in seven months.
By then, the team could have a rookie capable of carrying the team on the roster.
Even a sliver of hope is a tremendous thing for a team that has won just 13 times this year.