Any positive vibes Houston Rockets fans felt coming off Thursday's breezy, historic blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers were wiped away Friday afternoon with a bombshell of a bummer off the keyboard of Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski:
Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports subsequently confirmed the torn right meniscus, which could drastically change the course of the Western Conference playoff picture. This, of course, is a pretty cruel twist of fate for Beverley and the Rockets, considering it was Beverley's collision with Russell Westbrook that A) largely introduced the the dogged, defensive-minded 25-year-old Beverley to a national audience last postseason and B) altered the Western playoff landscape last season by stripping the Oklahoma City Thunder of their second-best scorer and playmaker, leaving them short-handed and vulnerable to a second-round ouster by the Memphis Grizzlies.
It's unclear when exactly Beverley suffered the injury, but he exited the game just a half-minute into the second quarter, calling a timeout after a made 3-pointer by Sixers guard James Anderson and leaving in favor of Chandler Parsons, never to return. Beverley finished with five points and an assist in 7 1/2 minutes of playing time, and was initially diagnosed with a sprained right knee, pending a Friday magnetic resonance imaging exam. Unfortunately for Beverley, the Rockets and their fans, the MRI's results painted a more dire picture, although the outcome remains less than crystal clear, as Beverley's agent told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
“He has a torn meniscus, we’re not 100 percent sure how bad it is or what action we will take,” his agent Kevin Bradbury said. “We’re going to get to the docs and determine what’s best for Pat and for the organization. We should have some clarity early next week.
”I would say out indefinitely until we know more.”
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale echoed that timeframe, telling Feigen he didn't expect to know more about Beverley's availability for at least seven to 10 days.
When all the relevant parties know more, Beverley will have to decide on a course of action. He could choose to have surgery to trim or shave the torn portion of the meniscus; players like Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin and Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe have gone the removal route in the relatively recent past. Griffin went under the knife in mid-July 2012, was back on the court for the start of the Clippers' 2012-13 training camp in October, and said he'd have been ready far sooner if need be. Bledsoe's arthroscopic procedure took place on Jan. 10, and he returned to the Suns' lineup on March 11, just over eight weeks later.
Beverley could also choose to have surgery to repair the tear, rather than remove any part of the meniscus, which requires a longer recovery period that would likely keep the point guard for a matter of months, not weeks, and put his postseason availability in jeopardy. This is the route Westbrook and the Thunder chose last spring after the All-Star's lateral meniscus tear, with Oklahoma City general manager terming the repair-over-remove decision "the best possible scenario for Russell's long term health as a player and person." That surgery, plus a subsequent preseason procedure, kept Westbrook on the shelf for more than six months.
It's also the path chosen by Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls after the former MVP suffered a medial meniscus tear on a non-contact play during a Nov. 22 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Rose had his surgery three days later and, rumors aside, is not expected to return this season, although he is reportedly aiming to suit up for the U.S. men's national basketball team during the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain this summer.
Recovery times, of course, depend on an awful lot of factors — the extent of the tear, the nature of the procedure, the individual athlete in question, etc. Metta World Peace played for the Los Angeles Lakers just 12 days after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscal tear last season; he was pretty far from 100 percent, and he rarely looked fully himself this season with the New York Knicks, but he got back on the court inside two weeks. Brandon Roy returned to a playoff game eight days after a meniscus procedure, which remains a decision that a lot of people question, given how things turned out for him after the fact. Al Harrington played through a torn meniscus during the 2011-12 season, and wound up missing most of 2012-13 after complications from eventual arthroscopic knee surgery, among other reasons. Chase Budinger missed 3 1/2 months after his procedure, and hasn't been totally the same since. Bledsoe was sidelined for four months (including about one month of games) after his first meniscus surgery, but over time seemed to regain just about all of the explosiveness and athleticism he had beforehand. You get the idea: your mileage may vary.
It will be interesting to see which route Beverley and the Rockets elect to take. Beverley's pro career has seen him bounce from Ukraine to the Lakers, from Greece to the Miami Heat, and from Russia to Houston, where he's carved out a role as McHale's starting point guard alongside All-Star backcourt partner James Harden, sliding Jeremy Lin to the bench as the Rockets' primary offensive creator and facilitator off the bench. To this point, though, the Rockets have yet to make a significant long-term financial commitment to Beverley; he's signed through 2015 on a minimum-salary deal, but that deal isn't guaranteed next season and the 2014-'15 component is based on the Rockets extending him a qualifying offer. Daryl Morey has built this Rockets team with an eye on having a wide-open, multi-year contending window ... but Beverley's not yet securely strapped in for that long-term ride.
Rose and Westbrook were top draft picks and established superstars locked into lucrative long-term deals with their respective employers at the times of their injuries; it made sense for them and their teams to take the long view in their recoveries. But this would be Beverley's first playoff run as a full-time starter in an NBA starting five. With once-and-future starter Lin in the fold and the future far from certain, might he elect to throw caution to the wind in the interest of getting back on the floor and demonstrating his importance as soon as possible? Or will he take the more cautious route, preferring to go the route that might give him the highest likelihood of avoiding compounded problems down the road?
If he goes with the latter, it would likely mean he'll be out for the season, dealing a major blow to the Rockets' chances of coming out of a brutal Western Conference and contending for an NBA championship.
On one hand, the Rockets are better equipped than many other teams to weather the loss of their starting point guard thanks to the presence of Lin, who started all 82 games last year during his first season in Houston, has made 25 starts this season and stepped in seamlessly for Beverley against the Sixers, chipping in 13 points and seven assists in 27 minutes. Lin has worked well when kicking off games this season, averaging 14.3 points, 4.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while posting higher field-goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages as a starter than as a reserve.
With Beverley on the floor alongside Harden, Parsons, All-Star center Dwight Howard and power forward Terrence Jones, the Rockets have outscored opponents by 6.1 points per 100 possessions in 592 minutes of floor time, according to NBA.com's stat tool; while that number has dipped when Lin replaces Beverley, Houston has still outpaced the opposition by 5.6 points-per-100 over the span of 325 minutes. It's the difference between being the league's No. 6 team in terms of "efficiency differential" (whether you outscore the other team over the course of 100 possessions, or vice versa) and the No. 7 team, which isn't that huge a difference; in fact, with Lin at the helm alongside Harden, Houston's offense scores at an even higher clip, one that would rank as the very best in the NBA over the course of the full season.
But while Lin's a fairly high-class second option, he's become the Rockets' clear No. 2 by virtue of what Beverley provides Houston on the defensive end.
The 6-foot-1 Arkansas product is a tenacious perimeter hound, whose quick feet, active hands and screw-you-for-trying-to-score-on-me demeanor has earned him his fair share of detractors over the last season and a half, but has also earned him the measure of grudging respect merited by the league's best on-ball pests. He's the only top-drawer perimeter defender the Rockets have, the kind of dampening agent that allows noted defensive minus Harden to take on less threatening assignments most nights, and gives the Rockets' back-line tandem of Howard and Omer Asik a bit of a breather from always having to clean up their teammates' messes on the outside. He's dogged in staying with ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls, he works hard tracking back in transition, and he takes pride in making life miserable for his mark.
He's aggressive and effective, quick and craft, with a short memory and a long leash from his head coach to get the job done. He's exactly what Houston would need against, say, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, whom the Rockets would face if the postseason started today. Or Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, the West's top seed, who'd get the winner of a 4 vs. 5 matchup in Round 2. Or, for that matter, Bledsoe and Goran Dragic of the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns, should an 8-over-1 upset occur in the first round. Or the Clippers' Chris Paul. Or Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Or Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Or, of course, Westbrook. (Man, the West is stacked at the one.) And without him ... well, let's just say Howard and Asik will have a lot more messes to clean up.
Depending on matchups, that could be the difference between a run to the conference finals or an early exit. That's just how close the West is this year — the entire makeup of the first round, and all that comes afterward, could be determined by a second opinion on a small swatch of fibrocartilaginous material in the knee of a minimum-salary role player who started last season in St. Petersburg. It's a weird, weird world. Here's hoping Patrick Beverley resumes being a fully, healthy participant in it as soon as possible.
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