Ty Lawson stands out (Getty Images)
There’s no good time to attempt to work through and recover from a plantar fascia tear, but with less than three weeks left in the regular season this is exactly what Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson will attempt to do. The potent Nugget waterbug was previously sidelined with a heel injury, and the team announced today that he is “day-to-day” with the same tear that knocked Pau Gasol out for five and a half weeks earlier this season.
The Nuggets sent out the news on Friday:
— Denver Nuggets (@denvernuggets) March 29, 2013
Lawson missed three games earlier this month with the injury and attempted to come back against the Spurs on Wednesday, and it was an unsuccessful return. Ty missed six of seven shots, understandable considering what he’s working through, in 19 minutes of action.
USA Today delved deeper into what the Nuggets are facing with Lawson out:
Lawson has played 69 games this season and averages 16.7 points and 6.9 assists a game. The Nuggets average 106.1 points a game when he plays 95.5 when he doesn't.
Denver coach George Karl told reporters after Thursday's shootaround, "There's no question it's a fun team to coach. It's a little harder, though, when Ty's not out there."
Given Gasol’s recovery rate, it’s fair to wonder if Lawson won’t be able to return to action until the first week of May. Though the elongated first round can sometimes last for two weeks, this could still preclude Lawson from returning to the Nuggets in the first round of the postseason. This is an injury that doesn’t require surgery, but fascia tears are incredibly painful and need plenty of rest and treatment on the way toward recovery. Even then, a full return isn’t guaranteed -- Pau Gasol’s dodgy play in the first two games of his comeback from injury is proof enough of this.
The Nuggets have the luxury of being able to field one of the NBA’s best backup point guards, veteran Andre Miller, in Lawson’s place. The problem with that scenario, though, is that Lawson was one of the NBA’s best starting point guards, and Miller is nowhere near as effective as Lawson in his declining years. This isn’t to say Miller won’t be competent, or that he can’t ably run a transition team like the Nuggets. Still, the team will be replacing 35 very good minutes per game with 33 good minutes per contest, and as CBS’ Matt Moore noted earlier on Friday, backup-to-the-backup Julyan Stone sprained his MCL a few days ago, and will be on the shelf for a while.
This probably means the team will have to fish for another reserve guard as the regular season spins to a close. The problem with this scenario is that the Memphis Grizzlies – the Nuggets’ likely first round opponent – are already in the market for the same thing and have already made reported inroads to players like Keyon Dooling and Sundiata Gaines. The market is so thin that the Grizzlies, all full of advanced stats and dot com know-how, are actually considering Jonny Flynn in their back court. This is not a good time to lose your starting point guard.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Lawson’s injury is its nature. If he attempts to return too early from the tear, there will be a significant setback, and Lawson will not play anywhere near the level of basketball he came through with for what has been a fantastic 2012-13 season. He won’t be offering up games like the 1-7 shooting night we saw on Wednesday, but it won’t be far off. And even though the Nuggets are a team that shares the ball and famously has a different hero every night, do not mistake Lawson for anything less than the engine that drives this beast.
(Worse, his absence and Denver’s potential first round ouster could possibly give the “you can’t win without a star”-critics more ammunition, as the Nuggets have to wait until the spring of 2014 to try it all again.)
Perhaps the tear isn’t as significant as Gasol’s, and perhaps Lawson can work his way back into playing shape before the playoffs start on April 20. Even in the best-case scenario, though, this is terrible timing for all involved.
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