UPDATE (3:45 p.m. EDT, April 5): The staff operating Gallinari's official Facebook page announced Friday afternoon that magnetic resonance imaging tests revealed "the rupture of the 'anterior cruciate ligament'" in the forward's injured left knee, confirming Thursday night's report by Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski.
Shortly thereafter, the Nuggets released a statement announcing the tear and confirming that Gallinari will miss the balance of the 2012-13 season. Surgery to repair the tear has not yet been scheduled.
The Denver Nuggets are currently locked in a tight battle with the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers for the third seed in the West. After a disappointing start to the season, the Nuggets have emerged as a possible contender, rattling off an (eventual) 15-game win streak that ended in the last week of March and serving notice to the rest of the conference. Seeding could prove to be a major factor in their playoff fate.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, it now looks like they might have to set upon their quest without an essential player. With roughly 4:30 left in the second quarter of Thursday night's 95-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks, forward Danilo Gallinari attacked the basket and defender Dirk Nowitzki. As Gallo neared the restricted area underneath the hoop, he planted his left knee, buckled, and took a few awkward steps towards the baseline. Eventually, Gallinari fell to the ground in extreme pain. Shortly after, he was carted off and taken to the locker room.
You can watch the play after the jump. As with all injuries, it's not a particularly pleasant experience. Nevertheless, here it is for the curious (via The Point Forward):
The initial news from the Nuggets tells us little about Gallinari's status:
— Denver Nuggets (@denvernuggets) April 5, 2013
However, Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets that Gallinari likely suffered a major injury:
Initial exam suggests likely torn ACL for Denver's Danilo Gallinari, source tells Y! "Ligament was loose," source says. MRI Friday.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 5, 2013
Given Denver's circumstances, even a short absence could prove to have a big influence on the team's fortunes. For one thing, the Nuggets are already playing without starting point guard Ty Lawson, who could miss a few playoff games with a plantar fascia tear. Denver can be thankful that they have veteran floor general Andre Miller to help make up for that loss. In this case, though, Gallinari will prove especially tough to replace.
While the Nuggets are a dangerous team in part because of their depth, Gallinari plays an outsized role in making them so effective. At 6-10, Gallinari combined size and outside shooting in a way that allows the Nuggets to play varied lineups that can cause considerable matchup problems. In addition, he's their top floor spacer, shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc with 81 more attempts than any other player on the team. Without Gallinari and Lawson, the Nuggets will heavily rely on wing Wilson Chandler for shooting. He's capable and played particularly well during the long winning streak, but few teams can depend on one player to carry their outside shooting. That's just not how most teams are structured in this perimeter-oriented era.
Gallinari is also Denver's top threat at the free-throw line, which could prove to be just as big a loss as his outside shooting. He shoots an impressive 82.7 percent from the charity stripe, but the Nuggets as a team are 28th-best in the league at only 70 percent. In a close playoff game, the lack of a dependable free-throw shooter could loom large.
Heading into Thursday's games, the 51-24 Nuggets owned the third seed in the West due to their tiebreaker over the Memphis Grizzlies. If they were to lose that position, they still hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the 50-26 Los Angeles Clippers for homecourt advantage in the first round. In other words, any dip in performance could cause them to drop into a much dicier situation, particularly if Lawson and/or Gallinari proves incapable of playing any portion of the opening series. In a race this tight, every injury matters.
Yet these scenarios aren't nearly as awful as the prospect of losing Gallinari to a major knee ligament tear, which would likely keep him out of several months of next season, as well. That's the kind of injury that could affect the Nuggets' offseason plans and the construction of the team moving forward.
We'll have more on Gallinari's status as soon as it's available. If the early indications of an ACL tear are correct, the injury could have wide-ranging implications.