Jimmy Butler was in the middle of dominating Friday night’s Chicago Bulls/Denver Nuggets game, working with 18 points and five assists, mostly culled off of fearless drives to the hoop. With just over a minute left in the half, however, he took yet another foul and fell down hard:
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A combination stretcher/wheelchair was brought out from the back hallways of the arena, which Butler initially got into, then waved off prior making his way back to the free throw line. Archaic NBA rules dictate that if a player is unable to shoot free throws due to injury, he must be ruled out of the game.
Butler made one of two to bring his point total to 19, then asked for the wheelchair’s return prior to being carted off.
The two-time All-Star and 2015 NBA Most Improved Player missed Wednesday’s Chicago win over Sacramento with left knee soreness, but he’s easily been the healthiest member of his team both this year and in years past.
Currently on pace to lead the league in minutes per game for the third straight year, Butler has acted as Chicago’s leading scorer in a season that has seen Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks all lose games to injury or illness. Noah is out for the season, Mirotic until after the All-Star break.
Here's Chicago's initial diagnosis:
For NBA teams, announcing a "knee sprain" is akin to saying "we have no idea what's going on and won't until he can take an MRI." From first glance, it’s hard to guess exactly what Butler is facing down. It could be as simple as a recoverable knee sprain, but by the looks of the way his left leg landed he could be dealing a significant knee injury, or even fears about a strained groin or Achilles tear. Butler doesn’t exactly play with a pell-mell style, but he is seventh in the NBA in free throw attempts per game.
UPDATE: Prior to the MRI, Bulls beat writer Vincent Goodwill tweeted this:
It's important to remember that Butler still has yet to undergo the MRI needed to determine the extent of his injury, which will take place in Minnesota on Saturday according to the team. When Derrick Rose tore his meniscus early in the 2013-14 season, he was sent back home from Portland to Chicago to undergo his MRI, which is a half-full hope for the Chicago faithful.
As stated above, even the nastiest falls and twists can just result in "only" a sprain, and not a significant ligament tear. With that said, Butler and the Bulls sadly aren't out of the woods yet until the MRI results conclude that this was only a hyperextension and/or sprain, and not what could be a career-altering injury.
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