NBA teams know all too well that one moment can ruin a team's entire offseason plan. Sometimes the injury bug bites hard, scuttling hopes of a title run or even just the hopes of achieving meaningful progress. Ask the Chicago Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose after just a few games last fall, or the Oklahoma City Thunder, who saw Russell Westbrook forced out with a broken hand after already knowing they would be without Kevin Durant for several weeks.
The league saw two more potentially serious injuries on Friday night, neither of which figures to affect the postseason picture but both of which could reconfigure teams' expectations of improvement in 2014-15.
The first came in Orlando, where the Magic took on the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. With a few minutes to go in the first half, Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio drove towards the hoop and attempted to leave his feet while being challenged by veteran Willie Green. Rubio never really got off the ground, though, because he turned his left ankle pretty completely. Here's the video:
Rubio was helped off the floor and did not return, although the severity of the injury and his potential length of absence are not yet known. Head coach Flip Saunders said after his team's 112-103 overtime loss that x-rays revealed no broken bones and that Rubio would be reevaluated on Saturday, presumably via MRI.
Friday's other ankle injury appeared much more serious at first glance. Less than a minute into the fourth quarter of the Indiana Pacers vs. Boston Celtics game at TD Garden, rookie Celtics guard Marcus Smart challenged two opponents at the rim during a transition opportunity. Smart drew a foul from point guard A.J. Price, but the play was definitely not a success. He fell to the ground and immediately grabbed his lower left leg in pain. Replays showed a severely turned ankle that looked like a possible leg fracture. Smart received treatment and was carted off the court. Here's the video:
No GIFs for this one, sorry, because it looks like Smart will be out for a prolonged period of time. Though Radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande offered some relatively positive news over Twitter after Boston's 101-98 win:
I was told on my way out of the building that the X-rays done on Marcus Smart at the Garden were negative. But MRI later tonight is the key.
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) November 8, 2014
If he is, he will have suffered the second serious injury to a top-10 2014 draft pick in under two weeks of the regular season. Los Angeles Lakers rookie power forward Julius Randle fractured his right tibia on opening night and will miss the entire season. (No. 3 pick Joel Embiid will miss a lot of time, too, but the Sixers drafted him knowing as much.)
Neither the Wolves or Celtics had serious plans to make the playoffs this season, but both teams will miss these players. Rubio signed a lucrative contract extension last week and has been positioned as Minnesota's leader in the post-Kevin Love era. The 24-year-old Spaniard still isn't a particularly good shooter but serves as the engine of the team's offense and organizes the talents of young talents like Andrew Wiggins. If Rubio misses time, it's possible that the Wolves would see the progressions of other players slow down simply because they would not benefit from his court vision and creative talents.
Smart's role on the Celtics is less clear, which makes the idea of a long term in street clothes very unfortunate. At just 20 years old, Smart already has something approximating an NBA body and the defensive abilities to match. His offense is a work in progress, but it's not entirely out-there to imagine substantial improvement in those areas convincing Boston's front office that they would not be taking a huge risk by trading Rajon Rondo. If Smart is out for months, then the Celtics would possibly need to keep to Rondo to maintain some semblance of a functional offense.
This is all speculation for now, so let's hope that both Rubio and Smart receive relatively good news in the coming days. We will have updates as soon as the prognoses are available.
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