No reason not to be optimistic about Rose recovery
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Here we are, one game into the NBA Playoffs, and while everyone agrees it’s a long series, the tendency, an always, is to make a judgment based on what you just saw. And that is really is the essence of sports analysis, which is why everyone usually picks the defending champion to repeat, unless, of course, they gut their team like the Mavericks. Still, analysts tend to believe the last thing they witnessed.
This means the Knicks have no chance, the Lakers are back, the Celtics aren’t who we thought they were, and the Spurs might actually be.
Though the big story of the opening weekend of the playoffs remains the saddest one, the serious knee injury suffered by the Bulls’ Derrick Rose. Rose will need anterior cruciate ligament repair surgery, which likely will keep him out into next season.
The history of these injuries is players recover well. The AOS Medical Center in Glendale, California studied anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction for NBA players between 1994 and 2005. They used the Player Efficiency Statistic to compare performance before and after the injury. Of the 21 players who returned to play of 27 studied (six were older and retired), 15 percent performed better on the statistical measure, 19 percent were within one percentage point and 44 percent decreased somewhat but not substantially.
In addition, a look at recent such surgeries on top players shows most returning to a high level of play, like Chris Paul (torn meniscus), Jamal Crawford, David West, Kyle Lowry and Al Jefferson. Tim Hardaway had the surgery in 1993-94, and while he wasn’t as explosive afterward, he was first team all-NBA three years later and twice an All-Star afterward. Dunk champion Blake Griffin didn’t have the ACL, but had a stress fracture and broken knee cap before winning the dunk contest. And there was the NFL’s Willis McGahee, who tore his ACL, MCL, PCL 10 years ago, and I think USPS, UPS and DOT. He had about 1,200 yards rushing last season.
Though most players, like Paul, tend to be at a reduced level the first season back and then regain a high level in their second season.
“We all feel awful for Derrick,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Sunday. “He’s not only a great player, he’s a great teammate and great person. But it’s not a death sentence for him or our team. He’s going to come back better than ever. (I) expect him to come back fully recovered and be better than ever.”
Optimism is good, and there’s no reason not to have it.
“We fully expect him to come back at 100 percent,” said General Manager Gar Forman. “With his mental makeup and work ethic, we expect him to be back and be like the old Derrick.”
Still, the first weekend of the playoffs suggests, as a surprise to no one, that it becomes much more difficult without a player like Rose.
Stars dominate in the playoffs:
LeBron James, 32 points (Heat win);
Kobe Bryant, 31 points (Lakers win);
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, 53 points combined (Thunder win);
Tony Parker, 28 points (Spurs win);
Josh Smith, 22 points (Hawks win);
Dirk Nowitzki, 25 points (Mavericks lose).
Can you win in the playoffs without a No. 1 go to star?
ESPN analyst and former NBA player Jon Barry was among those on TV making that case after Rose was hurt you cannot. "My problem is when you get into the playoffs, who is that one guy?” asked Barry. “You need that one guy that you know you can go to down the stretch time after time.”
Though there have been exceptions, like the 2004 champion Pistons, the…, well there haven’t been many. After that you go back to the late 70’s Seattle Supersonics.
“You’re not going to replace the greatness of Derrick,” said Thibodeau. “We have to do that collectively as a team. We’ve had almost 30 games without him. We understand that part of it. We feel awful for him, but it’s not going to change our goals at all. Everyone has to do a little more. That’s what we did when he was out previously. It’s been an unusual season where he’s had a number of injuries. We’ve been a team that has responded to challenges all season. This is the next one.”
Despite the depression regarding Rose after Sunday’s win, the mood among the players was more positive Sunday and the feeling, according to some, was that they were now looking forward to embracing the rejection of the critics for themselves and Rose. C.J. Watson, obviously, steps in for Rose with John Lucas III backing up, along with Mike James. But the Bulls still have their edge in depth, and with Atlanta making Boston look vulnerable and perhaps Rajon Rondo to be suspended with Ray Allen out injured, the East continues to not look all that overwhelming.
Thibodeau didn’t want to speculate on what effect the shortened season may have had and said team doctors assured him Rose’s injury was not related to past ones. And as for questions about whether he should have taken Rose out of the game, Thibodeau said it’s a healthy part of media debate. “That goes with the territory,” Thibodeau said. “Everybody has a job to do. I understand that part of it. You try to make the best decisions for the team.”
And Forman said the team supported Thibodeau.
“There is absolutely no issue there,” said Forman of Rose playing late in Saturday’s game. “It’s a playoff game. They had cut a lead down to 12. We’re going to have our guys on the floor making sure we win the game. Tom is a terrific coach and does a lot of things well. One of the best things he does is pace our team, knowing when to put the pedal to the metal and when to back off. I was surprised (about the criticism) when I heard it. It’s absolutely no issue for us. I don’t see where it would for anybody. You’re in a playoff game and you’re trying to finish strong and win the game. It’s really a freak type injury. This injury could happen in the first minute of the game, midway through the game, at the end. It could happen in practice. When it happens, it happens. It can happen to anybody at anytime. Unfortunately, it happened to Derrick yesterday.
“We’ve got a team that has been a team in the truest sense,” said Forman. “Whether it was Derrick or anybody else, when we had players go down, we had others step up. I know we’re confident and I think the players are confident that we’ll be able to continue having success. They’ll bond together and play hard like they always have.”
And so what else did we see this first weekend?
-- That Mike Woodson plan to give the ball to Carmelo Anthony all the time works pretty good in the regular season. That’s why Mike D’Antoni, to Anthony’s dismay and D’Antoni’s eventual demise, decided to let the point guard, then Jeremy Lin, make plays. Having coached against Anthony for many years, D’Antoni knew the Nuggets only got out of the first round the season they let Chauncey Billups run the offense. So Miami fronted and collapsed on Anthony, and the Knicks matched the fewest points in a playoff game in team history. Anthony shot three of 15. Amar’e Stoudemire had nine points and didn’t even have to pay for a ticket to stand around and watch Anthony.
-- Many said the Pacers weren’t that physical without Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts, and a soft Magic team beat them in Indianapolis. The Magic adopted the slogan "We All We Got" from that 1991 Wesley Snipes movie "New Jack City." I don’t recall it as a particularly happy movie and I’m not sure if I were near Orlando these days I’d be using a drug war backdrop as my motivational tool. Magic use crack cocaine war for motivation. Phil Jackson used Wizard of Oz for the champion Bulls.
Anyway, the Pacers lost at home when Danny Granger gagged up the close of the game. That, at least, was the view of local columnist Bob Kravitz, who wrote the Pacers choked like they did in Game 1 against the Bulls last year when they had a 10-point lead late. What about Hoosier hospitality? Although he was an All-Star (how was that, by the way), Roy Hibbert generally looks like he’s walking on pogo sticks. So low center of gravity Glen Davis pushed him around and got 16 and 13 despite being about a foot shorter. Hibbert did have nine blocks, but Davis almost always gets six or seven shots blocked a game by guards. And he’s still way better than Tyrus Thomas. Suddenly, it’s a “must game” coming up Monday. That was fast. It was somewhat questionable when Pacers coach Frank Vogel went with slower combo guard George Hill to start, and he got burned in Game 1 and mostly went back to Darren Collison against Jameer Nelson.
-- It was Durant with a lucky bounce to beat the Mavs and that should not have been that close. It was interesting to hear Rick Carlisle do a bit of lobbying for Nowitzki afterward saying how much he is held and grabbed without foul calls. Of course, the officials bailed the Mavs out of Game 1 last season with about a dozen fourth quarter free throws for Nowitzki which basically kept the Mavs from being out in the first round. But, hey, that was then. Guarding Nowitzki—actually successfully—several times was Kendrick Perkins, who tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals.
Still, Rose’s injury remained the talk around the first weekend, and not everyone was counting the Bulls out.
“It’s crazy how you can build your whole organization around a guy, to be geared up for playoffs all year, and then he goes down,” Nick Collison told reporters. “It’s one of the heartbreaking things about sports, an injury like that. They (Bulls) had the best record in the league and he missed a lot of games, so I wouldn’t count them out yet.”
Clippers comeback to stun Grizzlies
-- As for gagging up a lead, nothing compared to late Sunday’s grizzly ending in Memphis, a 27-1 Clippers run to beat the Grizzlies. There was about eight minutes left with the Grizzlies ahead 95-71. And the most interesting thing I found was I kept watching. I wasn’t sure why. It got down to 18 and the Grizzlies brought back their starters with 6:45 left. Nothing exciting was happening and it still was a dozen with under three minutes left, but that was Thibodeau’s point Saturday. Nick Young made three three-pointers in a minute and suddenly the rim was shrinking for the Grizzlies, who made one field goal in the last nine minutes. And that was another point guard after ACL surgery, Chris Paul, leading them back. Jason Kidd, by the way, had the much more serious microfracture knee surgery in 2004. In six of the next seven seasons he played at least 80 games and made two All-Star teams. As for lineup changes that didn't work, the Grizzlies went back to Zach Randolph to start after being so successful with Randolph coming off the bench down the stretch. And the Jazz changed to surprisingly go with Josh Howard to start against the Spurs and Utah's backcourt was dominated.
Miller and Wallace close the book on remarkable careers
-- Two guys who perhaps best represented the Most Improved player award—though never received it—played their last game (probably) in emotional scenes. It was Ben Wallace in Detroit (the probably, but who knows) and Brad Miller in Minnesota, whom we are quite sure about. Both were undrafted. Wallace became a four-time Defensive Player of the Year and six-time all-defensive team player. If Dennis Rodman can make a case for the Hall of Fame based on defense, so should Wallace. Several Pistons, including longtime trainer Mike Abdenour, wore a blue headband in honor of Wallace. "We wanted to go out there and honor Body (Wallace) just in case this is his last game," said Ben Gordon. "We were extra inspired and we went out there and hit our shots (Pistons win). It’s going to be tough without him, because he is the epitome of the consummate professional." "Do I think it is time to retire? Yes, I do," said the stern looking but more affable than you’d think Wallace. "But it is harder to walk away when so many people in the game are asking you to come back. I’m going to take some time and think about it." Wallace played a surprisingly regular role for the rebuilding Pistons in 62 games averaging about 16 minutes and 4.3 rebounds. Though he still can’t make a free throw and hit 34 percent this season. The always affable Miller, likewise, was undrafted and went to Italy first. He went on to become an All-Star with two franchises around stints with the Bulls and was so overcome at the ovation of fans and teammates in his final game he broke down crying on the court and had to put a towel over his head to regain his composure on the bench. "I was trying to be a tough guy," said Miller. "I had been pretty cool all day, but coming out that last time hit me pretty hard." Miller is one of only five undrafted players to appear in the NBA All-Star Game, including Connie Hawkins, Moses Malone, John Starks and Wallace. Asked about what would get his competitive juices going again, the avid hunter did say in the post game TV interview he was getting “buck fever.” They truly represent the award as players not considered good enough for the NBA who became legitimate stars. Good for them.
End of an era in New Jersey
-- The last basket in New Jersey Nets history was scored by Johan Petro, who’s played for four teams in seven years averaging about five points, in perhaps a statement of the franchise’s history in the NBA. The morning after the Nets’ last home game the team already was calling itself the Brooklyn Nets. Even as a native, I’m finding it difficult to get too excited yet. … It was a brutal playoff start for the Knicks, though it was not like they were heavily favored against Miami. And how with guard Iman Shumpert gone? With Glen Grunwald getting the GM job you’d think he’d support his teammate, interim Mike Woodson, for at least another season. New York media became apoplectic last week (I know, how can you tell the difference) when another fellow former teammate, Isiah Thomas, had dinner with the pair. No word on what they ate, but you have to assume reporters were digging through the garbage. … The Bucks finished the season 9-31 against winning teams and 22-4 against teams with below .500 records. Yes, the Monta Ellis trade gave them a legitimate scorer for a center who constantly underachieved for them. Though the Bucks also need size. But would they deal Ellis now even as Ellis appears happy in Milwaukee? One of the more interesting potential scenarios is with the Jazz, who are loaded up front but have two young bigs, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, as their presumed future and need backcourt scoring help badly. Ellis would be an ideal fit in Utah, where they could use a creating scoring guard. And the Bucks could use a scoring interior player like Al Jefferson. Jefferson said he’d love to remain in Salt Lake City, but he also understands where the Jazz has needs. Said Jefferson to Salt Lake media: “Kevin (GM O’Connor) has a tough job because he has two promising young bigs that’s going to be great in this league. I’d love to be here and be a part of it. But I’ll just let that happen when it happen. It’s a good problem. There’s going to be some big-time decisions made. But it’s just an honor to be on the team with these guys.” Credit O’Connor as quietly one of the best GMs who constantly finds hidden talent and has the Jazz coming back quickly to contention once again after losing Deron Williams.
NBA news and notes
-- Those were interesting comments to Florida media about the season from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Asked if the season would be a failure without a title, James said, "The season won't be a failure. You put too much work into a season to automatically call it a failure, but it would be a disappointment. This is our goal. This is what we've come together for. A failure is a strong word. We commit ourselves and we dedicate our season, we work hard every day and to automatically say it's a failure, I think that's a big word. But I think it'd be a disappointment, because that's what you work hard for every day." Said Wade: "I say yes. There's only one champion. It's a failure for every other team. If you don't win a championship, you had a failed year." OK, psychology class, discuss. … There was considerable buzz about Dwight Howard not being with the Magic in the playoffs while he does rehab from back surgery in California. Estranged? Only now? But it is true it doesn’t do anyone with back issues much good to sit around and watch a team and travel with them. He didn’t pick Brooklyn to have his surgery. … There was some surprise when Ernie Grunfeld was retained in Washington last week. But he was working for an owner who said to try to win at all costs, and the Wizards were considered a serious contender until Gilbert Arenas showed his guns. Abe Pollin then died and new owner Ted Leonsis changed course to a lottery based program, and Grunfeld did a good job moving Arenas for a smaller contract, moving on with a deal for Nene and having accumulated some decent draft picks and having substantial salary cap room to operate. His biggest issue, really, is if John Wall is a basketball player or just a track star. … The Hornets were 6-3 when Eric Gordon played as he averaged 20.6 overall. Emeka Okafor played just 27 games with knee problems the team never fully acknowledged. With all the players injured, they used a league high 28 different starting lineups. … Kevin Durant joined Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Bob McAdoo and George Gervin among players to win three consecutive scoring titles. All are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
-- Figure Kyle Lowry most likely gone from the Rockets. Both Marcus Camby and Luis Scola said one of the big keys to next season was bringing back Goran Dragic, who is a free agent and looking to start. The Rockets make an unsuccessful bid every offseason for top players and are expected to resume their pursuit of Pau Gasol, whom they believed they had in the rejected Chris Paul deal last December. Though with Ramon Sessions, the Lakers’ need for a point guard seems less … It probably doesn’t get him coach of the year, but Mark Jackson cleverly lost 17 of the last 20 and the Warriors won the tiebreaker to have the seventh best chance in the lottery, which would mean they keep their draft pick if no one jumps up from eighth or below to get a top three pick in the lottery. Said Jackson to reporters: “In the middle of it, we are trying to win. Now that it is over, we are pulling for a higher pick.” … Maybe two of the classiest stars ever are only miles apart in Texas with Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. While an underdog in round one after winning the title, Nowitzki, typically, was favorable to management despite changing the team: "It was a tough, tough decision, I think, for Mark (Cuban) and Donnie (Nelson). I think we as players, he (Cuban) knew how we felt. We would have loved to have all the warriors back and go at it one more time. But I think it was a business decision that they had to make. We'll see over the next couple of years, couple of summers, if it was the right one, if they can get a big fish, a big name (free agent) in here. And if not, maybe we should have signed everybody. We'll just have to wait and see what the future brings."
-- Minnesota rookie Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick, had a bit of a disappointing season (8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds) and said he’s following the Kevin Love offseason plan. "I want to do what Kevin did (lose 30 pounds) last summer and slim down,” said Williams. "I want to tone up to improve my quickness. It really paid off for Kevin. He had a great year. I want to get in the gym, back off the weights a little bit and work on my lateral movement. There's a lot I want to do to come back stronger and be better next year." It might be mostly addition by subtraction for the late slumping Timberwolves assuming Ricky Rubio can return from his knee surgery. They probably have to drop Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and Martell Webster to clear locker room issues J.J. Berea addressed late in the season of lack of effort. They get Utah’s No. 1 pick while losing theirs. It was from the Clippers in the Chris Paul deal to the Hornets after Minnesota gave it up for Sam Cassell. … Steve Nash made a nice closing pitch for coach Alvin Gentry, who did a good job taking a mismatched group to the last day of the regular season before missing the playoffs. It was a team I believed had no chance to make the playoffs before the season. Said Nash to reporters after what could be his final game as a Sun: “I think Alvin was unbelievable this year. If you think about it, Michael Redd was a late signing and hadn’t played for two years. So other than Michael I think Grant (Hill) and I are the only guys who had really been NBA starters before. There were quite a few new guys this year too. For Alvin to put all those pieces together, for all our flaws and faults, he put us together. When we were 12-19, he didn’t let us quit. We were 12-19 and we really didn’t have a lot of answers at that point either. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get better. We’re going to get better at this, that and the other.” It was like, ‘I’m not sure we’re going to get better at any of this stuff but he wouldn’t let us relent. He was phenomenal. I love playing for Alvin. I think he’s a great coach.” Players also credit top assistant Bill Cartwright, whose contract is up. Gentry has one season left. Nash got a huge ovation and “We want Steve” chants throughout the final home game. … Typical cool move by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who skipped the final game in Phoenix to allow assistant, Mike Budenholzer from Holbrook, Ariz., to coach near his hometown. … Players don’t get salary in the playoffs, but each conference champion gets $328,078 from the $13 million in this season’s playoff pool. The take for the second-place team in each conference is $263,695 … George Karl also offered an old Phil Jackson tactic after the Lakers Sunday victory when Andrew Bynum has 10 blocks saying he saw 30 illegal defenses uncalled. … With Rose’s injury there has been plenty of questioning of the NBA about the shortened schedule and injuries. There is no evidence there have been more injuries this season. However, isn’t it a union’s job to protect its workers? It seems to me if there is an issue for the players, it was union chief Billy Hunter who agreed to a contract that placed them in jeopardy. Assuming the season did. The NBA didn’t force it on them. They didn’t have to accept that season if they thought it would be too difficult or dangerous to play.