Take one look at the NBA standings, and you can tell this has been a weird NBA season. The two teams that are leading their respective conferences are Atlanta in the East and Golden State in the West. Last season, those two teams were their respective conferences' eight and six seeds.
So much has been turned upside down in both conferences, and it's not due solely to player movement in the offseason. Honestly, the only player of any material, standings-altering significance to change teams in the offseason was LeBron James (whose team barely has home court in the first round right now...like I said, weird).
Yes, certain teams have improved through either logical progression and growth (Atlanta, Memphis, Golden State) or addition by subtraction (beat it, Mark Jackson). But when this postseason rolls around, perhaps the defining characteristic of this season will ultimately be how injuries reshaped the landscape.
And the latest in this disturbing trend of players going down hurt might be the most catastrophic long-term, as Derrick Rose's season ended last night with another knee injury.
Per multiple reports Tuesday evening, the Chicago Bulls point guard and former MVP reported to the United Center on Tuesday complaining of pain in his right knee. An exam and subsequent MRI confirmed the worst fears -- Rose had suffered a torn meniscus in the knee, the same injury he sustained back in November 2013 in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
A timetable for Rose's return will be determined once he undergoes surgery, but he has opted to have the meniscus fixed as opposed to having the torn portion removed. Removal would yield a shorter recovery time, but likely be more debilitating and career-effecting long-term to Rose.
For sports fans here in Houston, Rose's is a decision process that we are all too familiar with, as Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney suffered a similar injury in the opening game of his career back in September. Unlike Rose, Clowney opted for the removal of the damaged portion of the meniscus; however, once he returned, he continued to suffer from pain in the knee and eventually needed microfracture surgery to repair a separate cartilage issue.
For Rose, this is the third knee injury he has suffered since the 2012 postseason, having sustained a torn ACL during the waning minutes of a blowout win in the first round of the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. He then missed all of the 2012-2013 season. Then, in the aforementioned Portland game in November 2013, he suffered the first of his now two meniscus tears to the right knee, and missed the remainder of 2013-2014.
Where Rose's career goes from here is anybody's guess, but at the very least, if his career is curtailed in any way, he will have been well compensated, having signed a $94 million extension after his MVP season in 2010-2011, and also having signed a 13-year, $185 million endorsement deal with Adidas.
On the court, the Bulls will now deal with a situation that, unfortunately for them, they've become all too familiar with -- a postseason without Derrick Rose. Of all the iterations of Rose-less Bulls teams under Tom Thibodeau, this one should be best equipped to handle it. They added Pau Gasol in the offseason, and All-Star guard Jimmy Butler might be the most improved player in the league. This gives them a couple of viable go-to options late in games.
Truth be told, and it sounds callous to say this, but it's not as though the Bulls are losing the Rose of 2012. At the time of his injury, he was the 22nd rate point guard in the league in ESPN's efficiency ratings, and he was shooting less than 30 percent from three point range. The Bulls offense was actually running smoother at times with Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich on the floor than it was with Rose.
Rose's injury is the latest in a series of injuries that have altered the trajectory of so many teams this season. The trend actually started during the FIBA World Championship, when Indiana's Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg, sending the Pacers careening from the top seed in the East all the way down to the tenth seed, as of this morning.
Other injuries that have significantly affected the standings or are worth keeping an eye on:
* Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan missed a couple months with a tear in his groin; however, Toronto has managed to hang onto the number two seed in the East, as of this morning.
* LeBron James was forced to rest for a couple of weeks for the first time in his career back in January with knee soreness, a stint during which the Cavaliers went 1-8 without James's services. They've since righted the ship and are playing the best basketball of any team in the East.
* Milwaukee is hanging onto the sixth seed in the East despite losing second overall pick and likely Rookie of the Year candidate Jabari Parker to a season-ending knee injury in December.
* Just after getting a B12 shot of talent at the trade deadline with the Goran Dragic deal, Miami was dealt a devastating blow 24 hours later when it was announced forward Chris Bosh would miss the rest of the season with blood clots.
* Hovering on the cusp of a second consecutive postseason berth, Charlotte was hit with a knee injury (meniscus) to point guard Kemba Walker, who will miss a few more weeks.
* Not that the Knicks ever had a shot at making the playoffs, but the Carmelo Anthony knee injury is obviously troubling on many levels considering how much the team invested in his max deal this past offseason.
* Of course, we all know the Rockets are dealing with the fallout from Dwight Howard's knee injury, and still managing to cling to the three seed in the West.
* Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge was slated to have season ending surgery on his thumb, but opted to tough it out, only to suffer an injury to his other thumb this week. He should be able to continue playing, but will obviously be playing in pain.
* The Clippers' Blake Griffin is in the midst of a several-week stretch that he is missing due to surgery for a staph infection on his elbow. In his absence, DeAndre Jordan has turned into a double-double machine.
* Kevin Durant underwent a procedure to relieve pain in his injured foot and will be re-evaluated this weekend. This comes in a season when, back in November and December, Durant and Russell Westbrook both missed a handful of games, putting Oklahoma City behind the eight ball to make the postseason. As of this morning, they would be the eight seed in the West, and Westbrook is the likely Player of the Month for February.
* Pelicans forward and MVP candidate Anthony Davis has missed most of the past two weeks with shoulder injuries that began when he took a tumble in a game on February 7 against Chicago. He will miss another 1-2 weeks, as the Pelicans fight for their 2014-2015 lives.
* Kobe Bryant. That is all.
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