The fibrocartilage discs known as menisci have gained notoriety this season as meniscus tears have ended or limited the season for many notable NBA players, including Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Eric Bledsoe. Over the past week three more players joined the list with Boston's Vitor Faverani and Gerald Wallace, and Sacramento's Carl Landry each suffering a torn meniscus. All three players are done for the season.
The menisci are designed to withstand a high degree of stress while maintaining their elasticity, making them excellent shock absorbers. However, their position between the bones of the upper and lower leg leave them susceptible to injury. Each meniscus is positioned on an articulating surface of the lower leg bone known as the tibia. If the knee is violently twisted, the discs can become pinched between the tibia and bony bumps located on the femur. Surgical intervention is often required due to the varying amount of available blood flow to different portions of the meniscus. The size and location of the tear will determine whether or not the surgeon can repair the damage or must simply excise the injured tissue in a procedure known as a meniscectomy.
A shorter rehab window and a quicker return to play often accompany a meniscectomy. However there is some downside as the player's future health is put at risk as they become more vulnerable to conditions like arthritis. A repair is better in the long-term but often requires an extended absence and a prolonged recovery timeline. Rose elected to undergo a repair following his meniscus tear in November leading to the premature end of his season. However, Bledsoe opted for the meniscus removal and has spent the last two months recovering. Now 32 games and 71 days later, Bledsoe is preparing for a return to the court. He has been participating in 5-on-5 drills in practice and is hoping to be in uniform Monday though the team believes Wednesday is more realistic.
The return of Bledsoe could be a needed boost for the playoff hopes of the Suns and fantasy owners alike. Despite returning, an adjustment period will be needed and an immediate return to a high-level of play isn't guaranteed. For example, Westbrook was rusty following his return from surgery, shooting 34.8 percent from the floor in his first five games back while averaging 4.6 turnovers. His numbers have improved as the season's progressed but Bledsoe owners should anticipate a similar curve.
For those still in doubt, keep in mind this is Bledsoe's second meniscus surgery on this knee. He suffered a tear to the same meniscus in the same knee during the offseason of the 2011-12 lockout shortened season. He missed the first 17 games of the year rehabbing and an additional six games with soreness in the joint. His performance was subpar as he shot 31 percent from the field in his first 25 games before improving over the final month of the season. He shot 42.8 percent from the field in the Clippers' final 15 games and an even better 58.7 percent during 11 postseason games. Though he will get more opportunities as a more established part of the Phoenix rotation, his slow recovery with the Clippers can't be ignored. Look for the Suns medical team to closely monitor his workload as well, making Bledsoe a precarious play for the next few weeks.
Kevin Garnett and Jared Dudley: The Nets continue to play without KG after the former MVP began suffering back spasms. The injury has kept him out of the lineup for five straight games and he is expected to receive additional time off. Keep in mind, back spasms are not an injury but a symptom of an underlying problem. Until the root of the problem has been properly determined and treated, Garnett will continue to experience the associated spasms. His fantasy contributions have been sporadic this season anyway so owners should use the injury as the final reason to cut him loose. The same can be said for Dudley who has missed back-to-back games for the Clippers with a similar issue.
Gerald Henderson: The Bobcats have been without the services of their third-leading scorer for the past four games due to a calf strain. The injury has allowed Chris Douglas-Roberts to emerge and garner the attention of fantasy owners. CDR has averaged 13.2 points, 2.5 made three-pointers, and 1.8 steals filling in for Henderson. Charlotte has not provided an update on Henderson's current status, but he seems likely to miss an additional game or two.
Jrue Holiday: Holiday's season is officially over after it was determined he would need surgery to fix the stress fracture in his right tibia. Barring a setback, he should be ready for training camp next fall.
LeBron James: James will ignore the medical experts and proceed without his protective mask. The reigning MVP has worn the mask since suffering a fractured nose against the Thunder and scored 61 against the Bobcats in just his second game back. However, he's struggled with his shot since that amazing performance, shooting a combined 38 percent from the field over Miami's last three games. He did not wear the mask Sunday against the Bulls.
Paul Pierce: Another Brooklyn veteran is nursing an injury as Pierce continues to deal with a problematic right shoulder. He initially injured the area in a win over Memphis and irritated the shoulder in the following game against Boston. He called the injury a "quick stinger" in postgame interviews but again made an early exit Sunday during the first quarter. The term stinger is used to describe a nerve irritation, often to the brachial plexus. This bundle of nerves sits between the neck and shoulder and is often injured when placed on traction. Stingers are often accompanied by pain in the area as well as weakness and numbness into the arm, hand, and fingers. Time remains the best treatment and don't be surprised if the Nets elect to give Pierce a game or two off.