On the morning after Dion Waiters barreled shoulder first into his right leg, Rudy Gobert felt a twinge of pain. That wasn’t alarming in a vacuum. But it was serious enough for the Utah Jazz to get him an MRI.
The resulting diagnosis — a bone contusion — isn’t the worst injury, especially when the video of the play looked much worse. But it will keep Gobert out 4-6 weeks, and the Jazz will have to make do without their best player.
If Monday night is any indication, a 109-98 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the next month could be very rough for the Jazz. But Gobert is an optimist, more than anything. He still thinks his team will be able to hold the fort down in his stead. He still thinks the Jazz can put themselves in position for a good season without him. And he’s just glad his injury isn’t worse than it was.
“If I didn’t lift my leg, it could’ve been bad,” Gobert said on Monday. “Making the playoffs is still the goal. I have confidence that my teammates can win without me.”
Gobert did admit to being frustrated with the injury, especially the timing of it. He’s spent much of the first month of the season trying to find a rhythm with new point guard Ricky Rubio. And the Jazz are 14 games into season where overall team health is paramount. And 14 games in, the Jazz are pretty much the opposite of healthy.
It has taken a little over a month for Utah to lose important rotation pieces. Gobert is the biggest and most notable. But Dante Exum’s loss is being felt more by the game with each passing Ricky Rubio missed shot and turnover. And the second unit is missing offensive stability with Joe Johnson’s absence.
On Monday, Gobert responded to Waiters, who said Gobert needed to “get out of his feelings” after Gobert tweeted that he thought Waiters made a dirty play.
“It’s not my feelings, it’s my knee,” Gobert said with a laugh. “I like to play basketball. So sometimes, if someone takes that from you, you have to get in your feelings, for a reason.”
Gobert said he’s a fast healer, and that the goal will be for him to make it back in a month, rather than six weeks. At the same time, he’s not going to rush back. If the injury heals naturally within four weeks, he’ll be on the floor.
The fear is the four weeks could do irreparable damage to Utah’s playoff chances. Monday’s loss puts then Jazz at 6-8. In their upcoming road trip out east, Friday against the Brooklyn Nets is the only game they can reasonably be favored in. And in the next month, the Jazz will face seemingly every elite big man in the NBA from Kristaps Porzingis, to Joel Embiid, to Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Still, Gobert is putting a positive face on the injury. It isn’t season ending. It will take weeks to heal, not months. For Gobert, that’s good news.
“The main thing is that I know I can recover 100 percent,” Gobert said. “My ligaments are fine, so my knee is fine. It’s frustrating that I have to miss some time. But I’m feeling lucky, because this could’ve been way worse.”