Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari went down with a knee injury last night, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! is reporting that it’s probably a torn ACL.
This comes a week after the team learned that leading scorer Ty Lawson has a heel injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time.
Denver has the 4th-best record in the NBA. They won 15-straight games in March and increasingly looked like a legitimate threat to Oklahoma City and San Antonio Western conference.
On a big-picture level, Denver was one of the rarest of NBA entities — a dominant team with no star players.
NBA nerds were so excited to watch Denver in the playoffs because their performance would have helped answer one of the most important questions in the league: Can you win without stars?
Right now, the conventional wisdom is that you need stars to win.
Ever since the Boston Celtics traded a boatload to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007, NBA teams have moved toward a star-centric model of building teams. The Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nets have all tried to get good by surrounding two or three star players with a handful of basement-priced role players.
The Nuggets have done the opposite. They have an incredibly deep team of very good players who are just below All-Star level. They built a roster around an up-tempo philosophy, not a single player.
And it was working! They are ranked 5th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency right now. And they beat OKC twice in the last month.
The Nuggets playoff run wasn’t just about this specific team, it was about the possibility of success in the NBA without using the dominant star-centric model. More than any team in recent memory, Denver was a case study in an alternative way to build a successful team.
But with a hobbled Lawson and no Gallinari, their hopes of upsetting OKC or San Antonio in the playoffs are probably toast.
It’s a huge loss, not just for Denver, but for the league as a whole.
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