For the Portland Trail Blazers, Tuesday night added injury to injury. Already playing without four players sidelined for an extended period, including starting center Greg Oden and key reserves Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw, the Blazers saw Joel Przybilla crumple to the ground clutching his knee after jumping for a rebound during the first quarter of a gritty win at Dallas. Shortly after halftime, Portland play-by-play broadcaster Mike Barrett announced the devastating diagnosis: Przybilla had ruptured his right patellar tendon and dislocated his patella in the process.
It was the second catastrophic injury suffered by a Blazers center in the month of December. Greg Oden fractured his left patella on Dec. 5, ending his season.
The Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries, written by Dr. William Carroll and edited by Prospectus’ injury maven Will Carroll, describes patellar dislocations.
A dislocation of the patella (kneecap) occurs when the kneecap comes completely out of its groove and rests on the outside of the knee joint. Kneecap dislocations (luxations) usually occur as a result of significant medial to lateral trauma the first time the injury occurs. When the kneecap comes out of joint the first time, ligaments that were holding the kneecap in position are torn.
In this case, it was Przybilla’s patellar tendon that was torn, precipitating the dislocated kneecap. Injuries to the patellar tendon are relatively rare in the NBA. Blazersedge commenter Norsktroll found five examples this decade, including Warriors swingman Kelenna Azubuike earlier this season. Only once did a player return that season, and that was when Antonio McDyess partially tore his patellar tendon in October and briefly played in March. To that end, while the Blazers have yet to announce a timetable for Przybilla’s return, the logical conclusion is that his campaign is likely over.
“I can’t imagine him returning this year,” Will Carroll wrote in an e-mail. “It’s plausible, I guess. Still, probably not.”
I also asked Carroll the question on the minds of Blazers fans: Is Przybilla’s injury worse than Oden’s?
“Not apples to apples, but I’d rather have the fracture,” Carroll responded. “Those heal, usually predictably and cleanly. Oden has other issues, including size, but I’d still take the fracture.”