Posted May 3 2012 10:29AM
ORLANDO -- When Derrick Rose fell in a heap and reached for his knee and later got the bad news, the reaction from within and beyond the NBA was so weepy, you'd have thought he died.
David West, however, was not among the mourners.
"He'll recover," West said.
West was not trying to be insensitive or cold-hearted, just certain in his convictions. Last year around this time, while Rose was picking up his MVP trophy, West could barely pick himself off the floor. He was in a leg cast, staring at a long rehab, listening to others express doubts, and absolutely confident his ACL tear would eventually be reduced to a simple scar.
And as for the jeopardy to his career?
Have you seen him all season?
Have you seen him in this playoff series?
West is the most reliable of the Pacers, slowly presenting problems for Orlando with his reliable mid-range jumper, chipping in on defense by keeping Orlando under 43 percent shooting after three games. Indiana would not be the No. 3 seed in the East without West, a player they signed last summer in spite of major surgery.
"He's highly efficient, just a solid player and leader," said coach Frank Vogel. "He's everything we knew he'd be."
Once upon a time -- say, 30 or so years ago -- a torn ACL was a career-crippler or career-killer. Then modern science and surgical advancements saved many a player. The most recent example happens to be West. As a member of the Hornets, he collapsed in March of 2011 against Utah, two months before he became an unrestricted free agent. Imagine, an injury like that right before your big payday. Everyone felt bad for West, except West.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself," he said. "What happened, happened. It was just an unfortunate event. I just attacked it, attacked everything I was supposed to do to get myself better. And that's what Derrick needs to do."
West had surgery 13 months ago and then went through the long, every-day rehab process that seemed to drag forever. But he was lucky in a few respects. One, the Pacers were convinced he was the missing piece for them -- a 6-foot-9 power forward with a tender shooting touch. That made the free-agent process less complicated than it could've been. In fact, West was so sure about his recovery that he chose a two-year deal, rather than longer-term security, in order to chase free agency again in the summer of 2013.
And two, the lockout happened. The season didn't begin until December, giving West plenty of time to rehab and recover. He was in the lineup on Opening Night and hasn't missed a game this season, even though plenty of "healthier" players begged for rest in the final weeks.
"That whole health issue takes time," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, "but David's had the whole year and played really well. He's just a very good, very experienced player who's giving us trouble."
West averaged just under 19 points in his final season in New Orleans and was a two-time All-Star. His scoring is down this season; he's averaging 14 with the Pacers but Indiana has more scoring options than New Orleans did, so West is taking fewer shots. But not having less of an impact.
"I wanted to beat this thing," said West. "I wasn't going to let anything get the best of me. Tearing my ACL was not going to slow me down. I feel great now."
He isn't the only member of the ACL club currently in the playoffs. Al Jefferson had the same surgery in 2009. He returned the following season and now remains productive for the Jazz.
The big difference, of course, is Jefferson and West are mainly post players who don't rely as much on their cutting and speed and darting. Rose is far more athletic, and his body requires far more lateral movement. In that sense, it isn't a fair comparison, a speedy point guard and a pair of power forwards.
And yet ...
"My advice for him is to become a great patient," West said. "Listen to the doctors, the physical therapists. And don't feel sorry for yourself. He has to attack his rehab and get himself going. That's really the only way to be the player you used to be. It'll happen. He'll be fine. He'll be back. And I'll be the first to congratulate him."
And when exactly did West feel his injury was a thing of the past?
"About three weeks ago," he said. "I got undercut against the Knicks, the same way I first got hurt. I landed the same way, too. But the knee held up. It was fine. It showed me that I prepared the right way and that my body could handle it. I've been good ever since."
He's good and so are the Pacers. They're in control of their series and if not for two missed free throws by Danny Granger in Game 1, would be going for the sweep Saturday.
West led the team in scoring the first two games, then shut down Ryan Anderson in Game 3 while grabbing eight rebounds. Imagine, a year ago, all he grabbed was his knee.
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