Wizards' Otto Porter helped off court after spraining right ankle vs. Pistons

Another NBA playoff team watched a key contributor go down in pain on Thursday, as Washington Wizards swingman Otto Porter Jr. came up limping early in the third quarter of their matchup with the Detroit Pistons.

Just over three minutes into the second half in Detroit, Porter defended Pistons wing Stanley Johnson on a drive to the basket. Porter appeared to grimace as he planted his right foot to stand his ground against the charging Johnson, who pivoted into the doubling Marcin Gortat before tossing the ball back out to point guard Reggie Jackson near half-court to reset the possession.

Porter, meanwhile, went to the ground out of bounds under the basket, clearly in pain and grabbing at his right ankle, leaving Washington to defend four-on-five. The Pistons still came away empty, as Jackson missed a late-shot-clock 3-point try, with All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal grabbing the rebound and the Wizards calling timeout to tend to the fallen Porter.

Worryingly, Porter couldn’t get back up on his own steam:


 


After a few moments of checking out the wounded wheel back in the locker room, the Wizards made it official: Porter’s night was over.


He’d finish with seven points, two rebounds, two assists and a block in just under 16 minutes of floor time. The Wizards seemed to short-circuit after his exit, and the Pistons capitalized, outscoring Washington 24-11 over the final 8 1/2 minutes of the frame to take an 81-66 edge into the fourth quarter.


The Pistons went on to win, 103-92, behind 24 points and 23 rebounds from center Andre Drummond.

It remains to be seen how severe Porter’s ankle injury is; post-game X-rays were negative, according to head coach Scott Brooks, which is a positive start. What we do know, though, is that the Wizards — who now sit in sixth place in the East at 41-34, three games behind the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers and just 1 1/2 games ahead of the No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks — can ill afford to be without him for an extended period of time, or to have a lessened version of him entering the postseason.

The Wizards badly need Otto Porter healthy and operational for the playoffs. (Screencap via NBA)

Beal’s a dynamic scorer and creator, a worthy All-Star at the two-guard spot, and John Wall, reportedly soon to return to full health and the lineup, is a game-tilting talent who can shift the terms of a postseason series. But Porter remains Washington’s often unsung hero, the do-it-all wing that every team needs and that the Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets made sure the Wizards paid a king’s ransom this summer to keep doing it all for them in D.C.

The fifth-year man out of Georgetown is averaging 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game — all career highs — in 32 minutes per contest. The rest of the list of players averaging 14-6-2-1 this season is nine dudes long, and features MVP candidates (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo), All-Stars (Drummond, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins), rising stars (Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons) and Paul Millsap (Paul Millsap).

The numbers aren’t eye-popping on their own, but taken together, they stand out as quietly special. That fits the check-every-box aspect of Porter’s game, which includes high efficiency (49.8 percent shooting, 43.4 percent from 3-point range), the size and length to handle multiple defensive assignments, and a strong aversion to turnovers and other brands of damaging mistakes. When you do almost everything at least pretty well, and do few things poorly, and do all of it consistently, you become an exceedingly valuable player. And that shows up for the Wizards, night in and night out.

Washington has outscored opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions in more than 2,200 minutes with Porter on the floor, which would be the fourth-best efficiency differential in the league this season. The Wizards have been outscored by 5.9 points-per-100 in more than 1,300 minutes without Porter on the court, which would be the fifth-worst net rating in the NBA. That 11.5 points-per-100 swing is tops on the Wizards this season — better than Beal or Wall.

It’s an oversimplification to say that Porter’s the difference between Washington being a top-five and bottom-five team, but it’s not one to say that he’s a major difference-maker for a Wizards team that does have a quality swing-spot reserve in Kelly Oubre Jr., but that still relies heavily on Porter’s versatility and durability. Eight Wizards lineups that have shared the floor for at least 50 minutes have outscored opponents this season; Porter’s been part of six of them, including the top five.


On a squad that hasn’t been able to bank on Wall for months, that asks so much of Beal every night, and often has to live with trick-or-treat production from complementary pieces like Gortat, Markieff Morris and the bulk of the second unit, Porter’s a stabilizing agent for these Wizards. His absence would unsettle a situation that, with playoff positioning very much in flux and Wall about to return and try to knock off the rust after two months on the shelf, is already fairly unsteady.


Porter’s ankle scare marks the Wizards as just one of many Eastern playoff squads to suffer a concerning injury in the run-up to the postseason. The Boston Celtics continue to operate without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and top reserve Marcus Smart. The Philadelphia 76ers just lost All-Star center Joel Embiid for what could be a month.

The Cleveland Cavaliers recently welcomed back All-Star big man Kevin Love from a broken bone in his hand, only to watch him take an elbow to the face and enter the concussion protocol. The Milwaukee Bucks hope to have reigning Rookie of the Year and backcourt rotation piece Malcolm Brogdon back from his partially torn quadriceps tendon before the playoffs, but he’s only just gotten back to doing sprints.

Even with more rest days built into the league calendar, an 82-game schedule means that the journey to the postseason almost always turns into a war of attrition down the stretch. As they hold out hope that one of their most important players won’t wind up hobbling through the rest of the season, the Wizards can at least take some small solace in knowing that plenty of other teams are limping toward the finish line, too.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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