The fear and panic struck Charlotte Bobcats power forward Byron Mullens as soon as he hit the floor in Denver’s Pepsi Center late in his team’s loss Dec. 22.
The way his left ankle turned so acutely, combined with the sudden, piercing pain, had to mean a fracture.
“When I went down I told them it was broken. I looked down at my leg and it was jammed to the side,’’ Mullens said in his first extended comments since the injury. “Later I looked at (the fall) on TV and it looked bad then, too.’’
It became even scarier after teammates carried him off the floor to an examination room. His ankle quickly swelled to several times its normal size.
“I didn’t really see it until I got on the X-ray table. When I saw it, I kind of freaked out – I’d never seen a sprained ankle look like that,’’ Mullens recalled.
“I absolutely thought it was broken.’’
Turns out he was wrong. It was a severe sprain. Two weeks later he’s out of the protective boot that keeps the joint in proper alignment to promote healing. Now he’s down to a brace and Mullens can walk without a limp, as he did Friday when he watched his teammates’ lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Mullens obviously won’t be available Sunday when the Bobcats play a road game against the Detroit Pistons, or anytime soon. The medical staff hasn’t given him a firm projection of when he’ll be ready to play, but he’s happy with the progress he’s made and relieved that ankle fracture he envisioned wasn’t the case.
“I was praying to God, ‘Oh, please, don’t let it be a break,’ ’’ Mullens recalled. “I know some people say a break is better than a bad sprain, but I didn’t want to go through all that’s involved with being in a cast.’’
Mullens is the Bobcats’ leading rebounder this season at 7.8 per game and one of the team’s top scorers at 12.8 points per game.
In his absence Hakim Warrick has started at power forward and Jeff Adrien has added some playing time. Tyrus Thomas (calf strain) became available Friday for the first time since mid-November.
In the last couple of days Mullens was cleared to start doing some low-impact exercise in a swimming pool.
“Rehab is going great and I’m out of the boot. I was hoping to be out of it even sooner but I don’t want to rush things,’’ Mullens said. “The swelling has gone down and I just have a bone bruise.
“It doesn’t look like it did (before the sprain), but I just have one little knot on the left side of my ankle. If you saw it (right after the sprain) and saw it now, it’s 100 times better.’’