The injury was sustained during the second quarter of Thursday's game against the 76ers -- a blowout in the making during which Beverley was forced to call a timeout as a means of exiting the game. He was originally diagnosed with a right knee sprain, though the reported clarification obviously holds more severe implications for a team in position to contend for the title.
The severity and location of the tear are both publicly unknown at this point, leaving the possibility open that Beverley could return for the playoffs in a best-case scenario. A meniscus removal, rather than a repair, carries a far shorter timeline that would allow Beverley to return relatively quickly. Otherwise, we've seen Chicago's Derrick Rose miss the majority of the 2013-14 season with a medial meniscus tear and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook sidelined for the 2013 playoffs after suffering a lateral meniscus tear. He eventually returned to form, though Westbrook is still under a minutes restriction as a result of undergoing two subsequent surgeries on his injured knee.
On the other hand, Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin suffered a medial meniscus tear in July 2012 that kept him out of the London Olympics, but he was ready for training camp in October 2012 and he reported feeling "100 percent" less than two months after the surgery. In April, then-Lakers forward Metta World Peace returned just 12 days after meniscus surgery. And, in a decision that has been second-guessed repeatedly, former Blazers All-Star guard Brandon Roy played in a 2010 postseason game just eight days after meniscus surgery.
Should Beverley be ruled out for the postseason, Houston's defense would decline sharply and perhaps fatally. There wasn't all that much margin of error in the Rockets team defense to begin with; Beverley is the only plus defender in the current perimeter rotation, essential both in curtailing high-scoring point guards and shifting James Harden away from problematic matchups on the wing. There's no substitute for his aggressive coverage or general defensive persistence, the combination of which would have made him a perfect playoff cover for the likes of Golden State's Stephen Curry or Portland's Damian Lillard -- either of whom could play against Houston in the first round.
Instead, Jeremy Lin will have to assume the majority of the minutes at the point for the Rockets through Beverley's absence for better or worse. Offensively Lin has been a bit wild this year; useful in spots as a drive-and-kick engine off the bench and unreliable in others due to his shot selection and turnovers. He's not as ideal a backcourt complement for Harden due to the specifics of their respective skill sets, though at the least Lin gives Houston a competent creator to sub in for an absent starter.
The Rockets will manage on that end through the same mechanisms as before: Pick-and-rolls aplenty, transition drives as possible, post-ups in a jam, and volume three-point attempts. What changes most is the responsibility left squarely on Dwight Howard's shoulders, as the All-Star center will be challenged to provide an even wider safety net in coverage. Even for one of the best help defenders in the league, Howard could well be stretched beyond his limits due to his teammates' inconsistency in keeping their respective marks in front of them. There's no way around it: The Rockets need Beverley, a 25-year-old, minimum-salary role player, if they're to have an honest shot at the title. The NBA playoffs begin in three weeks.