Those who thought the NBA would be plagued by inconsistency because of the nutty compressed schedule have been unpleasantly surprised. The NBA has been very consistent. All you have to do is consult the NBA roundup in your local newspaper each day.
In recent days, we’ve read that players either missed or will miss games because of:
— Strained hamstring (Charlotte’s Corey Maggette).
— Groin injuries (Chicago’s Rip Hamilton, Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, Milwaukee’s Mike Dunleavy, New Orleans’ Trevor Ariza).
— Back injuries (Dallas’ Jason Kidd, Indiana’s Jeff Foster, Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes).
— Calf injury (Houston’s Courtney Lee).
That’s not taking into account a variety of ankle, foot, knee and shoulder injuries that, perhaps, would have happened had the lockout not taken away so much off-season and training camp preparation. The pulls and strains are very likely a result of simply not being in game shape – especially when there are too many games that are played within 24 hours of each other.
And then there is the product. One week after Baylor scored 67 points in victory over the University of Washington in the Alamo Bowl game, a few miles north at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, the world champion Dallas Mavericks did not score their 67th point until less than one minute was left in the 48-minute game. They lost 93-71 but they seemed to have an excuse. On the fifth night of the New Year, they were playing their fourth game.
As often happens in the middle of an absurd situation, however, someone managed to be humorous without knowing it.
“We know this league is about money,” said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. “So the more games they get, the more money they make. So it’s really not about the product that much to them.”
I thought I followed the lockout pretty closely. I was tuned into many reporters from various publications and web sites on Twitter to the extent that I knew what they were eating for dinner every night. But I don’t remember seeing anything about Dirk going to New York to lobby the league and the union to have a sensible playing schedule.
I don’t recall players saying, “You know, what we’d rather do is just play the schedule that already exists with a few allowances made for divisional play. We play about 28 games before Christmas in a normal year, so let’s shorten the season to 54 games. The product will be better and there’ll be less wear and tear on our bodies.”
Here’s the problem, as everyone knows. In playing 66 games, NBA teams still lose 16 games of revenue – tickets, concessions, parking, and even on some broadcast rights.
Players also lose 16 games salary. Perhaps someone like Nowitzki, who has made more than $140 million in his career according to basketballreference.com, wouldn’t mind losing an extra 12 games pay. But the majority of players would not. And, again, not one of them campaigned for a more reasonable schedule.
So yes, Dirk – the league is about making money. The entire league. Owners and players alike. They have that in common.
The result of a lack of time to prepare has been a very ugly game. The Grizzlies managed 64 points in a game. Chicago defeated Atlanta 76-74. The Nets scored 70 in a game – twice.
Last week, the Celtics managed 25 points in the first half of a game against the Pacers. Those who embrace history should know that Larry Bird once set the Celtics team record of 24 points in a quarter. That occurred in a 1983 game – against the same Pacers franchise, which, of course, is now run by Bird.
There has been ample speculation about who is favored in such a short schedule—certainly Miami should benefit with only one player (Juwan Howard) over 30 years old. And Oklahoma City’s four leading scorers are 23, 23, 22 and 22.
Older teams like Dallas, however, could also benefit with a roster of veterans who know how to pace themselves and whose experience will be the difference in the playoffs.
My feeling is the most dangerous teams outside the Heat are those with the best coaches – particularly the older teams. Gregg Popovich has been a master at managing minutes for years.
Already, he has sat Tim Duncan in the second half of a game when the Spurs were getting blown out. It would not be surprising if Popovich eventually gave Duncan a night off in back-to-back games or when the Spurs have three games in three nights.
And losing Manu Ginobili with a broken bone in his hand may eventually work in the Spurs’ favor. Ginobili will not return until mid-February at the earliest, but missing at least 25 games will preserve a little life in those 34-year-old legs.
Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and Boston’s Doc Rivers also have contenders with veteran rosters. But each is experienced and understands how to manage minutes.
Ultimately, however, the season will end no differently than any other season. When a champion is decided in late June, it will be one who survives the unique challenges of this season. Yes, it is different, much like Survivor: Fiji was different than Survivor: Australian Outback.
There are eight playoff teams in each conference. The compressed schedule may make a difference in the bottom rung playoff teams, but they aren’t a threat to win the title, anyway.
The strongest will be strong and ultimately the champion will be someone who overcomes all obstacles. That’s how it’s always been. And who knows? The optimists and tolerant among us believe that by the time the NBA Finals begin, the basketball will be accomplished and, well, not quite as ugly.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.