In what has been a historic campaign that will last many decades, the battle for the top spots in the respective Conferences in the league are all but signed, sealed and delivered. In tonight’s lineup, second place in the Eastern Conference will be up for grabs as Washington Wizards take on Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.
While the outcome of this matchup won’t necessary determine the final standings at the end of the regular season, a win for either side will go a long way to seed the team as the second best in the Eastern Conference.
There is also the main show out west in Oklahoma City when the Thunder host Golden State Warriors with former player Kevin Durant in the eye of the storm. While it is easy for Durant to avoid creating a side show as he continues to nurse his injured leg should he sit on the bench, eyes should be glued to the battle between Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
There is no bad blood between these two lead Point Guards but after Curry picked Harden ahead of Russell as the Most Valuable Player, Westbrook responded unsurprisingly with a “Who is he?” quip. Westbrook is out for Zaza Pachulia too; This should be good.
Leaders Cleveland Cavaliers have booked their spot in the playoffs despite attracting the ire of fans for letting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love rest against Los Angeles Clippers. While fans were disappointed they couldn’t see their stars in action, the league is sure to be concerned about the long term effect of players missing out on national televised games particularly after signing a multibillion dollar contract with broadcasters.
Due to the immense outcomes at stake, fans wouldn’t have to worry about missing any stars for any reason but injury. So be sure to see Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and the fleet of defense first complementary pieces line up for Boston while John Wall and Bradley Beal star for Washington Wizards.
However, what happened over the weekend with Cleveland’s “Big Three” sitting out against the Clippers due to rest is a fact the league should find ways to solve. What started out as San Antonio Spurs strategy to get a lot some time for veteran bodies including the recently retired Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli, has now become a full blown policy teams in the upper half of the playoff bracket employ regularly. Days before Cleveland’s episode, Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr announced he will rest Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala against the Spurs who were without Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. To be fair to San Antonio, this time around Leonard and Aldridge missed the game due to injury; Kawhi had concussion like symptoms and Aldridge’s heart problem resurfaced.
Trailing the Utah Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was thankful to his opposite number Tyronne Lue for aiding his team to win by fielding a weak team. However, Rivers noted the trend had to stop at some point in the future to give fans what is worth their money even conceding he has used the tactic before in order to save his players legs. In that game against Denver Nuggets, Forward Blake Griffin and Center DeAndre Jordan did not play. While empirical evidence has shown resting players for back to back games increases wins in the immediate games they play after whilst reducing the possibility of sustaining injuries, sitting out star players is not a good look on the league.
One way of dealing with cramped schedules is to reduce the number of games played in the season. What is the point in playing an intra conference team four times in the regular season only to play them in the postseason on some occasions? Familiarity does breed contempt which is a good theme to sell tickets in the playoffs but playing a team twice in the season irrespective of the division or conference will reduce the headache of medical staff to get players in shape. Playing 82 games is a lot of load to carry on the legs not forgetting the long travel times. Kobe Bryant has backed this so has Lebron James. With two of the games widely acclaimed greatest players of all time opining this, the league should consider.
Another way will be to stretch the season a bit longer than it is now, that will have the campaign start earlier than it does in the latter part of October. Scrapping most friendlies and replacing them with regular season games reduces the need to schedule back to back games to stay within the calendar. Change is slow in the NBA since several levels of bureaucracy has to be cleared but this needs to be hastened and corrected to make everyone happy.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter