Was a Condensed NBA Schedule Worth It?

Rather than write a typical Purdue men’s basketball update, complete with an honest review of our recent troubles and an optimistic pep-talk for the future, I’ve decided to write about the NBA.  Why?  I’m a bit burned out on Purdue basketball right now.  Maybe it was the sheer volume of emotional effort expended in the last few losses, or maybe I’m just a poor loser, but I’ve found some comfort in casually watching NBA games.  In these contests, I have a favorite team (the Bulls), but I am able to watch the games with a sort of aloofness that college basketball does not facilitate.  Since I’ve been paying a bit of attention to the NBA in the recent weeks, I decided a quick overview of the shortened NBA season might be interesting.

As anyone with access to sports news last year should know, the NBA recently went through a lockout.  This process is basically a big argument between the players union and the owners of the teams.  The negotiation efforts and negative effects can be compared to that of a typical union strike.  The NBA was coming off a great season.  They had a villain (the Miami Heat), an underdog who went all the way (the Dallas Mavericks), several older teams fighting to stay on top (Lakers, Spurs, Celtics), and several younger teams fighting for their place (Bulls, Magic, Pacers).  Ratings were higher than they had been in years, and the NBA was hoping the negotiation process would not impact the upcoming season.

Months later, and after many games were cancelled, the lockout came to a close.  Since the season was going to start on December 25th instead of the typical late October/early November, the teams agreed to a plan that packed more games into a shortened season.  Instead of having 82 games (the usual amount) in about 5 and 1/2 months, each team will play 66 games in 4 months. This means that teams are going from playing a game every 2 days (last season) to playing a game every 1.8 days (this season). This may not seem like much, but it takes away precious resting days for teams flying all over the country.

For an example of a hectic schedule, one can look at the Bulls from January 6-11.  On the 6th, the Bulls played at Orlando, then they flew over to Atlanta for a game the next night.  They had one day off before playing Detroit at home on the 9th, only to have to fly to Minnesota to play on the 10th, then return home again to play on the 11th.  This means they played 5 games in 6 days, 3 of which were away.  Overall in the month of January, the Bulls played 19 games out of 31 days.  This type of scheduling is typical of every team in the league.  And what happens when athletes get overworked?  Injuries.

If I had to describe the current NBA season thus far in one phrase, it would probably be “teams fight for position despite injured stars.”  It seems like every team has had multiple injuries, and the season is barely a month old!  Teams have a choice:  play hard every game like usual (and suffer the consequences) or let the superstars rest for entire games at a time.  Either way, teams are accepting more losses and fewer total points.  I was blown away the other day when I saw the Celtics hold the Magic to 56 points, a franchise low.  This was even more impressive since the Celtics had 2 starters out with injuries.

While the drama from the condensed schedule, constant injuries, and embarrassingly low point totals is fine, I have had another reason to watch the NBA recently: the Boston Boilermakers.  E’Twaun Moore and Jajuan Johnson were lucky enough to both be drafted by the Boston Celtics, allowing them to play alongside future Hall-of-Famers Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.  JJ has not gotten many minutes recently, but this has mostly been because the Celtics are a very deep team with many good people at the power-forward position. JJ is patiently waiting for his time to strike, and hopefully he can make his mark when that opportunity arises.  E’Twaun, on the other hand, has been given a chance show what he can do because of some recent injuries.  Since E’Twaun can play either point guard or shooting guard, he has been able to fill the shoes of both Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, both of whom were out with injuries for several games.  It was great watching him score a career high 16 points the other night as Boston defeated the Magic in Orlando. 

One of the most interesting things to watch will be how age affects teams throughout the rest of the season, as well as the playoffs.  Conventional wisdom would say that older teams (such as Boston, San Antonio, and Dallas) will be more adversely affected by the tougher schedule.  Older players do tend to get injured more often, and output would definitely suffer.  On the other hand, experienced teams oftentimes pull together in the playoffs.  I would not be at all surprised if an older team at a 7 or 8 seed manages to upset a young 1 or 2 seed in the playoffs, especially if that win came by the efforts of seasoned veterans. 

Hopefully I won’t have a reason to write another NBA column for a while.  If Purdue is able to turn around from their recent losses, I can regain my positivity and write an article that won’t cause DJ Byrd to beat down my door at 3am.  Not that he would ever do that, but I tend to get a little personal sometimes in my critiques (and I fear an angry Byrd more than an angry  Carroll).

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