The NBA's league office has taken a number of measures over the last couple decades to make the professional game safer. They've cracked down on flagrant fouls, they've instituted a no-tolerance policy for fighting, and general play on the court has less contact than ever before.
So, why have there been so many injuries during these NBA playoffs?
As ESPN's Tom Haberstroh points out, players have missed a total of 61 games this postseason due to injuries, the highest total in 20 years and three times larger than it was in the late 1990s.
It may seem like a fluke or an anomaly, but Haberstroh and Baxter Holmes argue that it's linked to a much deeper issue: the grueling length of the NBA regular season.
Star players like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Hassan Whiteside, and others have missed critical time on the court due to playoff injuries. For the Clippers, it was very clearly detrimental to their somewhat slim title hopes.
The league is aware that the grind of the 82-game regular season is largely to blame, wearing players' bodies down to the point of extreme exhaustion. Sometimes, they just shut down.
Both Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki have advocated for the length of the season to be cut down, but they acknowledge that most guys wouldn't be willing to take the pay-cut that would go along with that.
Former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti believes the grueling nature of the season robs players and fans from seeing their talent displayed at its best.
“Unfortunately, we'll never really see what these guys can really do,” Vitti said recently while sitting in a lounge at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo, California, “because they're tired all of the time because of the schedule.”
The solution is not clear, as one NBA owner points out.
“It's not as simple as just shortening the schedule,” one NBA owner says on condition of anonymity. “It's a holistic problem. A holistic approach needs to factor in how you can reduce fatigue-related injuries. The number of regular-season games may be a part of that, but practices, the preseason, workouts, sleep, nutrition and travel are also significant factors in causing fatigue-related injuries and, I believe, will be the first line of attack on the problem by the teams, the players and the league.”
Until the league figures it out, injuries to star players in the playoffs might become a routine part of the Spring, unfortunately.
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