During the first weekend of this year’s NBA Playoffs, there were season-ending injuries to several key players on teams that were looking to make a deep run into the postseason. Knicks’ rookie, Iman Shumpert, went down during New York’s first playoff game and is done for the year. Caron Butler of the Clippers fractured a bone in his shooting hand during their first postseason appearance, and won’t be back until next season. Derrick Rose, last year’s MVP and the leader of the Bulls, who had the best record in the League this year, tore his ACL in the final minutes of Game 1 against the Sixers, sparking conversations amongst watchers of the NBA about all of the injuries the League has been faced with this year.
This NBA season there seemingly has been an unusually high number of serious injuries and ever since the Rose injury, when you venture online or turn on the TV, the Mike Wilbons and other NBA talking heads are blaming all of the injuries on the labor dispute at the beginning of the season. The dispute resulted in a lockout, which caused the season to start late and the schedule of games to be condensed.
A full NBA season is 82 games, but this year since the season started around Christmas as opposed to the normal close-to-Halloween start date, so teams only played 66 games for the regular season. Normally, teams do not play games on three consecutive nights, but this season, every team had several of those back-to-back-to-back scenarios in order to squeeze as many games into the shortened season as they could. However, even with that, players were not on the court any more frequently than during a normal season.
While I agree that the schedule was hastily put together and they tried to include as many games as possible because neither side — players or owners — wanted to lose any potential money, I don’t necessarily agree that the schedule is what caused the problems.
Let’s break it down:
A normal season is 82 games and lasts for 26 weeks. For the 2011-2012 season, the teams played 66 games in 19 weeks, so 16 games were cut out of the schedule as well as seven weeks. In seven weeks, teams normally play around 25 games. That leaves nine extra games to be squeezed into 19 weeks. That’s not hard.
As anyone that plays fantasy basketball will tell you, NBA teams play three or four games per week. So, if you just turn those three-game weeks into four-game weeks you can get all of the extra games in. That doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, but then again, I’m not playing in the most-talented basketball league in the World.
As the fourth game has been added to the three-game weeks, the increased travel schedule has not really allowed teams to practice. Under normal conditions, teams would practice an average of two times a week, but this season they didn’t practice at all. Admittedly, for a player that starts, practice is much easier than a game, but it is still two less days that they are on the court.
With the one extra game, players are still on the court one less day per week this season than they are in any other season. So, how does that equate to more injuries? In my opinion, it doesn’t.
When you look at the injuries from this season, it doesn’t appear that there are more injuries than other seasons, but what has happened in 2011-2012, is that big names are getting hurt. When some no-name ruptures his Achilles, maybe the hometown fans will be aware of it, but the news doesn’t send shockwaves across the League like Orlando’s Dwight Howard injuring his back and going out for the season or Ricky Rubio, a young star who is supposed to raise the League’s profile internationally, suffering a season-ending ACL tear.
And that’s exactly what has happened this year. Dwight Howard was a news story all season as he was to be a free agent after this season and had let the Magic know that he did not intend to return setting off an entire season of rumors about where he would be traded to in advance of his contract expiring. Ricky Rubio, the first player ever to be drafted that was born in the ‘90s, was rolling through his rookie season when the injury sidelined him as well as a whole bunch of European fans that loved seeing a Spanish player drop ten points and eight assists in flamboyant fashion every night.
So Derrick Rose, who had missed a total of six games over the course of his first three seasons, missed 27 this year; but the injuries that sidelined him were not related to the ACL tear he suffered last weekend. And that is what has frustrated fans and commentators alike, forcing people to come up with theories that just don’t hold water.
Chris Wilder is a Philadelphia and New York-based journalist who currently covers sports for several outlets including ESPNU.com. He has been an editor for Major League Baseball Advanced Media and is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Source Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ceewild