As the season winds down, star players become less visible. Not because they have been kidnapped or succumbed to injury or escaped to launch that hip-hop career, but because many teams prefer their top players get some rest ahead of the play-offs.
It is a deft manoeuvre by clubs who already have secured a post-season position, although the NBA disapproves, knowing how much money fans pay for court-side seats with the expectation of seeing stars.
Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs coach, and Pat Riley, the Miami Heat president, are old hands at this, and are pushing the boundaries.
Back in November, Popovich sent home, for rest, leading players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili instead of keeping them for the final game of a long road trip, against Miami. The league fined the Spurs US$250,000 (Dh918,000).
When the Heat played the Spurs last week in San Antonio, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Mario Chambers were held out. Nagging injuries were alleged and the Heat were not fined, and they won the game, anyway.
For years, the coaches of teams safely qualified for the play-offs have reduced the work load for stars. It is not fun for fans paying to watch a star-less late-season game, but the NBA created the situation by making it all about the play-offs.
After the Heat's 27-game winning streak ended, James and Wade played once in the next five games. Who can blame them?
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