A week after ruling out any connection between injuries and the compressed season the commissioner has started retracting his statement.
Commissioner David Stern's insult to injury in the NBA
It turns out David Stern, the NBA commissioner spoke too soon. Or not.
Barely a week after ruling out any connection between the injuries to players and the compressed regular-season schedule that was thrown together after the lockout - "Zero", is how Stern put it in an April 30 radio interview - the commissioner has started retracting that statement. Sort of.
"There is some part of it that may be related to that," Stern on CBS Sports Network. "I think some part of it is luck and some part of it is lack of preparedness by our players before the season began. It's a combination of things."
The strange thing is that while season-ending knee injuries to the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose and the New York Knicks' guards Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis in the first round of the play-offs gave rise to suspicions that the schedule was to blame - it began on Christmas and shoehorned 66 games into roughly four months - Stern said the total number of such injuries, five, was about the same as in previous years.
But with fewer breaks available for players to heal - teams played an average of two more games each month, from 14 to 16 - the time lost because of all sorts of injuries was greater.
"The one thing I do know is that we've had more lost games because of injuries, because the compressed schedule takes away a day of rest for a minor injury. ... We're going to look at the precise numbers at the end of the season and we'll try to have a view of it because it's spread out differently as well. Some teams don't practice. Some teams do. I don't know whether it relates," the commissioner added.
"Some teams actually worked out with the players alone all summer and some didn't. We're going to try to see whether we can learn something from this compressed season in the way that teams approach it."
That is all well and good, but the teams still in the play-offs are being forced to deal with the implications on the fly. They know, for example, that while the number of games lost to injury is up, points and shooting percentages are down. It has spawned an interesting game-within-a-game where coaches and players try to convince themselves they aren't feeling exhausted but that their opponents are.
"My hope, I don't know if this is true or not, is that fatigue will come our way," George Karl, the Denver coach, said after his Nuggets beat the LA Lakers 102-99 and pulled within 3-2 in their series. "The running of the game, the tempo of the game, and the pace, the way we play.
"They're getting tired of hearing it, and you're probably tired of hearing it," he told reporters, "but our only chance to beat them is run them and play with tremendous energy and intensity."
Kobe Bryant is probably feeling every bit of 33 after a gruelling season playing through a handful of ailments. But the old man of the Lakers says no team can afford to feel sorry for themselves at this juncture of the season. Asked whether he and his teammates would regret not closing out Denver on the first try to getting some additional rest, Bryant said, "Doesn't matter.
"I don't care if you give us a year to rest. If we're fortunate enough to move on to face Oklahoma City that year isn't going to make us any faster."
Maybe not, but two of the teams the Lakers could run into, the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, are both at home with their feet up after first-round sweeps over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, respectively.
Rest could prove an even more precious commodity in the East, where only the Indiana Pacers, taking advantage of a season-ending back injury to Orlando's star centre Dwight Howard, won their fourth game in a row on Tuesday night to close out the Magic.
Indiana trailed by two at the end of the third quarter, but outscored fast-fading Orlando 36-16 over the final 12 minutes.
"That's a testament to the type of team we have," the Pacer David West said. "We're deep, man. We've got guys, that when their number's called, they're prepared."
The Bulls might have been able to say that at one point. But with Rose out and Joakim Noah questionable after an ankle injury, their win on Tuesday night against the 76ers resembled a holding action more than a comeback. They go to Philadelphia still trailing 3-2 and struggling to score, their coach Tom Thibodeau's brave words notwithstanding.
"Injuries are part of the game, so whether it's a lockout season or not, you've still got to deal with them," he said.
As if the Miami Heat weren't already favoured, their relative good fortune in the injury department compared to their rivals has only widened the gap.
But the Heat don't dare celebrate their good fortune yet.
"Hopefully no one else goes down with these type of injuries," Miami's Dwyane Wade said. "It's not anything that we want to see ... You don't know if it was because of the condensed season. You don't know what the case may be."
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