We are in the thick of the Conference Semifinals and everyone is limping around. So many great players are not anywhere near 100%. These playoffs, more than any in recent memory, are Darwinian in their drama. At this rate, the Finals will consist of two teams with five available players each, none of whom were starters at the beginning of the playoffs. Imagine Will Bynum starting for the Wizards and Lester Hudson starting for the Clippers. If ABC showed reruns of Survivor instead of some of these games, the viewing experience would be similar. It’s painful watching some of the world’s best athletes limping around and grimacing.
For older folks who like to talk about how much pain everyone tolerated in the old days, you can stop reading now. The game wasn’t played the same way before 1990. And for the all the beat-em-up ’90’s playoff series involving the Bad Boy Pistons and the roughneck Knicks, think about this: while post play dominated the action, there were many possessions where more than half of the players on the court were left out. Posting up, bullying on the block, sending double teams on occasion, these were not 48-minute contests filled with constant moving, where movement was key on both offense and defense. Instead, that style of play was physically demanding for the post-up dudes and was practically relaxing for perimeter guys compared to today’s game.
Here are 5 ways the NBA can save itself from future injury-riddled playoffs:
1. Why are we still playing 82 games? Because of money, and because old habits die hard. How many should be we playing. I’d say 66 or 70, but even 76 would be better. Cut down on three home games each, up to 6 schedule losses, where teams play 5 games in 7 nights, or, even worse, 4 games in 5 nights. As teams get smarter about resting their best players, they still play way too often. Reducing the preseason and extending the regular season an extra week or two would breathe much needed space into the schedule.
2. Reduce summer competition. The USA Olympic team will survive without NBA stars. International teams will also suffer. I know it’s a pride thing for many people. These guys need to rest. FIBA and the Olympics will survive. Players who play for NBA teams should be given minutes restrictions in international play.
3. AAU casualties: restrictions on number of games and minutes played per player. As the AAU hoops world continues to grow and the money embedded in the industry continues to influence it, there are way too many games played on young legs. This impacts player development from both a physical and psychological standpoint. As 76ers coach Brett Brown observes, a loss may not matter if its the first of three games that day. Often players don’t go “all out” in order to pace themselves. Playing NBA-level defense requires physical commitment that isn’t possible while playing so many games in a weekend. Knees are threatened by age 20. Regulation is necessary.
4. Playoff scheduling. In the Conference Semis and beyond, add in an extra day of rest (two days off instead of one) for every other game. The television ratings influence the playoff scheduling in ways that won’t change, but having teams play Friday night and then Sunday at noon makes for some ugly games, in which players are at greater risk for injury. A simple rule: no games scheduled within 45 hours of each other. I don’t have time to link to the studies that have been done on injury prevention, but the difference between 38 hours of rest and 48 hours of rest is real.
5. Here’s one that will never pass but would enhance the longevity of the game’s most exciting players (everyone under 6’9″):
Minutes per week maximums in the regular season. Front office types and Thibodeau-style coaches might be up in arms, but imagine a rule that limited coaches to playing players a maximum of 120 on-court minutes per week. Assuming the schedule was fixed to get rid of 5-in-7 scenarios, we’d be talking about 120 minutes over a maximum 4 games in a week. That’s 30 minutes per game. Smarter coaches are already doing this. More teams have embraced the 10-deep roster. Injuries have forced teams to go deeper into their rosters.
Every team is dealing with injuries. It’s May. This isn’t brand new. Gregg Popovich will be the first to tell you that surviving in the playoffs is directly related to a team’s health. But tell Tom Thibodeau that. Not all coaches allow their players to maintain their bodies as well as possible through the 82-game grind. The schedule must change, and some coaches must be saved from themselves.
Sometimes, bad luck hits. John Wall landed awkwardly and broke bones in his hand and wrist. That had nothing to do with rest.
Jeff Teague badly sprains his ankle in Game 3 of the first round series with Brooklyn. He’s not the same player afterward.
Kyrie Irving suffers a foot injury in Game 2 of the Cavs first round series with Boston. Was that preventable? Probably not.
LeBron played through a badly turned ankle in Cleveland’s Game 4 win over the Bulls on Sunday.
Some of it is inevitable, but not all of it.
Hamstring injuries are often related to fatigue, among other factors.
Would Chris Paul of the Clippers and Pau Gasol of the Bulls be limping around right now if they’d played fewer minutes since opening night in late October? We’ll never know. We do know the Clippers and Bulls need every minute they can contribute in May.
More on hamstrings:
Several factors, often in play at the same time, can cause a strained hamstring.
- As mentioned, an imbalance between the relative strength of the hamstrings and the quadriceps—the quads are naturally stronger than the hamstrings—and the amount of work they are able to perform at any moment could cause a strain.
- Not warming up properly may add to the risk factor. “A cold, unstretched muscle that is required to contract at maximum intensity is at highest risk,” warns Ramin Modabber, MD, of the Santa Monica Orthppaedic and Sports Medicine Group.
- If one or both sets of muscles are fatigued from training or the demand of the sport, they are even more vulnerable.
- If you suddenly need an extra burst of speed (like legging out an infield hit in baseball, making an explosive move to the basket in basketball, sprinting to get the ball in soccer, or trying to escape a tackler in football), tremendous force is required of both the hamstrings and the quadriceps.
Put all four factors together at the same time — muscle imbalance, inadequate warm-up, fatigue, and a sudden need for speed—and you’ve created your own perfect storm for a pulled hamstring. Running in cold weather could make it even worse. And poor running technique can also contribute to an overload of the muscle and a strain.