Jayson Tatum missed 8 games. Michael Porter Jr. missed 10 games. Jimmy Butler was out for a total of 10 games due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Not only did Jimmy miss roughly 3 weeks of action, but his absence, along with other guys missing time as well, caused the Miami Heat to win only 2 out of a possible 10 games during that stretch. To say that the Heat have been decimated by absences has to be an understatement. It’s not just the fact that their best player missed almost a month, but when you combine that with the fact that other players have had to sit due to Covid protocols, or had minor injuries themselves; you’re looking at situations in which the Heat have handed out twenty-five plus minutes to guys like Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Who? My point exactly.
We’re not just talking about end-of-the-bench role players missing time folks. We’re talking superstars like the aforementioned Jayson Tatum, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant, to major pieces like Michael Porter Jr. Absences to key figures can have major implications on several different team aspects; from the more obvious of team record and playoff seeding to player fatigue and rust during the postseason. Because of this, I present the question— will this year’s NBA season have more of an asterisk than last year’s?
Last season’s bubble, which was played in Orlando, Florida at Disney World, couldn’t dodge its fair share of criticism from fans and media personalities alike. Hell, some are even calling Lebron’s fourth title a “Mickey Mouse Ring.” Individuals will always try to invalidate accomplishments, but last year’s bubble supplied everyone with plenty of ammo. Whether they belched out opinions like “there’s no fans so there’s no road games,” or there not being any travel so it’s as if they’re playing in a gym at LA Fitness; the comments were at a fever pitch, ripping the bubble left and right, up and down. Now, did these comments make sense to a certain degree? Yes, they did. Shooting percentages were way up because the atmosphere was indeed similar to that of a souped-up gym. There weren’t any heckling fans to make players nervous. Combine this with the fact that players were miserable because they were cooped up in their hotels for a few months and you can see why the NBA decided against a second consecutive bubble.
That and the experiment was expensive as hell.
So since the NBA was lining up to wade into the Covid infested waters next, commissioner Adam Silver realistically anticipated hurdles along the way. And boy is he getting some.
To Postpone or Not to Postpone
Maybe that’s a bit of a silly question because there is no way that games wouldn’t be postponed. As you may have guessed; like with the NFL and MLB, outbreaks have occurred. Because of this, the NBA is being forced to postpone certain games. What makes things trickier, is the fact that NBA teams can play 2-3 games a week, unlike the NFL where teams play once a week. When a football team had an outbreak, that team and the opposing team that came in contact could face postponing just one game over a one and a half week stretch. In the NBA, one and a half weeks can equate to roughly 5-6 games being postponed. Yeah. There have been stretches where a five-day period can have four days of at least one postponed game. Teams (the Miami Heat) have played two or three fewer games than their counterparts. Seeding is but a mirage at this point, and possibly for the rest of the season.
Speaking of Seeding
Sometimes, a team’s regular-season record is of utmost importance in order to position themselves for a lengthy playoff run. Organizations jostle for positions, with the hope of setting up the ideal matchup. Postponed games and player absences can, have, and will continue to affect a team’s ranking in their respective conference. For example, let’s say that the Utah Jazz, (who has the best record out west) was forced to postpone back to back games, thus allowing the Lakers, and maybe even the Clippers, to make up ground and surpass them in ranking; who’s to say that the Jazz actually will be able to regain that spot even after they’ve completed the delayed games? In theory, this forces them into a tougher first-round matchup, therefore increasing their probability of an early exit. This scenario is amplified tenfold if games are postponed towards the stretch run of the season. The west is already brutally difficult (as always) and so seeding is extremely important in that conference.
There’s a classic saying that goes “the best ability a person can have is availability.” That statement has never rang more true than during the Covid infested NBA season. Player absences are piling up like tissues from a sick person. Star players, role players, benchwarmers, you name it; nobody is safe. I’ve already discussed a few big-time players who’ve missed time due to Covid protocol, and to think that it won’t happen again throughout the season is asinine. Things have gotten so bad that the NBA has enforced the most extreme lockdown measures that are just shy of having to literally police the athlete’s homes. Players have to legitimately only go home, to work out with a trainer, maybe grocery shop, and to the arena. That’s it. These tactics have even sparked outrage amongst players. But can one blame the NBA? You competition addicts wanted a season right? You didn’t want the bubble again, right? You would like for this championship to be earned fair and square right? (or as fair and square as a Covid season can permit) The league has also planned to expand a team’s roster size in order to accommodate absent players. They are taking practically every possible measure in order to deem this year a success.
Nobody wants this season to go up in flames. Nobody wants this season to have an asterisk attached to it, especially the champion. But it’s going to take a buy-in like no other from every single individual that is associated with an NBA organization. Players are going to miss time due to safety protocols. Players are still going to feel the effects of contracting Covid. That’s going to force other players to exert themselves in ways that they’re not used to. Can that extra workload increase the chance of injury? Yes, it can. Can that lead to possible fatigue in the playoffs? Yes, it can. Will lengthy absences force players to re-develop their on-court chemistry with the team? There’s a possibility, sure. These are all factors that the NBA has to account for. This season is going to be even weirder than the bubble. It already is. But if nobody wants an asterisk slapped on this year, then everyone has to push all of their chips in from now and buy-in.
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