Editor’s note: This is the Monday, March 6, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
This was a typically up and down weekend in the NBA, a league in which the presence and absence of star players makes an outsized difference for teams and fans. Let’s look at what we saw and what we missed.
First, other sports news:
The UCLA women’s basketball team was beaten by Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament final and will find out Sunday where it will go for the NCAA tournament.
Here’s what UCLA and USC will face when the men’s Pac-12 tournament begins Wednesday in Las Vegas.
UCLA basketball players of the John Wooden era like what they see in Mick Cronin’s team.
Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward have been friends since their teen years, one reason Heyward is trying to revive his career with the Dodgers.
Zach Neto, a first-round draft pick in 2022, is already seeing big-league action in Angels spring games.
The Lakers’ and Clippers’ games yesterday were all about who was and wasn’t playing, which often is the case when the best teams collide.
The Lakers, still without injured LeBron James, beat the Golden State Warriors, with Stephen Curry healthy and playing for the first time in a month, as Anthony Davis took charge and scored 39 points.
The Clippers, with Paul George (42 points) and Kawhi Leonard (34) healthy and available, broke their five-game losing streak by getting past the Memphis Grizzlies, who were without suspended Ja Morant.
Meanwhile, there were spectacular games like the Phoenix Suns’ victory over the Dallas Mavericks, in which all of those teams’ post-trade-deadline cast of stars were on the court and sometimes nose to nose, Kevin Durant (37 points) and Devin Booker (36) outdueling Luka Doncic (34) and Kyrie Irving (30).
Too often, being an NBA fan means trying to keep up with who’s going to be in uniform tonight. Who’s hurt. Who’s a little hurt and sitting out as a precaution. Who isn’t hurt at all but sitting out to rest and reduce the risk of getting hurt.
That last part, the practice of “load management,” “injury management” or simple nights off, is an increasing topic of debate.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver didn’t seem too concerned when he was asked about it at a press conference at the All-Star Game last month in Salt Lake City.
Silver cited strong ticket sales and attendance as evidence that fans aren’t discouraged from committing to attending games for fear that the star attractions won’t suit up.
“I understand it from a fan standpoint that if you are particularly buying tickets to a particular game and that player isn’t playing,” Silver said in a story by Kyle Goon. “I don’t have a good answer for that other than this is a deep league with incredible competition.”
Said Silver: “I don’t think the issue is quite what some suggest.”
Columnist Mirjam Swanson had a different take when she wrote last week that “you, the fan” are the loser when uninjured players are inactive.
“While the NBA goes about its business of trying to predict and limit injury risk, your risk is rising,” Swanson wrote. “It’s more likely now that you’ll purchase a ticket to see one of the load-bearing stars around which the league has been built up, only to wind up watching his understudy.”
Swanson noted that, according to the sports payroll tracker spotrac.com, going into last Thursday’s NBA games, 36 players had missed a total of 96 games because of what was categorized as “injury management.” That’s already 21 more players, and four more games, than all of last season. In addition, last season, 50 players misseda total of 99 games to “rest.”
I wondered how often marquee matchups, games between NBA championship contenders, are missing star players from one or both of the teams. I looked backat games since the Feb. 9 trade deadline matching teams in roughly the top 10 in NBA title futures betting (as of yesterday). There were 25 such games over a stretch of 19 game days; 14 of them were missing one or more of what I would call stars. Mind you, the vast majority of those absences were because of actual injuries like LeBron’s foot, Curry’s leg and Durant’s knee – but not all.
Lakers and Clippers fans know all about this. An uninjured Davis was held out of a game at Oklahoma City last week (which the Lakers won anyway), marking the fourth time in five opportunities that a healthy Davis has failed to play on back-to-back nights. Swanson writes that Leonard’s place in NBA history right now is: “Two-time NBA champion, two-timeNBA Finals MVP and poster child for the load management movement.”
One thing to like about Swanson’s column on this topic is that she doesn’t go looking for people to blame and doesn’t pretend there are easy ways to fix this.
The NBA has reduced the number of back-to-back games and eliminated the scheduling of four games in five nights for teams. Reducing the regular season’s 82-game schedule wouldn’t appeal to owners. Lengthening the season’s calendar to spread out games would present its own trouble.
You can’t force teams to risk players to injury, and would anybody want them to, even fans who just paid to see a star who didn’t appear?
We can hope that, after practicing load management most of the season, teams will have its stars more available for the final month of the regular season and for the playoffs.
Almost every league is dealing with the realization that even though sports are supposed to represent the epitome of healthy living, playing a lot at the rigorous professional level – boxing a lot, pitching a lot, returning kickoffs a lot – isn’t necessarily good for the body and mind.
In pro basketball as in other sports, the possible solutions aren’t easy or attractive.
But the fact you don’t have a great solution doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem.
Kings seek their fourth win in a row when they host the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin (7:30 p.m., BSW). Preview.
Dodgers and Padres play in Glendale, Ariz. (12:05 p.m., SNLA). Yesterday’s game report.
Angels and Guardians meet in Tempe, Ariz. (12:10 p.m., BSW). Yesterday’s game report.
Columnist Jim Alexander says that with LeBron James injured, the Lakers are “Anthony Davis’ team right now.” Can Davis be counted on to lead the Lakers to the playoffs? Share your opinion by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).
“Mike Trout has already played 6 innings in CF and he’s in the on-deck circle to get his 4th AB of the game, which you definitely would not see on March 5 if not for the WBC.” – Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR), tweeting during a game yesterday, on how players are getting ready for the World Baseball Classic, which starts for the United States team Saturday in Phoenix.
Fast start: Sparks fly from where the underside of the car strikes the pavement as Red Bull driver Max Verstappen speeds to an early lead on his way to victory in yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of the Formula One season. Photo is by Ariel Schalit for AP.
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