Of all the battles that NBA teams face, short-term thinking vs. long-term planning may be the most crucial.
On one hand, most teams are trying to win today, because dropping a loss at an inopportune time makes them prey in the standings. The team has an eye to the standings in an effort to connect to a potential playoff run that could seem ages away, by the primary objective is to go out there with the best players available and do whatever it takes to win tonight.
But on the other hand, decisions made in the NBA are rarely so short-sighted. Coaches keep a watchful eye on their players’ minutes, as to avoid wearing them down for the postseason. Practice schedules are meticulously organized, as to avoid late-season burnout, despite the fact that additional practice time could really help some teams. Some players need surgery on this or that, and others just need a few games to rest lingering injuries. None of these decisions necessarily come easy, but it’s how the game behind the game in the NBA is played.
Shutting down a player for a few games or even half of a season is an incredibly tricky endeavor. But the Lakers did it with Kobe Bryant, and now the Celtics may have to do it with Paul Pierce. From Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe:
It was the second game Pierce played with the injury, and it affected the way he caught the ball, gripped it, dribbled it, and passed and shot it. “That’s everything you do with a basketball,” Pierce said, running down the checklist. Pierce was 2 for 10 against Denver, making his biggest contributions on defense, blocking four shots. But he said the nagging injury to his shooting hand has limited him. “It’s sore right now,” Pierce said. “It’s affecting my shot a lot. Right now, I’m not really looking to be aggressive with it. I’m just trying to do the other little things to help this ball club and hopefully in the next few days it’ll get better.”
Pierce already has missed seven games this season with knee and foot problems, and coach Doc Rivers said he’s considering giving the forward more time off to mend. “You can see it on free throws,” Rivers said, alluding to Pierce’s 1-for-4 afternoon from the line. “I think the thumb, the knee, and the foot, it may have caught up to him right now. We may have to look at giving him some rest. I don’t know yet, but on the surface that’s the way it looks like it’s going.”
The Celtics may not be performing at a level on par with their 2007-2008 mark, but they’re still third in the East at 35-19. That said, Boston sits just a game ahead of the fourth-ranked Atlanta Hawks, and staying out of the fourth seed is crucial to Boston’s playoff run. The Cavaliers are the team to beat in the conference right now (even in spite of their current three-game losing streak), and likely will still be come April. If the Celtics want to avoid matching up with the Cavs for as long as possible, they need to either stay at third or climb up to second.
To make matters even more difficult, the Celtics have actually been playing very good basketball of late. Boston has struggled plenty this season, but they seem to be improving significantly. Additionally, the newly-acquired Nate Robinson still needs time to establish some on-court chemistry with his teammates, and the Celtics have a decidedly different look and feel without Pierce on the floor. If there’s a more important stretch for Boston this season, I know not of it. Yet Doc Rivers may have no choice but to rest Pierce in the name of the playoffs, despite the fact that resting Pierce may hurt team’s chances to make some noise when they get there.