NBA tries to learn from painful injury lessons of last year

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(AP) — The potshots have come at the Golden State Warriors from all directions this offseason. Some rivals have dismissed their breathtaking championship run with a wave of the hand and a snort.

The Warriors just got lucky, they said. They were able to stay mostly healthy for the entire grueling season, avoiding the big injuries that plagued so many other contenders, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

Considering the stack of injuries that ruined some seasons, keeping 15 players healthy should be viewed as a tremendous accomplishment, not just a random gift from the basketball gods.

As the NBA prepares to tip off the regular season on Tuesday, the biggest issue facing a league on the upswing may not be labor strife or the age limit for draft eligibility. After a season in which star after star missed huge chunks of time, one of the biggest priorities is player health.

“I think what we saw in this season and in the playoffs, especially, is there is no question that injuries had a big impact on the competition,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “Not that that’s anything new. One of the things we’re looking at as a league is what can we do to keep players on the floor?”

The numbers last year were staggering. Eight players on the NBA’s list of most popular-selling jerseys missed at least 15 percent of the 82 regular season games, including LeBron James (13 games missed), Blake Griffin (15), Derrick Rose (31) and Russell Westbrook (15).

Kevin Durant (55), Carmelo Anthony (42), Dwight Howard (41), Paul George (76) and Kobe Bryant (47) are among the stars who missed at least half the season and seven of the top 10 draft picks – not including Philadelphia’s Dario Saric, who played in Europe – missed significant time with injuries.

Injuries to Cleveland stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the playoffs hampered the Cavaliers’ ability to hang with the Warriors in the finals, while the Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed 58 games combined) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka missed 88 games) did not make the playoffs for the first time in years due mostly to their missing stars.

From overtraining at the AAU level to poor sleep patterns developed during the season’s unforgiving travel schedule, the theories are many as to the number of injuries. And efforts are coming on all fronts to address the scourge.

The NBA appointed Dr. John DiFiori as the league’s director of sports medicine, partnered with GE Healthcare to research musculoskeletal injuries and formed a board of physicians around the league to examine the issue. The league also changed the schedule to drastically reduce the number of back-to-backs and stretches of four games in five nights in hopes of easing some of the stress on players’ bodies.

The NBA Players’ Association hired Joe Rogowski, a well-regarded strength coach and athletic trainer, as its new sports science guru.

And teams across the league are revamping their training and medical staffs and building new practice facilities to try to cater to player health.

The Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons have all brought in new medical and/or training personnel while the Wolves have partnered with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic to open a $25 million practice center that includes a chef on site to prepare healthy meals and a sports medicine wing with MRI machines and physicians available for immediate consultation.

“I think it’s still too early to say this is why these injuries are happening,” Rogowski said. “But we are doing our due diligence. There are so many variables that are involved with injuries. So being able to look at all the different variables and not just one thing is very important.”

Silver is pushing teams to share more on what methods and technologies they are using to combat injuries. Some teams consider that proprietary and are reluctant to give it.

“I don’t want to see our teams just competing in terms of best practices when it comes to the health and welfare of the players,” Silver said. “Teams can learn from each other and can apply it to the league as a whole. As you heard (Warriors coach) Steve Kerr say, as great as it is to win, you want to win with both teams best players on the floor.”

It’s a good line, but one that may fall on deaf ears when presented to hyper-competitive teams looking for any edge.

“The league feels like it’s a priority, but it’s a little interesting,” Dallas Mavericks head athletic trainer Casey Smith said. “Every team is their own entity. There are many of us that do share best practices quite often on all levels and there are some, frankly, that don’t. That’s their decision.”

Smith has kept the Mavericks at the forefront of sports science technology for years, teaming with coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban to aggressively examine ways to keep their players healthy. From sleep studies to biomechanics and GPS tracking technology, the Mavericks are throwing everything they have at one of the league’s fundamental problems.

While they have embraced the need for players to rest during the season, Smith said it’s also important to make sure a resting player gets in a hard workout on his “off day.” Dirk Nowitzki may not do the cutting, accelerating and decelerating and physical contact that he does during a game, but he will go through a weightlifting and cardio workout so that his body remains in “active recovery.”

“Although we may limit them from the court at times, we still very much expect some type of demand on their bodies to keep them at that highest threshold,” Smith said, “which I think surprises people sometimes.”

Smith is a big believer in studying movement patterns and trying to reduce the biomechanical asymmetry that can put greater stress on joints and muscles. That also requires athletes to do the same, often tedious, warmups and exercises every day to foster the needed muscle memory.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders coaxed long-time Pistons physical therapist Arnie Kander out of retirement after enduring a season when 10 of his players missed significant time because of injuries. Kander spent more than two decades in Detroit and gained a reputation for using unusual methods and contraptions to help keep players healthy.

“When you have four or five of your best players out, the game is less,” Kander said. “I’m a basketball fan. I happen to work in the NBA. So I like to see a better game.”

This story has been corrected to show the last name of the NBA director of sports medicine is Dr. John DiFiori, not Fiori.

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

To Bam Adebayo, Heat game days are always Mother’s Day

Heat star Bam Adebayo
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Miami center Bam Adebayo went into the locker room at halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals knowing that he wasn’t doing enough.

He didn’t need to see video. Or talk to Heat teammates. Or check the stats.

He only needed to think of his mother.

“That first half wasn’t me and I had to reboot myself, man,” Adebayo said. “So, you ask yourself: Where do you come from and what’s your why? What’s your why? And for me, that’s my mom.”

Marilyn Blount, this was for you. Adebayo nearly outscored the Boston Celtics by himself in the third quarter, the Heat turned the game around and went on to win 106-101 Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals — putting the kid who grew up in a single-wide trailer with a mom making something like $15,000 a year two wins away from the NBA Finals.

Adebayo had four points at the half, and the Heat were down by 13. He had 17 in the second half, when Miami outscored Boston by 18.

“Games are long and you just have to figure out different ways to impact winning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And Bam, he understands that.”

It wasn’t just Adebayo in the second half, which is the brilliance of this Heat team — it’s never just one guy. Adebayo had 17 points after halftime on 8-for-10 shooting, Goran Dragic had 16 points in the final two quarters, Tyler Herro had more rebounds than anyone after halftime and Jimmy Butler made three steals in the final 3:40 to help Miami finish off matters.

“I’m happy to be on this team with these guys because everybody here has a different story,” Adebayo said. “We all come from nothing and that’s what’s beautiful about this team.”

He may have come from nothing. Right now, for a Miami team that is 10-1 so far in this postseason to match the best start in franchise playoff history, he’s doing everything.

He had the game-saving block of a Jayson Tatum dunk attempt in the final seconds of Game 1 of the East finals, made the NBA’s All-Defensive team, became an All-Star for the first time and won the skills competition at All-Star weekend.

He’s averaging 16.8 points, 11 rebounds and 5.1 assists so far in the playoffs; the only two players who have done that, at his age of 22 or less, in a full postseason are Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.

“He knows what makes him tick, what makes him go,” Butler said. “He knows why he’s playing the game. Spo always says, ‘What’s your why?’ He gets it. He understands. He knows that we need him to play at an extremely high level to be successful. He’s an All-Star, All-Defensive Player. He’s everything for us.”

Adebayo could agree this offseason, whenever free agency starts, to a contract that will set him up for life, set his mother up for whatever she wants as well. He’s already looking at houses for her; these days, she’s got an apartment in the same building where her son lives, just down the street from the arena that the Heat call home.

He doesn’t hide from the past. He doesn’t forget having nothing. It doesn’t embarrass him. It inspires him.

“That competitive nature comes out when I feel like I’m playing bad and when things aren’t going right,” Adebayo said. “I think about how she fought through struggle. I feel like she was in the gym tonight. It was like I could hear her in my ear. I watched her get knocked down and get back up so many times. You see that for 18 years straight, you take that load on and feel that responsibility. And my responsibility is to provide for my mom, and the best way to make sure I can do that is to help us win.”

They’re winning. They’re the surprise of the bubble, in the sense that they’re the lowest seed — Miami was No. 5 in the East — still standing.

Two more wins, and they’ll be going to the NBA Finals. Adebayo knows they’ll be the hardest wins to get.

“It sounds crazy,” Adebayo said. “Think about the beginning of the year, when we were telling everybody, ‘We have a chance, we have a chance.’ I remember having a conversation with a couple guys, playing out how the season was going to go before it started, and they said we were a No. 7, No. 8 seed and would get knocked out in the first round.

“I took that kind of personal,” he added. “You’re not going to sit here and just bash my team like that. We’ve proven to people now that we belong in the playoffs, that we’re taking this head on. We’re underdogs. That’s our mentality.”

He’s been one his whole life.

It seems to work for him — thanks to his mom.

“Watching her, I built my competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “That’s how I learned that the strong survive.”

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the regular season.

That can be easy to forget. Coronavirus caused a lengthy interruption. In the spotlight when play resumed, Antetokounmpo underwhelmed. The Bucks flamed out in the second round.

So, this timing is awkward.

But MVP is a regular-season award, and Antetokounmpo will deservedly win his second straight.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Antetokounmpo’s performance comes as speculation intensifies about his future in Milwaukee.

He’ll be eligible for a super-max extension this offseason. If he bypasses it, he’ll also be eligible for a super-max contract in 2021 free agency.

Because of this award, Antetokounmpo will now also be eligible to sign a super-max deal in 2022 free agency.

Maybe he won’t be a free agent that offseason. But this opens his options if he takes a shorter contract to let league-wide revenue rise post-pandemic and/or further assess the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has that type of leverage. At just 25, he put himself in the pantheon of players to win consecutive MVPs:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Steve Nash
  • Tim Duncan
  • Michael Jordan
  • Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird
  • Moses Malone
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russell

Antetokounmpo has a bright future, especially with the mentality to fix his shortcomings. He must polish his skills (and maybe approach) to thrive in the playoffs. But it’s easy to project growth there.

Already, Antetokounmpo has the regular season solved.

He joins Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: Jordan’s Bulls also lost in the second round in five games the year he claimed both awards. It got better for Jordan and Chicago from there, eventually.

LeBron and James Harden finished second and third in some order for 2020 MVP. The NBA will officially announce the winner at 2 p.m. Presumably, we’ll also get full voting then.

Report: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown bickered in Celtics’ locker room

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After their Game 2 loss to the Heat last night, the Celtics – especially Marcus Smart – made a commotion in their locker room.

What actually happened?

Apparently, Smart and Jaylen Brown got into it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated confrontation inside that locker room after the Game 2 loss and needed to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told The Athletic.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

None of this is new for Smart. Not jawing with a Boston assistant coach during a game. Not getting hot after a loss. Not even clashing with Brown.

This is who he is – sometimes for good, sometimes not. But the same reasons Smart thrives as a feisty player are the same reasons he was going off last night.

Brown, via Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:

“He plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the time. But we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Brown doesn’t mind a little chaos if it serves a greater purpose. He’s emotionally mature enough to handle this.

But will last night’s incident actually help the Celtics? Maybe it’ll light a fire under them to keep their foot on the gas when leading.

Offensive sets that can beat a zone defense would probably go further, though.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.