There is no refuting the science: The 82-game NBA schedule wears players down physically, and when they are worn down they both do not play as well and are more susceptible to injury. This applies especially to back-to-backs and four games in five nights.
But we live in an age where proof doesn’t matter if you don’t want to believe it.
Enter Jason Terry. The old-school NBA veteran and current Milwaukee Buck was on his weekly SiriusXM Radio show, “The Runway” with co-host Justin Termine, and he railed against players getting rested this early in the season.
“Rest? Who wants to rest? Who wants to sit out of games? Practice, maybe yes, ok I get it. But the games? No, no, no, no. What did A.I. say? Not the game, not the game I love. No, we’re not going to rest. I can see maybe in April, it’s the last week, last two weeks, you already clinched your playoff positioning, there’s nothing really to play for, yeah, we may rest a little bit. … This is the second month of the season, there’s no reason to rest. You had all summer to rest….
And guys rest in practice anyway. If you’re a high minute volume guy, you’re playing 35-plus a night, you’re not really doing much practicing. Not if you’re on a winning team, so to speak. So I don’t get it, and I really don’t think this is coming from the players. This is more of management, coaching staff, training staff. I mean, they’ve got all this new technology, I mean, we’re wearing pagers in our tank tops and we’re out there running around and then after practice they take your meter out and we look at your load. I don’t know, maybe that has something to do with it. But, hey, if you’re any kind of competitive and your competitive juices are flowing, this is the second month of the season, of course the dog days are ahead of you, but this is what it’s about. This is what the grind is about. Can you play at your best when your body or your mind is not really feeling up to it? That’s what all the greats did. That’s why we watched Michael Jordan. That’s why we watched Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, all the greats. These guys never rested. They never took a day off. And so, for me, it’s just a new era that we play in and, yeah, it may give some guys longevity but you said it earlier, I played in both eras and I never rested, I never needed it.”
Terry shoots his own argument in the foot — the best players already barely practice. There are walk throughs, shootarounds, and some time in the weight room, but few “practices” like we picture in an NBA season. This isn’t high school ball. Still, players are fatigued and get injured because of the grind. They always have, it just wasn’t tracked before. Would Larry Bird’s back have allowed him to play longer if he got more rest?
Would LeBron James have willingly taken the court in Memphis this week — or Kevin Love, or Kyrie Irving — and played, and played well? Yes. Without a doubt. If you doubt the competitive fire of today’s top NBA players, you’re deluded.
But there also is no doubting the facts that all those “pagers” and science shows — fatigued players are far more likely to get injured. If you’re Tyronn Lue, you know you’re going to be the top seed in the East and probably on to the Finals (sorry Toronto). What matters to you more than a December game in Memphis is the health of your players. Keeping them rested and fresh. Keeping them on the court. So you make the big picture decisions even if that hurts the team for a night in the short term.
Even if that rest looks bad for the league. And no doubt it does.
The NBA is taking a step with the new CBA to start the season a week or so early to allow more space in the schedule, thereby reducing the number of back-to-backs. That will help. But as the only real solution is cutting the season back by 20 or so games, and we know that is happening, rest is going to be part of the NBA going forward.