The NBA has gone to some trouble to tamp down suggestions that the compressed, post-lockout schedule has changed much of anything. What's an extra game or two a month, they say?
Just the other night, for instance, Commissioner David Stern deflected a question about injuries this season by pointing out how few anterior cruciate ligaments players torn this season compared to normal. Two, he says, in the regular season, as compared to a typical five.
John Hollinger and others took a look at the data (Insider) and found the same thing the NBA did: There does not seem to be evidence more players are getting injured this season.
And yet, around the NBA you'll hear the story again and again: Guys are getting hurt because they're exhausted by the condensed schedule. It's a story that could be true -- there could be oddities in the data (for instance, maybe coaches were more careful about resting players this year, and so a flat injury rate would actually represent an increase of a sort).
But mostly it's a story that sticks because it makes sense: There was a lockout. There was a condensed season that everyone said would lead to injuries ... and then there were injuries.
Done and done.
We ain't seen nothing yet
If "the schedule is killing us" rhetoric was at a high pitch before, watch out this weekend, when both West series will play back-to-backs. The Thunder and Lakers play Friday and Saturday nights. The Spurs and Clippers play Saturday afternoon and Sunday night. Throw in single days off between games, and you have some of those three-games-in-four nights, and four-games-in-six nights stretches that are routinely blamed for sub-par regular season play.
Meanwhile, the Spurs and Lakers are two of the older teams in the league, and the Clippers are wounded warriors. Special sympathy has to go to the Lakers, who are chapped about the Chris Paul trade that didn't happen at the outset of the season, are coming out of a grueling contest against the Nuggets during which they often looked exhausted and are now facing the league's most astonishingly rested and young team in the Thunder.
Even, knock wood, if no one from any of those teams gets hurt in the days to come -- although injuries happen all the time, of course -- it is a lock that a week from now fans in one city or another will blame the schedule-makers.
Early next week both West series will have a team trailing 3-2, or worse. Maybe fans of that team will blame their predicament on the other team simply being better, or some other basketball factor.
But more likely they'll blame David Stern and his minions, for their lockout, their dense season and their unusual second-round playoff schedule. Mark my words: In some city or another, this weekend's schedule will become the lockout's most noticeable legacy.