Short fuses in shortened NBA season
His foolishness duly noted, Kevin Love got one thing right. He may have staged a recent series of seventh-grade level court tantrums, he may have treated Luis Scola's mug like the floor mat at the gas station bathroom, but Love ultimately wound up speaking a truth about this unattractive NBA truncation of a season.
"It has been a chippy year," Love told reporters after earning himself a two-game unpaid holiday for stomping on Scola on Saturday.
Based strictly on anecdotal evidence and our own watching of the games, we're inclined to agree. And a prediction: In a few more weeks, "chippy" won't begin to cover it.
When the NBA's lockout ended late last year and the league resolved to grab every buck left trembling on any table, there were some things about the resulting compressed schedule that could be fairly easily predicted. After all, this happened in 1998-99, and anyone who remembers that erratic 50-game lurch to the playoffs could have a clue as to how it would go in 2011-12.
Poor play was almost a given. Injuries, as a likely determining factor for several playoff hopefuls, would be -- and already are -- a massive and constant companion to the ramped-up schedule.
Then there is temper, which in most cases is likely to be short. Love's case was obvious, but he isn't alone, and he won't be the last to lose it on the court in this weird NBA experiment: Take the most competitive players in the world, deny them adequate training time, put them into ridiculous travel schedules, cram 66 games into 123 days, and see what happens.
None of it excuses Love's trampling of Scola. Let's be clear on that. Love is a wonderful player, but the Scola incident marked the second time in a week the Minnesota big man went hard against an opponent after not getting a call at the other end of the floor. They were pointless sorts of reactions, and even Love said his suspension was warranted.
But we're betting you'll see more frustration fouls over the next few weeks, or at the very least physical confrontations that boil over. New Orleans coach Monty Williams wanted Detroit's Greg Monroe suspended for a tangle in which he hurled the Hornets' Jason Smith into another player (Smith left the game with a concussion). Players are burning their fuses all the way down. Considering the atmosphere around the NBA right now, it's no real surprise.
Scoring is down nearly 11 points per game from last season, according to stats recently compiled by Elias Sports Bureau. Shooting is off, and at times it has been outright horrendous. Hack jobs, unofficially, are up, as out-of-shape players blow defensive assignments and commit sloppy fouls (even if technicals are down almost imperceptibly, 296 in 296 games from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1 versus 285 in 282 games during the same time a year ago). The fatigue and injury factor is undeniably growing, and it is going to shape the races in both conferences all the way through.
Put it together and you get a bunch of annoyed, quick-to-anger NBA players, coaches and owners. We tend to think Love is right. It's getting chippy all over the place.
Individual responsibility is still the bedrock solution here, which is why Love had to be suspended, and fast. It's why the Lakers' Mike Brown got popped for bumping an official during his team's loss at Utah. It is why Mark Cuban (certainly no one's idea of a test case during hard times) was fined again for ripping the overall quality of officiating during the truncated season.
But the NBA's owners and players ought to step back, once they're finished counting the gate and compiling the ratings, and look at the mess they've made. Put it this way: Charles Barkley said he was embarrassed by the poor play around the league, and when you've managed to embarrass Barkley, you know you've chiseled down into some dark new underworld.
Jeff Van Gundy, the ESPN and ABC analyst and former head coach, said recently that the crummy play on display nightly was something the owners (and the players' union, for that matter) could have avoided, or at least modified.
"It was in the control of the league and the players to make it possibly better by not cramming so much into a short period of time," Van Gundy told USA Today. "It's a choice they made to take money over quality. You can't begrudge them."
Oh, sure we can. We can hold the league responsible for not thinking through the consequences of this kind of schedule after having seen those very results play out in the cruddy lockout season of 1998-99. And when it turns out that Kevin Love is only one of a whole bunch of guys whose short fuse finally blows, we can add that to our growing list of grievances.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book "The Voodoo Wave" is in international release. His work "Six Good Innings" was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at email@example.com.