Should Healthy Stars Be Forced to Play?

by April 13, 2010

by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

It’s a question that Playoff-bound teams face almost every year: they face the wrath of fans and media alike for smartly electing to rest their best players in the final, meaningless games of the regular season, in an effort to preserve their bodies for the grueling Playoff run.

Prime examples are the Lakers and Cavs, two teams most people expect to meet in the NBA Finals, who have both decided to shut down their stars for the remainder of the season. Kobe Bryant has a laundry-list of injuries to tend to, so no one is blaming him for taking some time off, but in the case of LeBron James, he’s hearing it from all sides.

Larry Brown made a typically snide remark about playing his starters in the season finale, and a writer out of Orlando made the wholly ridiculous declaration that LBJ lost his MVP vote because he didn’t deign to play in all 82 games. takes a look at the decision to sit, or not to sit players at this time of year:

Still, miscommunication is an obvious pitfall when NBA players and coaches veer from their overriding mission: Play to win, period. Tonight. Every game. Worrying about a superstar’s fatigue level a week into the future or a key performer’s availability six months from now (or career six years from now) is not standard operating procedure, so it’s no surprise when things get murky.

This doesn’t even address the obligation teams might have to each other, if the outcome of their “high-level practice” might have an impact beyond their own R&R. For instance, James had 19, 13 and six against Toronto on April 6, compared to zero, zero and zero at Chicago on April 8. Cavs won the former, lost the latter, and the Raptors might find themselves edged out of the playoffs by one game.

Also, there is the obligation to fans who might have saved all year to finally attend one game, only to wind up with an understudy playing Nathan Lane’s role that night. It happens, but no one likes it on Broadway and no one likes it in the NBA. Check that — the Nets fans probably were thrilled that Noah was on the side cheering for most of the extra 10 minutes Friday. But even road fans don’t like it when James or another marquee player “rests” on the night they have tickets. All of which makes us grateful that the final week of the NBA regular season lasts just seven days.

It’s a salient point: this is something that we only have to deal with for a short period of time, and an issue that will quickly be forgotten once the Playoffs roll around.