SPORTS DIGEST: NBA players use load management to sit one out

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Once upon a time, NBA players actually played 82 games a season. The Lakers’ A.C. Green played in 1,192 consecutive games during his NBA career.

On the 1987-88 Lakers, green played in all 82 games, Byron Scott played in 81 of 82 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at 40, played in 80.

Do you know how many Lakers played in 80 games last season? Zero. Russell Westbrook led the team with 78 games played. Malik Monk played in 76. No one else played in more than 70.

The Clippers had one player who played in 80 games or more. Terance Mann played in 81. Three others played in 70 or more.

NBA players are bigger, faster and stronger than they have ever been. They just aren’t as durable, despite the fact that many players train year round with the best trainers, therapists, dieticians and other assistants that money can provide.

Load management didn’t exist 20 years ago. Now it’s an every-day occurrence. Every night some star player takes the night off to rest. 

Granted, professional basketball can be grueling. It’s 82 games crammed into six months. Half of those games are played on the road, which means there is a lot of travel involved. 

But modern players travel on charter jets. They don’t have to worry about cramped seating and they stay in upper-class hotels with most of the amenities of home.

Kawhi Leonard practically invented load management in basketball. The Clippers forward, one of the top 20 players in the game, missed all but nine games of the 2017-18 season with the San Antonio Spurs with a quadricep injury and joined the Toronto Raptors the next season.

He managed his minutes there, playing in only 60 games and the Raptors ended up winning the NBA title. Soon, everyone in the league was practicing load management.

Leonard learned from his coach with the Spurs, Gregg Popovich, who was known for sitting his stars Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli for entire games during the latter part of the season to conserve them for the playoffs. 

It worked. Popovich won five NBA titles over a 15-year span.

On Jan. 29 the Clippers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 122-99. Leonard and Paul George both missed the game. Load management.

The next night, the Lakers lost to the Brooklyn Nets, 121-104. LeBron James and Anthony Davis both sat out the game.

James and Davis were healthy enough to play the next night against the New York Knicks. The Lakers won 129-123 in overtime.

That same night, Leonard and George returned to the Clippers’ lineup. The Clippers defeated the Chicago Bulls, 108-103.

Players don’t have to play every game. By this time in the season, everyone is playing with aches and pains of one kind or another. But people pay good money to go to a game and they want to see the stars. 

The Clippers only visit Cleveland once this year. The same thing with the Lakers and Brooklyn. If a fan purchased a ticket back in November for the Nets game against the Lakers hoping to see James or Davis play, he wasn’t going to get his money back because they spent the game in street clothes on the sideline.

You don’t see the same situation in football, where players play only 17 games during a season. NFL players line up outside the training room before games to take pain-killing injections to enable them to play.

Granted, it’s a different sport and an NFL player has a certain mentality, instilled in him since his earliest years in the sport. Basketball players don’t have that same mentality now, but they used to. 

Not only do fans suffer, but so do the teams themselves. 

The Lakers are struggling to get into playoff position right now. Every win counts.

If they miss out on the playoffs by one game in a highly competitive NBA Western Conference, will they look back at the game with the Nets as a game that might have made a difference? Or some other loss on a night that both James and Davis sat?

The same goes for the Clippers. That loss to Cleveland might be the difference between fourth and fifth place in the Western Conference, which is the difference between having home court advantage in the opening playoff series or not having it.

Teams need to reconsider how they use load management, even in February before the games really start to matter.

Maybe it’s time league executives look into reducing the schedule from 82 games to 68. Of course, that would mean seven fewer home games per team — meaning money — and less lucrative television contracts — more money.

Players would see their large salaries reduced — still more money. Never mind. That isn’t going to happen.

ODDS AND ENDS: I usually don’t start paying attention to college basketball until the conference tournament season, but I have seen UCLA’s last two losses to Arizona and USC. In both games, the Bruins couldn’t score in the second half.

Under Mick Cronin, the Bruins usually play good defense, but their offense is hit and miss and when Jaime Jaquez and Jarren Clarke aren’t scoring, the Bruins have trouble scoring. That will hurt them come tournament time. … 

The Los Angeles Football Club, fresh off their first MLS Championship, are making wholesale changes. Forward Christian Arango has been transferred to Mexico Liga MX and defender Julian Araujo appears headed to Barcelona. Championship teams sometimes find it hard to pay everybody what they are worth after winning a title. 

LAFC should be bringing in more revenue next year, though. They have a new naming rights deal for their stadium. Banc of California Stadium is now BMO Stadium, which stands for Bank of Montreal.

Forbes said the deal was worth $100 million over 10 years, which would make it the large stadium naming rights deal in MLS history. … 

The Dodgers are holding their annual FanFest event Feb. 4 at Dodger Stadium, getting everyone in the mood for pitchers and catchers to report to Camelback Ranch Feb. 16. The rest of the roster is due in camp Feb. 20.

The Dodgers probably won’t be expected to win the National League Western Division this season, since the Padres have improved considerably over last year, when they eliminated the Dodgers from the playoffs. Something tells me, though, that the Dodgers will be a contender all season, that several newcomers will make a big impression and a couple of youngsters — catcher Will Smith and Gavin Lux no matter where he plays — will replace departed veterans like Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, both on the field and in the clubhouse. …  

More on the Super Bowl next week. I picked a Cincinnati vs. San Francisco Super Bowl matchup last week. I threw out my crystal bowl after the games Jan. 29. Maybe I’ll get a new one. Maybe not.