Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers resting LeBron James not his problem, here’s how NBA can fix it — Terry Pluto

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Let’s get right to the point — it’s the NBA’s problem.

I’m talking about all the uproar over the Cleveland Cavaliers sitting out their Big Three for Wednesday’s night loss in Memphis.

I would have preferred that either Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving play that game in Memphis — with LeBron James and Irving or Love resting.

But that’s not the point.

The point is the NBA schedule has to change.

What computer program spits out a schedule where Memphis and Cleveland play back-to-back games…

Tuesday in Cleveland, Wednesday in Memphis…

And this is the only time the two teams play all season…

Come on, that kind of schedule is just begging coaches to sit out top players. Memphis rested Marc Gasol in its Tuesday loss at Quicken Loans. The Cavs sat James, Love and Irving in Memphis the next night.

The days of top players on the court for all 82 regular season games are over.

That’s because the NBA has made the regular season an afterthought to its top teams.

The last gasp of attaching huge meaning to the regular season for a contender died last June. That was when the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors set an NBA record with a 73-9 mark in the regular season. They wanted the record. They got it. They didn’t win the title.

And the Cavs looked far fresher in those final three crucial games than Golden State.

A TRIP BACK

Here’s a look at the schedule:

  • The Cavaliers are playing 17 back-to-back games this season.
  • Atlanta has the most with 19.
  • Playing 18 are Milwaukee, Sacramento and the L.A. Clippers.
  • The Cavs are one of 10 teams playing 17 back-to-backs.
  • Playing the fewest back-to-back games is Oklahoma City with 13.

I covered the Cavaliers full-time from 1985-93 for the Akron Beacon Journal. When I began on the beat, most teams took commercial flights. There were a lot of 7 a.m. departures after playing the night before.

Often, the players felt like zombies as they barely got any sleep. I still remember Mel Turpin and Dirk Minniefield buying airport hot dogs for breakfast, the kind that you knew were on those old rollers all night.

Other guys picked up donuts, bagels or muffins.

Not exactly the breakfast of champions.

Playing four games in five nights happened at least a few times each season. No team plays more than one set of 4-in-5 nights this season.

So that’s an improvement.

By the late 1980s, the Cavs were on chartered flights, and that did help their road record.

It was common sense. Players basically work an afternoon shift with prime time being between 7-10 p.m. Arriving at a hotel at 3 a.m. after a long flight and sleeping in had players in better shape for the game that night.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was the first to realize the value of resting key veterans during the regular season.

In 2012, he was fined $250,000 for sending Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home to San Antonio rather than playing in Miami. That game was the sixth stop on a long trip for the Spurs.

What happened at the end of that 2012-13 season? The Spurs lost to James and the Miami Heat in seven games of the NBA Finals.

Popovich reached The Finals and nearly won a title. I’m sure he thinks the $250,000 was money well spent.

We can talk about the old days when pitchers threw nine innings, and 140 pitches a game. And we can talk about the old days when football players didn’t wear facemasks, or when no one cared about concussions.

And we can talk about how stars such as Michael Jordan never rested during the regular season.

Those days are over. Research shows the connection between injuries and all the back-to-back games, etc.

If you’re the Cavs and other title hopefuls, your eyes have to be on the prize — playing your best basketball in May and June as you dive deep into the playoffs.

Notice how the league doesn’t have anyone playing back-to-back games in the playoffs. The NBA knows that doesn’t lead to great basketball.

As for James, I recently wrote how he has played the sixth-most minutes in NBA history — when you count the regular season and playoff games. It’s destructive to insist he play close to 82 regular season games.

WHAT NEXT?

Change the schedule!

That’s right, change the schedule!

I’d cut down the number of regular season games, but that’s not about to happen. Too much money involved.

  • The problem: Too many back-to-back games.
  • The solution: Cut back on the preseason games. They don’t need six. And start the season a few weeks earlier.

You can argue the NBA season seems to last forever.

It does.

But training camp doesn’t need to be nearly a month. And six preseason games are ridiculous because the main players rarely are on the floor for long — if at all.

The goal is to cut down the number of back-to-back games, or we’ll see far more of what has happened this week with James and others resting.

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