NBA Postseason in Search of Redemption

It was a win-one, lose-one kind of weekend for David Stern and the NBA.

Eight games in two days, all queued to avoid viewer conflict, kept the action continuous for fans, much like we're accustomed to on Wild Card Weekend and the first round of March Madness. And it had its share of drama. There was Big Baby Davis chipping in 16 points and 13 rebounds filling in for Dwight Howard in the Magic's 4-point upset of the Pacers in Indiana, and the Thunder's Kevin Durant hitting a game-winning jumper wearing the Mav's Shawn Marion. On an entirely higher level, Sunday night featured an historic comeback by the Los Angeles Clippers, who trailed the Grizzlies by as many as 27 points in the third quarter and were down by 24 with eight minutes to go before igniting a 26-1 run and stealing their opener in Memphis, 99-98.

But at the risk of sounding spoiled, the remainder of the opening weekend card was a wash-out. One after the other, the 76ers, Knicks, Jazz, Nuggets, and Celtics all mailed it in, willingly accepting their roles as road underdogs without even a trace of the fight NHL teams have been showing this spring. Even the Clippers came dangerously close to falling to this fate. Chris Paul summed it up best in his postgame comments, when he told Craig Sager, "It's a shame." These games, including 40 minutes of Sunday's nightcap, were dull and uninspiring. For the most part, the weekend slate took a back seat to my lawn getting fertilized. Funny, but I can't remember a single Wild Card Weekend where I'd only flip to the game during 60 Minutes commercial breaks.

I get that not every game can come down to wire. The NBA, after all, is not exactly NCAA basketball. But what really makes them an outright theft of time from any fan who invests part of their weekend in front of back-to-back quadruple-headers is the lethargy and inconsistent effort this league shovels out onto is hardwood floors on a nightly basis. As this weekend evidenced, the postseason will not be excepted.

Today's NBA player cannot stay focused for 48 minutes, cannot play on consecutive nights, and apparently cannot start a postseason with only one or two days off. Go into any town hall or registry of motor vehicles anywhere in this country and you'll see less-entitled, harder-working employees, and nobody is paying to see them work. Even the Clippers' effort was akin to finally putting out at 3:40 in the afternoon of your 9-to-5 shift.

More than any other athlete outside of MLB, the NBA player has become a fat, dumb, and unhappy shadow of the pioneers who made this a major spectator sport in the 1960s and the preeminent viewing event of the 1980s and 1990s. Given an excuse to dog it, they are grabbing with both hands. Enter Saturday's injuries.

Season-ending ACL tears to the Bulls' Derrick Rose and the Knicks's Iman Shumpert have seemingly rallied players around the idea that they have been pushed to impossible extremes that expose them to great risk of injury after a 66-game regular season played out over 123 days. And this was all before the Clippers' Caron Butler broke his left hand in the third quarter Sunday night. Everyone wants to blame Stern for the adverse effects of a condensed season, with or without the facts.

True, the Magic, Knicks, Hawks, and Celtics all entered the postseason with key injuries, but every other team was, for the most part, healthy. There is no empirical evidence to suggest the lockout or the adjusted schedule created a more injury-prone season. In fact, the NBA front office collects injury data — both objective and anecdotal — that suggest this season is not unlike any other. What's more, the medical community has weighed in on Saturday's ACL tears, and their verdict is that player weariness may actually work to prevent ACL tears since players lack the explosiveness needed to blow out a knee in the first place.

Jermaine O'Neal didn't get that message. The soon-to-be ex-Celtic, who, on Sunday, missed his 100th of Boston's 158 games over the past two seasons and could not finish a checkers tournament before withdrawing with a blistered index finger, tweeted his laments over fatigued bodies and condensed seasons after Saturday's injuries. Never mind that O'Neal was part of the association that ratified that schedule whose primary goal was to allow both sides to soak up as much lost revenue as possible out of our pockets.

The real losers in this condensed season have been and still are the fans. Back-to-backs and three-in-threes have limited star minutes all season, and the nightly sports recaps have been filled with whining players. The play is inconsistent, as everyone wants to pace themselves for the playoffs in the vein of MLB's “it's a marathon, not a sprint” spirit. What better hero is there to model your work ethic after than a Major League Baseball player?

It's only right that we should now look to this postseason for the players to redeem themselves. Yet, Ron Artest — sorry, but I can't bring myself to calling him “World Peace” — throws a deliberate elbow that gets him tossed from the first six Lakers playoff games, and Rajon Rondo chest-bumps a referee in crunch time to assuredly get himself a bench seat for the Celtics' crucial Game 2 in Atlanta on Tuesday. No doubt these indiscretions are due to the stress caused by the condensed season manifesting itself at the worst time. Once again, the fan pays.

So Stern & Company served us up five snoozers, three key injuries, and a pending suspension in just the first weekend of its second season. Fine. That comes with the turf in professional sports. But let's not buy into the whining and pretend this is due to a shortened season served out by innocent players in labor camp conditions.

We're far-removed from those glory days of the 1980s and '90s. Player petulance and inconsistent play come with the turf in today's NBA — postseason or otherwise.

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