The 2020-21 NBA season was always going to be difficult as the league attempted to play through the pandemic without the bubble set-up that worked so well for last year’s playoffs. The NBA entered the new year coming off the shortest offseason in league history, with only 72 days separating Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals in the bubble and the start of this season. The regular season was defined by Covid-related absences and postponed games, but the real toll of the league’s condensed calendar is coming to a head in the playoffs. The result has been ugly.
A duo of jaw-dropping stories came out Wednesday, the first being that Chris Paul would miss an “indefinite” amount of after being place in the NBA’s Covid protocol. It was quickly followed by the announcement that Kawhi Leonard would miss Game 5 of Clippers vs. Jazz with a knee injury, potentially missing the rest of the Western Conferences semifinals as a result.
This is the NBA’s biggest nightmare, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
Paul and Leonard join a staggering list of players who has been effected by injury during the playoffs, including James Harden, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, and Mike Conley. Nine All Star players, eight of whom have missed at least one game during the playoffs, several were they difference between their team moving on, or ending their season.
Almost all of the biggest storylines in the NBA have been directly because of injuries.
- We’ll never know if the Lakers could have repeated as champions with James and Davis battling injuries throughout the regular season and playoffs.
- The Nuggets looked like a real contender in the West around MVP Nikola Jokic before they lost their second best player, Murray, to a torn ACL.
- The Nets have barely played at full strength all year, and have missed both Harden and Irving for extended periods of the postseason.
- The Suns have cruised into the conference finals, but now face uncertainty with Chris Paul’s entrance into the health and safety protocols.
- The Clippers tied the series against the Jazz at 2-2 only to lose Leonard to a knee injury that puts his status for the rest of the playoffs in doubt.
These lingering questions are so pronounced there’s no hope of normalcy to end the year. The 2020-21 season will be forever remembered as an outlier. Whoever wins will hoist the trophy, but there’s no doubt this hasn’t been a normal season in the NBA.
And the NBA only has itself to blame
Look, there was no good way to play the 2020-21 season, but the NBA ensured it was going to be as brutal as possible. Aiming to profit off as many games in as possible, the league adopted a barely-shortened 72-game schedule that it tried to fit into a condensed calendar. The season began on December 22 rather than mid October — and finished the regular season just one month after it would normally conclude.
This essentially cut four weeks from the normal NBA calendar, and cut just 10 games. There were more games and less rest, which caused a breeding ground for injury. Then when the playoffs arrived the league gave itself no breathing room on the back end, forcing a breakneck pace to finish everything up before the Olympic Games, which are scheduled to begin at the end of July.
There was talk about how grueling the season would be at its inception, but we were mostly just happy to have basketball back. Now the league is reaping what it sowed. Why the season needed to be 72 games and not, say, 52 defines belief. The result is quantity, rather than quality, with the game’s brightest stars paying the biggest price.
These mounting injuries, and the disappointing end to the season is an unforced error from one of the world’s biggest sports leagues. They put money over athletes, their safety, and the quality of the game. In the end fans will pay for the milquetoast ending we’ll get out of this season, and that’s a damn shame.