As one of the most unpredictable seasons in NBA history limps to its conclusion, a condensed schedule, rampant injuries, and the looming threat of COVID-19 have worked hand-in-hand to ensure that this war of attrition is one for the ages.
With only 72 days separating Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals and the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, players weren’t particularly thrilled to return to work after barely being able to get a breather during the shortest offseason in the history of the league. And with the physical demands of the job, as well as these multi-million dollar athletes being unable to fully rest their bodies during the pandemic, the results have been disastrous.
Yes, COVID-19 has reared its ugly head, too, but we’ve never seen so many big-name players suffer major injuries that directly impact who will emerge the 2020-21 NBA champion.
Prior to the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets looked like a fucking juggernaut after acquiring Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. Sadly, their reign of terror would be short-lived after point guard Jamal Murray tore his ACL and took his 21 points and five assists per game with him to the bench for the rest of the season. The Nuggets were dead men walking from henceforth and eventually met their executioner, the Phoenix Suns, in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Brooklyn Nets entered the season as early favorites for the NBA title. But after an entire regular season marred by pulled hamstrings, media blackouts, and extended absences, the most talented team in the league experienced much of the same at the absolute worst time during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And despite Kevin Durant’s best efforts, they would lose the series 4-3 to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Between COVID-19 and injuries, the Boston Celtics never quite hit their stride this season, either. But once Jaylen Brown tore a ligament in his wrist just before the playoffs began, we already knew how this story would end.
Thanks to nasty injuries to the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to experience the indignity of the play-in tournament just to sneak into the playoffs. Then, once they got there, a clearly hobbled LeBron and an always injured Davis didn’t stand a chance in hell against the Suns’ balanced attack. As a result, the Lakers not only missed out on the opportunity to run it back as champions, but King James didn’t even make it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.
The Los Angeles Clippers have exorcised their postseason demons of yesteryear thanks to Paul George and Reggie Jackson playing out of their damn minds, but they’ve also had to do it without Kawhi Leonard, who may or may not have a significant ACL injury.
Then there’s the Atlanta Hawks, who have ridden the Trae Young bus all season only for it to get a flat tire in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals after the Oklahoma product tripped on a referee. That bone bruise (dammit, man) would prevent him from playing in Game 4 on Tuesday and leave the Hawks ripe for a potential 3-1 hole in their series against the Bucks.
That is until this happened in the third quarter:
Without Giannis Antetokounmpo in the fold, the Bucks got mauled 110-88. And to add insult to injury, the Bucks fear that Giannis will miss the rest of the playoffs and beyond with a “severe ACL injury.”
Lord Jesus. When does it end?
Earlier this month, LeBron James made headlines when he took to Twitter to tear into the NBA for this rash of injuries that only seem to get worse by the day.
“They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season,” he began. “I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well-being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn’t just “PART OF THE GAME”. It’s the lack of PURE RIM REST rest before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games (most in league history). This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It’s insane. If there’s one person that know about the body and how it works all year round it’s ME! I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”
At this rate, I don’t know who we’ll be watching in the NBA Finals. Let’s just hope that whoever they are, that they’re healthy enough to be able to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.