The NBA has put its foot down, and the league is taking no mess. The Miami Heat sat both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with relatively minor injuries on Sunday night, denying a national TV audience the chance to see a potential NBA Finals preview against the San Antonio Spurs. The league, which in November levied a $250,000 fine against the Spurs for sitting starters against the Heat, were clearly incensed at Miami’s transparent play to get their stars some rest, and responded on Monday forcefully with a … short comment indicating that they have no issue with what took place on Sunday.
All because Miami played by the technical rules, and the Spurs made no bones about why three of their stars were sitting in the team’s close loss to Miami last autumn. We’re not killing the NBA for its decision, here, because it’s perfectly understandable from all sides why the Spurs wanted rest for their vets in November, the Heat wanted a break for their stars in late March, and the NBA prefers that when you sit players in a long 82-game season designed to make fans of all 30 teams happy, you do it under the nebulous injury guidelines rather than brazenly admitting that it was just a night off. From Ira Winderman at the Sun-Sentinel:
By contrast, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made a point pregame Sunday to mention that LeBron James was being held out with a hamstring issue, and that guards Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers were being held out with sprained ankles. Chalmers had missed the previous game, as well, due to the sprain.
Sunday's absence was the third in the past five games for Wade, but it was the first absence of the season for James.
“We have no plans to discipline," NBA Senior Vice President of Basketball Communications Tim Frank told the Sun Sentinel.
Unlike the Spurs sending their players home from Orlando the morning of their game in Miami, the Heat had James, Wade and Chalmers at Sunday's game, the three traveling back to South Florida with the team overnight.
It’s true that the only chink in James’ particular armor thus far in his NBA career has been his issues with hamstring pulls and cramping, so it isn’t as if the Heat are making up anything new – even if he was two days removed from tossing in 26 first half points in a win over New Orleans. James and Wade could have played, though, and it bears repeating that the only reason the Miami Heat weren’t hit with a substantial fine is that coach Erik Spoelstra chose his words carefully as he discussed their absence, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, silly him, decided to tell the truth.
It’s not the most troublesome problem facing the NBA, but it certainly does leave most with an uneasy feeling. Many critics are attempting to have it both ways, though, chiding the league for an 82-game schedule that allows for each team to play in every city, sometimes twice, while criticizing teams for protecting the players worn out by that 82-game schedule on behalf of the fans that are in attendance for a Miami/San Antonio game that is only taking place in San Antonio because of the 82-game schedule that allows for the stars to be paraded around.
Whew. Anyone else getting dizzy?
This isn’t even getting into the bookends of the regular season. In order to grow its international brand, the NBA is now sending the majority of clubs in its league overseas to play a series of exhibition games out of North America. This is all shoe-horned inside a month-long training camp and exhibition season, which leads up to a postseason that could last for two months. The newish postseason is elongated so that the lower seeded playoff participants can take in at least two home games on their way to a sweep or gentleman’s sweep in the first round, and if the Heat take the expected route on the way to a second consecutive championship (a sweep, then perhaps three six-game series’ to follow), the team would be on the hook for 111 exhibition, regular season, and postseason games in 2012-13.
All while coming on the heels of James, Wade, and Bosh being asked to play for Team USA last summer, because you don’t want to be thought of as anti-American … do you, guys?
LeBron and Taj Gibson during Chicago's win (Getty Images)
No, this was a first quarter rough up that the league deemed a bit much. ESPN’s Nick Friedell caught up with Taj to get his take on a game that feels like it was played ages ago:
"I don't even remember what happened," Gibson said. "I just tried to make a play, and I guess it was a foul. But hey, it's going to happen. I don't remember it, but the NBA is doing their job and trying to correct things. I can't be mad at that. I'm going to have to keep pushing and moving on and get ready for the next time we play them, I guess."
"I just think it was one of those games that was highly televised," Gibson said. "And whenever a game like that is highly televised and there's a lot of banging and a lot of physical play, [the league is] going to look at it, and sometimes you've got to respect the league.
Gibson said he and his teammates played the Heat the same way they always do.
"We didn't do anything different," he said. "We just played them the way we normally played them. Every time we play them, it's like a playoff game -- we don't shy away from anything. Every time we play them, they adjust, we adjust. It's all about who wants it more. It's both teams just really clashing. At the end of the day, I don't have any hard feelings against [James], it's just basketball. It's just basketball, nothing personal. Nothing like, 'I hate him,' it's just basketball."
As I wrote, well, ages ago, I don’t think any of the fouls in question were worthy of flagrant consideration. Kirk Hinrich’s wrap-up job of James was textbook defense, the play that Gibson was given a flagrant for can be seen here:
… and it just looks like a hard foul bent on stopping someone from following through and scoring a potential three-point play. The fourth quarter foul looked excessive, but it’s what teams have to do to stop a Karl Malone-sized point guard from scoring endless three-point plays.
And if the referees were going to pass on calling any of Chicago’s hits as flagrant, then why the hell can’t James decide to burn one of his personal fouls and throw a ‘bow to hold his ground? It’s not like Carlos Boozer couldn’t handle it.
I know I’m coming off as annoyingly macho, here, but it’s the inconsistency that bugs me. If Gibson’s first quarter foul is a flagrant, then his fourth quarter one should be one as well. And I completely understand James’ frustrations for, considering all the contact in the contest, being the only player whistled for a flagrant during the actual game.
The Bulls play the Heat again on April 14. It’s going to be nasty.
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