The dreaded back-to-back-to-back would seemingly hit just about all NBA teams equally, because even the youngsters in Oklahoma City or the bounders on the Clippers' roster would have difficulty overcoming the travel, expectation, and physical and mental fatigue that comes from preparing for three opponents and playing nine hours of live NBA basketball in a 72-hour span.
For the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, full of veterans on a team that played deep into June last season, that sort of commitment is something else entirely. Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins penned a terrific piece on the sort of months-long preparation the team put into preparing for such a tough turnaround (and subsequent turnaround on that third night) that can in a second go to pot because a scheduled-to-rest player gets a case of the giddies, or Grant Hill (the big jerk) accidentally knees your best player in the thigh.
In one snippet, Dallas Mavericks head athletic trainer Craig Smith and team head coach Rick Carlisle were left wondering if it was time to abandon a plan devised months before (after the NBA's truncated schedule was released) to sit Jason Kidd for part of a back-to-back-to-back. And though Kidd (who turns 39 this week) is the very definition of a heady veteran, he's also a player and by function a competitor who still has to be talked out of acting the part of a firebrand playing his second NBA season.
After the shootaround, Kidd and Nowitzki staged a three-point contest while Carlisle and Smith sat on the scorer's table, debating how to handle Kidd. The plan, dating to December, was to play him in Phoenix, rest him the next night in Sacramento and play him again at Golden State. But Kidd was resisting the strategy and lobbying to start all three games. Since Phoenix was on national television, timeouts would be longer, and Kidd would be able to squeeze in some extra rest. Carlisle and Smith agreed to postpone their decision until the flight to Sacramento.
Before the game, Smith ran out to Paradise Bakery and bought a dozen turkey sandwiches to help the players refuel. Odom needed something stronger. He dispatched a locker room attendant to fetch $60 worth of Red Bull. The Mavericks bounded off the bench for the opening tip, Vince Carter skipping, Kidd high-stepping, Nowitzki leaping in place. Mahinmi, thrust into the starting lineup, let out a spin move and a primal scream.
From there, if you'll recall, the game didn't exactly go as planned. Jason Terry was benched in favor of Roddy Beaubois down the stretch. Kidd was upset at Beaubois for not finding a way to get the ball to a gimpy (after a collision with Grant Hill) Nowitzki in the game's final play with the Mavs down two. Dallas lost.
And the team had another game to play in about 21 hours. And another 24 hours after that one. So much for preparation.
In the second act, the Mavs lost to the Kings in a blowout. The team also lost to the Golden State Warriors to end the miserable triptych. Three losses against teams nobody (well, save for Mark Jackson) had pegged for the playoffs, in three nights. Of course, the Mavericks came back to win three straight after two days of rest and a nice schedule featuring the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats heading into Dallas, but it's more than telling that Jenkins quotes Carlisle as insisting his team "consider all the moments in their lives more arduous than the present one."
This is before a game against the Golden State Warriors, with seven weeks left to go in the regular season, mind you.
It's not as simple as telling you that the NBA shoehorned 66 games into a space where 50 used to go. And we're not telling you to feel sorry for NBA players that can afford to send someone out for $60 worth of energy drinks before work.
This season, though, has been a waste of our time. The lockout, which didn't really shift much of anything save for sustaining the egos of the participants at the top of the respective labor/owner chains, put the kibosh on any sort of orthodox season in a year that could have worked as one of the NBA's best. The ascension of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls, the wonder of the Miami Heat, the remix with both Los Angeles teams, and the Dallas Mavericks attempting to defend it all? This should have been a year for the ages.
Instead, it's a mess. And as we saw during last week's trade deadline, it isn't as if NBA owners haven't stopped making ridiculous financial moves, like the one that saw the Golden State Warriors essentially pay an eight-figure contract that they didn't need (in Richard Jefferson; out of place on a rebuilding team) for the rights to San Antonio's lower-rung first-round pick. And as a result you get bad basketball, at times, and the knowledge that we're missing out on something potentially great.
It's fun, but it's not great. A delivered pizza from a national chain is fun, for those couple of pieces, but it's not great. And it's all because the NBA decided to make great strides and cut off two months of the season for … wait, what did they accomplish again? These players can still afford $60 worth of Red Bull, right?
Five more weeks until the playoffs.