Everyone is giving lip service to Adam Silver’s “the regular season matters — it really does” mantra this season. Well, at least until the season starts.
The latest is new 76ers coach Nick Nurse, who takes over a team with reigning MVP Joel Embiid — who played 66 games last season (enough to qualify for NBA post-season awards under the new CBA rules). Embiid played 68 the season before. But when Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire asked about Embiid and the league's new resting policy, Nurse said he wants the MVP to play more games (hat tip Hoop Rumors).
"I think that we are looking at it maybe a little different than people think we might be. We're trying to get him to play more games. Our goal is that it's going up for him, not not the other direction, and some people would say, 'Oh, that's playoffs. Is he going to be?' We're just trying to get it going the other direction. I think that's just what our people believe here that he can play and again, knock on wood, cross our fingers, all that stuff. There's always things that can come up with that stuff, but I don't know. I believe in the guys playing as much as they can and let's see what happens.”
Nick Nurse sounds like he has been hanging out with Tyronn Lue this summer, talking about how the regular season is important.
All of this sounds good in the summer, but more often than not it's the team, following the advice of their sports science/training staff who track exertion, that forces a player to load manage. It's usually not the players themselves. These teams have massive investments in these players and want to avoid injuries — something far more likely to happen when a player is fatigued — plus have them ready for the playoffs. In the case of the 76ers (and Clippers), it does not matter if they get their stars to play more and win 58 regular season games if they get bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Ask the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo how that feels. Fans are demanding both to see players more in the regular season and have the highest level of playoff performance, but those things do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Philly has two players who qualify for the league's new "stars must play" designations, Embiid and James Harden — and who knows what will be happening with Harden. If Philly is going to get past the second round of the playoffs a lot of things have to go right, and one of them is a peak Embiid playing like an MVP, and getting him into position to do that should be the priority. Maybe that means playing more games. Maybe fewer.
While the first 82 games matter, it's not where the 76ers season will be judged.