COVID-19 threw the 2019-20 NBA season for a loop, with a long break and then the move to the bubble. LeBron James is among those who think the quick turnaround to the 2020-21 season, and the condensed schedule played this year, has had a negative impact on player health, with all of the high-profile injuries we've seen in the regular season and, now, postseason.
Just today, within minutes of each other, we heard that Phoenix Suns PG Chris Paultested positive for COVID-19 (which is not likely a result of the condensed schedule) and is out due to health and safety protocols, and that Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonardwill be out for at least tonight's game against the Utah Jazz with a knee injury. They're just the two latest superstars to miss time in the playoffs.
LeBron himself missed time during the regular season, a rarity for him, and his Los Angeles Lakers star teammate Anthony Davis was hampered throughout the regular season and the playoffs. Davis' inability to play against the Phoenix Suns was a huge factor in that first-round series. The Denver Nuggets, who just lost to the Suns in the second-round, were without star guard Jamal Murray. The Utah Jazz may be the beneficiary of all of this, but they're also missing an All-Star at the moment, point guard Mike Conley, and Donovan Mitchell has been banged up.
In the Eastern Conference, Joel Embiid has been playing through a meniscus injury, and the Brooklyn Nets are without Kyrie Irving due to an ankle injury. James Harden just came back from his own hamstring injury on Tuesday night, but was barely more than a decoy on offense, and couldn't do much on defense. The team has also been without Spencer Dinwiddie for most of the year, and Kevin Durant missed plenty of time during the regular season. The Miami Heat were also without Victor Oladipo for the playoffs after trading for him this year, while the Boston Celtics lost Jaylen Brown ahead of the playoffs.
After today's Kawhi Leonard news dropped, along with everything else, James let loose on Twitter. During the offseason, it was reported that LeBron and others favored a start date in mid-January, giving the players more time to recover from the grueling bubble the year before. History may be proving them right.
With the crazy rash of injuries we've seen this year, it is hard to think that the 2020-21 schedule doesn't have something to do with it. After the bubble ended in mid-October, the league started back up on Dec. 22, while pushing the end of season back around a month, and eliminating just 10 of the normal 82 games.
As a result, just 10 games were cut along with four weeks from the calendar. The league tried to squeeze the now-72 game schedule in before the start of the Summer Olympics at the end of July, in order to try to maximize the number of games played this year, likely with financial considerations placed well above the well-being of their players.
As a result, we have a wide open playoffs, but one with numerous stars absent and the fates of their teams completely changed. LeBron James is probably frustrated that his own Los Angeles Lakers season ended early, but he has a very good point here, even with that aside.