NBA Season Limping to End

Boomer Living - April 7, 2015

They are not the casualties of a war.

Even at their worst, the adjectives that define the injuries plaguing NBA players this season only amount to torn, ruptured, fractured, separated and blown-out. Granted, it sometimes seems as if the body parts involved could fill half an anatomy book: rotator cuff, patellar muscle, meniscus, pectoral muscle, shoulder, and knees.

They are, for pro basketball, not that unusual. The number of them may be—but that’s not yet certain. However, even if the numbers don't turn out to be statistically exaggerated, the 2015 list of injuries to marquee players has been so serious and voluminous that it has forced constant upheaval to many teams’ rosters, stretching them to their limits. In that sense, the season is becoming a war—of attrition. The season of failing body parts has also been downright depressing—for players, teams and fans. 

Those sidelined for the season include: NBA champion Kobe Bryant, of the LA Lakers, with a torn rotator cuff. Carmelo Anthony, star forward of the New York Knicks, with an injured patellar muscle.  And Kevin Durant, last year’s MVP, will likely miss the rest of the season due to the slow healing of his sore foot after he underwent surgery earlier this season. 

Giving up on the season to undergo surgery to repair an injury is a painful dilemma, hardly limited to the veteran stars. Rookie forward Kabari Parker, of the Milwaukee Bucks, needed surgery for a torn ACL.

No team has been immune. Houston Rockets star Dwight Howard has been out for months with an edema in his right knee. Patrick Beverly, Rockets’ guard, just tore a ligament in his wrist and is gone for the season.

And then there was the gut-wrenching news for Chicago Bulls’ superstar Derrick Rose. He was gingerly attempting a comeback after missing parts of two seasons due to two knee surgeries. In February, an MRI revealed a re-injury of the meniscus tear that was surgically repaired. Rose underwent an outpatient procedure that was scheduled to put him out of action for 4-to-6 weeks.

Right now, the Rose watch is on. Rose is approaching full contact drills in practice. It is hoped that he will re-join the team in time for the playoffs. If and when he returns, Bulls fans will hold their breath.

Joakim Noah, the former defensive player of the year in the NBA in 2014, had a surgical procedure on his knee and has been in and out of the lineup this season. Noah, one of the most innovative big-men in the game, is critical to any post-season success for Chicago, evidenced by a career-high 14 assists as a center, in a game against Toronto this winter. Noah is now playing nearly 32 minutes—a limit set by the Bulls in hopes of keeping him on the court for the upcoming playoffs.

Because of the cost of getting hurt, teams are taking a hard look at the ways their players train and prepare for basketball. Companies have been formed with intelligent, progressive-thinking people to consult with teams to help the injured player heal, and to prevent certain injuries from occurring.

Dr. Robert Glatter, Emergency Physician and Director of Sports Medicine and Traumatic Brain Injury for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, and sideline doctor for the New York Jets from 2004-to-2008, blames overscheduling of games for the rampant injuries.

The sheer number of games and practices, the constant pounding, day in and day out, are contributing to a rise in injuries, he says.

“The schedule is grueling to say the least, with minimal periods of rest between games,” Glatter said.  “That can add up to players being at great risk of sustaining injuries, as a result of sore muscles, and tendons, which ultimately serve to protect bones."

Case in point: Rose’s anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee in April of 2012, which knocked him out of the playoffs and the next season.

“Muscle fatigue is generally a major reason associated with most ACL injuries. In addition, muscle imbalance plays a role as well when an ACL is injured,” Glatter said.

Increasing the risk of injuries are all the new moves on the court by the players who can start and stop on a dime. New Euro-steps are introduced as the sport becomes more international, and players have gravity defying scoop moves to the basket. Acrobatic moves that may thrill the fans but shorten careers.

Getting enough rest is of paramount importance in avoiding injuries, says Richard James, the strength and conditioning coach at Long Island University (Brooklyn) who works with the school’s men and women’s basketball teams. Referring to the NBA schedule, “Three games per week with limited-to-no rest is a recipe for disaster,” he says.

It is not surprising that the Commissioner’s office is seeking ways to cut down on schedules that feature four games in five nights, and to extend the break during the All-Star weekend. Most players this past winter had a week off.  Due to a quirk in their schedule, the Chicago Bulls have just two games in seven days.

To help the players he coaches, James assesses each individual’s body, male or female. He tailors their workouts and gives them time to rest. He stresses bio-mechanics, bio-chemistry, and the psychological makeup of the person in helping that athlete deliver a peak performance.  

Dr. Glatter is also a proponent of giving players more time to rest.

“The current way the NBA players practice and train is not conducive to this,” he says, “And ultimately [it] increases their risk for injuries.”

Something’s got to give and hopefully not another knee or elbow injury. Injuries prevent teams from playing the star players, and the fans can’t see their favorites. Not seeing a Kobe Bryant or Jabari Parker play surely impacts the NBA brand—and fans enjoyment of the game.

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