With three games left in the NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers sat atop the Eastern Conference. They had the number one seed all but locked up as they had a 26-point lead going into the 4th quarter of a game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Then the impossible happened.
The Cavaliers were outscored 44-18 in the final period, then lost by one point in overtime. The defeat pushed the Cavaliers into a first-place tie with the Boston Celtics (although the Cavaliers owned the tiebreaker). With home-field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs on the line, the Cavaliers decided to…tank.
The Cavaliers rested LeBron James and Kyrie Irving the final two games (which resulted in losses to the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors), ceding the number one ranking to the Celtics.
Giving up the top seed would’ve been unfathomable in the yesteryears of the NBA. Now it’s become rather commonplace as “rest” has taken precedence over antiquated notions of sharpness and prideful competitiveness.
The past few seasons have given fans displays of teams strategically sitting players to get more “favorable” playoff matchups. The overemphasis on rest doesn’t seem to have yielded better results.
Despite the new rest paradigm and advances in sports medicine, devastating knee injuries appear to have increased over the years. Since 2006-07, some of the most promising talents have been beset by ACL tears, meniscus tears, as well as other knee and foot injuries.
Rookie of the Year winners Brandon Roy, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin have all missed entire seasons due to knee injuries. This year, promising Rookie of the Year frontrunner Joel Embiid had his season cut short because of a meniscus tear. This is on the heels of missing his previous two would-be rookie seasons due to various knee and foot ailments.
On the subject of the 76ers, their dazzling top pick Ben Simmons also missed his entire first season this year with a foot injury.
Some have speculated the root cause of the seeming rise in injuries is improper training of the leg muscles. Whatever it is, the problem isn’t playing a lot of basketball.
During the Chicago Bulls’ six championship runs, Michael Jordan missed a grand total of six games. In four of those six seasons, he played all 82 games, including the 72-win season of 1995-96 when the team had already broken the previous record of 69 wins in a season and had the number one seed sewn up for weeks.
Tanking used to be reserved for the dregs of the league. They still do it. Bad teams shamelessly throw away the final month or two of the season to lock up draft lottery position. Some teams even make trades to get significantly worse to ensure their standing.
The Sacramento Kings owed the Chicago Bulls a first-round draft pick if the selection fell outside of the top 10. If the pick wasn’t conferred after five seasons, the obligation dissolved. The Kings proceeded to pick in the top 10 all five years, with no hope on the horizon.
Tanking is part of the sport. It’s understandable, though it has its harsh credits. But the good teams shouldn’t be tanking. The fans deserve better.
Let them play.