Survival Mode


Compressed Schedule Leading to Surge of Injuries Around the League

The season may have fewer games, but the grind is unlike any other.

With a quick turnaround following last season’s playoffs and a compressed 72 game schedule, a number of general managers and team health officials believe that players are just trying to survive the campaign as injuries continue to surge across the league.

“Hands down, it’s the worst schedule I’ve seen in 25 years in the league,” said one veteran assistant coach. “It’s utterly insane.”

It has truly been a “brutal’ schedule as the league is trying to fit as many games as possible into an NBA season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As trainers scramble to make do with the circumstances, managing workloads and fitness levels is paramount in keeping injuries at a low. That being said, with schedules changing on the fly whenever COVID cases come up and the NBA continuing to pack games into tight windows, the ability to monitor the athletes becomes exponentially more difficult.

It has come to a point where you just hope that guys stays healthy.

“Going into the bubble, we had all these different anxieties about the games, but without travel,” a head athletic trainer said. “This is literally exponentially more difficult. It’s such a cumulative effect.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 2021 All-Stars have missed 15% of games this season which is just shy of 2015 (16.8%) for the highest mark in NBA history.

“We have defaulted to survival mode,” said a second NBA GM. “This whole two-year period will have a marked long-term effect on players many years down the line. It’s like if your power goes out. You have to burn candles if you want light. If you burn them, you won’t have them the next time your power goes out. We are burning through the players right now at an alarming rate. But again, what’s the alternative? 25-man rosters? Fewer games? It’s not just a ‘league thing.’ It all required collaboration with the NBPA. It’s a shared responsibility, driven almost exclusively by the seduction of [money].”

If anything, this past calendar year has helped bring attention to the importance of workload management. Athletic trainers are tasked with building up an NBA player’s workload capacity to the point that it matches what the team will demand of the player throughout the regular season and playoffs.

With the constant alterations to the schedule things will continue to change on the fly as the season goes on and at this point, players are quite simply in survival mode.


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