Wondering how the shortened season is affecting NBA players this year?
Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins recently spent a back-to-back-to-back with the Dallas Mavericks, providing an up close and personal look into how the veterans on the team are working through the strain the post-lockout schedule has put on their bodies.
The piece was a fantastic glimpse at what happens during these stretches of the season. What makes it particularly compelling is that they chose to follow the defending champions and that it ran shortly after we all tuned in to see the Mavs struggle through that uninspired road trip going 0-3 while looking as bad as they have all season.
It was interesting to read about the decision to sit 38 year-old Jason Kidd, painful to imagine trainers working through the night to help Dirk Nowitzki ice his body, eye-opening to consider younger players getting in extra cardio sessions to up their stamina for the road trip.
None of it was particularly shocking, though. While the feature was a great behind-the-scenes look at this wild season for the Mavericks, we've known since the season tipped off on Christmas Day that it would be a strange one for everyone involved. The schedule is too intense, there are not enough rest days and the toll that is taking is immeasurable. In addition to the guys who are down with injuries, we don't know who is playing through what each and every night.
It's because of this schedule that we have nights like last night. Nights where ugly basketball abounds and final box scores don't make sense. Stretches where superstars need time off. A year in which the rookie wall becomes the lockout-shortened-season wall and no one is immune.
We knew those things were going to happen. What we didn't know is how the schedule would affect players emotionally. We didn't know the effect it would have on team chemistry. A quote that stood out above the rest from Jenkins' piece is a quote from Jason Terry that came a day after he was benched during the end of the Mavs loss to the Suns.
"Last year we went through tough times, and it brought us together," Terry said. "This year we hit tough times and grow farther apart. That's the biggest difference."
That's a strong quote. A strong and honest quote. While the challenges of defending a championship are never easy (especially after losing a key piece of the championship roster like Tyson Chandler), defending a championship under these circumstances is even more of a challenge than usual.
While we knew the year was going to be a trying one, to know the defending champs are having trouble staying together through the tough times is something new. Further illustrating the sting of this season was the final exchange between Terry and third-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois after the team's third loss in as many nights.
"These are tough times," Terry said. "We've got to get back to having fun." Beaubois did not respond. "You have a religion?" Terry asked. Beaubois finally nodded. "You've got to lean on your faith right now," Terry said. "This is just a crazy season."
Leaning on faith is one way to get through struggle. Leaning on teammates is another. The right combination is often necessary to survive the struggle and then push forward to success.
Terry summed up this year perfectly, though. This is just a crazy season.
The question now becomes who will make it through unscathed.