Joe Posnanski recently wrote an intriguing article about the difference between most American sports and the English Premier League. While the World Cup and Champions League are run in a playoff style, the Premiership has no playoffs at all. The best team over the long season wins.
Strength of schedule isn't an issue either, given the home and home scheduling. The NBA, on the other hand, has created a system where one wrong step could wipe out a season's work for LeBron James or Manu Ginobili.
The NBA isn't going to abandon the playoffs or shorten their regular season, but the playoff format is a fickle beast that's rendered even more so by the need to maximize television revenues. I understand that need, but it adds an element of randomness to the playoffs that can actually tip series.
A player that injures himself just before a schedule gap gets a real bonus of time that can be priceless in returning a player to function. A player that sprains an ankle or feels his back tighten up going into a Friday-Sunday set could end up missing the second game.
This randomness doesn't mean the playoffs are any less valid, but there's an increasing chance that something we would all agree shouldn't decide who the champion is could end up doing just that. It's more than just the "bad luck" timing of an injury like that to Russell Westbrook. One wrong step for a player like James, Ginobili or even Derrick Rose could turn the playoffs upside down.
Let's take a look at all the playoff pains around the Association:
If the Heat do not win the NBA Championship, one of the major storylines is going to be the streak. Did the run at history derail the Heat's chances to win the title by extending the playing time of key players at a key point in the season? The final judgment on that may come down to how Dwyane Wade's knee holds up through the rest of the playoffs, though the knee was an issue long before the streak started.
Wade's knee problem is a chronic condition that he has played through, but it requires maintenance by the medical staff. Eric Spoelstra has attempted to help this by reducing playing time as possible and by keeping Wade out of contact practices. The worry remains that the knee issue itself has changed the game he plays, making him less aggressive.
Opponents have yet to really exploit any limitations that Wade is dealing with, which leaves the question open of how limited Wade may be. Think of this in the way you would a boxer who is "taking a round off." Wade is doing enough to help his team while not taxing the knee. It will get tested more as the games and competition get tougher, but Wade seems very smart in how he's adjusted. He can likely do more of that as he chases another ring.
Spinal headache? That doesn't sound good. Luol Deng is experiencing this unusual complication after needing a spinal tap as a result of an illness. First thought to be the flu (or the dreaded flu-like symptoms, at least), Deng's condition was such that doctors performed tests to see if he had viral meningitis.
While it appears Deng is clear of that potentially devastating condition, the test created a further problem. Bleacher Report's Dave Siebert does a nice job explaining the details of this complication and what it means for Deng and the Bulls going forward.
Deng hopes to be out of the hospital soon, but there's no current timetable for his return to the Bulls. There's a real chance that he misses the rest of this playoff series and perhaps more.
Tim Duncan tried to play through an illness in Game 1, but the big man wasn't helped enough by the fluids and medication to make it through. On top of a frantically paced game, Duncan's illness wiped out a player who had been protected in terms of minutes throughout the season. This isn't about conditioning, but condition.
Fighting off any illness requires energy and resources that the body diverts from other activities. While we have seen legendary games like Michael Jordan's "flu game," the fact is that it's not a good idea to try to do much besides stay hydrated.
This does open up an interesting conundrum. When you or I have the flu, we don't often have doctors handy for a quick IV between tasks. Duncan and other NBA players do, but does that make doing this smart, or is it a reasonable risk given the level of reward?
The playoffs will bring out the best and the worst in players and in a sport. Watching Duncan suffer through a partial game, fighting to get up and down the court while trying to hold down some fluids is enough to make me sure that this kind of thing is nearer the worst. The good news is that it's a very transient condition and while Duncan will play in Game 2, it might be Game 4 before Duncan should be back to normal.
David Lee didn't touch the floor in the Warriors' double-overtime loss, which tells us about all we need to know about his true availability for the playoffs. While Lee's return may have had an emotional effect on the team, there's no indication that he's going to have any sort of impact on the series.
As I detailed earlier this week, the sort of DNP that Lee had in Game 1 is likely to carry though the rest of the series. Lee might not do any more damage to the hip by playing, but he doesn't seem to have enough ability to make it onto the floor with the damaged hip.
Expect Lee to stay on the bench outside of some kind of cameo appearance or garbage time. It's also possible that Lee will get more time at home rather than the road, simply due to being able to have more specialized equipment at the ready.
While everyone is watching Stephen Curry or David Lee, I'm watching Andrew Bogut. Lee playing is intriguing, but the job that the Warriors medical staff has done with Bogut is masterful. Bogut's season was about managing his chronic injuries at the same time they got what production they could from him. Now, here in the playoffs, they've unleashed Bogut to put up big numbers in big minutes.
It once again goes to the idea of the regular season as not meaningless, but much less meaningful. The Warriors turned Bogut's medical issues into a simple maintenance issue. They fired a number of less talented big men into the space created by Bogut's donut-hole minutes and kept their powder dry.
Sure, a lot of this is made possible by the crazy shooting of Curry and Klay Thompson, but that's what management should be: a maximization of resources.
Here in the playoffs, Bogut's situation has changed. It's less about maintenance, though the daily work continues to make sure that his ankle is staying in condition. The team is willing to go as far as painkilling injections to have Bogut on the floor for this playoff run and so far, it's working.
The schedule of the NBA playoffs can be fickle, especially in the early rounds. How games fall can have as much to do with injuries as anything else. Raymond Felton gets three days between Games 2 and 3, meaning he should be able to return from the sprained ankle he suffered in Game 2.
Felton was down on the court after a particularly nasty-looking ankle turn. However, ankle sprains are one of the injuries where we get the least amount of information from seeing it.
Ankles, especially in basketball players, have vastly different anatomy from player to player. Some have hyperflexive ankles that can roll fully over without damage to the ligaments. Others are so tight and reactive that even a soft tip can create damage.
Felton will be spending a lot of the next few days with the ankle in cold compression, but with good care, bracing and a bit of extra time, he should be fine. The Pacers will check his lateral mobility early, as well as giving him a few extra screens.
The Spurs could get Tiago Splitter back in their rotation for Game 2. Splitter has been out a couple games with a sprained ankle, leaving Boris Diaw to take on more minutes, along with the rest of the Spurs' deep bench. Splitter's aggressive defense and rebounding skills have been missed, with the mix of skills thrown off by absence.
The combination of Splitter and Diaw are a perfect match, one of the near-platoons that Gregg Popovich has put together over and over again in San Antonio. The ankle sprain that has kept Splitter out will test him, as his lateral movement might be limited. That could get him into bad position and lead to shots or fouls.
Look to see how Popovich uses Splitter early and if substitution patterns will change in order to keep Splitter's ankle from tightening up on the bench. Finding longer play stretches for him may be as much a key as how Will Sevening keeps him loose on the bench.
The Bulls continue to play hurt. Well, most of them. Kirk Hinrich isn't going to be ready to go again for the Bulls as he works to get back after a calf injury sidelined him for much of this playoff run.
The Bulls are left with Nate Robinson taking on more of the point guard load without Hinrich and Derrick Rose, which has worked so far, but the toll it's taking on Robinson has been apparent. Getting Hinrich back out there, even just to buy rest for Robinson, would be a win for the team and for the medical staff.
It doesn't look like that return will come on Wednesday. Hinrich is still reportedly very sore and did not play in Game 2. The Bulls will continue to work on that calf, hoping that they can accelerate the pace of normal healing enough to keep them going forward.
Derrick Rose may be dressed for Game 3. Not in his now familiar suit, but in the Bulls' uniform he hasn't worn all season. Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy writes that Rose will be available for an emergency situation, but is not expected to play despite being in uniform.
It's a step forward for Rose, though once again it needs to be noted that Rose has been medically cleared for months and has been participating in full-contact scrimmages throughout the playoffs. There has been no indication of any physical changes for Rose, no new activities, so this is essentially Rose deciding he can play.
The normal concerns we have about a returning athlete shouldn't be in play here. Rose should be in condition, we know he's had no physical setbacks in the recovery and things seem to have gone well in scrimmages. While it's impossible to know how or even if Rose will play, it's going to be interesting to see what the actual return will look like.
One other key for understanding this possible return and whether it could have happened earlier will be Rose's knee itself. Watch to see if Rose is wearing any sort of bracing beyond his normal neoprene kneepads.