As the competitive balance of the NBA playoffs is being compromised by a rash of injuries -- with player health affecting just about every second-round series -- Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James says he saw this coming.
Before James offered his best wishes to Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers -- it was announced Wednesday that Leonard would be sidelined because of a right knee injury -- he published a series of tweets reflecting on the objections he voiced when the league fast-tracked the 2020-21 season to begin just 71 days after the Lakers were crowned champions in October.
They all didn't wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn't just "PART OF THE GAME". It's the lack of PURE— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
RIM REST rest before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games(most in league history). This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It's insane. If there's one person that know about the body and how it— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
works all year round it's ME! I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now. 🙏🏾👑— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
Leonard, who has been ruled out for Game 5 of the Clippers' Western Conference semifinal series with the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, will be the eighth All-Star to miss a playoff game this year, which is the most in league history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
The Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, who could miss the start of the Western Conference finals while he is in the league's health and safety protocols, could become the ninth, joining James' teammate, Anthony Davis; James Harden and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets; Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley of the Jazz; Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics; Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers; and Leonard.
In response to James' tweets, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement: "Injury rates were virtually the same this season as they were during the 2019-20 season while starter-level and All-Star players missed games due to injury at similar rates as the last three seasons. While injuries are an unfortunate reality of our game, we recognize the enormous sacrifices NBA players and teams have made to play through this pandemic."
While James played all six games of the Lakers' first-round playoff loss to Phoenix, he did so on a right ankle that still hadn't fully healed from a sprain suffered in mid-March that caused him to miss 26 of L.A.'s final 30 regular-season games.
The Lakers were eliminated by the Suns nearly two weeks ago, but within the past few days, James shared an Instagram video showing him receiving continued treatment on his ankle.
From the very beginning of training camp in December, James let it be known that he was taken aback by how quickly the league transitioned from the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, to a condensed 72-game regular-season schedule as the COVID-19 pandemic persisted.
"I was like, 'Wow.' And I said, 'Oh, s---,'" James said on Dec. 7 when asked about his reaction to the quick turnaround. "Just being completely honest, I wasn't expecting that because early conversations were going on and I was hearing that there would be kind of a mid-January start and training camp would kind of start after Christmas."
The playoffs have seen the continuation of an unfortunate trend for the NBA during the regular season, when All-Stars missed 370 of a possible 1,944 games (19%), the highest percentage in a season in NBA history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in April after helping to lead the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals in the bubble, acknowledged the stark reality that will likely determine how the rest of the postseason plays out.
"The healthiest team will win the championship this year," Murray tweeted.