The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 129-124 on Wednesday night (November 6).
A regular season game this early in the NBA season normally wouldn’t draw much attention beyond game recaps and highlights.
But that’s not the case with this particular contest.
It was a national broadcast (ESPN) set to feature the Clippers' star and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the reigning regular season MVP, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo did his part. He played 36 minutes and put up 38 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and two steals in the win.
However, Leonard did not play. The Clippers opted to rest him due to “load management” on the first night of a back-to-back.
"Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league's resting policy and, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the LA Clippers' injury report," NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN. "The league office, in consultation with the NBA's director of sports medicine, is comfortable with [the] team medical staff's determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time."
Leonard missed the opening game of a back-to-back last week, which also happened to be a nationally televised game.
We are in the early stage of the NBA season, the Clippers have only played eight games, and Leonard missing two nationally televised games for rest is sparking a lot of controversy and discussion in and around the NBA and especially online.
ESPN’s Doris Burke says, “the league has a problem.”
"Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point. ... To me, the league has a problem." @heydb addresses the impact of Kawhi and other stars missing nationally televised games. (via @GolicAndWingo) pic.twitter.com/r4uSAy684g— ESPN (@espn) November 6, 2019
There are fans who disagree and clap back, saying player health in the long run is what matters.
@heydb You questioning Kawhi's competitiveness so classless. He clearly played through injuries last year en route to Finals MVP. He doesn't have to prove anything to you. He has a chronic condition. How do you know he doesn't need the extra day?— Anthony (@well_hungover) November 7, 2019
Certain media members make no attempt to disguise their feelings behind certain players resting. Drawing comparisons to players in the past like, Larry Bird, who would “never” sit out a back-to-back.
FS1’s Nick Wright even questioned the validity of Leonard’s injury.
"This is just the new normal for Kawhi Leonard. He played 3 out of 4 games last year, and this year has played 6 out of 8. ... He's going to be doing this all season long. He's not going to play in back-to-backs, it would be shocking if he plays 70 games." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/A1PcSFiV8B— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) November 7, 2019
Some media members like Yahoo Sports’ Vince Goodwill believe the 82 game season is too long and that contributes to players needing more recovery time.
If you think NBA players are the only people who have off days, I question your knowledge of how the world works https://t.co/HsUErsRzqN— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) November 7, 2019
ESPN’s Trey Wingo, a football guy, thinks the NBA is soft as evidenced by this tweet.
For the younger crowd that doesn't have an issue with " load management" in the NBA.. check out what the league used to be like..and they played almost all season https://t.co/GO6gKfYLw7— trey wingo (@wingoz) November 7, 2019
Ex-NBA player turned ESPN analyst Jalen Rose thinks today’s players don’t have pride in playing 82 games anymore because of analytics.
After today, load management will still happen but use of the term will dwindle in 3,2,1....unfortunately days of players wanting to play 82 is over.— Jalen Rose (@JalenRose) November 6, 2019
Sked could be 76, 66 or 56 games, players would still rest. Playing nightly is not a source of pride anymore since critics decided to judge by analytics & rings. (Feel free to paraphrase & take as your own).— Jalen Rose (@JalenRose) November 6, 2019
As usual, nuance is required, but all anyone wants to do is get their takes off and yell from their corner.
Would it be nice to see star players play all 82 regular season games, see the best players go head to head, and play at 100 percent every night?
Yes, of course it would. But that’s not reality.
The reality is the regular season is too long, these players have a lot of miles on their bodies before they even enter the league.
Players in the past may have played all 82 games. But take a look back at any random regular season game from 1984 or 1994. Do you see guys who played all 82 playing hard the entire game? No.
So, if a player is skipping a game to manage a long-term injury, what’s the difference between that and suiting up for a game but not giving max effort while on the court?
You can argue the latter is more dangerous.
Despite Leonard not playing, that was a really good game between the Bucks and Clippers on Wednesday night.
Did any of the critics of “load management” watch it, or were they too busy crying and complaining Leonard was out?
The game wasn’t canceled. It was still played.
There are some, in around the league, that believe the studies about rest and recovery are not conclusive.
If that’s what they believe, that’s on them.
What can’t be argued is that a player’s long-term health and availability must be paramount over short term gains. The more you participate in an activity, the higher the likelihood is that you are at risk of injury in said activity.
Note, Leonard will play the second game of the back-to-back tonight (November 7) against the Trail Blazers on national television (TNT).
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images