THE COUCH SLOUCH

NBA should take a break from relying on 'load management'

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Let's talk load management!

("Load management" is one of those newfangled terms – like "cancel culture" and "pain point" and "deep state" and "escape room" and "Adam Sandler" – with which Couch Slouch finds little joy in encountering.)

The NBA has been swept away by load management mania. Suddenly, its players – in particular its best players – are fragile art pieces that must be handled lovingly and delicately. You watch their minutes, you rest their bodies, you manage their load.

Oh, please.

If I adhered to self-load management, I wouldn't even be writing these words; December is a five-column month and I'd definitely take a week off in November to relax my typing fingers.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard recently sat out consecutive national TV games, one week apart, with the league's blessing/approval.

(Remember, as a kid, when you had to bring a doctor's note to school when missing class? NBA players now need a permission note from the league office when resting while healthy.)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban loves load management, citing it as "the best thing to ever happen to the league." He points to the wisdom of keeping players in top shape longer, making sure they are available when the games count most in the postseason.

"The dumb thing," Cuban says, "would be to ignore the science."

No, the dumb thing would be to ignore the customers.

If I understand this correctly – and I usually do – NBA players are paid, on the average, $7.6 million a year, a large reason a family of four must Airbnb its guest room if it wants to afford going to a game, and then when you get there, the marquee players might be sitting out due to load management?

HOW STUPID DO WE LOOK?

If professional sports franchises now utilize "dynamic pricing" – another dastardly newfangled term in which ticket costs are increased when a more attractive team is in town – then shouldn't they offer a rebate when buying seats to a game in which superstars sit out?

To ease the labor load on its overworked players, the NBA, of course, could shorten its season or stop scheduling back-to-back games, which is like asking Lincoln Continental to limit its line of cars and stop scheduling Matthew McConaughey to sell them. Money is as money does, and nobody in the NBA family – owners, players, TV partners – wants to grab a smaller piece of the American pie.

Anyhow, you think Wilt Chamberlain ever considered load management?

(Oh, maybe off the court. Then again, maybe not.)

In the 1961-62 NBA season, Chamberlain played all 82 games, averaging 48.5 minutes a game. Note: NBA games are 48 regulation minutes in duration. Including overtime, he missed a total of eight minutes all season – this occurred when he ran out to a pharmacy in Boston during the third quarter of a game to purchase a personal item.

The heavy load did not wear down Wilt: He averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds that season.

How about Gordie Howe? The NHL legend never took a load management day as a 52-year-old for the Hartford Whalers, playing in all 80 games in the 1979-80 season.

Let's talk theater for a moment. Actors get one day off a week, with added afternoon performances Wednesdays and Sundays; that's eight shows every seven days. Can you imagine Joel Embiid playing a 1 p.m. game for the Philadelphia 76ers, then coming back that night for an 8 p.m. tipoff?

You think Olivier took off matinees when he was playing Hamlet at the Old Vic?

"Due to load management, the role of Hamlet usually played by Laurence Olivier will be performed tonight by Spoons McCallahan."

By the way, what's the load management situation for Chinese workers who produce basketball shoes for the NBA via Nike? Do they get one day off a week to refresh mind and body, and keep them ready for the holiday-shopping-season rush?

Come to think of it, load management might've saved my first marriage.

Ask The Slouch

Q. The Cincinnati Bengals are third in the NFL in red-zone defense, yet they have the league's worst record. Does that mean the teams that have beaten them are all bad in the red zone? (Joe Zaccardo; Amsterdam, N.Y.)

A. No, it means statistics are stupid.

Q. If Myles Garrett had hit Mason Rudolph with the crown of the helmet, would he also have been assessed a 15-yard personal foul penalty? (Tom Schreck; Davenport, Wash.)

A. I have a call into Dean Blandino on this one.

Q. Am I to understand that you honestly believe the Houston Astros were stealing signs during your second marriage? (Mark Whitley; Indianapolis)

A. It actually cost me my second marriage, which was not affected by load management.

Q. Is it a quid pro quo impeachable offense if POTUS offers a Megan Rapinoe trading card to the Brazilian president in exchange for an old Pele trading card? (Bill Rote; Springfield, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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