Garbage Time All-Stars

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NBC Sports

Garbage Time All-Stars

(Note: All statistics are through Monday, March  11.)

Welcome to Spring League, NBA fans.

This is the part of the regular season that most closely resembles the NBA’s Summer League exhibition series, where many franchises focus more on getting an extended look at young prospects and giving their stars a break.

Take the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. With the playoffs all but out of reach, LeBron James was placed in a “load-management” protocol by the Lakers, whose 2019 first-round pick becomes more valuable every minute that James does not play. The Lakers also signed 33-year-old G League journeyman Andre Ingram to a 10-day contract after he became a national sensation last season. No disrespect to Ingram, but the Lakers, like the New Orleans Pelicans, are making the organizational choice to not try to win games.

As such, there’s going to be a whole lot of non-competitive stretches in the final month of the season. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at Garbage Time Heroes that could help you win your fantasy league or choose what to watch every night.

I’ve broken it down into three categories. First, I was curious about which stars have the largest differential in how they score when the scoreboard is tight compared to when the game gets out of hand. For those, I looked at each of the top 25 scorers and analyzed their points per 36 minutes when the score is within five points versus when the lead or deficit is over 15 points (garbage time). The players with the biggest jumps in scoring during garbage time are listed below.

Secondly, I identified a few players who could see big numbers down the stretch as their teams go into full-out tank mode. And lastly, I listed three G League call-ups that could make some noise down the stretch as good teams rest their stars for the playoffs and bad teams rest their stars for the draft lottery.

Let’s get to it.

Opportunistic Stars

Klay Thompson

Of the top 25 scorers, no one saw their scoring numbers jump during garbage time more than Thompson. He scores 29.5 points per 36 minutes when the Warriors are either leading or trailing by more than 15 points compared to 22.7 points per 36 minutes when it’s within five or less. That’s not just a matter of touches. Thompson’s field-goal percentage also drops from 54 percent to 46 percent when the games are more competitive, a decline anchored by a 3-point percentage that sinks from 49 percent to 36 percent in the same situation.

This isn’t an isolated case, either. Though he’s certainly had his playoff moments (sorry, OKC), Thompson has also seen his scoring shrink in the playoffs when the competition is stronger than in the regular season. The sharpshooter has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of the previous four regular seasons but has reached that plateau just once in the past four postseasons.

It could be that playoff teams try to take away Thompson first and then deal with the rest of the Warriors. Teams could also be keying in on Thompson a lot more when the game is close and loosen their grip when the game seems out of hand. But either way, Thompson’s scoring rate jumps 6.7 points in garbage time, the highest in this group.

Zach LaVine

LaVine has fought the label of being an overrated “good stats, bad team” guy. While such criticism is unfair for a guy who just turned 24 years old and tore his ACL two years ago, these numbers certainly doesn’t help his case. LaVine has scored 161 points in 199 minutes of garbage time this season, a rate of 29.1 points per 36 minutes. But when the game is close, LaVine’s scoring average plummets to 23.2 points per 36 minutes, a difference of 5.9 points, the second-largest gap on this list.

Most of LaVine’s scoring surge in garbage time can be attributed to his overt aggressiveness. In those less-competitive minutes, he’s shooting 21.2 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes, compared to just 18.4 in tighter situations. He’s actually sharper from 3-point land in close situations (41 percent vs. 30 percent), which further emphasizes that this is more about usage than it is about efficiency. Still, scoring 23.2 points per 36 minutes in competitive circumstances ain’t bad.

Bradley Beal

No star has scored more points in garbage time than Beal (278 points). Most of that is because the Wizards get blown out a ton, but that’s hardly Beal’s fault. Case in point: Since the All-Star break, the Wizards are plus-47 with Beal on the floor and minus-46 with him off the court. Beal’s scoring average in garbage-time situations is 27.3 points per 36 minutes, which is 4.6 points larger than when games are tighter.

That being said, I still think he should be in the All-NBA conversation (I laid out his candidacy in this week’s BIG Number video). Even if Beal has a scoring surge in garbage time, those situations only make up 15 percent of his minutes this season. The guy has played more minutes than anybody in the NBA this season. If he’s ball-hogging a bit in blowouts, so be it.

CJ McCollum

Fun fact: McCollum is a card-carrying member of the 50/40/90 shooting club -- as long as we’re talking about garbage time. (For those who don’t know, the 50/40/90 shooting club is reserved for those who shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the line. This is the elite of the elite). The Portland shooting guard is shooting 51 percent from the floor, 42 percent from deep and 91 percent from the charity stripe in these blowout situations. He fits the same profile as Thompson -- an elite shooter who rarely gets to the free-throw line. He’s also someone who, until last postseason, had struggled to put up the same caliber of numbers in the postseason as the regular season.

McCollum is still a super talented scorer in tighter situations (21.4 points per 36 minutes), but he finds himself on this list because both his usage and efficiency rise when the game’s stakes are lowest. This is best illustrated by his whopping 25.4 points per 36 minutes in garbage time. The Blazers would probably benefit by figuring out how to have McCollum more involved in crunchtime simply to lessen the burden on Damian Lillard and make the offense more democratic.

Russell Westbrook

Of all the top 25 scorers, no one saw a larger gap in field-goal percentage according to the scoreboard. In close situations, Westbrook has shot 39 percent from the floor, an ugly figure for a go-to scorer. In garbage time, Westbrook’s field-goal percentage soars to 50 percent, a difference of 11 percent.

Continuing this trend, Westbrook’s shooting percentages have tumbled in postseason play over the last few years, as he failed to shoot above 40 percent in each of the last two playoffs -- both first-round exits for the Thunder. Westbrook has come up huge in the playoffs before (2016 Western Conference finals Games 3 and 4 against Golden State is a place to start, as is OKC’s 2012 run to the Finals). The Thunder hope to get more of that Westbrook in this upcoming postseason. Interestingly enough, Westbrook’s 2.7-point jump in garbage time (24.1 vs. 21.4) isn’t a matter of shooting more; he actually has seen his field-goal attempts per 36 minutes fall from 20.4 in close situations to 18.1 in garbage time. He’s just vastly more efficient when the game’s not out of hand.

Tank Pilots

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Luka Doncic is limping to the finish line and could be shut down soon. Dirk Nowitzki’s hinting that he’s giving it another go so there won’t be a last-hurrah scoring binge, a la Kobe Bryant. Throw in the fact that the Mavericks lose their first-round pick to Atlanta if it falls out of the top five on draft lottery night and you have the makings of a Tim Hardaway Jr., scoring binge.

Hardaway Jr.’s minutes have fallen from 32.6 per night in New York to 28.9 per night in Dallas, but if they pull the plug on the season, THJ could fill it up. He sees his scoring rate skyrocket when he’s not playing with Doncic, going from 15.4 points per 36 minutes with the rookie sensation to 23.0 points per 36 minutes with Doncic on the bench, per NBA.com. The icing on the cake? The Mavericks also get blown out by 11.6 points per 36 minutes with Hardaway on the floor without Doncic. Tank pilot, indeed.

Julius Randle

Tim Hardaway’s situation would only get more tanktastic if he was a free agent trying to get paid this summer. This guy, Randle, on the other hand? He’ll nuke his $9 million player option well before July 1 with the way he’s playing. This used to be Anthony Davis’ team. Then it was Jrue Holiday’s team. Now, with Holiday ailing, it’s Randle’s team -- for the next month.

Randle is an undeniable talent on the offensive end, but he gives up just as much defensively. Randle is averaging 23.8 points per game since Davis’ tanking, err, load-management program went into effect on Feb. 12. Since that point, the Pelicans surrender 110.4 points per 100 possessions to the other team when Randle is on the floor, compared to a stingy 102.8 points per 100 possessions, when he’s on the bench, per NBA.com. As long as Randle is playing, there will be buckets.

Joakim Noah

He’s back. Since the trade deadline, Noah is averaging 11.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in just 22.4 minutes per game. Translated per 36 minutes: 18.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists. He’s not just filling up the box score with hollow numbers; he’s genuinely made Memphis a better team since it took a flier on him earlier this season.

The Grizzlies have him on a one-year veteran’s minimum contract so it’ll be interesting to see how they feature him down the stretch. With the way it’s going, he might play himself into a pricier contract than the Grizzlies will be willing to pay. Part of me just wants to see Noah firing up 3-pointers for the heck of it. The Grizzlies only keep their 2019 first-round pick if it falls in the top-eight. They’re currently sitting with the seventh-worst record in the NBA. I’m praying for Noah 3-bombs.

G-League Call-ups

Andre Ingram

After a disastrous season in Los Angeles, Ingram is the last hope to end the season on a high note. Brandon Ingram (not related) is out for the season with blood clots. Lonzo Ball is likely finished. Kyle Kuzma is battling a bum ankle. James is on The Brow program. It’s Andre’s time to shine.

The Lakers obviously don’t think he’s going to help them win games, otherwise they’d sign him earlier to help with a genuine playoff push. Nonetheless, it’s a heartwarming story for basketball’s Crash Davis, having made his NBA debut as a 32-year-old rookie last season. Ingram scored just 12.8 points per 36 minutes for the South Bay Lakers this season with a G League career-low 35.7 percent from 3-point land, but the Lakers figure to give him every opportunity to recreate the magic from Staples Center last April. Don’t forget about Dre.

Christian Wood

This guy can fill it up. The 23-year-old averaged 28.7 points and 13.9 rebounds per game in the G-League this season and currently ranks No. 1 all-time in career PER for the G League (yes, that’s a thing).

Here’s the issue: He’s buried on the Milwaukee Bucks’ bench. The top-seeded Bucks called Wood up from the G League last Friday, but he hasn’t gotten any burn as they try to lock up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. If the team contracts the injury bug or rests its bigs down the stretch, keep a close eye on Wood. He could be the next Hassan Whiteside, just waiting for his big-league opportunity.

Jordan McRae

The NBA journeyman is someone to watch if the Washington Wizards are finally eliminated from the playoffs. McRae actually got garbage-time burn during the 2016 Finals with the Cavs and he torched the G League this season on a two-way contract with the Wizards, averaging 30.6 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 35 percent from deep for the Capital City Go-Gos.

McRae wasn’t a great fit for a championship contending Cavs squad, but if he gets some run with the Wizards down the stretch, he could put up big scoring numbers. He’s nursing a sore Achilles at the moment, but I wouldn’t rule out a big April from the 27-year-old NBA champ. He scored 20 points in 26 minutes in a win over the Atlanta Hawks last month. More of that could be in order.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh) and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories, videos and podcasts.

Anthony Davis should play more at center for DeMarcus Cousins-less Lakers

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USA Today Sports

Anthony Davis should play more at center for DeMarcus Cousins-less Lakers

LeBron James’ team could not score. Worse yet, his star big man was injured.

The Miami Heat managed just 75 points against the vaunted Indiana Pacers defense led by Frank Vogel in Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. Chris Bosh pulled an abdominal muscle in Game 1 and wouldn’t be back for the foreseeable future. The Heat were in crisis mode.

The next day, the Heat held practice to figure out who was going to replace Bosh in the starting lineup. Ronny Turiaf and Udonis Haslem started Game 2, but matching the Pacers’ massive size up front wasn’t working. David West and Roy Hibbert weren’t budging.

After practice, the Heat’s brain trust gathered for an intense meeting. Some believed staying big was the only logical choice. Others thought going small would force the Pacers to adjust. Pat Riley voiced his thoughts and so did New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale, who was a Heat assistant coach at the time. 

The late-night meeting never resulted in consensus. Spoelstra and the Heat brass walked to their cars in the parking garage along Biscayne Bay.

Spoelstra turned to his colleagues.

“I know what I’m gonna do,” Spoelstra said with a look.

They knew what it meant. 

The next night, Spoelstra signed his starting lineup sheet with Shane Battier starting as a big, allowing LeBron James to effectively operate as the power forward on offense. The Heat lost Game 3, but Spoelstra kept at it. In Game 4, the Heat exploded for 101 points as James erupted for 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists with Ronny Turiaf as the Heat’s lone true big man on the court.

James was unlocked as a do-it-all big man. He set screens. He crashed the boards for putback dunks. He sliced through the defense as West shadowed Battier at the perimeter. After two 75-point games, the Heat would go on to average 100.7 points for the rest of the playoffs and eventually win the 2012 NBA Finals with the smaller, unconventional formation with a fully recovered Bosh at center.

Now, in 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers are facing a similar dilemma -- but with a twist. Now, Vogel is the head coach with the chance to go small. With James’ star big man DeMarcus Cousins out with a torn ACL suffered last week, does his coach effectively make James a big again?

That doesn’t happen without Anthony Davis’ blessing. And therein lies the rub. 

At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and listed at 253 pounds, Davis is one of the largest human beings on the planet. But even while the league is moving away from lumbering 7-footers, Davis still prefers not to play the position of players his size. In fact, he told the Lakers up front that he wanted the roster stocked with centers.

Sitting between Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and Vogel at the Lakers’ introductory press conference last month, Davis was asked about his ideal position.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Davis said. “I like playing the 4. I don’t really like playing the 5.”

Then Davis smiled and put his hand on Vogel’s shoulder.

“But if it comes down to it, if coach needs me to play the 5, then I’ll play the 5.”

Pelinka jumped in, emphasizing the fact that the Lakers granted the upcoming free agent’s wishes by getting commitments from JaVale McGee and Cousins.

“When Anthony and I first started talking about the roster, he did say, ‘Hey, I’d love to have some 5s that can bang with some length.’ He’s 26. We want a decade of dominance out of him here so we’ve got to do what’s best for his body,” Pelinka said. “And having him bang against the biggest centers in the West every night is not what’s best for his body, or for our team or for our franchise.

“We wanted to make sure to honor what Anthony asked for: to get some 5s that he can play with.”

The Lakers aren’t exactly turning tides. Looking at the New Orleans Pelicans’ free agent signings over the years, it’s clear that Davis’ preferences were granted there, too.

In 2015, the team signed center Omer Asik to a five-year, $58 million contract and center Alexis Ajinca to a four-year, $20 million deal. In 2016-17, the Pelicans traded Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a future first-round and second-round pick for yet another center, this time, the All-Star Cousins. In 2017-18, the team swung a deal for sweet-shooting center Nikola Mirotic, who starred as Davis’ counterpart in the 2018 playoffs after Cousins went down with a torn Achilles in January of that season. With Mirotic spacing the floor next to Davis, the team swept the Portland Trail Blazers.

Like he professes to do for Vogel, Davis has manned the 5 in high-profile situations. In 60 possessions while Davis guarded Jusuf Nurkic in that playoff series, the Blazers’ offense managed just 50 points, spitting out just 83.3 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats. On the other end, Davis manhandled Nurk to the tune of 64 points on 59.5 percent shooting in 134 possessions with the Portland center guarding him. Davis’ soaring putback dunk on Nurkic in Game 3 was the signature moment of the series, symbolizing Davis’ power as a towering big man.

Putting Davis-at-center on the backburner until the postseason may be the Lakers’ plan. McGee could be the regular-season stopgap until the postseason arrives and then they could more regularly unleash a pseudo-Death Lineup with James at the 4 and Davis at the 5. 

Though McGee was the Lakers’ full-time starter last season, he wasn’t nearly as entrusted to be the finisher. Simply put, he started 76 percent of the Lakers’ games, but played just 31 percent of the team’s clutch minutes. Presumably, Cousins was supposed to fill that role, but his season is in doubt recovering from an ACL tear.

Protecting Davis’ body should be a top priority for the Lakers. After all, Davis in street clothes can’t play any position. On that point, Davis has suffered no shortage of nagging injuries over his seven-year career, holding his career high in games played to just 75 games. On his left side of his body, public book-keeping data shows that he has missed games due to an injured toe, ankle, knee, hip, groin and shoulder. On the right side, he has sat out with a damaged toe, quad, hip, elbow and shoulder. More generally, he has been sidelined games with concussions, a sore back and bruised chest. You can understand his reluctance to “bang” with centers every night.

As of now, McGee doesn’t have a true backup center on the depth chart, if we’re not counting Davis. James, Jared Dudley and Kyle Kuzma could moonlight as small-ball centers in a pinch. With Cousins out, the Lakers reportedly are bringing in free agent centers Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Mo Speights for workouts this week, with Marcin Gortat on the radar. 

But if the choice is between veteran free agent centers to eat up minutes, the call is an easy one for me: it should be Noah. 

Though Noah is not the dynamic scorer that Cousins is, the 33-year-old brings the same playmaking and rebounding abilities as Cousins, but with more defensive fire (see: Devin Booker). Noah can fill the void left by Cousins as a distributor. Last season, only six centers tallied more than six assists per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference tracking. Cousins was one of them. Another was Noah. 

In the end, the best Lakers’ replacement for Cousins is Davis himself. If we earmarked Cousins for 30 minutes a night at center, most of those minutes should now go to Davis. That allocation might not happen until playoff time in the name of preserving Davis’ body. But it should still happen.

While the focus is on the short term, what the Lakers do with their lineups in April, May and June is most important. The Heat didn’t go to Bosh at center until late in the 2012 playoffs and it resulted in their first title together. The next year, they won again with Bosh at center, culminating in his iconic rebound in Game 6 to save the season. It’s not hard to see Davis being the new Bosh and Dudley filling Battier’s role as the veteran dirty-work spacer. Imagine Davis and James working in a spread-out system. That could be the silver lining of Cousins’ injury.

Just like that Heat team, the Lakers can use this adversity and turn it into an opportunity. James likes to say that the greatest teacher you can have in life is experience. It’s a saying that he picked up in Miami, only after losing the Finals in 2011. Hopefully for the Lakers, they won’t have to experience a similar defeat for Davis to see it.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh) and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories, videos and podcasts.

Who are the top NBA 'DNP-Rest' candidates for 2019-20?

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USA Today Sports

Who are the top NBA 'DNP-Rest' candidates for 2019-20?

The 1,230-game NBA schedule has arrived. While fans start to plan out which games to attend and which marquee matchups to watch, teams will be doing some planning of their own: 

When to sit their stars during the 82-game grind.

Like it or not, this is the NBA we live in. After years of employing strategic rest programs, coach Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs used to be the face of the “DNP-Rest.” But Kawhi Leonard’s season -- winning the Larry O’Brien trophy on the heels of an aggressive resting program in Toronto -- could represent a watershed moment for the league. 

In 2018-19, Leonard did not play a single full back-to-back set in the regular season and wrapped up a postseason so dominant that many now consider him to be the top player in the NBA. To him, there should be no debate: All that load management helped him stay healthy and peak at the right time.

Whether the rest of the league copies the Kawhi plan is a mystery. Some of the game’s brightest stars, including LeBron James, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis, took games off to rest last season, although not to Leonard levels. Nonetheless, the DNP-Rest scourge has grown to such an extent that embracing load management has found its way into free agency pitches.

“It’s not enough to prove you can win,” said one GM. “Now you have to prove you can prolong their career.”

As the DNP-rest strategy rises to unseen levels, the NBA isn’t sitting idly on the sidelines. Back-to-backs are at an all-time low. In April, commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of taking a small chunk out of the regular season in order to fit in a midseason tournament. In June, ESPN reported that NBA and team executives have been exploring such a cup-style tournament as soon as the 2020-21 season.

But as we get ready for marquee matchups in an open championship race, some of those high-profile games may fall victim to load management. Which stars and which games are most at risk? 

* * * 

Vijay Shravah knew there had to be a better way. As a NASA engineer in Silicon Valley, Shravah and his buddies used to buy tickets to watch the Golden State Warriors only to find out last minute that Stephen Curry and other stars weren’t playing that night. They weren’t injured. They were healthy scratches. Even on national TV games.

“The more it happened, the more it baffled me that there was no recourse,” Shravah told NBC Sports.

Shravah felt like it was a breach of trust. No other pro team sport depends on its star power like the NBA, and suddenly, it seemed healthy stars weren’t as dependable as he thought. As the DNP-Rest took hold among the best players, the problem only got worse for ticket buyers and home viewers. In October 2017, Shravah founded Fansure, an analytical start-up company that helps protect fans by offering reimbursement plans for tickets to games in which star player(s) sit out due to either rest or a last-minute injury. 

It takes some real brainpower to make it work. The company has employed two NASA scientists to create algorithms that predict the likelihood of a star player sitting, accounting for several factors, including a player’s rest history, days off heading into a game and quality of opponent. A fan can purchase a 50 percent reimbursement or 100 percent reimbursement package for a small variable fee separate from their ticket purchase. Should the star player sit, the fan gets its money back -- not unlike when airlines offer ticket protection plans before checkout.

Teams are resting their players, or at least being honest about it, more than ever. One of Fansure’s findings should worry fans and executives alike: Top players are taking off games 3.5 times as often as they did in 2012-13. Top 10 players, on average, rested about seven percent of its games last season (every six games or so) and most often at the end of the season in preparation for the playoffs. (The company’s top 10 criteria is based on their internal metrics). That figure is disproportionately represented by Leonard last season, when he sat 22 of 82 games to rest and protect his bothersome knee.


With an open championship race, Shravah expects stars like Embiid, James and Leonard to take games off when it makes sense in order to maximize postseason performance. 

“There’s no reason to believe why the trend won’t continue,” Shravah said. 

Of course, not all players are risks for load management. Fansure has identified 10 players who are most likely to be a healthy scratch. At the top of the list is the 34-year-old James, who played a career-low 55 games last season dealing with a significant groin injury that forced him to sit for precautionary reasons. After crunching the schedule that was released on Monday, Fansure expects James to miss 17.9 games this season due to rest.

That might seem like a lot, but James has played over 56,000 minutes in his NBA career (playoffs included), which is more than Stephen Curry and his father Dell Curry combined. With the Lakers vying for a championship and Anthony Davis being able to shoulder the load in his absence, it’s possible James takes a Leonard-like conservative approach in the regular season.

Following James, Leonard, Embiid, Paul George, Curry and Davis were highlighted as likely sitters considering their injury risk, rest history and respective team’s championship contention. Fansure also sees a strong probability that Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Damian Lillard will miss several games to recover from the 82-game grind.

Which games are most likely to fall victim to load management? Fansure has uncovered six factors that raise the rest probability for the LeBrons and Kawhis of the league:

  • Last game of the season (14.9 times more likely)
  • Second game of a back-to-back (6.5)
  • Single-game road trip (5.2)
  • First game of a back-to-back (4.8)
  • Three games in four days (4.4)
  • Away games (3.5)


The single-game road trip is a hidden pothole. On March 27 last season, the Lakers were set to play the Utah Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back. Making matters worse for Jazz fans hoping to see Lebron, the single-game road trip was sandwiched inside a four-game homestand. Sure enough, James took the night off and didn’t travel with the team. The same went for Leonard on March 3 when he rested during the team’s one-game road trip to Detroit even though it didn’t come on a back-to-back.

Shravah realized it’s not just ticket buyers who are affected when James abruptly decides to sit out even on a non-back-to-back. TV advertisers and gambling sectors aren’t jumping for joy either. This past year, Shravah hired the eighth member of the Fansure team, Scott Kaplan, who is an economics PhD candidate at UC Berkeley and winner of the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics poster competition for his research on the economic impact of star players on NBA ticket prices.

Using Kaplan’s insight and the team’s engineering intel, Fansure is now assessing quality of matchups and risk of injury/rest to help advertisers and fans pick which games to lay down big money for and which to avoid.

Looking through that lens, there are several high-profile games that project to have the highest chance of being a load management game. 

First is Nov. 7 when Lillard and the Blazers come to Los Angeles to face the Clippers on TNT. The Clippers will have played Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks the night before on ESPN. Will Leonard and George play that second night of a back-to-back and third game in four nights, especially if George is coming back from double shoulder surgery? 

On the Blazers’ side, it’s the front end of a back-to-back before they fly back up to Portland for a home game against Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. Will Lillard and CJ McCollum, fresh off the deepest playoff run of their career, give it a go?

Another early DNP-Rest possibility is the first Warriors-Lakers matchup of the season on Nov. 13. The Lakers will be playing the second night of a back-to-back, after playing in Phoenix the night before and flying overnight to Los Angeles. The highly anticipated game will, of course, be nationally televised.

James and Davis may decide to play in that marquee game, but the previous night in Phoenix is a game that may fall victim to DNP-rest. It’s a single-game road trip for the Lakers, with two home games before and four home games after the trek to the desert. If Phoenix fans don’t get to see James that night, then they might not see him all season. The other time they host L.A. is the Lakers’ season finale, a game in which James has sat 11 of his last 12 years.

For those outlining the season, here are 10 games that Fansure has red-flagged for load management risk:

  • Nov. 7: POR at LAC
  • Nov. 12: LAL at PHX
  • Nov. 27: LAC at MEM
  • Jan. 23: LAL at BKN
  • Feb. 11: LAC at PHI
  • March 1: LAL at NOP
  • March 12: BKN at GSW
  • March 14: NOP at LAC
  • March 19: PHI at CHA
  • April 15: LAL at PHX
     

Kevin Durant’s “return” to Golden State is on the list for a more subtle reason. Irving, who took games off ahead of the playoffs last season, is also on the load management radar for that late-season game. The trip to the Chase Center is the first night of a back-to-back, but more importantly, it’s bookended by games in Los Angeles. Will Durant travel during his Achilles rehab or will he stay in Los Angeles? 

For what it’s worth, the NBA chose not to put that game on national TV, underlining the sheer unlikelihood of Durant making an appearance at the Warriors’ new arena in the 2019-20 season.

* * * 

Don’t expect every team to have a hard-line rest schedule until the season starts and signs of fatigue begin to show.

Last month, Houston GM Daryl Morey made headlines when he responded to a question about load management on “The Dan Patrick Show,” saying the team will have “a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April.” But sources told NBC Sports that no decision has been made to rest James Harden and Russell Westbrook entire games. Neither Westbrook or Harden have gone that route before, but it must be noted that Harden will enter his 30s, joining the 31-year-old Westbrook, later this month.

It remains to be seen how often Leonard will rest this season. At his opening press conference in Los Angeles, Leonard indicated that this season he would take the load management on a “day-by-day” basis and that he intends to play out the season. Part of Toronto’s load management program was a response to Leonard only playing nine games in the previous season with the Spurs. Leonard has hinted that he feels healthier entering this season.

“Resting on back-to-backs is becoming a more and more accepted practice around the league,” said one top executive. “But Kawhi didn’t invent this.”

Still, Leonard’s success last season will influence at least some decisions across the league. Embiid, in particular, seemed keen on the idea of strategically resting more next season.

“Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi last season,” Embiid said after losing to the Raptors in the playoffs, “obviously I don’t want to miss that many games, but when you start thinking about back-to-backs and all that ... definitely got to take a better approach.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Philadelphia 76ers handle Embiid’s rest regimen. The team signed big man Al Horford to start next to him and potentially start at center in Embiid’s place if he needs a night off. Those decisions will come down to Embiid and new members of the medical staff after the team parted ways with two major voices -- vice president of athlete care Dr. Danny Medina and director of performance research and development Dr. David Martin. 

The schedule-makers have taken extra precaution when booking the Sixers for primetime. Of the 13 second nights of a back-to-back on Philadelphia’s schedule, none of them were handpicked to be on national television (ESPN, TNT or ABC).

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Privately this summer, representatives from the league office have reached out to team brass to strongly convey the importance of the availability of its stars, especially on national TV games. While player health remains the top priority, teams have been told to keep in mind that the NBA is uniquely positioned to showcase its stars. With no facemasks, helmets or walls to shield fans from seeing the stars, it is the most intimate league in America.

“Let’s not kill the golden goose,” relayed one team executive who spoke to the league office this summer.

The NBA has tweaked the schedule to account for the rise of the DNP-Rest. In 2017, the league office lengthened the season by two weeks to squeeze in more rest days and reduce back-to-backs. After a series of high-profile healthy scratches, the NBA no longer schedules an ABC game in a back-to-back set -- but even building in additional off days sometimes isn’t enough.

The NBA isn’t just competing against Netflix and the NFL for eyeballs. It’s competing against NBA 2K, which, according to its parent company, has sold 90 million units worldwide. Video games are increasingly becoming so life-like and compelling that there is real expectation in league circles that fans could prefer the video game over the real thing, especially in the load management era.

If James, Leonard or George sit to rest, fans might tune out the actual Lakers-Clippers game in order to play as LeBron against Kawhi and PG-13 on their favorite gaming console.

Said one GM: “There’s no load management in 2K.”

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