Triple doubles and resting troubles: 2017 playoff preview

The NBA season is slowly grinding to a halt. Some teams are trying to dodge the injury bug by resting players while Russell Westbrook has historic plans for all of his 82 games.

Looking toward the playoffs, Western Conference fans can see that this season, the Golden State Warriors (66-14) are not the same team that won 73 games a year ago. In the east, the champion Cleveland Cavaliers (51-29) have done nothing but add better players and follow the lead of Lebron James’ stellar performance.

Khawhi Leonard has been handed the proverbial torch from San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan and subtly placed himself among the other notable MVP candidates. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have taken it upon themselves to show the world the lost art of the triple double. Both have set the bar extremely high when it comes to individual performance.

With the acquisition of Kevin Durant, the NBA world penciled the Warriors in for its second championship in the last four years. Durant added length and deadly sharpshooting from deep; just what the Warriors needed.

Durant helped Golden State to get the season started off swimmingly. It seemed like Durant’s presence as leading scorer, rebounder, and blocker was just too easy. Plugging Durant into the lineup forced Golden State to make some roster decisions and drop a couple of players from their epic 73 win team. But with Durant averaging 25 points on over 50 percent shooting, the Warriors were not missing them.

On Feb. 28, Durant suffered a MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee.

It left the forward with four to six weeks on the bench and a new but familiar learning curve. The Warriors have had to go through re-learning how to play without a superstar like Kevin Durant.

The playoff seeds are set in the West, but the eighth and the Portland Trail Blazers clinched final playoff spot when the Denver Nuggets lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the buzzer. Portland, who plays at a high pace, has made the playoffs six of the last seven seasons.

The only pace that the Spurs are worried about is which pace LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart is beating. The All-Star forward had a minor heart arrhythmia before the Spurs’ March 11 match up against the Warriors. Aldridge was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome back in 2007 and has battled heart problems in 2011 and now again in 2017.

“I feel bad for the league. I really do. But it is what it is for us from an injury standpoint. We literally had one guy rest tonight and everybody else was reasonably injured. I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

The Spurs (60-18) are still right behind the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. Since both teams know they are getting close to the end of the season, both teams have been resting star players. This is an obvious problem that every NBA team has to deal with, but at this point, fans and the NBA alike are fed up with teams letting down fans by sitting the main players that the fans came to see.

Cleveland recently caught heat from the NBA after deciding to rest stars Kyrie Irving and Lebron James when the team traveled to Los Angeles to play the Clippers. The game was broadcast on ABC and had been advertised for weeks as a marquee matchup.

When speaking to ESPN.com, Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin responded,

“I feel bad for the league. I really do. But it is what it is for us from an injury standpoint. We literally had one guy rest tonight and everybody else was reasonably injured. I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

The ESPN broadcasting team had its separate opinions on resting players and the issue will continue to be a blemish on the league and its trustworthiness. The fans are the ones losing the most in these situations so fans can trust that Commissioner Adam Silver will keep this issue in focus.

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Lebron James on the bench sipping coffee during a game in which he rested against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 18. 

Teams like the Memphis Grizzlies are dealing with players needing to rest for the entire year. Chandler Parsons underwent a minuscular surgery on March 19 for a medial tear in his left knee. This would not be such big news if Parsons had performed up to his gigantic contract (4-years, $94 million) that he signed in the summer of 2016.

Parsons had not played more than 25 minutes in any game that he was in this season. He averaged 6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 34 games played.

Memphis (43-38) is still in contention, sitting at the seventh seed. Its brand of grind-it-out basketball is one that bodes well for the playoffs. This season both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are healthy and can help the Grizzlies avoid another first-round sweep.

The Eastern Conference, while being dominated by the Cavaliers, is steadily getting more interesting with the increased play of players like John Wall and Bradley Beal, the two guards for the Washington Wizards. The Wizards (48-32) are in the fourth seed in the east and are only three and a half games back from Cleveland.

In the East, there are four legitimate playoff teams. The Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards, and Raptors. The rest, some with sub .500 records, continue to show the discrepancy in talent between the Eastern and Western conferences. Guards, such as Isaiah Thomas and forwards like Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo, keep the East intriguing, but competitive is something that it is not.

Arguably the player with the most competitiveness in the league is Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. To be averaging a triple double for an entire season is something only the legendary Oscar Robertson has done. This season, Westbrook is averaging 31.9 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds per game. Westbrook has amassed 42 triple doubles already this season and will have two more games to try to set the new record even higher. Which begs the question; who will ever do this again?

When Oscar Robertson was in the NBA, the league only had eight teams. Averaging a triple double is impressive in any era, but the era that Westbrook is doing it in has the greatest competition at the point guard position ever. The Thunder has 3.2-win percentage when Westbrook does not have a triple double. It is safe to say he is carrying the team.

Heading into the playoffs, teams will lean on their veteran players to lead them to the Finals. The Las Vegas odds point toward another series of Cleveland vs. Golden State in the Finals. Lebron James and Steph Curry should be well rested before then.

Teams like the Celtics, Spurs, Thunder, and Rockets will have to bring their best to top Curry’s or James’ squads this season.

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