Will the last one who leaves the “NBA players shouldn’t rest during the regular season” camp please turn off the lights?
“I’m a hooper. I just want to hoop. I’ll rest when I’m done. I feel like my teammates and organization need me to go out there and do what I do … Mike knows not to come at me with that.”
Fast-forward to early May, Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Harden runs out of gas in overtime of Game 5, and has his worst game of the season in Game 6. And now the data is in: Harden played his slowest game of the season in Game 6, when the Rockets were blown out. From ESPN:
Harden dragged along at a snail’s pace in Game 6 with an average speed of 3.36 miles per hour. That was the slowest of any player who played at least 10 minutes in the game. Overall, Harden has seen his average speed fall from 3.68 in the regular season to 3.53 in the postseason. But LeBron James had maintained his speed at 3.75, despite six straight NBA Finals.
It gets worse, the next slowest guy, Eric Gordon, registered 3.97 miles per hour, according to the player tracking data, which means that Harden was moving 50 feet per minute slower than the next slowest guy.
There’s no doubt Harden – who played 81 of 82 regular season games – was tired at the end of the series. He was 3rd in the NBA in total minutes played, and the two guys ahead of him missed the playoffs. LeBron was 10th, but he’s chiseled like a Greek God. Harden always looks like he could stand to lose a couple pounds.
None of this is to defend Harden’s poor performance in Game 6. Rather, it’s to focus on resting during the regular season, to prevent this very issue. The NBA and older basketball fans don’t want to hear this, but it simply doesn’t make sense for star players to wear down their bodies on grueling road trips and in back-to-back games during the regular season when it’s all about the playoffs.
Nobody is saying, “remember how amazing Harden was in December when he averaged 28-12-9 for the month and shot 45/36/89? That was special!” It’s all about the playoffs, and players should rest up to prepare their bodies for it. Think anyone’s knocking LeBron for resting during the regular season? After that historic playoff series against Toronto – the first time anyone has scored 35+ points in every game of a sweep – you’re not hearing a peep about him taking off meaningless regular season games.