The injury bug has hit the NBA, and LeBron James, who didn’t escape it himself this season, blamed it on the condensed schedule.
James had wanted to start the season a month later than the Dec. 22 date and felt holding the All-Star Game was a poor idea. In both instances, he felt the players needed more rest, especially since James and the Los Angeles Lakers ended last season on Oct. 11, when they beat the Miami Heat in six games to win the NBA championship.
To demonstrate the difficulty of the schedule this year, the 76ers played the second half of the season, their final 36 games, in 67 days.
James sent out a series of tweets on the situation.
This postseason alone, several key players have been injured, including the Sixers second-team All-NBA center Joel Embiid, who missed one game and has continued to be hampered with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
Sixers starter Danny Green suffered a right calf strain early in Game 3 that put him out for the series and could sideline him two to five weeks.
Just on Wednesday, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard was declared out for the Los Angeles Clippers’ game with Utah due to a right knee sprain.
Before Game 5 on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked about James’ critical comments.
“I’m injury-free, I haven’t had an injury all year,” Rivers quipped. “I feel great.”
Then Rivers turned serious.
“When LeBron talks, we all listen, that is for sure,” Rivers said. “There are injuries every year, there were injuries in the bubble last year, so the last couple of years have been very difficult.”
Rivers said there is a bright side to this.
“We are getting through it and I think it says a lot about the players in the league that we can get through this,” Rivers said of the season.
Howard can relate to Embiid’s injury
Sixers backup center Dwight Howard can relate to Embiid’s injury, especially during the playoffs.
“I remember back when I played with Houston as we were going into the  Western Conference finals, there was a game where I hurt my meniscus and my MCL, so I understand the feeling he is going through,” Howard said following Wednesday’s shootaround. “It is really hard to want to play and not to think about what you are dealing with, but that is when you have to rely on your team, the energy from the crowd, the bench, to keep you going.”
Matisse the closer
Rarely in an NBA interview will a player be compared to a former relief pitcher with a handlebar mustache, but Rivers compared Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle to Rollie Fingers, the Hall of Fame closer for the Oakland A’s teams that won three consecutive World Series from 1972-74.
Rivers was asked before the game about his opinion on Thybulle joining Embiid on the second-team all-NBA defensive team, when he used his baseball analogy.
“It’s like having Rollie Fingers, a relief pitcher, come in and shut the other team’s starting lineup down or their big hitter down,” Rivers said. “That is what Matisse does for us.”
NBA COVID update
The NBA and NBPA announced that of 164 players tested for COVID-19 since June 9, one new player returned a confirmed positive test.
The series returns to Atlanta for Game 6 at 7:30 p.m. Friday. If a Game 7 is needed, it will be 8 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.