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Jim Ingraham: Blame NBA, not its coaches for resting stars

It’s like a Beatles concert without John, Paul, and Ringo. Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. The Corleone family without Vito, Sonny and Michael.

The Cavs on Wednesday night played a game in Memphis, former home of Elvis, without any of their Big Three.

Talk about a hunk, a hunk of burning Grizz fans.

It’s basketball bait-and-switch, they said. Can you blame them? Wednesday was the Cavs’ only appearance of the season in Memphis. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal back in the days when the Cavs were bringing Smush Parker to town. But these days the Cavs’ roster includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

Memphis has, and fans who bought tickets under the assumption that there would be a Big Three viewing Wednesday night must have felt like they’d been kicked in the groan zone by Draymond Green. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue broke the bad news to Memphis following the Cavs-Grizzlies game Tuesday night in Cleveland:

Tennessee would see no LeBron, no Irving, and no Love. All three were taking a snow day and would watch the game as couch potatoes back in Cleveland.

That decision turned Memphis’ FedEx Forum into FedUp Forum on Wednesday night, despite the fact that Lue’s decision seemed to exponentially improve the Grizzlies’ chances of beating DeAndre Liggins, and The Rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The vast majority of Grizzlies fans, presumably and understandably, would prefer to see the three biggest stars on the Cavs’ roster _ the NBA, after all, is a star-driven league _ and risk losing the game, rather than seeing none of them, even if it meant a Memphis victory.

Instead, Lue gave them none of The Big Three.

This, of course, opened a can of worms first opened by can of worms proprietor Gregg Popovich. The head Grinch of the San Antonio Spurs blazed this particular trail in years past, when he had no qualms about occasionally having no Tim Duncan, no Tony Parker, and no Manu Ginobili in his starting lineup. Sometimes all in the same game.

Coaches are paid to win games. The most important games to win are the playoff games, which come at the end of a grueling 82-game schedule. The best way to win playoff games is to keep your star players rested and healthy.

If that means certain cities don’t get to see a certain Big Three, so be it.

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

For this, blame game players can point their fingers at the NBA, not at the coaches. The NBA’s exhausting schedule, peppered with back-to-back games on consecutive days in different cities, only adds more gruel to the grueling schedule.

Thus, most coaches, particularly those with postseason aspirations, are forced to select enforced off days for their stars. The coaches really have no choice. In order to prevent the injuries from piling up when the games start to pile up, coaches try to reduce the workload of the heavy lifters by holding them out of selected games.

These can be pre-determined, or selected on the fly, should the engine light be seen flashing on the dashboard of important players. LeBron, for example, had been sensational in the Cavs’ last six games prior to Wednesday, averaging 30 points, seven rebounds and nearly nine assists per game. But he was also averaging nearly 40 minutes per game.

So Wednesday night LeBron averaged no minutes per game. Ditto for Irving (tired legs) and Love (back spasms), who were likewise in need of some down time.

Caught in the crossfire were the fans in Memphis. Innocent bystanders.

The NBA is the only sport where this occurs. The only sport where players occasionally don’t play “just because”.

In the NFL you don’t see the Patriots not playing Tom Brady on a given Sunday because “he could use a day off.”

Major League Baseball teams play twice as many games in a season as NBA teams, but you never hear about a baseball manager deciding before the season begins that he’s going to give a certain player a day off on Aug. 12.

Before the NBA season even starts, many coaches look at the schedule to identify hot spots, where a key player, or two, or three, will be given a day off.

It makes the NBA look bad because coaches and teams are forced to protect their stars from the schedule the league orders them to play. That leads to teams frequently denying NBA ticket buyers the opportunity to see the very product the NBA is selling: Its biggest stars.

It’s what led to the Cavs playing a game Wednesday night in Memphis, while their three best players were in Cleveland.

The Cavs are trying to win another championship. If this is what it takes, this is what you do.

Blame the NBA. Not its coaches.

Email Jim Ingraham at jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jim_Ingraham.



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