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NBA Playoff Notes: Rest, Youth and Age

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/22/2008

During the regular season handicappers carefully look at spots where teams are playing long road stretches and back to back spots. For instance, playing a game on Monday, then playing again Wednesday and Friday is far different from playing Sunday and Monday, then Wednesday and Thursday. The latter is a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, one of the most difficult scheduling spots in the NBA. And if all four of those games were on the road, which also happens, the spot has even greater difficulty.

Handicappers take into account scheduling dynamics like that. However, the playoffs are different, as teams rarely play back-to-back games in the playoffs anymore. This gives an advantage to veteran teams or ones that have important players where age or injuries are a factor.

Look at the Spurs, an aging team that battled injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Getting these guys rested and healthy for the playoffs was a huge priority the last two months. This is similar to just two seasons ago when Duncan battled varies foot ailments. That season San Antonio went 60-9 with at least one day of rest before a game, yet 3-10 in the second of back-to-back games. In those back-to-back spots, Duncan averaged just 14 points per game.

Duncan was the story in Game 1 against the Suns, with 40 points and his FIRST three-pointer of the season! Without it, they trail 0-1 and would already have lost home court. 'It felt like a Finals game,' said Duncan, the Spurs' All-Star forward. 'But it's only the first game of the first series.' With Game 2 not scheduled until Tuesday, Sunday and Monday provided an already much-needed rest. 'My legs were dead,' added Duncan.

Duncan played nearly 51 minutes in Game 1, 17 more than his average. Tony Parker played 51 minutes, 28 seconds before fouling out. Michael Finley logged more than 48 minutes, Ginobili 45. Duncan and the Spurs took Sunday off to catch their breath, forgoing a practice session altogether. It probably was a wise move for the NBA's oldest team, coming off only the second double-overtime playoff game in franchise history. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, 'That's enough to kill you if every game is like that.'

The same has been true of Shaquille O'Neal the last few years. When Shaq puts his mind and body to playing hard, he can be a dominant player, but he’s 36 and way past his prime. You may recall in the playoffs a few years ago that Shaq performed significantly better on two days of rest than one. Granted, there will be no back-to-back spots in the playoffs, but with aging players like Shaq, or ones that have nagging injuries like Duncan, the difference in one, two or three days rest can be very important.

Can the Suns win a big game? They have dropped 13 of their past 17 playoff games against the Spurs, many of them in similarly gut-wrenching fashion. On Saturday, they never trailed until the 2:36 mark of the fourth quarter, and squandered at least five decent chances to finish the Spurs off.

Another aging team that could always use extra time to rest is Detroit. Unlike the Spurs, they are off a shocking home loss to the young 76ers. The 76ers finished the regular season 40-42! 'We're going to be all right,' Chauncey Billups said. 'We just have to continue to play to win. We can't get caught up in playing not to lose. We've been here before, man. We don't like to hang our hats on that but it's a fact. We know what it takes.' Sounds good, but first they have to figure out a way to slow down Andre Miller. The Pistons are 0-5 SU/ATS their last 5 playoff games, after losing 4 in a row to the Cavaliers last season in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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