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Explained: How the NBA bubble helped bring down player injuries

The data suggests a higher likeliness for players to remain injury-free during the bubble, and if injured, a faster recovery, when compared to the data collected from the average of the past five seasons.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: December 21, 2020 5:23:54 pm
NBA, NBA season, NBA matches, NBA Lakers, NBA bubble, NBA Covid guidelines, NBA injured players, NBA injuries, Indian ExpressThe Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns tip off during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo: Matt York)

A new season of the NBA is set to start on Wednesday barely two months since the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions, in October. This will be the first time the marquee American league will start a new season from scratch since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. And in the new normal for the regular season, the governing body has put in place certain changes and precautions.

Home and away games are back, but data published by RunRepeat finds that the bubble the NBA had set up in Florida to finish the remainder of the 2019-20 season actually saw a lower number of games missed by players due to injury. That is one aspect that may not be in the offing now that teams will once again be on the road.

Less games missed in the bubble

Inside the NBA bubble, 89 regular season matches or seeding games took place, plus an additional 83 playoff matches. RunRepeat in its analysis therefore considered the first 89 matches of each of the past five seasons (starting from the 2014-15 season) and also their corresponding playoff games to decipher how many matches were missed by injured players.

Overall, from the matches in consideration, 417 matches were missed by injured players on an average in the previous five seasons, and 300 were missed during the bubble – a drop by 28 percent.

Numbers breakdown

During the bubble, 247 regular season matches and 53 playoff matches were missed by injured players. From the average of the previous five seasons, 340 games were missed in the regular season and 77 in the playoffs.

Faster recovery

According to the data, injured players missed an average of 2.9 regular season matches inside the bubble before recovering. Meanwhile, in the five seasons before the pandemic, an injured player would miss an average of 3.7 matches. This meant that players injured inside the bubble would recover faster by 24 percent. Similarly, during the playoff stage, player injury rate declined by 31 percent compared to the playoff stages in the last five seasons.

No travel fatigue

The data suggests a higher likeliness for players to remain injury-free during the bubble, and if injured, a faster recovery, when compared to the data collected from the average of the past five seasons. The biggest change in the 2019-20 season, however, was the over-four month break that came due to the pandemic. Given the lockdown rules that followed, players with niggles would have had a chance to rest and recover.

Additionally, playing all matches inside the NBA bubble that was set up in Disney World near Orlando, Florida, meant that the travel fatigue element no longer existed. In other words, after a tiring game, players did not have to embark on a long flight to their next destination, hence enabling a faster recovery.

For the upcoming season, the pre-season period was just over two months since the NBA final in October (as compared to the usual approximate four month period).

NBA, NBA season, NBA matches, NBA Lakers, NBA bubble, NBA Covid guidelines, NBA injured players, NBA injuries, Indian Express The floor is wiped down during halftime of the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons preseason NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 in Washington. (Rob Carr/Getty Images via AP, Pool)

On the road again

The NBA will no longer hold matches at a single venue this upcoming season, but the travel itineraries for each team will be made in a different manner. A travelling team will play two consecutive games in the same city, against the same opponent to ensure travel is minimised.

Additionally, the league format will follow a 72-match schedule rather than the usual 82-match regular season.

The reworked bubble

Though there is no bubble this time, the NBA has put in place a set of protocols with the 30 franchises.

In a memo sent by the NBA to teams, as reported by ESPN, players and support staff may leave their hotels to dine provided: “outdoor dining, fully privatized room dining in restaurants, or NBA/NBPA (players association) approved restaurants that will meet league criteria.”

Furthermore, while at home, players and staff are not allowed to “enter bars, lounges or clubs, attend live entertainment or game venues, or visit public gyms, spas, pool areas or large indoor social gatherings that exceed 15 people.”

In case a player is found breaking protocol, that player “may be subject to a proportionate adjustment to pay for any games missed during the period that the player is in quarantine and undergoing testing due to engaging in such activities and/or conduct.”

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Rules for resting players

The NBA, in another memo according to ESPN, informed the teams that they will have the freedom to rest any player for back-to-back games. However, it will continue to enforce the existing rule that teams cannot rest healthy players for a nationally televised match (such as on Christmas Day) or else face a fine to the tune of USD 100,000.

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