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Is The NBA Protecting Kobe Bryant?

Patrick Crawley |
August 10, 2010 | 5:22 p.m. PDT

Sports Editor

The NBA released its 2010-11 schedule Tuesday, and, to no one's surprise, the Lakers have one of the easiest schedules in the league.

Unlike last season, the Lakers are blessed in terms of home-road balance--December and February are somewhat tough months but other than that it's a relative cake walk--but the real kicker is the number of back-to-back games they'll play: 15, a league low.

For comparison sake, 16 teams have 20 or more back-to-backs scheduled, with the Bulls and Bucks leading the way with 23, and only four teams have fewer than 18: Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Phoenix and, of course, the Lakers.

This, to me, raises questions of foul play.

Is the league scheduling fewer back-to-backs for the Lakers to protect Kobe Bryant?

Call me a conspiracty theorist all you want, but I think it's a reasonable assumption.

After all, it's not as though the Lakers are coming off a demanding season of back-to-backs--they had 20 last season, putting them right at the league average. And the distribution of back-to-backs is hardly equal across the league--more teams get screwed with high totals of back-to-backs than blessed with low totals (as you can see here).

Add to that the fact that Kobe has played nearly as many NBA minutes, 45,177 including playoffs, as Michael Jordan did at the end of his career, 48,484, and I feel there's reason to be suspicious.

Few in the NBA push themselves as hard or play through as many injuries as Kobe. He's one of the league's iron men, a player willing to battle through pain at all costs, sometimes at his own detriment--as we saw in January and February as he played with a broken finger to less than spectacular results.

If Kobe won't protect himself, it seems the league is willing to do it for him.

Now that LeBron James is considered a kingly fool, Kobe is being held up once again as the NBA's undisputed best. More than that, he's the guy chasing Jordan and a second three-peat. In other words, he's an important marketing tool for the league. Having him suffer a serious injury would be catastrophic for David Stern and Co., not to mention the city of Los Angeles, one of the league's biggest and most lucrative markets.

Which leads us to where we are now: 15 back-to-backs and a relatively tame road schedule that includes just two away trips of five games or more. You can't spell E-A-S-Y much easier than that. Especially not if you're the Bulls or the Bobcats, both of whom have had consecutive seasons with 22 back-to-backs or more on their schedule.

Phil Jackson's health was probably a consideration as well when it came to making the schedule--an early retirement for P-Jax also does the league considerable damage--but Kobe is the NBA's re-born golden boy. I can't shake the feeling that they're protecting him with this move.

What do you think?

To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.



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