Popovich vs Stern: How the media missed a golden opportunity

Gregg Popovich ... plotting his next benching? - Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

With the hubub over San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich resting his stars against the Miami Heat last Thursday fading into the sunset ... it is now time to ask some hard questions. For instance, why didn't the media ask about how the NBA schedules games, and the fairness of national TV Games dictated by TNT?

The greater media that covers the NBA does a great job for the most part. They really do. I will give them this credit, they tend to not be as myopic and "state run" as the NFL media is (ie: a greater number of sources than a team press release and coverage biased toward management). While I have my quibbles with the way the Nuggets are covered in Denver, outside of Denver Stiffs, by and large the media that covers the NBA is pretty spot on.

However, they missed a golden opportunity to ask some hard questions of David Stern after Gregg Popovich sent home Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in a national TV (TNT) matchup with the Miami Heat. What questions did they miss?

1. If you're upset that Popovich sent home his star players for a National TV game, why did you schedule the Spurs 5 games in 7 nights with the matchup against the Heat coming on the final game of that stretch?

2. If you're upset that Popovich sent home his star players for a National TV game, why did you give the Miami Heat a full three days rest prior to the matchup?

You may be saying to yourself, "Morton! You cretin. Are you alleging conspiracy? The Spurs get the benefit of the doubt from the NBA all the time! Bah! Tut-tut and whatnot..." Actually what I'm asking is that the NBA beat reporters shine a light on National TV "deck stacking". I don't believe there's a conspiracy, I just believe this is how the league operates. If this game was NOT on National TV I guarantee you Pop would have played Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Pop likes making points, and if the deck wasn't stacked against the Spurs on a National TV stage it would have been just another game and Pop would have most likely played his stars (in my opinion).

The Nuggets had a "deck stacked" game against the LA Lakers last Friday, after playing late the night before in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors. Playing consecutive late night National TV games is hard enough when the team you are playing on the second night hasn't received two full days rest. No conspiracy, it just wasn't a fair fight and served as nothing more than making the Lakers look better than they actually are ... on ESPN.

The NBA would be much better served if they make sure that teams playing on Thursday or Friday nights have a day off in between these games, that way it's a fair fight. Why this wasn't asked is beyond me. People are so cowed by Stern they won't ask the obvious questions. If a game is on National TV and it's not a fair fight it skews perception of the team without rest that plays. The reason this is a big deal is that players around the NBA watch these games, and it damages (slightly) the reputation of the team that inevitably loses.

The simplest question the media could have and maybe SHOULD have asked is ... do TNT and ESPN demand certain teams get advantages with rest before national televised games? If no, then why doesn't the league take better care to stagger rest so the fight is fair on a national stage?

Scheduling is often brought up in regards to the Nuggets. By the time this run of 17 out of 23 games to start the season on the road, the Nuggets will have additionally played 6 back to back games. These are difficult circumstances for a young team that's trying to gel. Right now the Nuggets are 9-9 and are about to embark on a 5 game east coast swing. This will test the Nuggets severely and we hope they can come out a better team.

Unbalanced scheduling is part of the NBA, but I've never seen the Nuggets start a season with this many road games. On a National TV basis, often these games are played on the last date of a road trip or on a back to back. It just doesn't seem fair. On the flip side of it, once the Nuggets come to their raft of home games in January ... we will get a much better idea of where and what this team is about.

What is inexcusable is the NBA media letting David Stern skate without asking questions about scheduling and National TV games. I mean, heck, even the Miami Heat had to come in to Denver on the dreaded "National TV Back to back" the Nuggets just did last week when they played the LA Clippers in Los Angeles and then played the Nuggets the next night on TNT in Denver. Even though the Heat won the game, it didn't set up to be a good matchup. For the sake of competitive balance and good games wouldn't it make sense to make things more fair?

Is this whistling into the wind? Probably. It's just my two cents.

Be sure and listen to Les Shapiro and Tom Nalen every Monday-Friday on 102.3 ESPN from Noon to 3 pm.

***

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Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78

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