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updated: 1/16/2012 8:59 PM

Too many NBA games in too little time

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  • Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, left, and Bulls forward Luol Deng chase down a loose ball in the second half Monday in Memphis, Tenn. The Grizzlies defeated the Bulls 102-86.

    Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, left, and Bulls forward Luol Deng chase down a loose ball in the second half Monday in Memphis, Tenn. The Grizzlies defeated the Bulls 102-86.
    Associated Press


This NBA season explains what Phil Jackson meant a dozen years ago.

Jackson mused that an asterisk should accompany San Antonio's 1999 championship.

For years it seemed that Jackson was tweaking the Spurs. However, maybe he was making a valid point.

A work stoppage shortened the NBA's 1998-99 season to 50 games in about 90 days.

Sound familiar? It should. A work stoppage shortened the current season to 66 games in about 124 days.

Most of the games I have watched since the Christmas Day openers lacked something.

The ball has as much air but the games aren't as pumped up. The players are running as hard but not going as fast. Play reaches the customary level of quality but not for the customary length of time.

The Bulls' 102-86 loss Monday at Memphis looked like something that might have started at midnight rather than noon.

Something was missing: The Bulls played without ailing Derrick Rose and the Grizzlies played without ailing Zach Randolph.

Each is his team's best player, which is a problem around the league. Too many all-stars are injured.

Some attribute the rash of the infirm to the schedule. Others insist that injuries happen every season.

The fact is the truth is there's no definitive answer.

The Bulls' loss to the Grizzlies might not be attributable to Rose being out. A case could be made that they lost because of exhaustion.

The game was the Bulls' sixth in eight days, making Tuesday night's at home against Phoenix their seventh in nine. A string of spiritless sprints has been stuck inside the season's usual marathon just waiting to end.

The Bulls' current stretch isn't a scheduling quirk. It is the schedule. After facing the Suns the Bulls will have played 16 games in 24 days.

Don't sympathize with the players. They're paid a lot of money to play, and just as much to not play when hurt.

Sympathize with fans. The ones in the arena pay a lot for an inferior product; the ones at home might be compelled to switch to fake reality shows rather than the real reality show that is the NBA.

Too many games and too much of the season feel out of whack. There's hardly a chance to check the standings before another flurry of games shakes them up.

When the NBA first announced a 66-game schedule, my assumption was the season would stretch into at least mid-May and the playoffs into maybe mid-July.

Breaths could be caught between dribbles. Instead, everything is crammed into a teacup instead of a water cooler.

Very few of these games reflect pro basketball. Some are all right. Some spurts within some are all right. But overall this is to the NBA what Barney Fife is to the CIA.

A good guess is that if the Bulls proceed to win the title, nobody around here will mind any more than anybody in San Antonio minded in 1999.

But should the championship come with one of Jackson's asterisks? Ask again in April because it all depends on how the season adjusts and evolves from here.

Maybe by playoff time most players will be healthy, everybody on the court will have his basketball legs back, and the game will be the game we fondly remember.

But instead it might be that Phil Jackson was correct back then and would be again if he suggests slapping another asterisk on another bastardized NBA season.

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