Grading the Week: For Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, NBA, less is more

Here’s an idea that the NBA should consider: Less NBA.

As this week’s slate of Nuggets games illustrated repeatedly — underscoring a theme that’s plagued the league for years during the load management era — you can have too much of a good thing.

NBA schedule — F

It began, of course, with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers’ visit to Ball Arena on Monday night.

What had been a highly anticipated matchup between MVP front-runners Nikola Jokic and Embiid instead turned out to be a dud after the Sixers opted to sit Embiid at the end of a long road trip with calf soreness.

Later on in the week, Jokic sat on back-to-back nights while resting a calf injury of his own, missing a home game against New Orleans on Thursday, followed by a trip to Phoenix the very next night.

The biggest losers? The thousands of fans who paid full price to watch the NBA’s best, only to get a smattering of starters and backups.

To be clear right off the bat: The Grading the Week staff isn’t here to vilify Jokic or Embiid.

We learned long ago not to question players’ injuries. We can’t possibly know how their bodies feel at a given moment, nor do we think it’s appropriate to speculate on such matters. So if you’re hoping to find an “Embiid ducked Jokic” take from these fair halls, we advise you to look elsewhere.

Instead, we’ll place the blame squarely where it belongs: On a way-too-long NBA regular season followed by a similarly tedious and taxing postseason that renders everything that happened before it moot.

Look no further than our own Mile High City for an example of how those two things conspire to devalue the league’s already overpriced regular-season tickets.

The Nuggets are running laps around the Western Conference this season, with the difference between them and the fourth-place team a tidy 10 games entering Friday night. Their reward for such dominance? A best-of-seven series against a barely .500 play-in team like the Lakers or Pelicans in which Denver’s only built-in advantage will be getting to host up to four of those games at Ball Arena.

And if the Nuggets happen to lose said series? The entire enterprise would be deemed a complete and utter failure.

It’s easy to see why Denver head coach Michael Malone or any of his counterparts around the league would be hesitant to risk throwing hobbled stars onto the court for one of 82 regular-season games.

The simple answer is for the NBA to trim its schedule by 10-15 games while simultaneously incentivizing regular-season brilliance with a decided advantage in the postseason.

If it were up to us, that would mean first-round series in which the top three seeds in each conference host up to four games in a best-of-five set-up. And maybe even allow them to select their own first-round opponent from seeds 6-8, with the top regular-season team getting first pick. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Of course, such drastic measures would require the NBA and, to a lesser degree, its players, to sacrifice millions of dollars in revenue. Which means it will never happen.

And why would it? The ticket-buying public can always foot the bill.

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