One star was saddled by surgeries last season, forced from his perch atop all other players as the league’s best active ironman.
Another recently conceded fatigue was the reason he could not play for his country this summer.
The good news for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant is there is ample rest built into the Oklahoma City Thunder’s schedule next season.
That was the biggest takeaway from OKC’s standpoint when the NBA unveiled the league-wide schedule for the 2014-15 season Wednesday.
The Thunder will receive as much rest as any team can ask for over the course of an 82-game season. Road trips are relatively short, games are sufficiently spaced out and the entire schedule is about as balanced as can be.
It’s an unexpected luxury for a Thunder team needing to again monitor Westbrook’s surgically repaired right knee, as well as better manage Durant’s league-leading minute tally while looking to capture its first NBA title.
Oklahoma City’s schedule includes 18 back-to-back sets, which ties the Thunder for the league’s third fewest. The Los Angeles Lakers have just 16 back-to-backs, but by comparison Detroit and the Charlotte Hornets are each scheduled for 22 back-to-backs.
None of the Thunder’s back-to-backs are a part of a stretch of four games in five nights. Oklahoma City had one such stretch last season. Golden State, for example, has four this year.
Nineteen of the Thunder’s first 41 games are at home, which means 22 of the final 41 will be played inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Last season, the Thunder had 21 of its first 41 at home and 20 of its final 41 at home.
As part of its home schedule, the Thunder will enjoy three four-game home stands, two of them coming in March as part of a nine-game stretch.
There’s also a layoff due to a scheduling quirk, like the one that gives the Thunder five days off between a home game against Utah and a road game against Houston in mid-January.
Travel should be a breeze, too.
Things settle down soon after the Thunder opens the season with five games in seven nights, four of them coming on the road. The longest trip of the season is five games, a slate that will put the Thunder on the road for 10 days for an east coast swing through Orlando, Miami, Washington, Atlanta and Cleveland.
But the next longest trip is three games, which the Thunder will do four times. Twelve trips are one-gamers, and six trips contain two games.
And, of course, the league is attempting to lighten everyone’s load this season by extending the All-Star Break. All teams will be off from Feb. 13-18 this year after All-Star participants over the last several years requested more rest.
The Thunder will get a seven-day break for the league’s annual showcase. With Westbrook, Durant and potentially Serge Ibaka all possibly being named to the All-Star team, as well as Anthony Morrow a possible 3-point contestant and Ibaka and Perry Jones III potential slam dunk participants, the Thunder could be among the teams that need the rest most by mid-season.
Of course, there’s enough evidence from the team’s two biggest stars over the last several months to suggest rest for the Thunder will be critical throughout the season.
Westbrook underwent three surgeries in 2013, causing him to miss 36 contests in 2013-14. Before sustaining a torn meniscus Westbrook had never missed a game in his career. When he rejoined the lineup, the team limited him to one game on back-to-back sets as a means to monitor his knee and get him as much rest as possible.
Durant, meanwhile, led the league in total minutes played for the third time in five seasons last year. No player over the past five regular seasons has logged more minutes.
Last week, the reigning league MVP unexpectedly withdrew from the USA Basketball roster that will compete in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. As part of his reasoning, Durant said through a written statement that he needed to “take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”