By Will Stevenson
The NBA Regular Season is winding down, and I for one am very excited for it to be over. Remember when Joel Embid was the talk of the league? Remember when the Warriors and Thunder were facing off and Pachulia was standing over Russ? I remember when the Bulls were playing hard and the Lakers were 2 games above .500. I didn’t even know who Nikola Jokic was or that Nurkic was a beast in the making for the Trailblazers. I thought the Blazers were bad? Remember when the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets were tied at 11-30? Since that time, the Heat are now 32-35, and the Nets are 12-54. Remember the Warriors being a villain? That concept was pretty much a lost cause for the team.
Certain things have dulled this regular season: Injures, Back to Backs, Pace of Play and new systems. Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge are the marquee names that have, and will miss extended time this season. Not to mention players like Chandler Parsons, JR Smith, Evan Turner, George Hill, and Derrick Favors have all missed significant time with injuries. Players are resting more, which they should, and teams are keeping players as fresh as possible for the stretch run. With the draft coming and the free agent pool being dwindled by extensions this past summer, teams are tanking on purpose.
I can never wrap my head around the concept of a player being injury-prone. It’s as if we don’t believe players should every have anything wrong with their body. Injuries are a natural part of progression, and bad luck can happen to anyone, which it does. How many players have the Pelicans released because of injury? How many times has Lance Stephenson been cut because he’s suffered various injuries. I remember watching Pierre Jackson (right before the Yogi Ferrell “explosion”) score 9 points in the first quarter for the Mavericks, then he hurt his leg and I haven’t heard from him since. He was on a 10 day contract and was released. Andre Bogut played 58 seconds before he collided with another player and broke his leg, he was released as well. Kevin Durant was knocked out by a flopping Zaza, just as Paul Gasol got hurt during shootaround. A number of players have broken a hand or finger by it getting caught in an opponents jersey. If you remember, Durant had a nasty fall in which he fell on his wrist a few games early before the knee injury. The point is injuries happen, bad luck happens, and these guys aren’t injury prone, they are just human beings in a sport in which bodies collide with each other often. I won’t even go into these training regiments and tightness of muscles plus over-exertion. Players get injured often, and waiting until you are fully 100% is something that isn’t obtainable. Chandler Parsons is on the verge of being Brock Osweiler’d. Kyle Lowry would be replaced if Cory Joseph weren’t the embodiment of Delusions of Grandeur. Derrick Favors, in a contract year, is both months removed from being a centerpiece and months away from being paid the vet minimum and/or being replaced by Trey Lyles.
This won’t take long: Players need rest. Whatever high-horse you are on, complaining about how the fans need to see the best product are taking hypocrisy to a whole new level. Nobody complains when stars rest in Orlando, or Milwaukee, or if it isn’t a Primetime game on TNT, Espn or ABC. I get it, you care enough when you get to watch them in primetime, but not when they are playing in Minnesota on a Wednesday and being broadcasted by the local cable company. Even those that paid to go to the game, it happens. If the NBA isn’t refunding your tickets or giving back so sort of perk for those that went to the Spurs/Warriors game, then you shouldn’t be so angry at the players. You should be mad at yourself because you got played, again.
This tanking thing is something isn’t it? The Kings are trying to tank so hard, but can’t. when they traded Cousins they were 3 games out of the last playoff spot, and banking on the Pelicans making the playoffs or missing it barely to get 2 lottery picks and be bad enough so Chicago wouldn’t get their pick which is top-10 protected (I play lots of 2k). The Kings are 6 games out of the 8th seed, but are tied with a team that gave them a 1st rd pick, but it was top 3 protected because there was no way they could end keeping that pick, the Pelicans. That’s right, Fire and Ice are melting themselves into a possible oblivion I haven’t seen since the Lakers and Nets traded away all their picks and missed out on protection picks. The Kings could lose out on a possible top 3 pick, or the Pelicans could lose out on a top 5 selection. We all knew it would take time for the Pelicans, and they were thin, but it has really been a struggle, especially with the resurgence of the Blazers, Timberwolves and Mavericks. The bottom-playoff teams have been so bad that the teams attempting to tank are a 3 game win streak from being in the playoffs. The Lakers have been horrendous this year, and this time it’s not Kobe’s fault. The Lakers pick is top 3 protected, so if they win, they lose the pick to the 76ers. Their development this year stopped around December once the injuries hit and the losses piled up. Mozgov and Deng have be inept and are now DNP-CD (Did not play – coaches decision), isn’t that something for 33 million a season for 4 years (Thanks Jim). The Orlando Magic traded away Oladipo, Sabonis, Ibaka, and still are as putrid as before. The Suns aren’t tanking, but their play does it for them, and the Nets are tanking but don’t have a 1st round pick (a high one) for 3 total years. Teams are hoping the 2017 class is a deep one and leads to potential stardom, but these teams should realize that they themselves have played a major role in harming their own on-court success.
Despite these issues in the league, I am interested in watching playoff basketball. With the pace of play substantially going up league-wide, I’m interested to see if the high pace will translate to the playoff style. Will the Rockets continue to shoot 40 three pointers a game? Will a team like the Wizards be able to put up 106 ppg? Will coaches be able to swallow their defensive and carefulness instincts, knowing that a team could “grit and grind” them at any point. Though the pace of play is up with transition and three pointers attempted, we saw how that changed when the Cavs fug in on defense and the Warriors didn’t connect on those threes. Will teams turn back into the Jazz on offense, and will the Grizzlies continue their team record pace for relapse into the Grindhouse? Just something to check up on.