Here’s the best drinking game to keep yourself sober: pull up the NBA schedule, and drink every time you find two consecutive games that are somewhat appealing. A variation of this game can also be done with the national television schedule.
This regular season has not been especially interesting. For myself, personally, it is a what came first situation: the chicken being the fact that I’ve had so much other stuff going on that I’ve had less time to watch basketball this season, the egg being all the injuries that have destroyed the ceilings and watchability potential of too many teams (or just the Eastern Conference in general).
Actually, here’s a (not comprehensive) list of eggs that have made this regular season such a drag: Derrick Rose, Kobe, THE KNICKS, the Nets (somewhat recovered from a terrible start, but expectations have been knocked down a few pegs), THE CAVS, injuries that affected teams for long stretches (Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Tony Parker’s mysterious ailments, and so on and so on) the again, the Eastern Conference in general.
The list above has changed the trajectory of almost a third of the teams in the league, toss in all the teams not trying to win, and this has become one of those seasons where I’m just waiting for the playoffs to start.
But of course, there are still stories worth following between now and then. Here are a few:
1. The magic number of 16.5.
The Bobcats finished 7-59 in the shorten season two years ago, for the lowest winning percentage in league history at .106. The worst overall record for a full season belonged to the 1972-73 Sixers, a team that finished 9-73 (.110).
Here’s the thing about these 76ers: one, everyone picked them to come in below their over/ under win total of 16.5 before the season, and two, everyone felt stupid when they started the season off with three straight wins over quality opponents no less (Miami, Chicago, Washington).
At 3-0, the Sixers would have to go 13-66 the rest of the season to come in under their total, or a .164 winning percentage. On January 29th, they beat the Celtics to improve to 15-31. They were two wins away from going over the win total.
15 straight losses later, they’re still two wins away. Their general manager Sam Hinkie has made them so awful (or, as Tom Ziller wonders, if he’s made them too awful) that I had to check their remaining schedule to see if it was possible that they won’t get the two additional wins they need to go over on their 16.5 total.
Some potential wins for the Sixers: vs. Utah, vs. Charlotte, vs. Boston and two match-ups left against the Knicks.
So, they probably will somehow find a way to go over on the total still, but, would you really bet on it at this point?
Obvious home team bias here (except, I’m moving to New York next month, just in time for the Raptors to have a real fun playoff run for however many rounds it lasts; great timing, as always), but what a weird season for the Raptors.
Masai Ujiri said before the season, when everyone expected a full tear down of the roster, that he wanted to give his team a chance to prove themselves on the court and reassess them based on their performance. Then, the wish of every rational fan of the team came true, when Rudy Gay was shipped out in early December, with the team at 6-12, which somehow made them the class of the Atlantic Division.
Since the Gay trade, the Raptors have gone 27-14, including a 14-6 record at home. We’re just three ahead in the loss column of Brooklyn for the division title and a guarantee top-four seed in the East, and Chicago has caught up to us in the race for third. But it’ll be nice to see the team in the playoffs again, with a team of guys that I really enjoy watching, and some terrible pieces that I was horribly wrong about (DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, to name a few).
It might be a round, it might be two, but the Raptors’ home court advantage will be something to behold in the post-season for however long it lasts.
Put it this way: the team unveiled its 20th anniversary logo this week, which means I must make the obvious joke: the Raptors have as many 20th anniversary logos as they do playoff series wins.
The Bulls lost Derrick Rose (again), traded Luol Deng, and just kept humming along and are suddenly a dangerous* (the asterisk means dangerous enough to give Indiana or Miami a tough series, and that’s about it) team in the post-season.
There are so many great candidates for Coach of the Year, but I’m totally for giving the award for Tom Thibodeau. Give him any roster to work with in this Eastern Conference, and he can get you 42-47 wins regardless.
I’m not sure how bad things are at the moment between Thibs and the front office, whether they will part ways after this season or where the team goes after this season (Another Rose comeback! Amnesty Boozer! Melo? Mirotic?), but for now, much respect to what this team is doing.
(Also, shitted on the Eastern Conference multiple times in the intro, and first three storylines are all from the East. What a season!)
4. The West middle.
The Clippers survived six weeks without Chris Paul, watched Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan elevate their play and sit at 42-20. The Rockets have survived this from James Harden all year, and sit at 41-19.
Hold on, just because I don’t trust you to click on that link, I repeat, they’ve survived this from James Harden all year (check the last second flinch at the end, my favorite part of this VINE):
After the Thunder and Spurs, they’re the two most interesting teams in the West right now, in terms of their potential ability to really upset the hierarchy of the conference in the playoffs.
The Suns (might not even make the playoffs) and Blazers have been great stories, the Mavs too to a lesser extent, while the Warriors got some early contender buzz, but these are the two teams that have a legitimate shot at coming out of the West.
Just like every year, the West playoffs is going to be brutal. Just like every year, two, or maybe even three teams, will be terribly disappointed at a first round exit.
The Rockets and Clippers might even play each other in the first round, even though either of them could make it out of the West. That kind of sums up how great the playoffs are going to be. Let’s get there already.
5. The Thunder trajectory.
In Shaq’s rookie season with Orlando, the team won 41 games. The next season, they drafted Penny Hardaway, the next three seasons, the team won 50, 57 and 60 games. The Magic made the Finals once, but after the 1995-96 season, Shaq left to sign with the Lakers and that was the end of the Shaq-Penny era.
The Thunder in the last few years have gone through the same type of trajectory with Durant and Westbrook. They went from the first round, to the West Finals, to the NBA Finals and last year seemed primed for a re-match with Miami until Westbrook’s injury in the first round.
Durant is having a monster season, Westbrook is just making his way back from his latest injury setback (a triple double in 21 minutes yesterday), and the Thunder are the top seed in the West. The Thunder should be the favorite to come out of the West, but it won’t be easy.
And if the team falls short of the title again this year, the conversations about Durant and the urgency to win that first title will intensify, especially as he only has so much more room to peak from an individual statistical standpoint.
It happened to Shaq, it happened to LeBron, it happened to all the greats before them and it will happen to Durant: the stakes for these playoffs will be high because we’re almost nearing the point where Durant takes the mantle as the guy without a title. Fair or not, it’s coming.