One thing I love about being a third of the way through the NBA season, now that we’ve hit the post-All-Star mark, is how much clarity there is for how it’s all going to end up. Just kidding, this season is a mess! Not a mess like, the quality of this product is ruined — because what a boring way to approach basketball — but an exciting mess, an unpredictable roil of plenty, an elated anything goes.
Due in part to super teams succumbing to their own egos (Nets) or divesting from reality (Lakers), and small to medium market franchises opting to invest in development or else double-down on supporting the talent they already have, league parity has taken a firm hold. It’s made for night after night of, if not consistently good, then consistently compelling basketball.
The middle standings in either conference are bloated with competitive, skilled teams, kind of like the standings itself was a very large snake that just swallowed anywhere from four to eight franchises. Grand scheme, what it means, is that with less than two dozen games left only one clear contender has emerged from the pack.
This time around in seasons past we’d have a decent idea of which team seemed the most convinced it’d be coming out of the East or West (convincing everybody else is never as important). Now, we have one explicitly steely group in the Celtics — quiet and sure and scarily connected — with a whole field of great to don’t-know-they’re-not-supposed-to-be-here-yet teams, the latter of which can prove to be the largest upsets and best underdog stories.
Anyway, because Gaming Society has brought me on as resident basketball psychic, but because I’m a bad psychic, here’s what I think we ought to be watching for the remainder of the NBA’s regular season.
Are you convinced by the Suns with their new desert Durantula? What about Denver, with its one-two punch of Jamal Murray and a man who would rather be racing his horses, but because of the way he manages to mangle his opponents offensive hopes and still have one of the most effective field goal percentages in the league, is doomed to be incredible at basketball? How about the Beam Team, or the Grizzlies’ snarling confidence? Or maybe the Mavericks, now with two of the best ball handlers in the league with Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic?
If you aren’t swayed by any of them, that still leaves the Clippers, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Jazz. And a very deep and troubled part of me doesn’t wonder if the Warriors can’t just pull it off in the play-in to somehow, effortlessly, get back to the top. The point is, you have options.
The Western Conference is as wide open as its namesake suggests. Some big, bounding, open field under blue-sky optimism for the athletes on those aforementioned teams and their fans alike. I have no firm handle on which group we’ll see riding out of the West, but that’s what is going to make this last gallop of the season and everything that comes after so much fun.
If NBA All-Star Weekend was any indicator (and the temperatures of Utah in winter no real deterrent) then we are going to have some excellent fits on our hands to close out the season. Part of that is because with so many potential playoff contenders in the mix, and so many of those teams being young, style’s going to be its own kind of one-upmanship.
If OKC makes the play-in we’ll all be better for it, because ever since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander admitted in his All-Star postgame presser there was “Nothing, nothing at all” in his vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase and gave a little smile and shrug, the potential for accessories for the sake of them is off the charts.
Beyond that, I’m predicting plenty of matching sets (popularized by the one and only P.J. Tucker), enormous coats, questionable hats, some vests, and if we’re really lucky, some fringe. Just because I couldn’t find a cowboy apparel store in Salt Lake City doesn’t mean Anthony Edwards didn’t.
Well, maybe just two. But a part of me wonders with the lack of big moves at the deadline and most teams deciding to hold pat with who they have, if we aren’t going to see a shift in head coaches starting now and going into the offseason.
The Hawks let go of Nate McMillan, sort of a dubious move no matter how you approach it, and are rumored to be keyed in on former Jazz coach Quin Snyder. Whoever Atlanta settles on (and good luck to them, sincerely), it still leaves McMillan free to be picked up, and with so many teams crammed together the middle of the standings who either don’t have the cap space, desire, or franchise lure to land big players this summer, a coaching change could be what a few GMs might fall back on to give themselves a leg up. Aside from the Pacers, Wizards and Magic in the East, the Spurs, Warriors and Thunder in the West, any team currently hovering under .500 feels like fair game, panicked fallback or not.
(Photo: Tom OConnor/NBAE via Getty Images)