The Miami Heat’s 27 game–and counting–win streak is the talk of the NBA, as it should be. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in a team sport, and it should be cherished like it rightfully has been. They’re beating everyone, and even when it seems like they’ve let down their intensity–ahem, Cleveland–they still find a to right the ship and get the victory.
But they’re still six games away from tying the record held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33-straight before falling to a Bucks team led by Lew Alcinder and Oscar Robertson (coincidentally, the Heat’s 34th game would also come against Milwaukee, but Larry Sanders is no Kareem and Brandon Jennings only wishes he was as good as late-career “Big O”).
The Heat are currently in the midst of a 4-game road swing that has them in Chicago Wednesday night, in New Orleans (a team, it should be noted, who ended Denver’s winning streak last night) on Friday and in San Antonio Sunday night. That tough road stretch could spell the end of their historical run. Read more…
…that comprise the NBA’s playoff teams with little chance of even sniffing the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The unlucky truth of the matter is that 29 teams are going to end their season in disappointment whenever they’re eliminated from the playoffs or playoff contention this spring. Of those 29, only four–and that’s stretching things a little bit*–are actually title contenders. The rest are composed of lottery teams, and the squishy in-between spot where a team’s not good enough to really scare the top four in the playoffs, but they’re not so bad that a first round draft choice won’t immediately improve their roster and their chances to improve moving forward. So you’re stuck with the mid-tier, where moving up into one of the top teams in the league is a lot less likely than the inevitable drop to a lottery franchise.
We see this all the time, and right now there are 12 teams with very little chance of either making a Conference Final, or drafting a player that will get them into the Conference Finals in the ensuing years. That’s not to say they’re incapable of bettering themselves in free agency (Houston has a lot of cap room; so will Atlanta if they don’t sign Josh Smith to a max contract; Utah is an enigma, and no one can figure out why they kept two front court players whose contracts expire this summer), but after eliminating the Heat, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers** you’re left with a coterie of mid-tier teams trying to play up to those four. Here they are ranked by their current talent level, their record this season, their overall play on offense and defense, and the possibility for future improvement with the right draft picks, free agency moves and refinement of their roster’s current skill set.
“Things belong to people who want them most.” – Dashiell Hammet, An Unfinished Woman
Oftentimes we–the few who attempt to extrapolate nuances of meaning from what is, at its root, a game–spend oodles of time trying to figure out what teams do which things right, and use that somewhat esoteric bit of quantitative information to show how it’s the driving force behind one team’s success and another team’s failure. But increasingly in this day and age of shot charts and synergy cameras, we forget to step back and look at the big picture: namely, who has the drive or the will to want it more, or perhaps more aptly: who needs to win the 2013 NBA title the most? Read more…
Ah, the Sixth Man of the Year award. Obviously not as special as Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year, but still, fans seem to have a special affinity with it—the endearing concept of this “spark plug” who comes off the bench and tries to be as electric as possible while the starters sit.
Last year, new Rockets guard James Harden won the award, coming off the bench for 60 out of 62 games, and averaging around 17 points per game. With Harden out of Oklahoma City, it’s fair to say he’ll probably be starting, and many NBA analysts will have to change their pick for a potential winner. The crop of possibilities contain a few previous winners. No winner has repeated since Detlef Schrempf in the 1991-92 season, but it’s hard to pick otherwise, due to the production of some of these previous winners and their roles on their teams. Read more…
Kevin Garnett is a dick, right? I write that knowing full well he’s played the bad guy for the last five years in Boston, and was similarly antagonistic in Minnesota, except no one watched Minnesota for the last four seasons he was in town. Opposing fans refer to him like Romney supporters refer to Obama: he’s crazy, and not in a good way. Garnett doesn’t do much to dissuade them of this view either, seeming to revel in their antipathy.
He barks a lot on the court, with veins overtly announcing themselves on his sweat-drenched face; he bangs his head against the foam base of his basket’s risers before every game; he’s not against throwing an elbow or two or taking—borderline—cheap shots when he thinks the refs aren’t looking; he says inappropriate and demeaning things on the court to opposing players and teammates; he is so intense during games, even regular season games (the temerity!), it’s not a stretch to say that if an entrenched cubicle worker were to mimic his intensity, employment would be untenable and the worker might even risk institutionalization.
But Kevin Garnett cares about winning, and doesn’t mind sacrificing geniality in order to achieve that goal. He also might be one of the world’s best teammates and a genuinely nice guy, so long as it’s not in the time between an hour before tip-off, and when he leaves the arena.