November 12, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA
#1 – Cavaliers’ Early Struggles
Four games into the season, the new look Cavaliers were sitting at 1-3, having been denied a comeback victory in Utah by a tremendous buzzerbeater from Gordon Hayward. The Cavaliers tied a franchise-low with six assists total in the game. I saw blogs, posts, and sports media articles blaming David Blatt, advocating for his firing, speculating that Kevin Love would want to leave in the offseason, and many more absolutely ludicrous ideas. Listen, the Cavaliers are going to be fine. King James himself felt the urge to tweet:
“In the words of the great @AaronRodgers12 “RELAX”” – @KingJames
The man speaks the truth; fans and media need to relax. Since that Utah game, Cleveland is 2-0, and each member of their big three has found his groove, as the trio combined for 86 points against New Orleans on Monday night. Yes, the Cavaliers have defensive woes, but we already knew that would be a problem for them. Yes, they don’t look totally comfortable with each other quite yet, but that will come. Yes, they can’t figure out who needs to handle the ball at what time, but as Kyrie Irving gets used to playing with another superstar, the ball will move around like it should. Have confidence that three superstars and an intelligent coach can figure it out. If anyone wants to bet that the Cavaliers finish outside of the top two seeds, I will take you up on it in a heartbeat. When this team gets on a roll, they are going to be impossible to stop and on a crash course with Chicago for a historically epic Conference Finals series. (Please stay healthy, D-Rose)
#2 – West vs East Phenomenon
As you may remember, last season there was a huge discrepancy between the records needed to clinch a playoff spot in each conference. It is no secret that out west, teams are better and competition is much harder night in and night out. The Phoenix Suns managed to miss the playoffs with a 48-34 record, while the lowly Atlanta hawks secured an 8 seed at 38-44, and nearly made the second round after a seven game battle with the top seeded Indiana Pacers. Sadly, this year is shaping up to be the same. In 26 inter-conference games so far this season, the Western Conference is 16-10. This stat is a bit friendlier than it was a few days ago, as through the first 17 games the record was 14-3 in favor of the West.
Why does this happen? There are multiple theories circling around, but I think the major thing is that there just isn’t as much talent in the Eastern Conference as there is in the Western Conference. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but once the talent pool is unevenly distributed, it takes a very long time for it to fix itself. The league has always gone through cycles where it was fairly evident which conference was stronger. However, I’m not sure it has ever been as evident as it is right now.
Does it need to be fixed? Not necessarily. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to change long standing NBA rules/policies just to even up the records of the teams making the playoffs. Many people don’t have any problem with this, because even in the West, there appears to be a clear divide between the contenders and the pretenders, just as there is in the East. Each NBA season, I would say between six and eight teams can be regarded as true contenders, so it may not even matter who gets the 6, 7, or 8 seed for either conference. Many people think the playoffs should be cut to four teams from each conference anyway. I don’t necessarily agree, but I do think it’s important to remember that those lower seeds rarely produce true title contenders.
How would you fix it? Well, if you absolutely had to fix it, I think the only real solution would be to remove the conference factor from playoff seeding. The top 16 records would make the playoffs, regardless of conference, and would be matched up NCAA tournament style: (1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 3 vs 14, etc.). This would not only make the system more fair for teams from the stronger conference, but it would also put more Eastern teams in the lottery, which could seriously impact the balance of talent and equalize the league quicker. It’s just a thought, but when you consider that last year only two Eastern teams could have made it into the Western Conference Playoffs (Indiana as a four seed, Miami as a five seed), it makes a lot of sense. However, if you selected the top 16 teams regardless of conference, 9 teams from the West and 7 teams from the East would have made it (exchange Atlanta for Phoenix), so it really would not have changed the outcome. However, most of those Eastern teams would have been seeded lower in the 16, ending up with West vs East series almost across the board. Assuming the Western teams would have dominated, you may have seen 6 or 7 of the final 8 coming from the West, which some people may have preferred. It will never be changed, but playoff reform is certainly a topic worth thinking about.
#3 – Teams to Watch
Toronto Raptors – Toronto is an athletic team with great veteran leadership from Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, and extremely efficient scoring from the wing positions. Demar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, and Lou Williams can all play at a high level. Whether you like monster posterizing dunks, emphatic blocks at the rim, three point shooting, or all of the above, you will love watching these guys play. I can’t say enough about the job Masai Ujiri has done with this franchise, and I hope they keep up this level of play all season long. I would love to see these young guns take a big shot at the Eastern Conference giants.
Chicago Bulls – Speaking of the Eastern Conference giants, the Bulls are back, and back in a big way. Pau Gasol has fit in beautifully. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic are both in the running for rookie of the year. Derrick Rose shows flashes of his old self more and more every game, and when he doesn’t, Aaron Brooks has lit it up off the bench. Joakim Noah has been his brilliant self, and Thibodeau has these Bulls completely bought in to his system as usual. This team is awesome to watch, and should be regarded as the early favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals
Sacramento Kings – Yeah, I said it. This team is extremely fun to watch. Watching DeMarcus Cousins develop into the face of the franchise, both on and off the court, is amazing. I think working with Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Thibodeau on Team USA did wonders for him, and his Sacramento teammate Rudy Gay. The sky is the limit for what these two stars and their supporting cast can do, and I could not be more excited for the players and fans in Sacramento. If only the Lakers were good right now, they could get their revenge for what happened in 2002. The Kings might be my favorite Western Conference team if I didn’t love the Suns so much.
Phoenix Suns – I still struggle sometimes to understand why this team is so good. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are awesome players, both with shooting ability to go along with their creative passing. Bledsoe’s athleticism offsets perfectly with the crafty brilliance of Dragic. Thomas provides a high-energy scorer off the bench, and he is lightning fast with that basketball. These three guards in rotation give Suns fans memories of Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Tom Chambers dominating the backcourt every night. If they have a weakness, it’s the big guys, but the Morris twins are emerging as solid rotation guys, and PJ Tucker has had a very good start to the season. These are good times in Phoenix, and I love watching them play.
#4 – Games to Watch
Here are some of the best games to watch for the week ahead. Don’t miss these!
- Wednesday, 11/12
- Indiana @ Miami (for old time’s sake)
- Thursday, 11/13
- Sacramento @ Memphis
- Chicago @ Toronto
- Friday, 11/14
- Charlotte @ Phoenix
- Cleveland @ Boston
- Saturday, 11/15
- Phoenix @ LA Clippers
- Atlanta @ Cleveland
- Sunday, 11/16
- Houston @ Oklahoma City
- Monday, 11/17
- New Orleans @ Portland
- Houston @ Memphis
- Chicago @ LA Clippers
- Tuesday, 11/18
- New Orleans @ Sacramento
#5 – Highlights of the Week (Block Party)
This highlight comes to you from Toronto. Sixers Rookie KJ McDaniels sends Greivis Vasquez’s shot to about the tenth row. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CUGjUPf0LM
Here is a great chasedown block from 6’2” Jeff Teague on Knicks point guard Shane Larkin. For all aspiring basketball players, this is the epitome of “not giving up on the play.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxK_YrTE8E0
Here’s another Sixers rookie. This time it’s Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel stuffing All-Star James Harden at the rim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHEzF2xZfA0