Hello readers, followers, and fans of the NBA, first of all thanks for taking the time give my post a look. I wholeheartedly appreciate it.
What are my “Friday Five’s”?
This will be a new post compilation where I will be posting about five different elements of the NBA that stand out to me bi-weekly.
Five things I like, and five things I dislike, while incorporating a few miscellaneous tidbits that I think are intriguing should those instances come up.
With that being said, let’s get to it.
After a week of interesting storylines, teams ascending and descending, player hot streaks, and trends, here is what caught my eye.
Five Things I Dislike
In a sport where injuries, for the most part, are unpredictable and often untimely, it can be absolutely demoralizing for franchises and fans alike when it is their turn to deal with this adversity. Recently we’ve seen key cogs like Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Gary Harris all be sidelined by an multitude of injuries.
It’s not fun, but for all but one of these players, the best case scenario is that their team may waver now but their presence is expected come playoff time.
Unfortunately, for the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs due to the knee procedure he received this week.
Injuries on the season as a whole have made for adverse situations for a few teams like the Pelicans (Demarcus Cousins), the Spurs (Kawhi Leonard), and, to a lesser extent due to their roster construct, the Celtics (Gordon Hayward).
2.) Speaking of Kawhi
Two things that do not go together are drama and the San Antonio Spurs.
One of the most successful and modeled-after franchises in all of sports would be the San Antonio Spurs.
David Robinson, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, RC Buford, Manu Ginobli, just a few names that will garner the attention of any follower of the NBA. They all have a level of respect associated with their names individually and, when together, they have been as persistent and steady with being the golden standar and model franchise of the NBA for the last 2 decades.
All of this is understood, which explains why such disgruntled and public disagreement between the league’s quietest superstar and model franchise is so surprising.
The Spurs have never had an issue being aired out in mainstream media, so for this to have manifested into what it has become leads to extreme optimism regarding Kawhi’s future with the Spurs.
As for now, it does not seem as if he will be playing another game for them at any point in the 2017-2018 campaign, and he has not even been on the sidelines for their home games in quite some time.
Keep an eye out for the unfolding of this dilemma moving forward.
3.) The Oklahoma City Thunder
Losers of five of their last seven, and currently tied for fifth with the Spurs, the Thunder are in a flux.
As it stands, seeds four through nine all have a high possibility of being in the playoffs, with each team having two or three games left.
The schedule makers for this season outdid themselves yet again as the late season drama has reached never before seen heights of intrigue.
The Thunder, as each other team in this portion of the ranks vying for a playoff position, have three games left. Even more, two of their three remaining games comes against playoff teams.
Oklahoma City has a primetime match-up in Houston, which will decide who wins the season series, then they will be on the road in South Beach before ending the season at home against a lottery-bound Grizzlies team that would love nothing more than to play spoiler at this point.
For Westbrook and the Thunder, they lost a key teammate in the much talked about Andre Roberson. His presence on the defensive end (in combination with Steven Adams) helped shape the identity of the team. So, in turn, the loss of Roberson came with a drop in defensive production for a team who is heavily dependent upon its production on that end.
It is entirely possible that they could… NOT… make the playoffs. They have had their fair share of opportunities to distance themselves from this pack of teams that are in a flux but inconsistent play has positioned them in the thick of it all.
At the very least, they need to go 2-1 in the final three games of the season.
4.) Coaches in playoff position and on the hot seat
One thing I have noticed over the last few years in the NBA has been the constant change that has occurred with franchises and their head coaching positions.
Contenders, playoff teams, and lottery bound teams have all made head coaching positions a very fluid, season to season, situation that is all but guaranteed.
The NBA currently has only a handful of coaches who will not enter this upcoming summer with a level of ambiguity regarding their job security.
This is a rather unfair aspect of today’s NBA, due to the unparalleled power of the player that now exists.
I do not dislike the power of the player, but I do dislike the fluidity that exists for coaches. They are given unfair short leashes, almost never receive the proper praise for their efforts on the sideline.
5.) Referee-Player relationships
Subtle, yet extremely impactful, the relationship between officials and players has soured over the last few seasons.
Unproductive methods of communication and not seeing eye-to-eye regarding the implementing of rules has led to an ongoing feud between the players and the NBRA (National Basketball Referees Union).
One of the tipping points of this relationship came with the implementing of the NBA’s “Transparency” rule by Commissioner Adam Silver.
The publication of the calls made in the L2M (last two minute) reports of close games and all playoff games come with extremely mixed reviews.
The Officials felt that this would put them under more scrutiny, which it did. At the same time, many coaches and players felt that it was pointless for their own reasoning with the mindset that if the last two minutes cannot be replayed due to Official errors, there is no need for the rule.
This culmination of unproductive communication, misjudging of rules, and implementing of new rules has made for a tough situation that has shown no signs of getting better.
The playoffs this season, which are all but guaranteed to provide high stakes and high intensity play, will continue to test these relations.
Five Things I Like
1.) The Utah Jazz
The Jazz are a team that has flown under the radar all season and outperformed expectations.
Not only have they positioned themselves in the thick of the fight for the last five seeds of the Western Conference Playoffs, but they have done so in a extremely unique way.
The trend of the NBA has become the sensationalization of the 3-point shot, and stockpiling as many shooters as possible to then contend with the league’s best from a scoring standpoint.
This, for any team not named the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, is a trap door.
The Jazz have realized this, and stockpiled hard nose, gritty, and hungry players that are more than willing to commit to the defensive end, while relying on a rookie as their number one option.
This attack from an offensive standpoint could leave them vulnerable come the postseason, but they just want to give themselves a chance to find out.
Currently fourth in the west, the Jazz are 26-5 in their last 31 games (second best record… in the league… in this stretch), and have won 14 of their last 15 road contests.
This is sustainable success for them as evident by the sample size of how they’ve continued to produce.
One aspect of a team that typically always translates to the postseason is defense, and they have plenty of it with notable defenders like Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, and defensive player of the year candidate Rudy Gobert protecting the basket.
Their stifling leagues best defense is efficient to the tune of only allowing only 100.1 ppg on the season, good for second best as well as the second best defensive rating (104.3).
The stellar play of rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell, currently averaging 20.4 ppg with 3.6 asts and 3.7 rebs per game has played a huge role in this sustained success as well.
Almost no one had them even sniffing the playoffs after Haywards departure, yet here they are with a good chance of claiming one of those final five playoff spots in the final days of the season.
2.) The Western Conference Playoff Race
If you appreciate competition and drama in the NBA, and do not have a favorite team that is involved with this frenzy at the moment, you have to love what has manifested regarding the last five slots for the Western Conference.
There are six, yes, six teams all within two games of each other in the loss column. The are ridiculously close and will undoubtedly keep us all intrigued with the standings watch until next Wednesday.
Each team has their own predicament of tiebreaker scenarios that will come into play in the coming days.
It is unbelievable how close the race has been. The idea that the Thunder or Spurs could not make the playoffs seems laughable, yet extremely realistic given their respective records compared to the other four teams in this group.
Watching this all unravel over the coming days will provide unparalleled levels of entertainment ahead of the much anticipated playoffs.
Each of these teams will be exuding playoff efforts and intensity out of necessity due to how important each of these remaining games will be.
3.) The Headliners of the Hall of Fame Induction
Of the players recently inducted into the hall of fame, the four that have always stood out to me were Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, and Grant Hill.
Those four players, while all-time greats and legends in their own unique regards, also were the blueprint to how to conduct yourself as an athlete on and off the court while in the NBA.
I grew up watching Allen, Hill, Nash, and Kidd as three of the marquee names in the NBA and to see those three cemented in the history of the league was special.
Much deserved for all four.
4.) LeBron James
In season 15, where the question of “will he begin regressing” continues to resurface, the King has once again shut this question down.
This season has been unique from any other for Lebron, as he has played through nasty chemistry issues, a roster almost inept of shooting, a flux of egos, then a chaotic revamping of the roster mid season.
Through it all, he has kept them afloat as they reside in the 3rd spot out East.
LeBron, at 33 years of age, is averaging a remarkable 27.5 pts, 9.2 asts, and 8.7 rebs. Even more, over the last 13 games, he is averaging an otherworldly 30.5 ppg, 10.1 asts, and 10.1 rebs per game.
The question of whether he will be declining any time soon has been answered quite directly.
Expect for yet another dominant individual and team playoff run for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason this year.
5.) The Denver Nuggets
Currently on an extremely timely four game win-streak, the Denver Nuggets are surging.
Tied for eighth in conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nuggets have begun to right their wrongs of the past three weeks.
Not only have they discovered their groove again, but they have also gotten healthy for the most part.
A team that missed the playoffs by only one game last season, Denver and HC Mike Malone have been hellbent on garnering one of the West’s eight playoff slots.
They are in need of more continued competitive play over the next three games, as they will be playing @ LAC, POR, and @ MIN to close the season.
The first of the three will be present an opportunity to completely eliminate the Clippers from the playoff race, as they are on the backs of Denver in the race. However, the Nuggets are not a good road team. Their 14-25 record away from the Pepsi Center further validates this claim.
For them to get to where they want to be, they will need to continue this streak through the end of the season, including solving the puzzle that has been their play on the road.
That’s all I have for this installment of my “Friday 5’s.” I hope you all enjoyed the read, learned something, and found an intriguing topic to either bring up in conversation or to continue to follow.
As always, feel free to comment and start a dialogue with me below or via Twitter at @StayTrueSdot3.
Enjoy the last few days of the regular season, as the next two months of basketball should be all we could as for as fans! Enjoy.
*All stats and information accurate entering games on schedule for Friday, April 6th*