Here is a strange development happening in the world of sports: Something good is happening – and it is hard to turn away from watching the excellence on full display.
In the National Basketball Association, we are witnessing basketball beauty with the three marquee franchises floundering in their respective messes. The media is clamoring for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks to be relevant in any way, shape, form or fashion. If any of these three teams are respectable, it is a guarantee in the wintertime they would lead ESPN SportsCenter and be the talk of all national radio stations across the United States.
The argument has been – for a long time – that sports leagues aren’t as fun if the most storied franchises lack beung successful. In Major League Baseball, that is true. Baseball interest goes through the roof if the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox are chasing World Series titles. In the National Football League, people would argue that the Dallas Cowboys need to be good. Of course – I argue that the New York Jets and Giants (along with the Cowboys) just need to exist, and they will gather the mountain of interest everywhere.
We really can’t say the same for the Association – because the Western Conference is looking historically good! And even though it is painful to watch the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics play these days, it’s not really fun to see any of these three teams lose. Rather, we rather see better baskball elsewhere – and we can get it!
Think about these last two nights. On December 16, the Memphis Grizzlies (now 21-4) stopped the Golden State Warriors (now 21-3) from extending their franchise-best winning streak to 17 games with a 105-98 victory at home. Then on December 17, they travelled to San Antonio to meet up with the defending NBA World Champion-Spurs. They avenged an earlier loss to them in Memphis with a 117-116 victory that took three overtimes to decide things!
Do you want to know how good is the Western Conference? The Dallas Mavericks, who have been playing unbelievable as of late, is 19-8. That is good enough for third place in the Southwest Division and the #6 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference (should the season end today)! The aformentioned Spurs are 17-9 – good enough for fourth place in the Southwest Sivision and the #7 seed in the Western Conference. In most years, these two records would challenge for division leads and high seeding in the playoff hunt. Put it this way: If the Mavericks were to play in the East, they would be 1 1/2 games behind … the best record in the whole conference (Toronto Raptors – 20-6).
That is how good the Western Conference is playing, right now!
Seeing this development makes me want to fast-forward this season all the way to late-April. Last year’s NBA playoff season produced a great first round of matchups. Two series went six games, and five series went seven games (out a total of eight). The rest of the way was a little anti-climatic, but I have a feeling that this year’s playoffs will be good from the first round all the way to (possibly) the NBA Finals. If the West continues to beat up on each other – and dominate the East at the same time – we may be tuning into ‘playoff-caliber’ basketball when snow needs to be shoveled out of driveways.
I haven’t started talking about the Houston Rockets, the Portland Trailblazers or the Los Angeles Clippers – all of whom have stellar winning percentages and would lead the East. Normally, you would play to have a high seed. This year, these teams might be playing to simply have home court advantage because it is quite possible we may have one of these teams have a .700 winning percentage – but would be at a home court disavantage. Last year, the aformentioned Warriors won 51 games during the regular season – but it was only good enough to be the #6 seed. The Blazers won 54 games – and that was good enough to be the #5 seed. This year – it may actually have to take more than 50 wins in the Western Conference just to make the playoffs!
And then – there are the Oklahoma City Thunder. They fell on hard times with injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but they have come on strong. It was doubted by the media that they would get to the #8 seed by April. As of this moment – they are 1/2 game out of the #8 seed in the West. It is safe to assume that they will advance up the ladder very soon, themselves.
The East has a few feel-good stories (LeBron returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Bosh being the #1 option for the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls building up their roster), but early bonding issues for the Cavs and the lingering injuries to Derrick Rose (the #1 player for the Bulls) have made both teams good – but left in the Western Conference’s dust.
The talk in the East is seeing the developed play of the Washington
Bullets Wizards. It is as if they took their playoff success and have gone to the next level. The Atlanta Hawks, who started off well last year before losing Al Horford for the year around this time last year, is also off to a pretty strong start this year, too. And the aforementioned Raptors are ruling the Eastern Conference (for now). They are steady, but all it will take is a team like the Cavs or Bulls to reel off a winning streak like the Warriors just finished executing – and the conference might be theirs for the taking.
But the NBA story is literally how the West will be won. Six teams with a .700 winning percentage or greater occupy the conference, now. That excludes the Spurs and the Thunder – the two teams most analysts choose to meet in the Conference championship for the third time in the last four years.
It is great to see excellence on the court. With these great stories and teams – I say to the NBA 2014-2015 season, “Bring it on!”