The only thing you can predict in this NBA season is its unpredictability
|Toronto Star 18 Feb 2021 at 15:49|
No one expected this oddest of NBA seasons to unfold normally.
It was rushed into existence to help one of the league’s television partners fill its Christmas Day programming needs.
The need to keep players, coaches and officials healthy has meant there is a need for everyone to be under virtual house arrest, at home and on the road.
The games come rapid fire, four or five a week, with no time to rest bodies or minds sufficiently.
It’s a goofy season because these are goofy times.
And that’s why the majority of teams look like a bunch of cars being piloted by neophyte drivers on the first icy day of the winter, careening hither and yon, smashing into each other, momentarily regaining control before they go spinning out of control again.
Traction? There will be no traction.
“I don’t want to sit here and cry about it all night but, with the testing, the inconsistency, not being able to team bond, not being able to really do anything in the outside world, travel again, no fans, it’s a lot that’s going into this season,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. ”I just think it’s a drain mentally, physically, and otherwise.”
It’s not just the Raptors who have been up and down this season, although they have been models of the inconsistency around the league. Toronto stumbled out to a 2-8 start, won four of five and then lost three straight. Three more wins, a loss, two wins, two losses and a win.
Up and down, sliding one way and the next, part of the leaguewide trend that doesn’t seem to be abating and one that makes looking at the nightly scores an adventure because no one can predict what might happen. Toronto loses to cellar-dwelling Minnesota at home, then beats Milwaukee on the road. Boston beats Toronto at home and then drops consecutive games to Detroit and Washington. Miami rattles off four straight wins to make some gains, then loses three to give most of it back.
Up and down. All over the place.
The reasons are varied but the tumult of the season is at the heart of the issue. Teams don’t have enough practice time with the compacted schedule, and rosters are changing more frequently as players miss time for health and safety reasons.
What it’s done is create this mass in the middle of the standings that could have a major impact on moves made — or not made — between now and the March 25 trade deadline. Going into games Thursday, there were 16 teams within five games of .500. Five games separated fourth place from 14th in the East; seven between fourth and 14th in the West.
With so many teams still in playoff contention, teams might be reluctant to give up on a year when nothing seems remotely predictable. Toss in the fact the ninth and 10th place teams in each conference will be part of a play-in process for the final two post-season slots and standing pat could be the wisest course of action.
It has also raised the spectre of possibly epic playoffs when they arrive in about three months. With no teams really standing head and shoulders above the others, the concept of heavy favourites in a seven-game series may go out the window.
Perhaps things will shake out more normally in the second half but, with things so unfamiliar, that seems far-fetched.
There are outliers, of course. The Utah Jazz had won nine straight going into Thursday, and 20 of 21, to vault to the top of the West. With so many other teams not being able to figure it all out on any consistent basis, Utah is the exception that proves the rule. The Jazz may eventually come back to the pack and join the rest of the league on the roller-coaster ride but they are head and shoulders better than anyone else right now.
“There’s teams that are getting through it for sure ... so credit to them,” VanVleet said. “But I’m not blaming anybody that’s struggling with this because it’s definitely not easy.”