For numerous reasons, this has been a brutal NBA season. The shortened offseason, combined with Covid issues and injuries to many of the league’s biggest stars has made for one of the most unusual season in recent memory.
We’re less than three weeks away from the beginning of the NBA Playoffs, and last season’s conference finalists currently sit 3rd (Nuggets), 5th (Lakers), 6th (Heat), and 7th (Celtics) in their respective conferences. On top of that, the most high-powered team in the league and current betting favorite to win the title (Nets), have played just just seven games with their three superstars (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden) together, and it’s unlikely that they’ll add to that total before the playoffs begin.
Needless to say, it’s been a bizarre several months.
The injury and Covid portion of this season has, quite simply, sucked. From the prolonged absences of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, to the season-ending injury to Jamal Murray, the league has seen an unfortunate amount of their headliners miss significant time, to the point that it’s altered the landscape of the postseason pretty dramatically.
For us viewers at home, it’s made for a regular season that’s been tough to watch at times, but could produce a thrilling playoffs if a few of these teams are able to get healthy at the right time, as a few of these teams seem to be.
The Western Conference play-in tournament looks like it’s going to feature several of Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, or Zion Williamson. The Eastern Conference play-in looks likely to include some combination of Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, LaMelo Ball, Russell Westbrook, and Bradley Beal. In short, while some players and teams may not be a fan of this new element to the season, the play-in tournament alone is going to provide a lot of juice from superstars in a do-or-die situation. That’s going to be awesome.
Beyond that, this is as late into the season as I can remember where there wasn’t a title favorite, or the list was at least 5+ teams long for title contenders. Hell, the Lakers have the second-best odds to win the title right now and may end up in the play-in!
For a league that sometimes has lacked parity, it’s never been more abundant than it is right now. Only a liar would tell you they have any idea what to make of the Western Conference, where seemingly 7 or 8 teams could all make a run to the conference finals and nobody would be truly shocked.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that yes, this regular season has been a battle. The players, undoubtedly, have gotten screwed in this scenario with the shortened offseason. I’m not a doctor, but I find it hard to believe that it’s just a coincidence that high-minute, high-usage players are going down with injury more frequently than ever before.
However, if we can try to look past that just for a moment to show a little optimism, we’re looking at a legitimately fascinating playoff race, that’s setting up to be a postseason for the ages with long first-round series all across the board. That’s all we can really ask for, at this point, and whoever comes out on top after this crazy season will have truly earned it.