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How will 2021 NBA season be remembered?

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Adam Silver mask
Adam Silver made major changes so the NBA could play a full season despite COVID-19. Photo from Bleacher Report.

Basketball is a funny old game isn’t it? The back and forth breakneck pace at which the game is played makes watching an experience like no other.

We love the sport for different reasons: the superstar players, the cool jerseys, Otto Porter missing a defensive rotation, the one heckler who shouts “if Hezonja is on my team next year we riot” (sorry Mario my sacrificial lamb). Our love for the game keeps on ticking on.

NBA COVID-19 season: How will it be remembered?

This season however has been a test like no other. The NBA has invariably pushed us to breaking point, seeing if our resolve will collapse. It hasn’t, but that does not gloss over the disappointing product the NBA has put out so far.

COVID-19 disruption

Now let the record show, I do not entirely blame the NBA for the lacklustre regular season. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant the NBA has altered its schedule, postponed games and relocated one of its teams.

Games are more akin to baseball styled series where you might play the same team twice in a back-to-back. In theory, it sounded great! We get to see two teams really go at it in a potential playoff series. The outcome has been… underwhelming.

Over 30 games this season have been postponed due to NBA’s Health & Safety Protocol. Given the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol we probably should have expected a fair amount of dud games. Players who test positive, even if they are asymptomatic, are prohibited from exercise for 10 days and then required to be monitored in individual workouts for an extra two days. The number of postponements has been ungodly.

The majority of NBA teams at some point has had to postpone their game due to insufficient number of players available due to COVID protocols. Back in January we saw the Boston Celtics forced to postpone three straight games and subsequently push back the dates of their upcoming fixtures. Even when teams have just about managed to fill their roster for a game, there were players that even the most diehard of fans will not have known of.

The situation is not as dire as it was in the early portion of the season. With testing and vaccines becoming more readily available, the NBA has relaxed its protocols. For players who are fully vaccinated, they no longer required to quarantine or be restricted to dining outdoors. They also have the benefit of being exempt from daily testing on game and off days. Fingers crossed that we have seen the last of postponements.

Blowout galore

The NBA has a blowout endemic on its hands. In the latest slate of games, we saw the Bucks trample over the Magic 124-87. No big deal right? Orlando stink and Milwaukee are one of the best teams in the league.

Okay, how about the Suns’ 124-106 win over the Wizards? Wait hold on. That still is not enough to convince you?

Fine let’s bring out the big guns. On ABC, the Lakers trounced the Nets 126-101. The two teams everyone has pencilled in to make the NBA Finals. This was the marquee Saturday night game and by the time we reached the fourth quarter the Lakers (no Anthony Davis or LeBron James) were up 15 points. Was it an impressive win by the Lakers? Absolutely. Would fans have preferred a tightly contested affair? Unequivocally yes.

The number of blowouts this season would give the Trust the Process 76ers a run for their money. For context the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers went 10-72 and lost 16 games by 20 or more points. Per Josh Eberley of Hoop Mag this year:

This season has afforded teams with a level of comfort that encourages tanking. With limited fans in attendance, the expectation for organisations to play at full throttle is absent. That might be a good thing for some teams.

OKC, for example, in their blowout defeat to the Cavs on Friday, had a line-up of checks notes Kenrich Williams, Moses Brown, Theo Maledon, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Aleksej Pokusevski.

Poku aside (get your Poku stock before it’s too late), that starting five is a clear intention of losing games in order to improve draft position.

Superstar injuries

When the NBA announces its schedule before the season starts, we always mark the important games and clear our plans so we can watch high quality hoops.

Lakers vs Nets, Lakers vs Clippers, Celtics vs Sixers etc. are games fans are just eager to see.

We envisage players making clutch shots, beating their man off the dribble, and dishing a few gems to their teammates. This expectation however has continued to get the better of us as it becomes increasingly rare to see two fully healthy quality teams battle it out.

The writing was on the wall way back on 26th December when Kawhi Leonard inadvertently collided with Serge Ibaka and caused the him to miss a couple games, one of which included the Dallas Mavericks. Injuries happen – we get it.

It’s a part of sports, there’s no running away from that. Seeing great teams go at each other is also a part of sports and something that seems increasingly infrequent this season.

The Brooklyn Nets are a prime example of this. Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant have only played seven games together this season. It seems to be a revolving door between the three players. When one is out the other two are available and when that one injured player is healthy again, another player goes down.

James Harden is out right now with a hamstring injury. For one of the league’s most durable players and box office players to be put on the shelf may be the biggest sign yet from the basketball gods that this is the year of the injured superstar.

Across the country, the NBA’s premier franchise the Los Angeles Lakers are dealing with their own health concerns. LeBron James is out with a high ankle sprain and Anthony Davis’ spell on the side-lines with a calf strain has caused the Lakers to call an audible on their regular season. Rather than trying to achieve the one seed, the Lakers are now treading water, trying to avoid slipping down to the seventh spot where they will participate in a play-in game for the playoffs.

Few would pick against the Lakers making it out of the Western Conference with a healthy Davis and LeBron. The Lakers and NBA at large will be hoping for a timely return as the playoffs loom large in the background.



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