Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
A new NBA season is underway, and the 2015 campaign has already produced a handful of spectacular highlights, as well as some compelling storylines. I’m following the action with NBA League Pass Broadband this year, and having caught three of the Chicago Bulls’ first five games, along with some other games that piqued my interest, I’m definitely enjoying my subscription so far.
The regular season, as it is so often said, is a marathon, not a sprint. There are many twists and turns along the way, and what seems like a big deal in November may well be long forgotten by the time March and April are upon us. Nevertheless, I have a few thoughts on the first week of the 2015 season, which I thought I’d share in this week’s Friday Five. Without any further ado, let’s tip things off.
1. The Cleveland Cavaliers will be a lot better as the season goes on
One of the biggest stories in the first week of the 2015 NBA season is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sluggish start. It may seem silly to focus on a team that’s losing when teams that are off to hot starts deserve attention, and it’s a little unfair to criticise a team that’s still learning how to play with one another for not being in sync right away, but when you have the best player in the league, that’s kind of the way it goes. There are higher expectations in Cleveland this year, so they’re under the microscope, the same way the Miami Heat were following the offseason of 2010.
I do expect the Cavs to right the ship and establish themselves as one of the top teams in the East before the season is through. It may take them a few weeks to really gel, and I’m guessing that a slow start may end up costing them the top seed, but I don’t think that they’ll be dwelling in the basement for too long. Let’s not forget that a younger LeBron James, still on the cusp of his prime, managed to carry weaker Cavs teams to some very good seasons, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2007. We may be getting ahead of ourselves with Finals talk, but let’s not write Cleveland off too quickly, either.
Of course, we should also give a little more credit to the Miami Heat teams of the past couple of seasons. While the sample size is admittedly small right now, LeBron’s numbers are down across the board despite playing more minutes per game, his shooting and efficiency stats have taken a big hit, and he’s averaging almost as many turnovers as assists. He’s still the best player in the game, and I expect his numbers will improve sooner rather than later, but Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and his other former Heat teammates deserve their due; not only for the championships, but also LeBron’s gaudy advanced stats. It’s easier to be efficient on a quality team.
2. The Houston Rockets will have an impressive regular season
…but falter come the Playoffs. That’s not to say they’ll get swept in the first round or anything – I’ll hold off on making a bold prediction like that – but I’m not about to pick them to win it all, either. I can see them getting to the second round, or maybe even the Conference Finals, and having a six or seven game clash with another top Western team. Of course, that’s hardly a paltry effort, though it may end up being something of a letdown after their regular season performance.
As it stands, I can see them having a great regular season. Granted, it’s only been a week or so, and their hot 6-0 start can very quickly be brought back down to Earth by a few losses. Still, I could see them rolling to an impressive record through December, tipping off the inevitable “Will they win 70 games?” discussion far too early, then levelling out a bit as the season progresses and ultimately finishing with 60+ wins, barring injuries or major slumps. Follow that up with a respectable Playoff run, and that’s definitely a season that you can be proud of, even if it doesn’t end with Dwight Howard, James Harden, and company hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Of course, it’s not going to mean quite as much, or be quite as enjoyable for Rockets fans, without that hardware. I do think that’s how Houston’s season is going to go down, though. I’m picking this year’s Rockets to be a team that will sizzle in the regular season, but fizzle in the Playoffs, not unlike the Sacramento Kings of 2002, the Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves of 2004, the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs of 2006, and the Dallas Mavericks of 2007.
3. The criticism of Derrick Rose needs to be reigned in
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the memes here. Humour is a tried and true coping mechanism in the face of a bad situation, and ribbing players and our fellow fans alike is a part of sporting culture. Derrick Rose’s injury woes have become something of an unfortunate punchline, though I would suggest that people who are genuinely happy to see him hurt are in the minority. I would also suggest that those people seek professional help, as that kind of schaudenfreude isn’t exactly healthy.
No, I’m talking about my fellow Chicago Bulls fans, the ones who have turned on him and are demanding that he play through any and every injury. Look, it’s been frustrating to see Derrick Rose spend most of the past couple of years out of uniform. It’s been inspiring to see the Bulls overachieving and having a couple of respectable seasons despite being shorthanded, but it’s frustrating to think about what might have been if not for all those damn injuries. Without a doubt, I absolutely want to see Rose out there and playing some great basketball, just like any other Bulls fan.
However, Kelly Dwyer had an excellent take on the situation over on Yahoo! NBA’s Ball Don’t Lie blog. In fact, he summed it up in the title: “It is OK for Derrick Rose not to play basketball when he is too injured to play basketball”. Rose’s ankle sprains – which came about in a manner that’s not uncommon in basketball – are not serious injuries, especially compared to what he’s already gone through. They are limiting however, and will certainly benefit from rest. Sitting out a couple of games early on in the season is not a big deal; in fact, it’s a very good idea. My advice to any grumbling Bulls fans is not unlike the recommended treatment for a sprained ankle: chill.
4. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to have a really rough season
I mentioned in Episode #101 of the NLSC Podcast that I believe the Los Angeles Lakers could potentially have an historically bad season, at least for them. As it stands, last year’s record of 27-55 was the third worst in team history, and their worst since moving to Los Angeles. Their 0-5 start this season is a rarity for the club, something that hasn’t happened since the Minneapolis days when they lost the first seven games of the 1958 campaign. For a team that’s rarely missed the postseason, has the most NBA Finals appearances, the second most NBA Championships, and is usually mediocre at worst…it’s kind of a strange sight.
Things might get a little better as the season wears on, and Nick Young returns from injury, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if the Lakers bottom out this year with an uncharacteristically woeful record. I think this season is basically going to be a string of losing streaks, with Kobe Bryant frantically gunning his way up the all-time regular season scoring charts and ultimately surpassing Michael Jordan, shooting the ball at every opportunity and at a very ordinary clip. In other words, there’ll be some highlight plays and milestone scoring, but some very ugly basketball, too.
I would suggest that Michael Jordan’s all-time scoring record for the Playoffs will remain intact, though. Kobe is 347 points shy of tying MJ’s mark of 5987 points, and I believe that he could certainly best that total given the opportunity. However, even a token first round appearance seems highly unlikely this season, and quite possibly next season as well. Bizarre as it may seem given his spectacular career, not to mention the impressive legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers, we may not see Kobe in the postseason again.
5. The San Antonio Spurs remain my early pick to win it all
Yes, they’re another year older. No, they’re not the only team with a legitimate shot at winning the championship this season. However, championship teams do tend to be among the older squads in the league – experience does count for something, after all – and even if the Spurs aren’t the only real contender, I don’t think that anyone else is ahead of them as the favourite right now.
The Bulls should have a good year if they remain relatively healthy, but even if they do, could they topple the defending champions in a seven game series? Can they get past LeBron and the Cavaliers, once they start playing better basketball? And if it’s the Cavs coming out of the East, do they stand a chance against the Spurs? I have a feeling that the answer to all of those questions is “no”. Similarly, I don’t think that the East’s up-and-coming teams, such as the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, would fare any better against San Antonio than the Bulls or Cavs would.
Out West, things get a bit more interesting. There are a handful of teams that could feasibly knock out the Spurs, but I’m not sure that they’re all that likely to do so. As I said, I can see the Rockets having a really good regular season, but I don’t think they’ll win it all. The Golden State Warriors are young and talented, but I believe that the Spurs’ skill, experience, and savvy would prevail. Same deal as far as the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers are concerned. The Oklahoma City Thunder are an elite team when healthy, but so much is up in the air with them right now. With all that in mind…yeah, I have to go with San Antonio.
Or, you know, the Clippers will win it all. These days, that’s something we can actually suggest without any sarcasm.
That’s all for this week. What’s your take on the 2015 NBA season so far? Do you have any early predictions? Sound off in the comments below, and as always, feel free to join in the discussion in the NBA & Basketball Talk section of the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.