Even given the disparate levels of competition — jumping from the terrible Cleveland Cavaliers to the quite-competent Atlanta Hawks is quite the leap — how in the hell did the Detroit Pistons go from winning by 39 points on Tuesday night against the Cavs to bowing by 32 to the Hawks on Wednesday? The Pistons aren't the hottest team in the NBA right now, but the team has split its last 14 games and by all accounts provides a competitive showing most nights out, so how do you explain this disparity?
There are obvious answers to go around. The team gave up, in Lawrence Frank's public estimation. The team purposely tanked, to hear Dan Feldman of Piston Powered recall it. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace sat, to rest veteran legs in a grueling season. Also, the Hawks are good, the Cavs are not. Also, random blowouts tend to happen, on either side of the coin. There are nice ways to slough this off.
We cannot, though. A disparity like this is just another straw in the cap of the NBA's crappiest hat to date. The highs in this 2011-12 season have been significant, but the lows have been unacceptable. And we've got that bloody lockout to blame.
There's no way around it. Even in a typical year, you'll usually see about 10 games on the NBA's Wednesday schedule, but 28 teams played on Wednesday night. The Pistons not only came into Atlanta working on the second night of a back-to-back, but they'll toss another back on Thursday night as they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves back up in Detroit. Professional athletes, I'm sorry, just can't be asked to function three nights in a row in Detroit, Atlanta, and Detroit again; and if you want to compare the game-a-day nature of Major League Baseball to what NBA athletes compete against, I've got news for you, son.
It's true that the start of this year's NBA season took place a full five weeks before the lockout-shortened 1999 season started, but this should have been a warning to the league rather than a precedent. Shoving sixty-six-freakin'-games into this space is the height of greed and absurdity, two traits that created a needless NBA lockout that could have been solved much earlier, with much of the moving framework centered on a revenue-sharing agreement the owners needed to develop in their own house, before "taking on" a pathetic and reportedly corrupt NBA Players Association.
Instead of playing it smart, and safe, and making sure its product was of a high brand of quality to match the keen interest as the league heads into the postseason, the NBA tossed game after game after game into its schedule. The owners that at one point wanted to lose an entire season so as not to have to cut any payroll checks for its players and staff (yes, "staff") now started counting potential rears in the seats, and games on TV. And while the league has lucked-out at times (a dragging Los Angeles Lakers squad barely fell to the New York Knicks on the second part of a Laker back-to-back on national TV, at the height of Linsanity), by and large the product has been needlessly lacking.
Not poor, but lacking. Not uninteresting, but nowhere near its potential for greatness.
We shouldn't be considering Derrick Rose's latest injury, or the absence of practice needed for the Heat, or the Knicks' apparent fourth incarnation of the shortened season. Statistical data proves that the lockout isn't adding to the injury woes, but it has added to the sheer inconsistency, as teams in an 66-game season (where contests mean more) are being forced to hold out players like baseball managers do in a 162-game season. For fans that can only afford that one ticket a year, a "DNP-Old" isn't as funny.
That's a casual reference, the San Antonio Spurs were going to limit Tim Duncan's minutes and game count no matter how and when the labor negotiations turned out, but that aspect doesn't shift anything. All the NBA has done this year is re-enforce the typically wrong stereotype that the regular season doesn't matter, that it's all a long exhibition, and that it's all JaVale McGee and stars aligning for trades to big markets until things really start to matter in May.
It's not like that. And while I'm with you in Rockland, as happy with the league's better storylines and just as aware that the NBA can come through with some pretty awful regular seasons even in full 82-game terms, this is just a mess that the fans don't deserve. The players don't deserve it, the coaches certainly don't deserve it, and quite a few willing and capable NBA owners don't deserve it.
The league? I think you know where I stand on that.
The NBA didn't start play until late December, I took the first mid-season vacation of my NBA journo career this year, and the league still has a week to go before the regular season ends. That's 15 weeks, when a typical NBA regular-season run for me lasts 23 weeks. And yet, the time off hasn't helped.
Hurry up and end this thing, NBA. Let's get to the playoffs, actual space to breathe between games, and something to rely on. Anything to help us forget a regular season we don't even want to think about following this season.
Until we have to consider its influence on the NBA's next lockout, of course.
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