NBA Journey Week Twenty-Two: Assessments and Reassessments

The 2017-18 NBA season has now entered the home stretch of the regular season. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and the bickering over true shooting percentage and defensive rating. There is also a feeling surrounding this season that we're headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we're going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June

Song of The Week: Radiohead - "Everything In Its Right Place"

One of the best skills to have is the ability to correctly prioritize anything. From types of food to consume to mapping out the best route to complete a day of errands, deciding how, where and when to place one's energy is paramount in navigating life. In the NBA, it is no different. I'd like to focus on those teams that are all but guaranteed to make the playoffs

Every team began the year with a list of expectations and goals and had made roster moves in order to best bring them to fruition. As we move towards the end of the regular session, those teams that know they'll cross into the postseason must prioritize certain elements of their team to place them in the best position possible to compete for a championship. A lot factors go into this preparation, such as shrinking the rotation for the postseason, rest versus momentum, and chasing a division or conference title. These are just a few in the formula of a team's optimization through prioritization. A couple teams have to do a little tinkering and cement their postseason hypothesis to be tested beginning April 17.

For some, playing well as a team heads into the playoffs is the best. Portland, for example, has won 13 consecutive games as of March 17. This has thrust them up the Western Conference standings into third place. It is highly unlikely that the Trail Blazers will catch Houston and Golden State, but the teams beneath them in the standings are close enough that a subpar stretch can drop them out of the top four seeds–forcing them to begin the first round on the road.

But coach Terry Stotts appears to be pushing the right buttons. After being fairly average before the All-Star break, the Blazers are playing wonderful basketball. Of course, they're led by Damian Lillard, who's scored at least 20 points in 15 straight and appears to take his game to another level after the regular season resumes. Momentum is a must for teams with little or no experience to rely on. Momentum is the result of chemistry. Chemistry breeds confidence, and confidence is a key component of knocking off better teams.

Chemistry can only be produced if players on a team play together for an extended period of time. The Warriors and Cavaliers, who we believe will reside in our destined Finals location in June, are both dealing with injuries to players vital to their respective championship causes. With Kevin Love set to return Monday against the Bucks (18 points in 25 minutes), Cleveland will have to re-implement him into a rotation that is already in flux with the roster overhaul at the trade deadline.

Golden State has three of its four All-Star players with nagging injuries that will sideline them for a couple weeks.

The good thing about both of these situations is that these are very good players who are veterans in the Association with lots of postseason experience. The amplified intensity will not be shocking for them, which would lend to ineffective play by those unfamiliar. Mental focus will not be an issue inasmuch as if that wear and tear of playing close to a hundred games a year is beginning you catch up on aging bodies of players who already play tons of minutes. Their absences also allow other players to play, just in case a team might need to go deeper into its bench in a pinch.

Kevin Love returned to the lineup Monday. Now, Cleveland must readjust to having him there before the playoffs. (USA Today)

The challenge that comes with prioritization is where to place importance and value. Multitasking is great to do, but there is an unequal distribution of focus and concentration between each task. Take accomplished singer and pianist Thom Yorke, lead singer for Radiohead. If he's playing and singing, there is a definite priority of energy he gives to each act. What I mean is that Yorke is focusing more on one act–singing or playing the piano–than the other. Yes, he does both so well that it's impossible to tell. But there is an unequal distribution. With NBA teams, this also applies. The better teams are really good at being good at the multiple things necessary to maximize the successes of their season. And as the season goes, the energy must be reassessed and recalibrated. Priorities, they are important.

Blurb Time!

  • This first blurb is a special shout-out to Doris Burke. ESPN moved her to full-time NBA commentator this year, and she has been even more remarkable. Please let women hold important and valuable positions in every aspect of life, including sports.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies have had a terrible season. They lost 19 games in a row, going winless in the month of February. But that streak came to a halt as they beat the Denver Nuggets 101-94 last Saturday. With winds of tanking surrounding the Association, it's a reminder that attempting to lose is a decision that comes from upper management. Players do not try to lose on purpose. Remember that when contracts are signed.
  • This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Quinn Cook, who has been great for the Warriors in the absence of Steph Curry. Cook has had quite the journey to the NBA, having been a G-League player to begin his pro career. He's had back-to-back career scoring nights, including 28 against the Phoenix Suns, and his confidence grows with the more minutes he's played.

Twenty-two games in, and the journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.

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