NBA Journey Week Twenty: Crowded In The Middle

The 2017-18 NBA season has now passed the All-Star break. 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: Blu & Exile - "The Narrow Path"

We're back to a full week of NBA action. We're rounding that last bend of the regular season before the home stretch. Each team's games will be more spaced out, with less back-to-back contests to limit the already massive burden the regular season puts on the body.

It seems this is one of the more collectively competitive regular seasons in recent memory. While each conference has a couple of teams that have placed separation between their respective pack in the standings, those two packs are running close races with each other with less than 20 games left until playoff time.

In the West, Golden State and Houston volley the best record between each other by the game. But seeds 3-9 are closer than third-seeded Portland is to the top two teams. Portland's recent surge places them firmly in the playoff hunt, overtaking the always-steady San Antonio Spurs and the vastly-improved Minnesota Timberwolves. Anthony Davis has become New Orleans' superhero since DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season, and the Pelicans are sitting in the fourth seed. The tenth-seeded Utah Jazz have 33 wins, just four fewer than Portland.

The Eastern Conference is just as jumbled among the playoff teams, with Toronto and Boston battling for the top seed and to earn bravado to boast that this will be the year the sun may set on The King's empire. Anyway, Cleveland is stuck back with the rest of the playoff contenders in the conference, sitting third, but seven games behind Boston for second place and only three ahead of Miami for eighth. The Cavaliers, Pacers and Wizards have the same number of wins, while the Milwaukee Bucks have just two fewer victories and are in seventh.

Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons are currently ninth in the East, but that could change as soon as next week. (USA Today)

What does it all mean? The makeup of the hierarchy of teams is actually comparable to most years across the Association. There are usually a handful of great teams at the top, some playoff teams that fill out the postseason and the rest are playing for ping pong balls in the Draft Lottery. What's different is that every team, no matter their label, is flawed. Houston, Golden State, Toronto and Boston have fewer defects in their individual machines than the rest of the NBA, and that allows for their gaudy regular season records, but there is a lot of mediocrity across the landscape. In addition, the poor teams are not so distantly bad that teams can gather as many "easy" wins off them. By the end of the season, every team should have at least twenty wins, which aids in maintaining the appearance that every team is trying to win every game.

In short, this regular season has minimized teams' ability to disguise. Records aren't inflated because of beating the bad teams, and good teams lose games due to imperfections that don't need the spotlight of the postseason to be exposed. The logjam in the middle of each conference is amplified by the fact that both up-and-coming and established good teams reside there. That adds more unknown to at least part of the postseason, even if those teams are ultimately competing to make it to the Slaughterhouse By The Bay. Hopefully, we get some quality but flawed basketball before then. It should be an interesting final portion of the year.

Blurbs, Y'all!

  • Kevin Love opened up through The Players' Tribune with a very introspective piece about having a panic attack back in November. It is profoundly honest, especially as he recognizes that mental health is a very serious issue. We all need someone to talk to and truly be vulnerable with. Salute to Kevin Love for being a beacon of mental health.
  • The eternal debate over if it's more embarrassing in basketball to be crossed up and made to fall or to be dunked on received major arguing points on both sides as James Harden put the Clippers' Wesley Johnson on the floor; and Cleveland's Larry Nance Jr pointed at Mason Plumlee after making him the prop in a dunk poster. Personally, the guaranteed score that comes along with being dunked on is why I think that is more embarrassing, but for a man to react and laugh at his fallen defender before draining a three is very humiliating. Let me know where you stand in the comments.
  • This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Atlanta's Dennis Schroeder. While the Hawks gutted their roster after years of being a middling playoff team, Schroeder was left to be at the helm of a collection of limited talent. However, he has put up impressive numbers, averaging 19.2 points and 6.2 assists at just 24 years old. His game is a little unorthodox, as he's below the rim and shoots few threes, but one cannot question its effectiveness.

Twenty weeks in, and the journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.

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