This Is The Weird And Bad Part Of The NBA Slog
2:15 PM EDT on April 5, 2021
There is definitely a higher-than-usual crap content in NBA rosters right now, with a number of elite teams missing their bill-paying stars and poorer teams fairly gutted of what talent they have. Thus, while some organizations might be embracing the tank right now, losing by one point has no less value than doing what the Golden State Warriors did Friday night when they lost 130-77 to the Toronto Raptors. It also has no more value, for all the good that gets you.
Still, six teams got waterboarded over the weekend (beaten by 30 or more, if you need a rubric for this level of imprecision): Estado Dorado's aforementioned half-a-hundo, Oklahoma City (lost by 37 to Phoenix), OKC again (48 to Portland), Orlando (46 to Utah), Detroit (44 to New York), and Charlotte (30 to Boston). That's a lot of blowouts even in a year in which games decided by 30 or more are hitting twice as frequently as normal. In one weekend, it's extraordinary. But what does it mean other than schadenfreude-powered kicks? Probably nothing. Frankly, few things mean anything, so why would that answer surprise you? More teams are scoring (and therefore allowing) 120 or more than ever before, so it stands to reason that more games than ever are lopsided affairs, especially as more organizations decriminalize losing as just a necessary step toward—well, as it typically works out, more losing later.
It should also be noted that this is about the time of the schedule when all teams weary of the schedule in general, most particularly the fact that everyone involved is still only two-thirds of the way through a regular season that has been weird and taxing, and the expanded playoffs that allow those historically wronged .400 teams to have their two hours and change in the sun are still a month and change away, and a number of teams with varying levels of aspiration are killing time until their best players return, some next year. Good players are hurt and worn down—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, John Collins, LaMelo Ball, Kristaps Porzingis, Mitchell Robinson, Marvin Bagley and most of what would have been usable Orlandii—and good players on bad teams have made their escapes. This is the slog of the season, and the new postseason format thrusts less watchable teams into allegedly important games that are no more palatable.
In short, hyperweird games are in the ascendant, satisfying or no, and this weekend just happened to collect an inordinate share, across the full depth and breadth of the NBA's competitive diaspora. The miserable, the mediocre and the mighty all gathered to make messes of varying sizes and lasting effects.
Two of the teams that got clocked and a half, Golden State and Charlotte, are in playoff contention. OKC is only 2 1/2 games behind the sinking Warriors for the last play-in spot in the West, but it seems clear that the Thunder are trying to lose every chance they get anyway in search of a better pick in this year's allegedly loaded draft. Five of the six teams that won are pretty likely playoff teams, though New York and Boston flirt with freefall on an alternate-game basis. How the Warriors, who had won only four of their previous 14 games, lost by 53 to a Toronto team that had won only two of its previous 15 games, is a marvel so profound that the imperturbable Stephen Curry (who did not play against the Raptors) is growing more visibly pissed by his team's results by the day.
But of the other results, maybe the Thunder's aggregate minus-85 on successive nights is simultaneously the most impressive and depressing. The starting lineup of Moses Brown, Isaiah Roby, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is essentially your cat walking on your keyboard, the backups are even more stridently anonymous than the starters, and of their two opponents, only one player, Devin Booker, was asked to play as many as 30 minutes, and only Cameron Payne and Enes Kanter had to play as many as 26. In other words, both the Suns and Blazers rested their players as much as they dared.
Of the Pistons, well, Jerami Grant led the threadbare Zollners with 16 points in a seemingly extraneous 32 minutes, the Knicks were forced into only seven turnovers, and the horrifying Pistons bench outscored the horrifying starters, 42-39. The Knicks, who do not score as a statement on our broken society, scored 125. Tom Thibodeau must have been baffled.
The Magic, who are distressingly bad and injured and tanking furiously, had only eight players for their loss to Utah, so their plus-minus numbers, while indicative of little in and of themselves, were remarkable nonetheless; James Ennis, minus-43, Chasson Randle, minus-40, Dwayne Bacon, minus-39, and R.J. Hampton, minus-33 coming off the bench. In fairness, Randle and Ennis had all of Orlando's two made three-pointers. They are as bad as they are anonymous, as shorthanded as they are toast-level bland.
As for Charlotte's loss to the weirdo Celtics, it was just your run-of-the-mill game where one team has Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and the other doesn't have Ball and Gordon Hayward, the East stinks in general, teams four through 10 are essentially interchangeable, and the Raptors in 11th are playing their season in Florida while still painting "We The North" on their floor. For that alone, they deserve whatever's coming to them.
And yes, I suppose that includes beating Golden State by 53 before 3,085 people who must surely wonder what compelled them to attend such a thing in the first place. Tampanians don't have a team of their own, they didn’t get to see the only reason to watch the other team, what fun there was was over before halftime, and someone is always on you about keeping your mask on while you're trying to nap. Where's the joy in that?