By: Jeffrey Newholm
NBA players are currently taking a well deserved break during All-Star Game weekend. This is a perfect time for fans to reflect back and look ahead at the months to come. To this end, it would help to look more closely at the races in the Association’s conferences. Also, although not major news right now, it would be enlightening to examine the tensions simmering right underneath the league’s stove top.
The Warriors are shockingly not out in front right now, but they’re still everyone’s favorite to advance to the Finals. However, there are two reasons for Dubs fans to be concerned. First, unlike the regular season cakewalk of 2016 and the postseason blitz last year there are some legitimate challengers. The Rockets have copied the Warriors’ fast-paced play to near perfection, and the Timberwolves and Thunder loom as unusually strong opponents in the second round. Second, the Dubs have been running on fumes lately. The team picked up an exorbitant amount of losses heading into the break (four being exorbitant by Golden State standards). Coach Steve Kerr has had to think hard about damage control, with the pressure of success and expectations perhaps reaching a breaking point. If the Warriors can’t refuel their batteries this week, they could run out of power in the middle of the treacherous expressway of the West playoffs.
The Kyrie Irving trade has boosted the Celtics, who are fighting with the long-battling Raptors for Eastern supremacy. But the Cavs’ trade deadline roster moves and subsequent 22 point rout of Boston has turned this season’s narrative. It’s now conceivable that Cleveland will sweep through the East for a fourth year in a row. Several teams are jockeying for position to break through what’s become a glass ceiling in the standings. The Pacers have outrun all expectations, and the Bucks stole nine out of twelve games after replacing their head coach. The inconsistent Heat are fighting with the exciting young Sixers and the Pistons to see who will make the playoffs. The Cavs are still the favorite at this point, but the playoffs figure to be tougher with two teams ahead of Cleveland and a first round series that promises to be more than a walkthrough.
Off The Court
The NBA, after the recent extension of its collective bargaining agreement, is in very good financial shape right now. But there are still some issues of concern. Primarily: will the fan discontent that pummeled NFL coffers overflow into basketball? Furthermore, should it? LeBron has recently been heavily criticized for speaking out about his political beliefs. Many think athletes should stick to, as one commentator put it, “just dribbling”. The NBA has so far sidestepped crucial issues about race and athlete activism. This does make some sense as it helps position the league as a competitor to the NFL. But this runs the risk of the league’s bright lights turning into a fantasyland. While the NBA is cruising now, if it becomes too aloof an institution its glass castle could suddenly crash down with its insulated stars screaming for release from their rock candy prison. Football has proven that no rocket will shoot up forever. Therefore, the NBA would be well advised to find an appropriate form for addressing these issues before they start spiraling into a crisis.
With football done, and a FBI investigation threatening to besmirch college ball’s good name, there’s never been a better time to have one’s eyes glued on the NBA. The playoffs will be a thrill as always, with new teams promising to break up the Cavs-Dubs duopoly. If the league finds an appropriate outlet for its players’ legitimate social and political anxieties, the horn could soon mark the start of another long period of pro basketball prosperity.