For fans of the NBA in the last few seasons, the regular season has been a sort of anti-climatic affair. In the last two seasons, it’s been the Warriors and Cavs and then everybody else, with both locking down the top seeds in the East and West pretty early on, and never relinquishing. This season was expected to be another example of this, with James and company gunning for a repeat, and the Warriors adding Kevin Durant.
But while we sit here in the second week of March, with just one month left in the regular season, things are far from that clear. Some changes have rocked the NBA landscape, and the top-tier of the NBA hasn’t been closer to the pack in a long time. Both look vulnerable, and that means a lot more teams are coming into play as serious title contenders.
Since the All-Star Break, the Cavs are 29th in defense, the Grizzlies 30th.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 10, 2017
For James and the Cavaliers, the underlying problems have been mildly visible for most of the season. With the dysfunction on the bench, and slight regression in some of their aging pieces, Cleveland didn’t kick the season off with the same intensity we saw down the stretch a year ago. And in their come back up from that struggle, the Cavs have seen waves of good play and then inconsistency.
James clamored for some help ahead of the All-Star Break, and his prayers got answered with the additions of Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, and Larry Sanders to the main roster. But it hasn’t stabilized the roster, and with injuries to Kevin Love, the chemistry is just off.
Cavs have trouble with defense again when they needed it,now lead in East down to two games,good night
— Austin Carr (@MrCavalier34) March 10, 2017
LeBron himself is having a great season, but that supporting cast is shaky at best. The Cavs have been able to get by just on their athleticism and James, but this year looks like a slight change to that.
With the Raptors, Wizards and Celtics now surging down the stretch, the Cavs ground in the Eats is shrinking. They’ve seen a six game lead drop all the way to 1.5, and the top seed is truthfully in danger. And as great as LeBron is, he doesn’t want to travel for a game seven in the playoffs.
The one thing that doesn’t change about the #Cavs, with or without LeBron, their defense absolutely stinks.
— Bruce Hooley (@BHOOLZ) March 5, 2017
As for the Warriors, the loss to the Spurs dropped them to a tie for first in the West, a true shocker across the rest of the league. And with the Spurs play behind Kawhi Leonard, they don’t look to be subsiding any time soon.
The Durant injury changed everything about the Warriors makeup, and with the thin bench behind the starters, it’s turned to more isolation ball and forced contested shots. Klay Thompson’s numbers are down across the board since Durant’s injury, and Steph Curry is in an incredible slump in terms of efficiency.
Warriors before waiving Anderson Varejao: 43-7 (NBA’s best)
Warriors since waiving Anderson Varejao: (9-7, maybe 9-8 soon)
MVP is clear
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) March 15, 2017
But the more underlying problems are the offense as a whole, that’s seeing much less motion possessions and far too much isolation off the ball. Draymond Green is the only player still moving fluidly in the offense, but even his added production isn’t enough to work the big guys into the game in a meaningful way. The offense is stuck and stagnant, and far from the fluid motion that we’ve come to expect from Golden State.
But Durant will more than likely return, and Kevin Love will likely for the Cavs. But both are a few weeks away, and the big question going forward is just how tight these races are. Because the Warriors haven’t had to take on a road playoff series since they first won the title two years ago, and it’s yet to be seen if they can go to San Antonio and win.
The Spurs have overtaken the Warriors in the West. pic.twitter.com/0hj4SVwzVS
— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) March 14, 2017
For Cleveland, they’ve shown they can, but do you really want to potentially travel to Toronto/Boston/Washington for a potential game seven, and have to do the same thing in the Finals?
It’s been quite a long time since we’ve seen a more confusing top of the NBA. With Durant out, both of the cream of each conference look very beatable, and we’re setting ourselves up for a terrific race to the end of the season, and some soul-searching for a new identity.