In perusing the various NBA previews in the local and national newspapers, we can't help agree with the common theme of them all--that last year's playoffs served as a key reference point to this upcoming season. Where we depart ways, though, is why. In our view, if last year's playoffs proved anything, it's that the NBA season is too long and mostly irrelevant.
To be sure, last year's Cavs/Washington Wizards (or is it Bullets, we're not sure) and Cavs/Detroit Pistons were compelling and entertaining. But all that did was demonstrate the indifference with which most NBA players seem to approach regular season games. The intensity of virtually any playoff game was unmatched in any regular season game between any NBA teams and we challenge anyone anywhere at any time to prove otherwise. In fact, what is most striking about the NBA is the starkly visible difference between regular season and playoff games. To be sure, the playoffs are different than the regular season in every sport. But the disparity in the NBA is so obvious that it actually cheapens the day-to-day product.
The even larger point, though, is that the season simply is too long. That's the message the players continue to send with their indifferent play until the playoffs roll around. The season is 82 games spread over nearly 6 months. the playoffs take another two months, meaning that the NBA season is longer, by a month, than the Major League Baseball season and three months longer than the NFL season. And what do you get for your first six months: a meritocracy system that eliminates only the truly putrid. For all practical purposes, the NBA playoffs are a massive, out of control round robin tournament from which only the lame and infirm are uninvited.
We can appreciate the talents of someone like LeBron James as well as anyone. And all things being equal, we're glad he's on a Cleveland team. He gives this city its first international sports superstar ever. But we tend to subscribe to the less is more theory and believe that shortening the season would only further highlight the true gifts of someone like James and make each game that much more meaningful.
The reason that fans are so crazed for NFL football, even bad NFL football like that purveyed by the Browns, is that there are only 16 games. That places outsized importance on each one. If you don't think so, take a visit to Pittsburgh right now and you'll find most of their fans sitting in their family rooms in a semi-catatonic state with a switchblade near their wrist because the Steelers are 2-5. Even with 9 games left, they know that there is very little margin for error left if their team, the reigning Super Bowl champs, are to return to the playoffs.
But if the Cavs start off 2-5, or even 10-20, there is still little doubt that they'll make the playoffs. And irrespective of what their record may be it has absolutely no relevance to how they may or may not perform in the playoffs.
So if you insist on dissecting the Plain Dealer's NBA preview supplement in today's paper for insight into how the Cavs will finish, don't look to the idle words of the self-annoited experts. We suggest you look solely at the schedule. You know that the Cavs will play on the road 41 times. That means that, at best, that will account for 20 wins because if there is one thing that is more true in the NBA than in any other sport, it's that the home court advantage is more pronounced. Next, look at how many times the Cavs play back-to-back games, particularly when the second game is on the road and even more particularly when they are both on the road. If there is anything even more true about the NBA than home court advantage, is that back-to-back games are greeted with about as much enthusiasm as a Thanksgiving trip to the in-laws. That should account for another 10 losses right there. In short, if the Cavs are as good as advertised, they'll win around 50-52 games. If they fall short of expectations, meaning they lose more games at home than anticipated, then they'll be in the 46-48 win range. Again, though, this is mostly meaningless because they'll make the playoffs either way.
If you're looking for real insight from the PD's NBA supplement, check out the schematic of the locker room. There you'll find that King James has the corner suite and no neighbor, the better to accommodate the media. You'll also learn about his 20" video monitor, his X-Box 360 game system and, most importantly, that his shoe company (Nike) not only supplies him with shoes, but shower slippers. Now that's insight we couldn't live without.