Ninety seconds into Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors playmaker Kyle Lowry braced himself on the free-throw line to the boos of his “home” crowd passing through. Tampa Bay. The 90% shooter missed. In the third quarter, as the Celtics turned a 13-point first-half deficit into a 23-point lead, calls for rarely used 7-foot-5 Boston center Tacko Fall came from the 3,740 spectators allowed.
âWe’re going to be here in Tampa. This is not our home, âRaptors guard Fred VanVleet said on a conference call after his 2019 NBA champions fell to second in the standings. âThe fans are going to applaud the other team, and that’s the reality of our situation. … I’m worried about the sanity of guys, just like a brother, a teammate and a friend, because it’s not an easy situation, obviously. I don’t want to rule that out, but at the same time, this is the situation we find ourselves in. The season is not going to end.
Without my own morbid curiosity about the league’s litany of early season blowouts, I would have turned League Pass into one of two games on Monday’s nine-game roster that were decided in single digits. A rematch of a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal was won six minutes into the second half, and it wasn’t even among the four games decided by 20 points or more this season. .
As VanVleet said, âthere’s a long list of excuses we could use,â but that’s a problem. The NBA rushed the start of the 2020-21 campaign, opening training camps just 51 days after crowning a champion, all in an attempt to recoup about $ 1 billion in potential losses, and it comes at a cost to the product on the court.
The 25% of games that resulted in 20-point blowouts is nearly double the two-week opening average of each season of the past decade, which includes the ugly start to a 2011-12 campaign cut short by the lockout that started on Christmas Day. Overtime games are almost half as frequent at the start of this year, and the average margin of victory is 12.8 points per game, higher than any start of the 2010-20 season.
That’s before a team experienced a major outbreak of COVID-19, before the annual midseason malaise, before the grind really took its toll. Again, VanVleet put it better: “The season is not going to end.”
You can quickly explain the simplest reasons why this season has started so badly. A quarter of the league’s teams had not played since March. The other three quarters are not far from the mental and physical challenges of playing a condensed month-long end-of-season slate in the Orlando bubble. Everyone now works and travels and simply lives under the restrictions of a global pandemic.
It’s a lot. Enough to forgive your favorite team for throwing in the towel once a game starts to slip away. Add them in, however, and a league that is already experiencing a drop in ratings may see worse numbers. It doesn’t take a genius to see the correlation between the lowest in the NBA average audience on Christmas day in more than a decade (4.33 million) and the list of games which was decided by an average of 23 points.
An increase in the home and home playoffs – introduced to reduce travel and increase intensity during this season’s shortened 72-game schedule – hasn’t done much to stem the tide. Look no further than a recent split between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers, starred by the two most enjoyable players of the game. Damian Lillard and his company led by as many as 31 points in an eruption of accusations from Stephen Curry in the opener, and Career-peak Curry’s 62 points saved uneventful rematch.
It was indicative of the wild fluctuations one would expect in a fanless atmosphere. As the NBA created an intimate pitch-side setting in the bubble – walls of league workers, team staff, media, family and friends with gigantic virtual fan screens – the games are now largely played in empty arenas. Five teams welcome home crowds, and only the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic are exceeding 10% of their capacity.
As Lillard recently detailed, a player’s experience can often feel more like a practice than a game.
âBeing in these big arenas, no fans, a quick turnaround from last season, you’re going to have people who are still thinking about the season,â he said of the lopsided scores. âYou’re going to have people looking around like, ‘Dude, we’ve got to create our own energy.’ There really isn’t any real energy in the building other than your pride and competitive nature. The passion and energy of the fans is lacking. “
An accelerated pace and 3 point attempts had already resulted in increased volatility in scores. While the Curry Warriors have spawned copycats in the league in recent years, the frequency of 20-point returns has more than doubled. With more possessions and more points per possession, there is more variance. That gap still exists, maybe even more, but without a 20-point 100-game return this season.
âIf you come down from 17 or 18 in some of these games, you can see it,â Lillard added last week. âIn the past you would hit a few punches, the crowd goes wild, the other team calls a time out, a chant goes off. There is energy in the building. Now you go down from 18 to 20, the only thing you can hear is the other team … so the load of teams coming back into the games is not the same. That’s why, once a team is down, they pretty much seem to be done so far this year. And I think that’s also the reason you see more teams going down, because it’s a battle. It’s not just a physical game battle, it’s a battle to get into the game. â
The result was one of the sloppiest basketballs we’ve seen. Teams are averaging 15.4 turnovers per game, more than any season since 1999-2000 – the year after the league crammed 50 games and all playoffs in four months after a lockout. Go figure it out. Nearly half of the league’s teams are allowing 110 points per 100 possessions, more than all but one season in the NBA’s Statistical Database.
On the positive side, the games are less predictable. Teams have traditionally won 60% of their regular season home games on average. That number has dropped below 50% this year for obvious reasons.
Perhaps it was unease on the part of a dynasty of Warriors moving to back-to-back titles, but for some reason the 2018-19 campaign was an anomaly when it comes to porous defense and compound eruptions. It’s the only season this century in which half of all teams have allowed 110 points per 100 possessions and the only year that has approached the current number of wins to 20 points in the first two weeks. This season also lacked a dominant regular-season team (Milwaukee’s 60-22 record led the NBA) and a debut champion.
Game after game, the scores can be lousy, but the overall unpredictability over a shortened season could mean a team like the New York Knicks find a route to the playoffs or the Phoenix Suns join the shortlist to make it happen. a deep playoff run. . In this sense, more fans should find pleasure this year.
Optimism in this unconventional season is important, because the reasons for cynicism are many. In addition to the aforementioned evidence of a sweetened product, there is reports that managing constantly evolving health and safety protocols taxed team personnel to exhaustion. It would have diminished their ability to properly prepare players for a tough season. Physical and mental well-being took precedence over survival, and you can see how that could manifest negatively on the pitch.
Take the Brooklyn Nets for example. The returns of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who turned an intermediate team into a real contender in the biggest media market overnight, should be a godsend for the NBA. The Golden State and Boston breakouts to start the year were greeted with awe, not skepticism about the regular season’s entertainment value from game to game. They are a shiny new toy for the league.
Yet, hours after Spencer Dinwiddie’s season-ending knee surgery by the Nets on Monday, Durant became the first superstar to be sidelined for multiple games after being exposed to someone who tested positive. for the coronavirus. Neither made a difference in Brooklyn’s 34-point destruction of a Utah team embarking on a seven-game road trip, but these are signs it will get worse before it (hopefully. ) to improve by the end of the season.
On the one hand, this is largely beyond the control of the NBA. On the other hand, well, billionaires take advantage of millionaire salaries to force a substandard product onto an audience in their own desperation. None of this is doing any good, and we will surely endure more losses before the summer, when vaccines are more and more available and the playoffs are expected to begin. We’re all in the same boat, including the NBA, and it’s hard to watch.
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