The 2015 portion of the current NBA season has reached the end of the line. The Roman god Janus looks back at the year which is in the history books, and forward to the coming 365 days. As January arrives, the All-Star break comes into distant view. We are confronted with the reminder that as time flies, so does an NBA campaign.
It might not be late, but we’re no longer in the particularly early stages of the journey.
At this point in the NBA season, small measures of definition and detail continue to creep into team profiles. Injury and ownership situations magnify where various ballclubs are headed. What can we say as January and 2016 greet our lives?
We can tackle many different issues, but let’s start with this one: Is the No. 8 seed in the West going to win 40 games?
It’s not looking very good at the moment.
Wednesday night was a bloodbath for almost all the aspiring No. 8 seeds in the Association. Moreover, the only aspiring eighth seeds to grab a win were teams which played a fellow competitor, so it’s not as though any of the teams “chasing eight” were great.
The banged-up Utah Jazz limped to a decisive loss in Minneapolis against the Minnesota Timberwolves. While the T-Wolves are in the mix for the eighth spot, the Jazz entered the season with far greater expectations. Utah’s attritional agonies, however, have robbed Quin Snyder’s team of its ability to put its best players on the floor. There’s no mystery to this downward trend for the Jazz; it just is. Players shape fortunes in pro sports, far more than in college ball. (They’re hardly secondary in college, but coaches are indeed more primary in the NCAA realm. See “K” for “Coach,” or “Krzyzewski.”)
The Portland Trail Blazers won on Wednesday, but they beat another rival in the race for eight, the Denver Nuggets. Portland smashed Cleveland last Saturday, taking advantage of both the Cavs’ back-to-back stack and the emotional outpouring of energy Team LeBron released against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. That said, the Blazers have to demnstrate a lot more consistency in order to convince skeptics that they can be a fundamentally better team over the course of 82 games.
The Phoenix Suns were a team in total disorder last week, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers at home and being ripped apart by Markieff Morris, a player they should have parted with as soon as Marcus Morris was sent to Detroit. Thought that was bad?
Eric Bledsoe then got hurt.
Wednesday night, the Suns were eviscerated by the San Antonio Spurs. It’s going to get worse before it gets better in the Valley of the Sun(s).
Last and — quite arguably — least, the Sacramento Kings somehow messed around on Wednesday night and lost at home to the Sixers. How in blazes can a team with the Kings’ high-end talent lose to Philadelphia at home?
The Kings — precisely because of Utah’s injury woes and Phoenix’s total dysfunction — still have a window of opportunity in terms of nabbing the No. 8 playoff spot, but a loss at home to the Sixers shatters the idea that Sacramento should be favored in that race.
Utah. Phoenix. Sacramento.
Portland. Denver. Minnesota.
It’s one thing when a playoff team fails to achieve a winning record; it’s even more humiliating for the league when an eighth seed can’t even crack the 40-win plateau. It reinforces the need to invite 16 playoff teams based on overall records and not conference affiliations. On a number of occasions in recent seasons, the East featured a sub-40-win eighth seed, while the West had an eight-seed with at least 45 wins.
This season, the East might not have a 45-win eighth seed, but the West seems increasingly likely to own a No. 8 team with fewer than 40 wins.
It’s yet another indication of how topsy-turvy this season — heading into 2016 — has been.