The Charlotte Hornets did the San Antonio Spurs a favor on Monday night, but more about that later.
The Hornets — with a remarkable comeback from a 23-point deficit and a seven-point first-quarter nightmare — stunned the Spurs in North Carolina, taking a 91-88 decision. The Hornets immediately wiped out the memory of Saturday’s home-court loss to the Denver Nuggets. They bolstered their chances of a getting a home-court seed (3 or 4) in that four-team cluster in the middle of the Eastern Conference (with Atlanta, Miami and Boston).
The Spurs lost in a way they’d never lost before (when leading by 20 or more):
This was the 1st time ever the Spurs have lost when leading by 20+ Pts after the 1st quarter.
They were 22-0. pic.twitter.com/zEZlvfpyPi
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 22, 2016
On the surface, this might scar the Spurs, so soon after their win over the Golden State Warriors. One can debate both sides of that particular argument.
What’s not debatable: This is a blessing for NBA fans and pundits.
We no longer have to manufacture drama which doesn’t exist.
The one remaining large-scale, banner-headline drama attached to this regular season concerns the Warriors’ push for 73 wins (which will affect the Spurs’ push for 70 wins — the two quests are inherently linked, given a pair of additional regular season games between the teams in early April).
Why is that the only big drama left? Well, for one thing, LeBron James’s history shows that it doesn’t matter if his team is seeded second in the Eastern Conference. That race with Toronto is relevant only to the extent that it shapes the matchups for the Cavs and Raptors in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If both teams are legit (they probably are), specific matchups simply should not concern them.
The bigger reason Golden State’s chase for 73 is the only real main-event drama remaining in the regular season (the chases for the final playoff spots being much smaller in scale and league-wide impact)?
The Western Conference race for home-court advantage is done.
Sure, it’s not official, but it’s all over but the shouting in Oracle Arena.
Golden State will be the 1 seed in the West, San Antonio the 2 seed. The Thunder will be third, the Clippers fourth.
We’re set. Let’s not erect the facade of uncertainty.
The Warriors — in order to not get home-court — would first need to lose both of their remaining games to the Spurs. Even if that happened, though, Golden State would still own a two-game lead. The Warriors would have to drop two more games, and the Spurs would have to win out.
Golden State has just two more road games left, neither one against a top-tier team (SAS-OKC-LAC-CLE-TOR).
Come on — barring a season-ending injury to Steph or Draymond, it’s over.
So, you might be wondering, “How does this do the Spurs a favor?”
It’s not that hard to answer.
Gregg Popovich now gets two totally pressure-free bites at the Golden State apple in early April. Freed from the idea that he might need to win those games in the pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the West, Pop can rest his big guns and try out all sorts of lineup combinations. Moreover, you’ll probably see this: Pop and Kerr will both rest their best players in the other team’s building. It’s a virtual certainty in Pop’s case. If the Warriors are still in good shape for 73 wins, Kerr will be able to do the same in San Antonio when he makes a return trip to the Alamo City.
The NBA might have hoped that playing prime teams so close to the end of the regular season would have created hugely significant events as a lead-in to the playoffs, and to be fair, no one could have seen this season coming. Yet, having Golden State and San Antonio play twice in a few days — and three times in the final 26 days of the regular season — was certainly a bit much.
No, you don’t want elite teams to play in November or early December, but a better spread — from Christmas Day through early April, with at least two weeks between matchups for all teams involved — seems like the best way to test teams within the course of an extended season.
Speaking of the words “extended season”:
If ever there was an NBA season in which a 60-game schedule made sense, it’s this one.
The West’s top four seeds are set.
Can the playoffs start already?
Thank you, Hornets.