Confessions of a sherbert capitalist
I wrote a few weeks ago about how weird this stretch of the NBA season is. In retrospect, I probably understated my case, viney language and all.
Conventional sports-watcher wisdom goes something like this: because the NBA is a bunch of spoiled, freeloading, disorganized egomaniacs, the first half of the season (culminating in the materialist extravaganza of the All-Star Game) means nothing. The second half, where teams get it together, find their rhythm, overcome nagging injuries and issues either through heroism or common sense, finds the veil lifted, and sport herself her faintly, in echoes from over the hills. Then comes the postseason, the only thing that counts, where reputations are made and honest citizens pay attention with all innocnence intact. Of course, the ill-advised extension of the early rounds, as well as the conference imbalance that has wracked the league for the past five years or so, have made the beginning and end of the playoffs into a joke, leaving only the sweet, sweet meat of the center.
The important part of all that is the belief that basketball has, metaphorically speaking, a pennant race, a playoff hunt, a race to the finish line. Technically, sure it does. But just as the NCAA seeds teams based on the entire season, not just the conference tournaments, getting hot at the end of the year only matters so much—unless you've been underachieving up until that point. Case in point: the Rockets should have been this good all year, so it's a little anti-climactic that they've finally hit their stride; the Wolves have clearly been overachieving for years, and if they do heat up and make the playoffs, no one's expecting them to upset a #1 seed. Looking over at the East, the Celtics are basically starting their season anew with the addition of Walker; same for the Webber-ized Sixers. These are exceptions that prove the rule: barring major upheaval, super calamity, or brittle rebirth from within, teams set their identity, and their destiny, in the first, supposedly cursed, half of the year.
The Nuggets are on fire. With that team, and that coach, why shouldn't they squeak into the postseason? Is that a storyline? They're not doing anything that will affect their chances in the postseason, since if they weren't making some noise now, they wouldn't even be their in the first place. They clearly aren't good enough to mess with the upper echelon West teams, or else they would be moving to the next level under Karl, not just making their case as a solid, non-lottery franchise.
And then there's the glare off of March Madness. I don't really care about college ball. I pull for UNC the same way teams once made territorial draft picks: with an undeserving awe and magical smugness. But as little as those little guys in funny shorts may have to do with the battles that rage across the gulf (that's lower case, in case you think I equate the NBA with the struggle for democracy abroad!!!), they do, for the next few weeks, upstage the fuck out of the LeBron's, Kobe's, and Matt Bonner's of the world. The NCAA's are quite possibly the perfect postseason--long enough to gain momentum, advanced enough to seem fair, flukish enough to fuel the imagination--and they drop down right as the NBA is hitting the wall, tying up loose ends, and splitting up into three tiers: familiarly elite, embattled, limping borderliners, and lottery-bound stargazers. You can excuse me, and most of my colleagues, I think, for spending more time with our heads up our brackets than at TNT's beck and call.
One more note: the NBA's only saving grace over the next few weeks is the emergence of late season stars, like last year's epic, and flukish, arrival of Marquis Daniels. This time it might be the the entire Baby Blazers (surprise me), or everyone's favorite hard-nosed fighter, Jameer Nelson. Of course, this is of much more importance to anyone still interested in their fantasy team; mine died long ago, and I'm perfectly happy to smirk at those still in the hunt like I never understood in the first place.