A little over four months worth of NBA basketball is in the books. Tonight, the last night of the regular season, pairings and home-court advantage will be etched in stone for the postseason, which promptly begins Saturday following a day for the qualifying teams to get their minds right. Throughout this shortened; or truncated; or compounded; or compressed; or any other term that’s been used as a synonym for “hectic and busy” season, the goal has always been to just get to this point still standing, still with breath to take and not completely marred by injury or the schedule itself. The sixteen teams that have done so have been decided as of Tuesday night. These are the survivors, or in some cases thrivers, now treated to the set schedules and days of rest that the playoff calendar lends, a gift within the prize of qualifying for the postseason at all.
This is not to say, though, that the regular season we just witnessed from Christmas Day to tonight will be quietly swept under a rug, not to be seen nor heard from again. The continuous basketball flooding our televisions, laptops and minds was, at times, a grueling endurance test for any serious fan of the league who tries to watch as much as possible. But it provided constant opportunity. Rarely did a night go by without some game of interest taking place, and if you like to discuss the happenings of last night on an almost-daily basis (ahem), there were usually talking points aplenty. From JaVale McGee’s solo interpretations of basketball player to Dwight Howard’s public relations machine made of a paper bag, scotch tape and silly string, to Rajon Rondo’s sometimes extraterrestrial hold on an entire game, to Bynum and Durant and Rose and LeBron and everything or anyone else, the shortened season did not mean a skimp on things to think about.
It’s just sometimes, as the days and games flipped by, there felt to be too much going on; or moreover, it was difficult to discern what to take away. What trends or numbers were byproducts of the lockout — the more games in less days — and what were more concrete tellings? If as fans we watch because we want to in-part try and understand what is happening, what was usable and what was worth discarding? The answer, I think, is everything. When an item needed to be explained away, it was easy to lay blame on the schedule, but after going through this season it does appear that that schedule, in all its compressed glory, is all we can go from. It just doesn’t make sense when matched against normal 82-game regular seasons. This season players rested longer, rotations went deeper into the bench, injuries were used as rest days when they would otherwise have been rehabbed in spare time or played through — even Kobe Bryant missed some time, you guys. Every team gave a glimpse of what they were, or could be, at full-strength, but few sustained this for marked periods of time. Even the ones who did — for example, the Bulls and Thunder — face questions of being able to reach their true peak thanks to the James Harden and Derrick Rose injury situations.
The teams we think we know, we might, but to me part of understanding this jam-packed schedule is acknowledging that some things we probably just won’t know. It’s part of the overall incompleteness of the season, yet this trait alone doesn’t necessarily distinguish this campaign from any other. There are always mysteries or unanswered questions within the NBA, but this year at least seemed to offer an easy blanket explanation as to why or considering what-if, provided one didn’t feel like digging any deeper.
Because there were answers, even if we aren’t sure how much sense they make. Play was at-times sloppy, second-winded or just plain unusual depending on who was playing whom and who was resting a bruised ankle or which team was just finishing its fourth game in five nights. But that play is what we got, and it’s what we have to go from, to remember about the regular season. Plenty of worthy achievements and stunning efforts were turned in, and the schedule shouldn’t diminish those or any, actually, accomplishments at all. To do that would seem to question the reasoning for watching the NBA in the first place.
In the end, it was a unique season from the jump because of the calendar, but it became truly unique when the league, its players and situations, began to build and grow upon the wonky foundation set. Now, the postseason, more settled yet with intensity and meaning boiling over, will begin to answer remaining questions and generate new ones as it always does. All told, our latest NBA regular season was full of differences, but really, wasn’t it the same as it ever was?
Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta at gmail dot com.