The holiday season has arrived with the NBA in full swing building towards the excitement of the Christmas day slate of games.
At this point in the season, NBA teams have a large enough sample size to determine their strengths and weaknesses and where they stand compared to the rest of the league. This is a time of adjustments as health and holes in the roster take a toll on the win and loss columns.
Felix and Justin are back with Big Facts or Fake News? to discuss some recent changes to rosters around the NBA and perhaps some more that need to be made.
1. The Portland Trail Blazers will make the playoffs.
Kirkland: Fake News. Carmelo Anthony has provided a spark and is scoring efficiently for a Blazers team that was in desperate need of an extra scoring punch at the forward position. Their three wins since Anthony’s return have come against Oklahoma City and twice against the putrid Chicago Bulls. Portland will still struggle mightily against better teams due to their inability to defend. Portland is slightly better now than they were a few weeks ago but over the course of the rest of the season, they do not have the horses to leapfrog the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns who are both currently missing key pieces of their rosters (De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley for Sacramento, DeAndre Ayton for Phoenix).
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. As of this post, the Blazers are on a healthy three-game winning streak. They are now 3-1 overall when Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside all suit up. Defense, which has remained an apparent flaw for this bunch in the early going, could be touched up with a mid-season trade. Or maybe they just get the consistently engaged Whiteside who’s liable to put up huge shot-blocking numbers on any given night:
The Blazers currently sit in the 10th spot, one full game back of the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns for the eighth seed. Over the course of the season, there’s just too much star power and too much experience for me to think they can’t overtake the Kings and Suns for that spot. Look out, they’re coming!
2. The Philadelphia 76ers should make a trade.
Kirkland: Big Facts. It’s time to start a dialogue on this Philly squad. I wrote a few weeks ago that they would figure it out offensively. They have not. Philadelphia will make the playoffs and continue to have ups and downs as the season progresses. The problem is we were all sold on “The Process” that was supposed to culminate in a dominant championship contender that validated the years of patience and No. 1 draft picks. Last year was the best version of this 76ers core that we will see. Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, and Markelle Fultz are gone. Tobias Harris is not playing up to max contract standards. Joel Embiid is unstoppable until Marc Gasol shows up. Ben Simmons is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage. In order to maintain the upside of this roster, the 76ers are going to have to shake things up if they don’t want to be stuck with second-round exits for the remainder of this core’s prime.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. Yes, it’s still very early in the season, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Sixers might have peaked last season. What they seem to be missing is someone on the wing who could create offense outside of Ben Simmons. Needless to say, it hurt to lose both Markelle Fultz AND Jimmy Butler last season. They could also use one more shooter to stretch the floor and create even more driving lanes for Simmons.
The Sixers’ offense to this point is very predictable and they need an edge. If the playoffs were to start today I’d have a fairly comfortable time picking both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics over them.
3. Kyrie Irving is being unfairly treated by fans and the media.
Kirkland: Fake News. Part of being an athlete is dealing with fans and the media. “Fans” is literally short for fanatic. When you come to a fanbase and tell them you’re not leaving (he did) and then proceed to bash the younger players on the roster and show nothing short of complete disinterest by season’s end, the results will be “coward” posters outside of the arena and less than flattering chants in-game. Fans are going to be unreasonable and overreact in good times and bad because that is the nature of sports fandom. Kyrie wanted to be the leader and bit off a little more than he could chew.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. One of my biggest pet peeves for the media and fans (myself included), is that we often tend to forget that all professional athletes are human. Just like you and I, they wake up every day with the mindset of bettering themselves both personally and professionally. We all have our highs and lows, but being that athletes are on a public stage, we take it upon ourselves to insert our opinions and ridicule them if we feel it’s justified. Sometimes we do it even if it isn’t justified.
It’s all good when it’s fun and games. Athletes have used those times to get a laugh or even use the jokes as motivation to fuel their performance. However, there is a fine line between jokes and taking it personally. As consumers of the game, we must be very mindful of that.
4. The proposed re-seeding for the playoffs makes for a more exciting end to the NBA season.
Kirkland: Big Facts. I could not be less interested in a midseason tournament at the moment but re-seeding the NBA playoffs would certainly give ratings a jolt. As long as there is a talent difference between the conferences the league should do whatever it takes to give us the most exciting matchups possible. I think of the 2002 NBA Playoffs where the Los Angeles Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semis and won in seven against the Kings just to sweep the then-New Jersey Nets in the Finals. This doesn’t happen every season but making it so that we get the best two teams in the league for the final series is a win for everyone involved.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. It could potentially make things interesting in the semi-final round but realistically may not change much. As critics of the game, we should not fall into the trap of recency bias to make these determinations.
For example, it would appear that this season the Lakers and the Clippers are the two best teams in basketball. Many would undoubtedly like to see that as a Finals matchup, but under the current structure, our best bet would be to get it as a semi-final matchup. Who’s to say the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t the second-best if not, the best team?
5. Load management is a problem for the league.
Kirkland: Fake News. The load management problem is an overblown media sensation created by the real problem which is too many games on the regular-season schedule. 82 games is a long season and guys cannot be asked to bang every single night and still be 100% in the playoffs when it matters. Load management gives us the best version of the NBA’s stars in the postseason and also can extend careers. Would Derrick Rose still be in Chicago? Could Brandon Roy or Tracy McGrady have benefitted from a few games off? Being a professional athlete is a grind and wears on the body. Player health should be first and foremost. Shorten the season by 15-20 games and then demand that guys play every game. (Fewer games also create more regular-season urgency.)
John-Baptiste: Fake News. No one would really cry about LeBron James and Anthony Davis missing a Monday night home game against the New York Knicks. The fact that the games impacted by load management are scheduled for national tv coverage is what makes it a sin. The consumers of the game are tuned in for a specific product, corralled by excessive media coverage and hype. All to be disappointed on game day when it is announced that the game’s best players won’t be suiting up.
Players’ status has always been uncertain, as injuries are part of the game and come unexpectedly. For the most part, many of the league’s players are ready to go, night in and night out. But when superstars are ‘day-to-day’, it makes things more concerning. Reducing back to backs and opening up the schedule, even more, should do the trick.