The 2017 NBA All-Star break has come and gone, and with it the first half of another lackluster regular season. Like All-Star Weekend, this season has been a rather forgettable one. Aside from the incredible play of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas and a handful of others, the NBA is back on track for a year like every other recently. Sprinkle in a few good games here and there, and it’s nice, but so what?
There have been a few exciting teams this year. Some unexpected stories such as the 76ers, Jazz, Celtics and Rockets. But the top of both conferences remain the same. The Warriors, still under 10 losses after 55 games, and the Cavaliers, losers of 7 of 11 in January (but who still hold the one seed), have been leading their respective conferences for a majority of the season.
The makeshift marriage between superstar forward Kevin Durant and the Western Conference Golden State Warriors has been better than advertised. They score the most points per game out west. They have the best offensive rating to go along with the best defensive rating in the NBA. The Warriors have been putting a thorough beat down on most of their opponents this season. Their 12.8-point differential is the NBA’s best. And, exactly twice as much the third-best point differential in the NBA.
But it’s not all that surprising how well the Warriors have been performing this season. They won a record 73 games last year—the most ever. And in the offseason, they signed one of the best scorers of all-time. Durant’s the only Warrior to start every game this season. He’s leading the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks. He’s top-three on the Warriors in terms of assists and steals. If anyone wondered why the unstoppable Warriors went out and snatched a superstar like Durant after a record-breaking season, it was because of the competition that awaits them in the Finals.
Another LeBron-led team that has been transformed into the perennial favorite to make the Finals. And once again, the Cavaliers are sitting pretty in the top spot of the conference. The Cavs have a 25-6 record against the East, for starters. Now although there’s been drama surrounding LeBron—the search for a “playmaker”, the back-and-forth with Charles Barkley—they’re right where they want to be. Cleveland scores the most points per game and has the best point differential in the Eastern Conference. Their defense is nowhere near Golden State’s level but the trio of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love makes sure that the Cavs compete in every game.
So once again, the Warriors and Cavaliers are on a collision course for yet another Finals rematch. Yes, another Finals rematch between these two NBA giants would be an excellent matchup, especially after last season’s seven-game series. The next rematch would be a memorable one, too. Even more so with the addition of Durant, who matched up with LeBron in his only Finals appearance with the Thunder in 2011.
The only problem with another Warriors-Cavaliers matchup is that it won’t be long until fans get restless.
The competition in the NBA is dwindling and the regular season has become almost unwatchable. The NBA is now in danger of the playoffs becoming the same way. The contending teams of both conferences are at about the same level of competition, with the exception of the Spurs. San Antonio finished only six games behind the Warriors last season and are only four games behind them this year.
Teams like the Celtics, Hawks, Raptors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder and Grizzles have always been threats in their conferences, but not to the big boys. When they go up against each other, they play great, competitive basketball. But at least every team listed, among others, have fallen short against the Warriors and Cavs.
The regular season might be worse because these games practically don’t mean much to a lot of teams. Half the league make it to the playoffs and it’s safe to say that 10-12 of those teams are much more worried about seeding than actually missing the playoffs. The regular season used to be full of great matchups every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Now it’s mainly just a couple of teams who are trying to play well enough to beat the Warriors and Cavs, even if they’re not even playing them.
The No. 2-5 seeds in the East and the No. 2-7 seeds in the West are virtually up for grabs this season. Each one of those teams is solid and can either make a deep run in the playoffs or get a first round exit. It’s quite exciting to watch teams equally compete for a series win. However, nine out of 10 times, the teams that reach the Conference Finals will meet the Warriors or Cavs, and subsequently, their end.
As a fan, we can’t genuinely blame either side for being such great teams, but it’s not like the Warriors really needed Durant. It’s not like the Cavs acquired James and Love the old fashioned way.
The NBA has just changed drastically in the past few years, which is fine. It’s great, actually. The monetary success and global exposure that the NBA has received in recent years is impressive. Players now come from all corners of the world and their social media success (videos, pictures, press conferences, memes) compared to other major sports is unmatched. The everyday fans love their NBA basketball for the dunks, the threes, their heroes on and off the court. But soon, it could get boring.
Another wasted regular season that people watching will question, “yeah but can they beat the Warriors or Cavs (or Spurs)?” The bottom line is that fans deserve better than two or three teams destroying the competition every season. Fans deserve to see those teams challenged for their spot in the Finals, not just take the first 80-plus games off. Fans deserve to watch their own hometown teams actually have a chance to contend for a championship, not just a playoff spot that fell into their lap. Ultimately, fans deserve to watch better basketball.