So, the Lakers and the Heat were tangling the other day and the Lakers were down pretty much most of the game. The game went into overtime and Twitter exploded with tweets of every kind talking about the game.
Some guys were going nuts that the Lakers might lose. Others were going crazy because the Heat might win. Me—I wasn’t THAT concerned. I started yapping:
let’s reserve the smack talk for the #lakers until the playoffs when it really matters
Then I took a shot across my bow that really made me think:
Lets hope the Lakers keep playing like it doesn’t matter until the playoffs
So, do any teams in the NBA have the luxury of playing like it doesn’t matter until the playoffs? Are there any teams that CAN’T afford to lose? Are there teams where it doesn’t matter one way or the other?
The “shot” was intended as an insult for the Lakers. Basically, “Let’s hope they keep sucking so they’ll suck in the playoffs”, but they clearly deliver just fine in the playoffs.
Let’s look at a few groups of teams that fall into different categories of the “needing to win NOW” debate.
We Have No Business Being Here
This class has no business even fielding a team—much less caring whether they win. Could you imagine a scenario in which any of these teams–New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, Sacramento, Indy, Detroit, Golden State, the Clippers, Milwaukee, Philly, or Washington—can even have full-confidence that they could beat a college team?
I’m being serious. These teams don’t mean a thing in the landscape of playoff basketball—other than desperately-stupid trades.
Let’s take a vote. Would any of you miss any of these teams if they were contracted today? Yes, even the Knicks and the Pistons.
Joe Dumars has run Detroit into the ground and the Knicks will NEVER be the same. Neither has a chance at LeBron and each is poorly managed.
Tanking wouldn’t make any difference because the lottery is so screwed up anyways—and possibly rigged—so why do they even bother trying? For personal pride? I might be able to live with the “personal pride thing”.
Not only do they have no business being in the gym, but I can’t even get myself up to fight for them on the basis of playing “for the love of the game”. That’s how bad these teams suck!
We Want This But We Don’t NEED It
These teams would LIKE to keep winning, but it doesn’t really matter. The playoffs might mean a “little” something to a few, but it just isn’t that serious.
Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, and Toronto are ALL in the unique position of not desperately needing anything. These teams will somehow subsist on nothingness for decades to come.
The Bulls can live on MJ’s 6 titles FOREVER. Miami can survive on the one “steal” they got against the Mavs in The Finals.
Memphis will ALWAYS be just intriguing enough to not have to actually win anything. New Orleans will live on CP3 for the foreseeable decade, and Toronto will always sign a big name and hate Canada at the same time.
Oh, the Rockets, they’ll ALWAYS be linked to Hakeem’s back-to-back titles while Jordan was playing baseball—or whatever he was doing.
True, they may want it, but they don’t NEED it. Daryl Morey can crunch all the numbers he wants in Houston, but he doesn’t really need to. He could do half the work he’s doing now and he’d be just fine.
Charlotte just needs to have Jordan as their owner. That’s all. David Stern already pushed this thing through without a thought. So, as long as he stays there then it’s all good.
You see how easy this is? That’s why the league gets so top-heavy. There are so many teams that just DON’T need it that bad.
We MUST Keep Winning
This is an intriguing group. They can’t take a break and—for different reasons—they need to keep winning consistently.
San Antonio, Portland, Boston, Atlanta, OKC, and Utah are all in the position where they HAVE TO keep winning. There are no options.
If San Antonio falls behind even a little they’ll get stuck in a bad playoff seeding and their “window” will close pretty fast. Boston’s the same way. They’ve got to do this now or else.
In both cases the Spurs and Celtics are one bad playoff loss away from blowing up their teams. If they stop winning it’s OVER.
Atlanta, OKC, and Utah need to keep winning so they can keep improving. Atlanta has improved every year under Mike Woodson. Utah is this odd mix of young and old that can stay together for a long time.
OKC has Kevin Durant. As long as his team keeps improving—he will too. Let him improve long enough and he’ll probably reel off a few titles in a row. Believe it.
Portland…Portland. They drafted Greg Oden like idiots. They had to rebuild around him. They have to keep winning or the Rose Garden is going to be taken over by the Sierra Club and turned into a REAL Rose Garden.
They rehabilitated their “Jailblazers” image, but if they start losing they’ll piss off all their fans REALLY fast. They don’t have to win titles, but they damn-well better be competitive.
The pressure for some of these teams to perform is intense. For others it’s a motivation to get better. What a strange league we watch!
We’re (Should Be) Taking A Fiver
The Lakers, Orlando, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Cleveland should all be taking a break. These teams HAVE the luxury. The luxury of taking a break.
Phoenix won’t take it because they’re still stinging over the breakdown in the ’93 Finals.
By the way, did you know Kevin Johnson is the Mayor of Sacramento? I follow him on Twitter. Always liked him!
Anyways, Phoenix can take a break because they’re Phoenix. They play well. They’ll win a playoff series if they get the right draw, but until then they can coast.
The Suns sort of straddle the “We Don’t Need It” category and this one. Sure, they hate the ’93 Finals loss, but they can handle it. Because they don’t NEED it they’ll take a break.
Orlando CAN hit a slump, not really care and be fine. I was about tow rite them off when they let Atlanta catch up to them, but they keep coming on strong. It’s impressive. They get a break whenever they want.
Dallas can take a similar break to Phoenix, but they NEED it. They can slack off for a few games, but they BETTER win something. Mark Cuban is STILL pissed about losing the ’06 Finals.
You think he doesn’t remind them?
However, to counteract the pressure they’re good enough to relax every now and then.
Denver can pretty do anything they want. They’ll play just fine and lose the Conference Finals to the Lakers again. It doesn’t really matter what they do in the regular season. We know their limits.
Then there are the odds-on favorites to play the Finals: Cleveland and L.A. The Lakers can take a break whenever. It DOESN’T matter yet. They get out in front early and coast to the playoffs.
Then they coast through the playoffs. Scare some unwitting fans in the 2nd Round and everything’s fine.
The Cavs SHOULD be taking a break. Every time LeBron puts up MVP numbers—which he is—then he looks even MORE like the Buffalo Bills/Atlanta Braves of basketball.
He was out the other night and this team couldn’t play AT ALL. They sucked, and there he was wearing jeans and a sportcoat on the bench. It made him look like he has a bad attitude.
He needs to relax every now and then or he will NEVER have it in the playoffs. He’s carrying this whole team and we wonder why he can’t finish? He’s doing everything else too.
Honestly, I might have a bad attitude too if I did it all AND didn’t let up. LeBron let’s up a little or the Cavs don’t make it to the Finals.
He only let’s up once and they make it to the Finals and get BLOWN OUT. He takes my advice and the Finals will go 7.