It’s early, give it time.
Ah, we’re only a couple months in.
Wait, the league is as tight as it's been in *how* many
With less than two months remaining in the regular season, all
but four teams are in the thick of the NBA playoff hunt. All of the
squads that are still in contention have at least 24 wins under
their respective belts.
As of the morning of Feb. 23, only six franchises enter the
second half of the campaign with more than 35 wins. In order, they
are the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets,
Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies.
The rest of the field is essentially towing that .500 line,
whether it’s five games above or five games below the middling
mark. According to a Jan. 29 post by NBA data analyst Tom Bassine,
the top regular-season teams have not been as dominant as usual
compared to past years. Just six days prior to Bassine's post,
NBA University tweeted a graph that put that information into
(The Ringer's Rob Mahoney also put together a great article on the
Referring to that graphic, it's been almost 40 years since the
NBA has seen this kind of parity. And while there has been some
separation (along with roster changes) since the end of January,
players and coaches around the league acknowledge that this season
just feels different.
“This seeding is crazy,” Cavs star Donovan Mitchell told
Basketball News. “You could win four in a row and be second. You
can lose four in a row and be 10th. The league is competitive. I
think it's one of the most competitive years since I've been in the
league. It's just one of those things where everybody's beating up
on each other and the teams that you consider lottery teams aren't
playing like lottery teams, to be honest."
Mitchell mentioned the way the Orlando Magic have had the Boston
Celtics number. He brought up the Oklahoma City Thunder’s fight,
and how teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons have
come to play no matter who’s been out there.
“You’ve got to give the guys and got to give the organization
and coaches credit. You’ve got to give them credit,” Mitchell said.
“Every night they're coming out playing hard, playing to win.
That's what makes it tough, there's no guarantees in this league.
And seeing teams great from the top to the bottom, continuously
Consider this: The Miami Heat started a road trip with a letdown
a few weeks ago. They lost 122-117 to the bottom-of-the-barrel
Charlotte Hornets, and head coach Erik Spoelstra took it hard.
However, the next day, Miami was still the ninth-best team in the
league despite being only five games over .500.
“That’s a head-scratcher to me, you know?” Spoelstra told
Basketball News at the time. “Usually, you had the top teams, maybe
a handful of middle teams and the rest were tanking, and that’s not
the case anymore.”
The Heat came in the very next game and grinded out a 100-97
victory in Cleveland. Currently, their record sits at 32-27 as the
seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
So what is the reason for this increased parity? Why is this
season so different from past campaigns?
“Honestly, I think it’s ‘cause a lot of guys have missed games,”
Jimmy Butler said after that win over the Cavs. “When you can’t get
a rhythm of who’s gonna be in a lineup, who’s gonna be out and
different roles change from night to night... We’re a prime example
of that. I think that’s why teams are so up and down. But when guys
get healthy and they get their guys back, it’s gonna start to look
a lot different.”
Butler’s teammate Bam Adebayo attributes it to the wild
individual-scoring performances and surges in scoring. In addition,
he thinks that everybody got better, including some teams making
big offseason trades.
“The East is tough this year," Adebayo says, "and I feel like
it’s gonna be tough again for a long time.”
“I think the one thing that you would probably say that
everybody's fighting for as a team is consistency,” added Billy
Donovan, whose Chicago Bulls are clawing at 26-33. “Sometimes, you
get this congestion where teams are trying to find that
consistency. They are trying to find things to continue to build on
game after game, and I think that's what good teams do. Some of
those upper-echelon teams in the East and the West have been able
to have a level of consistency, and some of the other teams — where
they're all condensed — they're fighting for that consistency.”
Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff made a bold statement when
asked about the ultra-competitive nature of this season.
“I think there's a lot of really good players in the NBA right
now, and if you go from top to bottom, you don't see that disparity
in levels of talent on teams,” Bickerstaff said in late January.
“What you do see typically is just different levels of
experience. But I think the day of the super-team is over
with, and I think there's a lot of extremely talented basketball
players and a lot of extremely talented coaches that put people in
the right position and there's going to be a little bit more
balance in the league.”
(Sidenote: It’s sort of ironic that Bickerstaff made the
super-team statement when he did, since the Phoenix Suns did the
unthinkable by acquiring Kevin Durant at the NBA trade deadline
less than a couple weeks after the fact.)
Commenting on the development of individual talent throughout
the league “first and foremost,” Memphis Grizzlies head coach
Taylor Jenkins delivered perhaps the most logical response.
“I definitely think the Play-In Tournament has added more
intrigue, more investment in teams throughout the course of the
season,” Jenkins stated. “I think the Play-In Tournament has just
created an opportunity to have two more teams compared to the
eight-team initial [seeding]. Now it’s 10, but you can even go
deeper; now you can add 12, 14, 15 and still have a chance to get
in that 10th spot. So, I think that’s probably one of the biggest
natures. And then, obviously, the league’s in a great spot. There’s
so much talent influx coming into this league. Teams are drafting
well, they’re developing well on top of all of those things.”
Sharing the same sentiment as Jenkins, Spoelstra had a big smile
on his face. He has felt a shift in teams’ mindsets across the NBA
for two to three years, since the Play-In was added to the
“I think that’s the biggest driver in this,” Spoelstra said.
“You just have far less teams tanking. Am I allowed to say that
word? It happens in this league. But now, you have a bunch of teams
that probably weren’t necessarily thinking that they would have —
in either conference — that they would have a chance of being in
the Play-In, and they’re at this point. You might as well go for
Heading into the second half of the season, the NBA is packed
with a ton of possibilities. Look at the standings. The Magic are
still only four games back of the East’s final spot currently held
by the Toronto Raptors, who are simultaneously being chased by the
Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
And forget breaking down the West — everybody but the Spurs and
Houston Rockets are in that race, with current Play-In teams who
could be in position for home-court advantage by this time next
Whether it's a result of the deadline acquisitions, buyout
signings or an improvement in camaraderie, teams are going to lay
it all out on the line to ensure they’re playing past
“The experience you get, that’s just driving the competition
level league-wide,” Spoelstra said. “And this is the way it should