An NBA check-in: the 1st quarter of the season

(Illustration by Javier Dosamantes)

Pima Post Contributor

Surprise, surprise — the Lakers have big names and little success. The Warriors have been dipping in and out of a .500 record all season — months after their emotional leader sucker-punched their emerging young star in the face during an offseason practice. And the Nuggets are a well-oiled regular season machine, but questions about how the team can succeed in the postseason without having consistent wing and guard play still remain.

People following NBA basketball for the past few years shouldn’t be surprised by any of the standings or how this season has played out.

Young teams and players that were talked about three years ago as “possibly contending in the future” are now contenders, and the future is here.

The Bucks, Celtics, Grizzlies and Suns have kept their places as the Top 5 seeds of their conferences. And are also Top 6 in the most success-indicative statistical categories in modern basketball: Net Rating, Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating.

Those four teams should all be considered legitimate contenders —  especially — the Celtics. 

All four clubs have been playing great, but the Celtics have been on a revenge tour not seen since the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. 

The Celtics lost last year’s finals and had all their weaknesses exposed by the Warriors. But this year, the Celtics have been playing historically efficient basketball. And the Tatum-Brown duo seem to have embodied the two-wing chemistry Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen had on defense.

Out of all teams, the Celtics and Bucks seem to have the fewest amount of questions to answer, and they have the deepest rosters. If no catastrophic injuries befall them, either team will be the eventual champions.

Who will meet them from the West, however, remains unclear.

The Phoenix Suns are currently in a five-game losing streak and seem to have a Chris Paul problem. They’re 0.500 with Paul playing and 9-5 when he’s out. Sure, it’s a small sample size but what’s concerning is that when Paul is playing, the Suns’ pace slows down, and his health has always been a concern in the postseason.

The New Orleans Pelicans are bullying the Western Conference and in first place, but the health of star player Zion Williamson remains a concern. 

Then again, the same could be true about the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant.

But hey! Who knows — maybe this unsurprising season surprises us, and the Lakers turn it around. Or perhaps Jamal Murray is able finally to give the Nuggets the guard play they consistently need to pair with two-time MVP Nikola Jokić’s unique skill set in the postseason. 

However, a more fun surprise could arise from the state of Ohio. 

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to be a piece or two away from contending. So this offseason, the team’s front office traded for Donovan Mitchell (piece no. 1), and by including Colin Sexton in the trade, Darius Garland was able to become piece no. 2.

Evan Mobley looks like a young Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love has transformed into a viable 3-and-D veteran and all other role players mesh perfectly.

Or — what if this unsurprising season wants to get weird (it’s starting to feel that way)? The Nets might finally put it all together. They could suddenly start playing defense, or Ben Simmons could get over his hips. And we could get apex Kyrie Irving and apex Kevin Durant shooting the lights out in the postseason. 

They could turn into two of the most unstoppable scorers in history and rise to the sky triumphantly as champions like Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy at the end of “Blades of Glory.”

Meh. Sports — especially the NBA — usually follow trends and patterns that consistently develop throughout several years and within a season. We’re now a little past the first quarter of the season, and everything points to no surprises in the horizon.

People who like surprises, though, will have to wait until after Christmas and the trade deadline to see if a trade or buyout signing reinvents a top team’s roster to change the league’s current trajectory.