I was thinking of writing another movie review, but my last two posts concerned a pair of films that we saw at the cinemas. The Shape of Water, in spite of stunning visuals and distinctive storytelling, could wait. This week is all about one of my favourites, the NBA (National Basketball Association). I’ve been watching basketball, on and off, since primary school. Even though I have no access to the PBA or UAAP hoops, I’ve remained a loyal NBA fan. Basketball is big in the Philippines, dare I say the national past time. Indeed, I’ve thought of posting this in Filipino, but decided to go with English to be more inclusive. A third of the NBA season is history; here are a few observations.
- The offence never rests. Slight rule changes have seen the league (L) become faster and have teams piling up the points. Squads have averaged four more points to 110 per game. Pace is up from 97.3 to 99.8. There is less grabbing and holding, as the refs have had a quick whistle. This has resulted in more fouls called and free throws awarded, resulting in more free-flowing action. The other major rule change is the shot clock reset from 24 to 14 after corralling an offensive board. Teams are forced to think on their feet as they no longer have the luxury of milking the clock.
- The Rockets have disappointed. Houston, we have a problem. They have been outplayed, outhustled, and outworked for most of their season. While they bring two of the deadliest dudes, James Harden and Chris Paul, their defence has been a mess and their offence not much better. Last year, they were a Chris Paul injury away from a date in the NBA Finals. In fairness, they’ve beaten some pretty good opponents but have suffered from a lack of consistency. Personally, I’ve always found them hard to watch – even while they were winning. Harden gets all the foul calls: whether it’s shotting threes, driving to the basket…it slows the game down. Even when no one is near him, they get whistled for a foul. Bummer, I guess the MVP is entitled to some calls.
- The Clippers are playing out of their mind. Who would’ve thought that the Clippers would be number one? They currently sit at fourth spot out West, but they are better than the LeBron-led Lakers. While they do not have an All-star, they have an ensemble of very capable stars. Lou Williams is clearly their best player, but others have stepped up too. Tobias Harris, Gallo, Patrick Beverley, even Harrell have all contributed. Though they do not have the best starting unit, they have one of the deepest benches in the L. They likewise boast one of the best minds in coach Doc Rivers, if not the best. Rivers has consistently proven how he can get the most of a mediocre side.
- Game-winners galore. It’s the NBA so expect a slugfest, but it seems every night matches go down to the wire. Jimmy Butler hit two game winners in a span of 8 days. Bron has hit some clutch buckets down the stretch. Luca Doncic of the Mavs burned the Rockets for 11 points in the final 3 minutes. Damien Lillard has been his usual sniper at crunch time. Durant is always money. The thing about the L is that there are so many good players that you can expect fireworks each game day.
- Early season start. It seems like every year the L gets an earlier start. The action always began at the end of October but recently we’ve been seeing matchups as early as mid-October. While the regular season remains at 82 games, this allows for an earlier finish as well. Whereas before, the Finals would end on 20 June, the NBA Draft could be held on that day.
- International flavour. There are 108 foreign players from 42 countries. For the fifth successive season, every team has an international player on their opening night line-up. Even though the Raptors are the only non-American team right now, the international touch in the L continues to grow. From old warriors like Dirk to young phenoms like the Greek Freak (Giannis), these players are a reminder to us all that basketball offers an opportunity ‘beyond borders’.
The NBA might be a business, a juggernaut worth billions. The NFL (National Football League) might have more fans, and the MLB (Major League Baseball), more exposure. But make no mistake: basketball has arrived. With more Aussie players in the L than ever before, we are now a part of this renaissance. For most, the quick charge of rugby league might be tempting. Compared though to painstaking football and equally robotic tennis, basketball certainly offers at worst an equal option – if you could ignore the timeouts, fouls, dead balls, and extra periods.