The Lakers lost to the Cavs last night. Don’t get me wrong, that is hilarious, but I’m not really buying into the whole, “demise of the Lakers,” storyline. Keep in mind this theory is coming from someone who doesn’t watch the NBA, but haven’t we seen this before? The Lakers must be bored out of their minds. Maybe the NBA needs to reposition its All-Star Break, because I think fans (and teams) are just counting down toward the playoffs at this point. Adding any more delay to the games that really matter just ups the frustration level. They should look into the week before the Super Bowl, give the Pro Bowl some competition, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make.
The point is, there is something about the NBA and NHL that makes the regular season appear to be completely worthless. The NFL season is short enough that coming out flat for more than a game or two can doom your playoff chances. In baseball, few teams make the playoffs, but the season is so long, that maybe you don’t notice the lulls as much. It’s part of the sport’s rhythm. But, the NBA and NHL? Oh, my. Half the league makes the playoffs, it can be wide-open once you get there, how the hell are we supposed to get through February and March? As a Flyers fan, it is great watching them pile up wins, but at this point only bad things can happen before April. They get cold, they suffer an injury, you want to the playoffs to start right now while they are playing well.
I’m sure the teams feel some of this. How could you not? Especially the veteran squads out there like the Lakers. They are, even after this recent 5-5 run, sitting with the 3rd best record in the West. They have a 9 game lead on Phoenix in their division. They have virtually no shot of catching San Antonio for the number one seed, so what are they really playing for these last 25-30 games? They’ve won back-to-back NBA Titles and they’re expected to rip off 65 wins in the regular season? What would be the point of that? Of course they’re flat. And, we’re hearing the right things, Phil is embarrassed, but I’m thinking he’s maybe not quite as worried as the authors of the “R.I.P. Lakers” stories. Could they be in trouble? Sure, but you won’t really know until the playoffs start and they attempt to flip the switch.
I think some people out there are worried about the Phillies coasting. There may have been a sense that is what was happening last year when they fell behind the Braves. Come late July they cranked it up and won the division going away. I think the fans would rather go wire to wire. Especially in baseball, where the margin of making the playoffs can be razor-thin compared to the “everyone over .500 is in” NBA. Are the Phillies going to be able to stay motivated for 162 games? They say all the right things, but will they be able to pull it off?
I think they will. Even though just about every sport is now about getting hot at the right time to win a championship, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Phils close faster than they start, the nature of their team dictates the motivation and wins should be there. Three of the top-4 starters don’t have the World Series ring from ’08 to fall back on, and when a team is so deep in starting pitching like the Phillies, it is a great defense for my coasting theory. They say speed doesn’t go into slumps, well I don’t think these pitchers will either. Add in the fact that they have to get up for only every 5th game, and I think the team will be pulled forward by their individual intensity on a daily basis.
So, put the complacency fears to bed for the Phillies, but for the next couple of months you are going to see plenty of coasting elsewhere. The Sixers have to wade through a couple more months before they get to play those 5 playoff games come April.