21 NBA Storylines That Deserve Your Attention, Part 4

The Spurs are locked and loaded for another title run. This time, let’s hope they finish the job. Photo by Robert Seale/SI

[I know, I know, it took me three weeks to finally finish this NBA preview thing. But three weeks is nothing compared to last season when I never posted Part 2. At least I’m finishing the job this time around.]

5. How bad will the Philadelphia 76ers be and can they grow while losing. (Can you tell I made this list three weeks ago?) Instead of being atrocious and laughable, the 76ers are atop the Atlantic Division and 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Did I mention they’ve beaten the Heat, Bulls, and Rockets – all widely believed to be title contenders? They run, they shoot, they hustle, they shoot some more, and they’re aggressive for 48 minutes every night. It’s the perfect team of misfits. A bunch of veterans trying to prove they belong (Anderson, Turner, Young, Hawes) combined with young castoffs (Wroten) and a polarizing rookie (Carter-Williams). (Probably not as polarizing anymore. MC Dubs can ball.) Anyway, the biggest question facing the organization right now is this: Is success a good thing? I vote yes, for now. Winning is a drug. You taste it, you want more of it. It’s good for these young guys to experience winning. I’m confident the 76ers lack of talent will eventually catch up to them and if not, I’m not going to blame a team for trying too hard.

4. Three weeks ago there were ten teams with reasonable title hopes. That list is already out of date. The Grizzlies have no shot. The Rockets have talent but lack defense and direction. That leaves eight, and even some of them are suspect. Regardless, nothing makes a season more exciting than elite matchups throughout the year. In the west any combination of the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Warriors makes for compelling television. In the East, the Bulls, Nets, Heat and Pacers will battle with playoff intensity all season long. We haven’t had this many contenders in years. I know the Nets and Bulls have struggled early, and the Clippers can’t defend for long stretches, but it’s a long season. Those teams will be around in the spring.

3. The excessive tanking will be as competitive as the title chase. Or maybe not. The Utah Jazz have a strangle hold on the worst record right now. Many expected the Suns, Sixers, Magic and Celtics to be right there with Utah. Instead those teams have combined for an 18-17 record. So much for tanking. Then again, don’t give up hope on an epic tank fest just yet. These things tend to right themselves over an 82 game season. Let’s also not forget we’re still less than a month in. Teams are trying to figure themselves out. The teams that have the most success early are teams that return the same roster (Spurs, Warriors, Pacers) and teams that play like a bat out of hell for 48 minutes (76ers). Teams like the Magic, Suns, Celtics and Sixers aren’t winning because they’re better than anyone. They’re winning because they’re hungrier right now. When you’re told you may be one of the worst teams ever assembled, there’s an urgency from the start that most other teams can’t match. I expect Brooklyn and Detroit to win more games than they lose. Once Derrick Rose finds his shot again the Bulls will win at a much higher rate. Even teams like the Wizards and Grizzlies should hover around .500 for much of the season. So don’t give up on tankapoolza just yet.

2. The Miami Heat are(is) trying to three peat. This is a big deal in the NBA. Legendary teams three peat. We all know LeBron James and Dwyane Wade love that legendary stuff. They want to be in that crowd. Though they won’t fight tooth and nail all season (they have nothing to prove anymore), you can bet we’ll see their best come playoff time. And that’s the exciting part. Will their best be enough this year? The Heat have(has) never had FOUR capable teams gunning for them in their own conference. The Pacers, Bulls and Nets are built to exploit Miami’s weaknesses. I already pray for the health of those teams in my nightly prayers so I don’t get cheated out of what should be a great season in the Eastern Conference. (I wrote that three weeks ago. So far, it’s been pretty lousy in the East. Miami is sluggish, the Nets are trying to figure themselves out, and the Bulls are still adjusting to life with Rose back. The Pacers, though? Whoa. They look scary.)

1. Another season of the San Antonio Spurs. I love the Spurs. I won’t apologize for it. They do everything right. When a coach says he only wants players “who have gotten over themselves,” that’s a team I want to support. The Spurs don’t rely on one player like 99.9% of the NBA. They trust a system, a system that preaches ball movement and cohesiveness. When starters struggle, Gregg Popovich empties the bench without hesitation. The machine chugs on, no one pouts.

For the umpteenth straight season people have written off the Spurs as contenders. At some point, those doubters will be right. Even Tim Duncan can’t play forever. But let’s hope it’s not this year. Let’s hope the Spurs have yet another run to the Finals so they can erase the demons of Game 6 where they were one rebound/one free throw/one bounce/one anything from a title.

Colts at Titans
All the Titans had to do was beat the 0-8 Jaguars last week to have a shot at the division title tonight. Instead, they’ll face an embarrassed Colts team they’re trailing in the division standings by two games. Tonight is simple. A win and the Titans season remains alive and kicking. A loss and they can put themselves on IR along with Jake Locker. TITANS If I were Charles Barkley; Titans +3

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