The NFL is sufficiently renowned for its parity to have spawned the pretty universal phrase “any given Sunday.”
The NBA … is not so similarly regarded.
No, professional basketball is more known for producing multi-year dynasties — the Warriors, the Lakers, the Bulls, the Lakers, the Celtics … the Lakers.
You get the point.
It’s not merely the year-to-year variety, though — the NBA doesn’t really have that “any given Sunday” perception, and it’s not merely because basketball is played every day.
We all pretty much think we know who’s going to win every game, don’t we? Especially when it’s a good team playing a bad team. And there’s a reason for that. With but five players per team on the court at a time, and just 13 active every night, delineations between quality and not can get pronounced in a hurry.
And yet, in this past week of games alone, we’ve witnessed plenty of examples of the opposite, not the least of which was the Jazz’s 20-point decimation at the hands of the lottery-bound Suns on Monday night.
Over the past few days, we’ve also seen:
• The Cavaliers rally from a 22-point deficit to upset the Heat 125-119 in OT on Monday.
• Oklahoma City blowing a 24-point lead before fending off the Bulls 124-122 on Tuesday.
• The Timberwolves overcoming a 12-point deficit with a 20-5 run in the the final 3:59 to shock the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday.
• Cleveland shockingly lead the entire way in knocking off the admittedly short-handed Sixers 108-94 on Wednesday
• The Thunder trail by as many as 19 before eclipsing the Kings 108-104 on Thursday.
Let’s be clear about this: such results are a good sign. Elimination of most of that sense of preordination can only bolster public perception of the product.
Yes, by definition, such upsets are inevitable. After all, we have yet to encounter an NBA franchise endure a winless season, hard as the Charlotte Bobcats or “The Process”-era 76ers may have tried. The bigger takeaway, however, is that such results are a sign that talent in the league is widespread.
In college basketball, upsets happen on a frequent basis because it’s easier to manipulate matchups with gimmicky schemes. That’s harder to pull off in the NBA.
Does the NBA ultimately want its good teams to beat its bad ones? Of course — that’s why their postseason consists of best-of-seven series, rather than winner-take-all one-offs. It puts the odds in the favor of the talented squads, it lessens the chances for randomness to rule the day.
That said, a little bit of randomness is a good thing. One other cliché we frequently hear in sports, which is not unique to basketball but which is nevertheless applicable, is, “That’s why they play the games.”
Many of these teams are flat-out bad. And poorly managed. And yet, so long as the Hawks have Trae Young, so long as the Wolves have Karl-Anthony Towns, so long as the Kings have De’Aaron Fox, so long as the Suns have Devin Booker — they have a chance.
No team is totally bereft of high-level talent. Except the Knicks. And even they manage a win once in awhile.