NBA Lockout Update: Great Early Season Games Get Axed

I’m reluctant to hand the two sides of the NBA lockout another Rogue of the Week award—ever since Behind the Basket introduced this column back in July, I’ve been critical of both the NBA and NBPA, and they were my choice for the inaugural entry in this series. Yet I would feel remiss if, just days after David Stern announced the cancellation of the first two weeks of the NBA’s regular season, I did not give blame to everyone involved in this horrible situation. So, once again: NBA and NBPA labor bosses, you are the Rogues of the Week.

Over the past few weeks, the news out of New York has been that the two sides have made some progress. And while nobody really expected this lockout to be settled by Monday (Stern’s deadline for not missing games), the hope was that the two sides would be in a much better place than they were on July 1. Yet this is what David Stern had to say when on Monday:

“We remain very, very far apart on virtually all issues.”

The lockout has now lasted 103 days. Franklin Roosevelt helped solve the Great Depression and turn around the country in just 100 days. You’re telling me a few millionaires couldn’t figure out how to divide up a billion-dollar pie during that timespan? How is this possible? How is it that two groups of people—whose jobs are to play basketball and ensure that the league continues to play basketball—could have made so little progress?

Oh yeah, I remember now: by granting themselves what amounted to a two-and-a-half month vacation. From July to mid-September, the two sides essentially ignored each other, meeting once every two weeks or so just so they could demonstrate how firm their positions were. But instead of looking tough, each side now looks extremely stupid for wasting months of valuable negotiating time. I’m a college student; I can be forgiven for procrastinating. These guys have no excuse. And, with no further meetings scheduled at the moment, who knows when this mess will get cleared up?

So here’s my advice to Stern, Billy Hunter, and everyone else involved: lock yourselves in a room together and figure something out, because people aren’t going to miss the NBA as much as you think they are.

That’s not to say that the die-hards won’t miss the league (if you’re reading this site, I’m guessing that, like me, you’re pretty pissed that the NBA won’t be starting on November 1), but for the casual sports fan, the NBA is utterly replaceable. The NBA’s regular season isn’t like the NFL’s, where the nation stops whatever they’re doing for six hours on a Sunday afternoon. A missed Bulls-Mavs matchup on opening night will be tough to stomach for an NBA junkie (keep reading), but for the rest of the country, it will be quickly forgotten. Fans fixing for hoops can turn to college basketball and preview the NBA’s stars of tomorrow; fans who want that pro sports experience will go to hockey.

And there’s always the NFL, which runs into February and starts airing Thursday night matchups in November. Add to that college football and the growing popularity of professional soccer (particularly the Champions League and the English Premier League), and it’s pretty clear that the world isn’t going to fall apart when the NBA season doesn’t start on time. Even the playoffs, the best part of the NBA year, can be replaced. All those fans that had to pick between watching the NBA and NHL come April and May? It’s an easy decision when only one league’s playing games.

Let’s return, though, to those NBA diehards. What exactly will they miss from November 1-14? Here’s a look at the best cancelled games of the 2011-12 season.

Bulls-Mavericks (November 1)

Banner night is always special, but when you won the first title in franchise history on the heels of 10 consecutive playoff exits, there’s a bit more emotion in the air than when a team like the Lakers raise another championship banner. There’s also the question of what Mark Cuban would have done at the ceremony. After 11 years of frustration, Cuban finally got his elusive championship last season, and you just know that he would have done something crazy to celebrate it. Alas, we will have to wait a bit longer to find out exactly what that will be. Aside from the pomp-and-circumstance of the night, there’s also the matter of the on-court matchup pitting the NBA’s winningest team last season (62-20 Chicago) against the champion Mavericks. Will a title have gone to the heads of Dallas vets Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd? More pressingly, how will their legs (a combined 3,568 NBA games) hold up after a deep playoff run? Do they have enough in the tank to hold off the young Bulls? These questions, like so many others, will remain unanswered because of the lockout.

Lakers-Thunder (November 1)

Here we have another great opening-night matchup pitting a young conference finalist from 2011 against a recent champion. 2011-12 (if it happens) will be a crucial season for both of these teams. OKC, after making the Western Finals last season, will be looking to take that next step and establish itself as the West’s top team. The three Western teams that won more games than OKC last year (Spurs, Mavs, Lakers) are all much older than the Thunder, so OKC will try to capitalize on their superior athleticism when playing those teams. The Lakers, on the other hand, will be looking to prove that they’re still capable of contending for a title after an embarrassing second round sweep at the hands of the Mavericks. The big questions for LA: will Pau Gasol regain his form of 2010? And how will new coach Mike Brown manage Kobe Bryant as the 33-year-old continues to decline?

Heat-Knicks (November 2)

As far as regular season matchups go, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Knicks and Heat opening their seasons at Madison Square Garden. Few matchups offer better star power (four starters from the 2011 All-Star Game), and this game would have offered us a chance to see if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the rest of the Heat can operate more smoothly than they did in 2010-11 (not likely, considering they haven’t practiced as a team since the Finals). These are also two rosters that may have to be shaken up if the NBA re-works its salary cap structure, as Amar’e, Carmelo, LeBron, Bosh, and Wade are collectively owed $275 million over the next three seasons. The only downside in this game? The Heat are a lot better than the Knicks, so the game probably wouldn’t have been that close.

Mavericks-Spurs (November 4)

This has been one of the NBA’s best rivalries over the past decade. Two in-state rivals that have been the NBA’s most consistent winners this century (Dallas hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2000, San Antonio since 1997). Two teams built around a top-25 all-time player. And the two teams with the most wins in the Western Conference last season. Dallas-San Antonio has always been great theater, but now there’s a new element to the narrative. The Mavericks, forever younger brothers in this matchup due to the Spurs four titles, are now the defending champs and will have an added confidence when (if?) the season kicks off.

Hornets-Lakers (November 6)

These two teams gave us six great games in last spring’s playoffs, though it may be more accurate to say that Chris Paul and the Lakers gave us six great games. New Orleans’ two wins, in Games 1 and 4, were both Paul masterpieces. Paul erupted for 33 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals in Game 1 at the Staples Center, and followed that up with a triple-double performance in Game 4 at home (27 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds, and 2 steals). Those two games confirmed Paul’s supremacy among the league’s point guards. But without David West, lost for the season in March with an ACL tear, the Hornets could not overcome the Lakers’ superior front line. This early-season game would have offered a sample of how West and the Hornets might have played LA had he been healthy (though West is a free agent now). Moreover, it would have been fascinating to see how Paul handled the Staples Center crowd, considering that he is in the final year of his contract and the Lakers figure to be one of his biggest suitors if his salary could be properly massaged under the new CBA.

Jazz-Heat (November 8)

On November 9, 2010, the Jazz and Heat played one of the best games of the 2010-11 regular season. Down 51-32 at haltime, Utah scored 72 points in the second half—led by Paul Millsap’s career-high 46—to send the game to overtime, where Francisco Elson hit a pair of free throws with 0.4 seconds left to give the Jazz a 116-114 victory. Utah trailed by 8 with 28 seconds to play, but Millsap scored 11 points in that span while Miami missed three free throws to set up a miracle comeback. Dwyane Wade’s 39 points and LeBron James’ triple-double were reduced to footnotes. So, looking to capture that same lightning in a bottle, the NBA’s schedule makers gave us the same game in the same arena in the same week as last year. We’ll never get to see it now, and that’s a shame since much has changed for Utah since then. Namely:

  • They shipped Deron Williams to New Jersey for Derrick Favors and Devin Harris.
  • Longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned and was replaced by Tyrone Corbin.
  • They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
  • They drafted Enes Kanter at number 3 overall. Wouldn’t you love to have seen Kanter, Al Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors attacking Miami’s shoddy frontcourt? Wouldn’t you love to have seen Kanter play anyone so we could figure out how good he is?

Thunder-Bulls (November 10)

OKC and Chicago are in similar situations. Both exceeded expectations last season in making the conference finals, and both were outed in five games by older, more experienced squads. Now each team will be out to show that 2010-11 wasn’t a fluke and that they’re capable of reaching the conference finals year-in and year-out. Between Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, there’s a ton of young talent in this game. Each team also has questions surrounding its rotation. Scott Brooks struggled to manage the Thunder during the playoffs, and now he has to find more minutes for James Harden. Meanwhile, Tom Thibodeau faces the question of whether a team that started Keith Bogans in every game last season can win an NBA title.

That’s all for this week. Let’s hope that two weeks from now I’ll be previewing the season instead of talking about the best cancelled matchups from the rest of November (a guy can dream, right?).


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