If there’s anything the National Basketball Association has been of late, it’s unpredictable. Games which are supposed to lean heavily one way wind up in the opposite direction. Teams otherwise in the fringes are making significant strides. And league standings look, well, more scrambled than friendly neighborhood fantasy affairs. Even the top-heavy Warriors, defending titleholders boasting of historically outstanding numbers in recent memory, have faltered out of the gate. Nothing is etched in stone. Everything is open to question.
From a competitive standpoint, the shaky positioning of old reliables has led to increased interest. Yesterday, for instance, the Mavericks blasted the Rockets out of the court, reigning Most Valuable Player James Harden’s triple-double notwithstanding. True, Chris Paul’s absence crimped the style of 2018-19 West champions, but, hey, it still shouldn’t have tilted the outcome in the vast underdogs’ favor. For the latter’s surprisingly steady showing to date, credit goes to resident scientist Rock Carlisle, who has managed to make Luca Doncic play like a veteran All-Star and not a rookie with still much to learn — and with certain Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki sidelined to boot.
Need more proof? How about the shellacking the Spurs received at the hands of the Timberwolves, also yesterday? One side’s supposed to be as sure as the rising run, and the other as shaky as a roller-coaster ride. Instead, stalwarts of the black and silver led by highly regarded DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge wound up being blitzed from the get-go by a spirited effort from the blue and white. For good measure, the win was ensured by new acquisition Robert Covington and former headliner turned journeyman Derrick Rose.
Other examples abound and contribute to a development that has the Celtics playing .500 ball, the Rockets next to last in the same conference the supposedly rudderless Clippers are at the top of. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are safely in the playoff picture despite an elephant-walk offense that runs counter to the NBA’s preferential options. In short, the first quarter of proceedings has fans scrambling to make sense of what they see, and on the edge of their seats waiting for the remaining three-fourths of the season to unfold.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.