Serious things can start in the NBA. Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, it was the first full season at 82 games. At the time of the balance sheet, it is the Phoenix Suns who have impressed the most with 64 wins for 18 losses while the Lakers are the big losers. The playoffs may deliver another truth so to best prepare for the start of the finals, here are the main lessons from this first part of the season.
The Suns at the zenith
Moribund three years ago, the Suns have been on the rise for two seasons thanks in particular to the advent of Devin Booker and the arrival of Chris Paul, who has become the 3rd best passer in NBA history and the first to combined 20,000 points and 10,000 assists. Unhappy finalist last year (defeat against Milwaukee 4-2), Phoenix continues to gain momentum and places itself as the favorite to win this NBA title which has been fleeing them since the creation of the franchise in 1968. 64 victories in the regular season, it is a record record for the Arizona franchise which exceeds the Suns of 1993 and 2005 by two successes.
“They’re the best team in the league for a reason. They have a group of great players who play well together. They’re connected offensively and defensively, they don’t let gor”, greeted Joël Embiid, the pivot of the 76ers and best scorer of the season (30.4 pts on average). Enough to survive the playoffs and his meetings at loggerheads? Only Phoenix has the key.
The NBA PLAYOFF PICTURE!
— NBA (@NBA) April 11, 2022
Milwaukee and Miami meet
Have the Bucks digested their 2021 title? With the second record in the East (51-31) behind Miami, Giannis Antetokoumpo’s team is in its place in this first phase and the Greek pivot in its standards with 29.9 points on average. The team, which dreams of a first double in the NBA, has an ultra-complete workforce to bisser.
Finalists in 2020, Miami (53-29) proved to be solid in the storm. The regularity paid off despite a workforce sometimes decimated by injuries or the Covid-19 and the sometimes deleterious atmosphere which saw in particular its star Jimmy Butler and coach Erik Spoelstra fail to come to blows. Since then, the Heat have finished the season in a cannonball (6 consecutive successes and 1 loss) and will be a rival not to be underestimated.
Memphis and Golden State show the muscles
In this review of the teams that have marked the top of the table, we do not forget Boston and Philadelphia, 3rd and 4th in the East with 51 victories, but it is especially in Memphis that we think of. The Grizzlies simply have the second regular season record (56-26). Often unstoppable, as in this record match against the Thunder, beaten 152-79 with 73 pts difference, they are led by a rising Ja Morant. Drafted 2nd in 2019 and freshly All-Star, the former Murray State player finished 6th in scoring for the season with 27.4 points per game. Back after a knee problem, he will live his second playoffs with the ambition to see beyond the 1st round.
A winning machine between 2014 and 2019 (3 NBA titles, single-season win record), Golden State finally took the lead in San Francisco Bay with the returns to the court from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The first, who missed the end of the season because of a sprained left foot, has lost none of his genius and averages 25.5 pts with winning shots as if it were raining (285 successful this season). He even exceeded 3,000 career 3-point shots. The second came back late but he is gaining momentum before the playoffs with two games at 30 pts and more in early April. Above all, Steve Kerr was able to reform his trio with Draymond Green. If the injuries go away, Golden State could create a surprise.
Gobert still guides the Frenchies
The XXL French player in the League is still and always Rudy Gobert. The triple best defender in the League (soon to be 4?) has had a very clean season so far, like what he has been producing for four years (14.7 rebounds per game, 15.6 pts and 2.1 blocks ). “Gobzilla” is in the playoffs for the 6th consecutive year with a less sovereign Jazz than last season when the franchise finished top of the regular season. Did the failure in the 2nd round against the Clippers serve as an electric shock? A little further west, Nicolas Batum (8.3 pts) remains the Swiss army knife of the Clippers who are aiming for one of the last folding seats for the playoffs thanks to their 8th place (dam against Minnesota).
Evan Fournier is already on vacation for his first season with New York. 80 games at 14.1 pts average and a slightly worse address (41.7% anyway) will not have been enough to help the Knicks pass the regular season cut. In Atlanta, Thimoté Luwawu-Cabarrot (52 games and 13 minutes on average) made a little place for himself while waiting for better while Kylian Hayes still did well with Detroit (66 games, 25 minutes and 6, 9 pts).
Small disappointment for Théo Maledon who has not confirmed his good first season with Oklahoma. By moving from the Knicks to the Mavericks in a role of lining of Doncic, Frank Ntilikina saw his rating drop over the season because of an offensive contribution still limited. He hardly even enters the rotation of Dallas which will go to the playoffs.
The Lakers all the way west
The flop is as monumental as the addition of stars to the Crypto.com Arena (ex-Staples Center). From the “big 3” James-Davis-Westbrook (supported by veterans Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, DeAndre Jordan) supposed to combine showtime and victories in California only emerged an indigestible “gloubiboulga”. Blame it on a ghostly defense and a screaming “LeBron-dependence” in attack. At 37, James has evolved to a still exceptional level (30.3 pts average, 52.4% success rate) but without making the others play better, as evidenced by his 6.2 average passes, far from 10, 2 of the 2019-2020 financial year.
The absences of “LBJ” (26 games missed), now second best scorer in history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Anthony Davis (40 games played) also weighed heavily in the race for the playoffs. The Lakers finish with a poor record of 33-49 and will not escape another reconstruction with or without stars.