This is a bizarre season for the NBA in a bizarre time for the world.
Most of those picked to play in the All-Star Game do not seem particularly excited by those plans; arenas are somewhere between almost empty and totally empty because of COVID-19 protocols; and while game schedules are typically known months in advance, nobody knows what the second week of next month looks like yet.
All of this is most unusual.
However, there is one constant: the standings in the Eastern Conference are a mess.
Spending any time trying to figure how the East is going to look like at the end of the regular season would be a futile undertaking, because it is clear that the teams themselves have no idea.
The Miami Heat won the East last season, but have at no point been above .500 this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks — the NBA’s best regular-season team in each of the past two seasons, a team with two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — just had a streak of five consecutive losses.
Every team in the East have had at least one three-game losing streak; 11 of those 15 teams have had multiple three-game slides and the season is not even half over.
If all that were not enough, the Western Conference is dominating its friends from the other half of the league, winning 57 percent of the games against the East.
That is on pace to be the biggest margin since the West won 58.4 percent in 2014-2015 and virtually assures that the West will win the regular-season series versus the East for the 21st time in the past 22 seasons.
Having only three teams better than one game above .500, two months into the season, that is the big surprise out of the East.
The Philadelphia 76ers (20-11) and the Brooklyn Nets (20-12) sit atop the East, and Milwaukee (18-13) are right in their shadow.
That is where the ridiculously tight traffic jam starts, with the next 10 teams — the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, the Charlotte Hornets, the Heat, the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic and the Washington Wizards — all within 3.5 games of each other.
Some offer a very simple explanation.
“I see a lot of inconsistent teams in the East,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re one of them.”
That being said, there are signs that some teams are figuring it out.
Brooklyn just went 5-0 on a West road trip, playing most of those games without Kevin Durant. Toronto started 7-12, but are are 9-3 since. The Bulls and the Heat have already won more games this month than they did last month.
The Wizards beat the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers 127-124 on Monday for a fifth consecutive victory, meaning that they are 5-0 since starting 6-17.
And the Knicks — this is true and amazing — have a chance at their first winning calendar month since going 8-7 in November 2017.
“We’re striving to become a 48-minute team,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who has already made a sizeable impact in his first couple months in New York. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
The good news is that there is a lot of time left.
Teams are to get their second-half schedules finalized by the NBA this week. Everyone, even those going to Atlanta for the one-day All-Star events on March 7, are to get a little bit of a much-needed break after a hectic first couple of months of the season.
“Anybody that can find some consistency and reliability quicker can find some separation in the standings, but right now that there is not separation,” Spoelstra said. “So, what I see is opportunity.”
In other games on Monday, it was:
‧ Jazz 132, Hornets 110
‧ Thunder 94, Heat 108
‧ Mavericks 102, Grizzlies 92
‧ Suns 132, Trail Blazers 100
‧ Rockets 100, Bulls 120
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