Pre-Playoff Mirage

Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry, who is out with a right wrist injury, sits beside Raptors guard Cory Joseph on the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. Lowry is scheduled to have surgery on his wrist Tuesday. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Last week, I wrote about how there is a lot of good NBA basketball left to watch this season, and how we aren’t necessarily destined for a three-peat of Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors finals.

All of that is still true. However, make no mistake, what you watch these next couple weeks is somewhat of a fallacy when it comes to representing the race for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The league is heating up as the playoffs near and contenders get into gear. To many that might mean now is the time to really start observing what this season’s championship push is all about.

My advice? Don’t put too much stock in how the hierarchal structures of the league and key games shake out. Unfortunately, we have a stretch run that is going to be marred by injuries.

In Golden State, Kevin Durant is out for an indefinite but extended amount of time. He is one of the best players in the league, so if they slip up and drop any key games, it should be forgiven. Observing how they play against top opponents and looking for trends is futile when you consider when it really matters, they are going to be adding one of the world’s best and that will totally change the dynamics of everything they do.

In Toronto, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry is also out until near playoff time. The Raptors have been good since acquiring veterans Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker at the trade deadline. We’ve seen a little of what they can do and how head coach Dwayne Casey plans on utilizing them. But Lowry, along with Demar Derozan, is what really makes the Raptors go. His return should make them a better team than how they are currently assembled, but until he gets on the court with his new teammates, we won’t know how everything fits and what works best. The Raptors have a lot of talent, but there’s only one basketball and the nuances of adding a player like Lowry will certainly change things.

In Cleveland, where the trophy currently resides, Lebron is missing an All Star of his own. Kevin Love was having a great season and his skillset gave the Cavaliers unique abilities. They’ve struggled somewhat without him, and those struggles may continue. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them losing to fellow East contenders like Boston who just beat them. They don’t have the depth right now. They added Andrew Bogut to bolster them down low off the bench, but a broken tibia negated that. Now, they’re going to have to try to find another contributor and assimilate him into their system. They’re also missing JR Smith, whose potent offense and experience is being forgotten about. The return of Love and Smith is going to make Cleveland much better, even if they don’t seem as dominant as last year right now.

Even other contenders have some banged-up players, limiting how much we can really know about these teams.

Al Horford’s absence clearly hurts the Celtics, losing him for an extended period of time could hurt them in the standings and put them in a poor playoff position. However, even if they fall out of the No. 2 spot, they are arguably the second-best team in the East with him.

The Clippers, who have been having quite an enigmatic season, have spent portions of it without stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. At times they’ve looked really good, on other occasions pretty horrendous. We still don’t know what they truly are.

Case in point, Mike D’Antoni’s electric offense will miss Ryan Anderson for potentially a couple of games against playoff teams in Utah (last night) and Chicago. If they lose those games without a major asset, don’t be too worried. Anderson will be back soon. But the point is the Jazz and Rockets are potential future foes and while everyone will want to look at this game as a predictor of things to come, the fact is it is an incomplete representation.

There are going to be countless more games like this the rest of the season. High level, highly entertaining showdowns. I’m not telling you not to enjoy them or not to make observations, but take things with a grain of salt. The Celtics team that just beat Cleveland won’t be playing the same Cavaliers in May, and that’s true for contenders throughout.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.