NBA 2017/18: 5 things we learned this week

(Photo credit: Keith Allison)

San Antonio Spurs will have a losing record on the road for the first time since 1996/97

A road loss by the Spurs to the Oklahoma City Thunder last Saturday put an end to one of the NBA’s most incredible streaks. San Antonio will have a losing record on the road for the first time in 21 years. Even with all the league’s equalizers like the salary caps and reverse order draft, head coach Gregg Popovich built a dynasty that was unprecedented. This Spurs team is a far cry from the ones led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, even if the latter two are still playing.

The Spurs were always built on a system, not superstars (even if they had the stars to go with it), but that mantra is being tested with Kawhi Leonard still sidelined having played only nine games this season. LaMarcus Aldridge has led the team, and while his output has been better than expected, this season has been an enormous test of Popovich’s coaching prowess. Not only is their road record below average, they might miss the playoffs having dropped into the Western Conference seventh seed, only a half-game ahead of the Jazz in ninth.

The Warriors NEED Stephen Curry

Get one thing straight: the Golden State Warriors aren’t getting sympathy from anyone for having only one MVP in their current starting five. But as good as Kevin Durant is, Stephen Curry is what makes the Warriors tick. His shooting is essential, so too the spacing it provides, and his passing is elite. 

But since Curry went down with an ankle injury in the opening minutes against San Antonio, the Warriors have been beaten by the increasingly dangerous Trail Blazers and equally wounded Timberwolves. Curry has had ankle injuries his whole career, including four this season, and if they persist the playoffs get a lot more interesting.

Isaiah Thomas knows how to get revenge buckets

Over the last one and three-quarter seasons of NBA basketball, there have been few sights more frightening than the 5'9" Isaiah Thomas on a mission to prove doubters wrong. The Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James have shot to the top of that lengthy list and displaced Danny Ainge after Thomas’ stint in Ohio ended unceremoniously on trade deadline day. 

With LeBron the focus at Staples Centre ahead of the 2019 free agency period, Thomas stole the limelight to post 20 points, five rebounds, and nine assists as the Lakers swept past the Cavs. While his hip injury has prevented his 2017 form from becoming a consistent factor this season, he was able to turn back time and show teams why they should consider him for a long-term stay.

The NBA’s tank race is getting more infuriating for fans

It’s not a stretch to say that there are as many as ten teams that are tanking this year as the season draws to a close and teams refocus on 'giving their young players a chance'. While these teams are merely taking advantage of a system that rewards the worst franchises in the league, and resting Robin Lopez is not the sole factor in why the Bulls are near unwatchable, it is disheartening for fans for any given game to know that one (or both) teams are deliberately under-performing. As it has been for years, the NBA's tanking epidemic is a massive problem for the league.

Alvin Gentry is a dark horse for the Coach of the Year award

For several years, the New Orleans Pelicans have been the league’s running joke about wasted opportunities, particularly after failing to convert Anthony Davis’ presence into anything more than one postseason appearance (and subsequent first-round sweep). But somehow, the Pelicans have jumped up to be sitting in the West’s fourth seed, ahead of several teams who proclaimed to have championship ambitions (hello, OKC). 

Their stunning run of form may be down, predominantly, to Davis having transformed into a force of nature, but let's not forget about Alvin Gentry. A much-maligned coach for the past few years, Gentry must be applauded for coordinating the Pelicans' staggeringly good season, especially in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins' season-ending Achilles injury.

What stood out for you in Week 21 of the NBA? Comment below!

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