With Super Bowl LIV in the books, the NFL season is over. That is sad. But fortunately, there are other sports to be watched, even if it isn't football or you aren't partial to the XFL. The NBA, in particular, has been chugging along with a lot of interesting storylines this year. So, for all you latecomers to the professional basketball season, here's a quick primer on the biggest storylines of the year.
The Bucks Are Historically Good
Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best record in basketball at 60-22 and Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP while averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in 32 minutes per game. This year, the Bucks are on pace to win over 70 games (!!), are currently 42-7, and have an NBA-best 11.8 net rating, which would be the best ever if it holds. Giannis has somehow gotten better as the reigning MVP, putting up 30 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in only 30 minutes per game. They don't get a lot of media coverage because it's Milwaukee and they're beating everyone so badly it's almost boring, but make no mistake-- they're the best team in basketball, with the best player in basketball only getting better.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis Needed No Time to Adjust
The Lakers organization, and indeed the basketball world, is still in mourning after the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. But as far as the basketball side of things goes, L.A. has surprised everyone this year and currently has the best record in the West at 37-11. We knew LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be a lethal pairing, but they meshed from the get-go with essentially no time needed to adjust to each other's playing styles. The two combine for an average of 51.6 points, 16.8 rebounds, and 14 assists per game while leading one of the league's stingiest defenses. They're the best one-two punch in the NBA right now.
The Clippers Are Uninteresting But Dominant
Also in Los Angeles, the Clippers have been extremely boring this year. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have only played 19 games together after George returned from offseason shoulder surgery, mostly due to the various games both miss for load management. But when they do play, they're absolutely dominant, going 15-4 with an average margin of victory of 15 points. There's been some drama around Montrezl Harrell's comments to the media, but otherwise the team has been very good and not particularly fun to talk about. They'll be featured prominently come playoff time, though.
Ja Morant, Not Zion Williamson, is the Most Exciting Rookie in Basketball
Zion Williamson missed most of the first half of the season recovering from knee surgery. He's been fun since he returned last week, giving us the expected array of ridiculous athletic feats and alley-oop dunks. But the most exciting rookie this season resides in Memphis. Ja Morant has been outstanding for the Grizzlies, and is the main reason they're in the playoff race when this was supposed to be another rebuilding season. His elite athleticism and absurd court vision (especially for a rookie) has resulted in numerous highlights, ranging from posters to assists you have to see with your own eyes to believe. Williamson will continue to make his mark, and by name recognition alone will be in the crosshairs of public discourse more than Morant. But Morant is as fun and exhilarating as any rookie to come into the league this decade.
The Middle of the Eastern Conference is a Battleground
The Bucks are far and away the team to beat in the East, but that second tier is as tight as it can get for halfway through the season. The Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Heat, and Pacers are all within five games of each other in a race for the second seed behind Milwaukee. The Sixers have the Celtics' number, but have struggled to produce with their super-big lineups. The Pacers are only going to get better as they work Victor Oladipo back into the mix. The Celtics have four legit offensive options in their starting lineup, but lack the size to compete with the Joel Embiids and Antetokounmpos of the world. The Heat are relying heavily on their young talent and Jimmy Butler is having a bad year shooting the ball, yet keep beating teams. The Raptors currently hold the second seed despite dealing with a myriad of injuries to all of their important players and could be even better once healthy. It's going to be a bloodbath down the stretch, and it'll be awesome.
The Russell Westbrook-James Harden Experiment is Still a Work in Progress
The Harden-Westbrook backcourt was always going to be interesting due to their ball-dominant tendencies, and the cracks have shown this year. Houston is only the five seed in the Western Conference and went 7-7 in the month of January. Westbrook had a brutal start to the year shooting the ball but the Rockets kept winning because James Harden averaged almost 40 points a game for the first few months of the season. Now, Harden has cooled off significantly, while Westbrook has improved his efficiency by cutting down on three-point attempts in a big way. Houston isn't in dire straits quite yet, but they aren't the dominant squad that their payroll would suggest, which leads to decisions like their reported desire to trade Clint Capela.
The Warriors Are Very Bad and May Stay That Way This Season
Golden State spent the last half-decade at the top of the basketball world. Now they're living life on the other side of the coin, currently repping the worst record in the NBA at a ripe 11-39. Steph Curry is out until at least the end of the month with the hand injury he suffered back in October. It would be shocking if Klay Thompson returned this season. That leaves Draymond Green, D'Angelo Russell, and a variety of cast-offs and late draft picks to populate the Warriors' bench. At this point, they may just decide to let Curry fully heal up and give themselves the best chance possible at the top pick of this year's draft to either add a blue-chip prospect or add more depth behind their two injured stars. It's been jarring to see them at the bottom of the standings after so many years of dominance, but here we are.