In the NBA, does the regular season actually matter for the good teams? Can a team seemingly coast through the regular season and then turn it on when it matters in the playoffs? The Cavaliers are in the process of that very experiment.
Stop the presses: the NBA regular season does not mean a thing in regards to LeBron James-led teams.
"How can you say that? It's blasphemy! That's when teams are seeded and we get to see potential playoffs matchups play out!"
Sorry, but no you don't.
The NBA regular season simply doesn't matter for the Cavaliers or any of the other top teams in all reality. What is there to be learned in the regular season apart from what lineups work better than others for the top teams in the league? There really isn't anything to learn.
The 82 game regular season has become something of a joke lately, and the first person who regularly treated it as such was one Gregg Popovich. He began to rest his stars during the regular season, sitting out games in order to guarantee that his team was fresh come the playoffs.
I think it worked out for them - they've won five, count em', five NBA championships under his careful watch.
Don't think for a second that LeBron James didn't notice this. He is one of the highest mileage players in the league right now, and when broken down by minutes played by age 32, he is one of the highest mileage players of all time.
Ask yourself this very question: what is more important - to have your players healthy for the playoffs so that your team will be at full strength when it is winning time or to make sure that your players play in all 82 regular season games, health permitting? It's the first one, and if someone says otherwise, they're lying to themselves.
Greg Cote of the Miami-Herald made what I thought was a great point during his weekly appearance on the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz. Cote said, and this is an interpretation of what he said, that as a country, we have been obsessed with LeBron James since he was in high school at the dawning of the last decade. All this time, nearly 15 years later, and we have seen James play in thousands of games, and still, he sits out a few games a season, and that's the number one thing being discussed.
The very most important thing for the Cavaliers is to get to the playoffs with James both healthy and not exhausted from carrying a team for 82 games. In the last month, there have been people making a huge deal about James playing "so many minutes", wondering if he is being played too much. Then, James, Irving, and Love sit out a game in Los Angeles, granted a free-to-air primetime game on ABC, over the weekend, and now Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, is sending out 'strongly worded' memos to the teams saying that they should not be allowing their stars to sit. He painted this as though he was a bleeding heart for the fans who pay good money for their tickets to come to the game to see the stars play.
For the 'fans', right... that's why you're so upset, Adam.
The commissioner is only upset because of the fact that the NBA's tv partners, in this case, Disney, and advertisers are upset that they're paying an exorbitant amount of money for something that nobody is watching. This again leads to the question posed earlier: is it more important to have players play 82 games in the regular season or is it more important to have all the players healthy and ready to rock come playoff time? It is obviously the need to have everyone ready to play for the playoffs.
This is why the regular season doesn't matter for the best teams in the league - that caveat needs to be heard. For the Warriors, it doesn't matter if they finish as the sixth seed in the West, they're going to get through to the next round. For the Cavaliers, they could finish in any of the top eight seeds in the East and they would be favored, assuming health, in each round of the playoffs no matter the opponent. So why push it?
People on message boards on the internet whine about why the Cavaliers cannot win more than 60 games in a year with all this talent. The reason why they do not is very simple: they do not need to. Everyone saw the Warriors win 73 games last year, and what did it get them? A very, very late playoff exit. Just win what you can, win enough to have a top two seed or so, and then cruise. This is why the Cavaliers have yet to play defense consistently, they are not pushing themselves because there is no need to yet.
One final thought on the broadcast partners, it is actually a question more so than a thought. Which do you think they would rather have? LeBron James playing against the Clippers in a largely meaningless game on a random March Saturday night, or, would they want LeBron James in the Finals and have a plethora of people tune in to see those games? Guarantee they would choose the Finals, but, this is just a disembodied voice floating around inside your head, so what do I know.
The NBA: where the amazing happens and the regular season does not matter.