x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Shortened NBA season a blessing in disguise

The previous lockout-shortened NBA season in 1998/99 featured 50 games and felt vitalising rather than droning.

There have been phases of NBA history during which the game seemed so dull or unsightly that the cancellation of a season would have seemed benign or benevolent.

This is not one of those phases, so the announcement of a deal to end the 149-day lockout happens to rank among the best of the voluminous things that have happened at 3am in New York.

If players and owners ratify the agreement as expected, a league nowadays rife with verve and intrigue will begin anew on December 25, toward a season condensed from 82 games to 66, yet another blessing.

The 82 games have long been too routine - sapping meaning from matches, wreaking gratuitous fatigue, risking key injuries and wasting electricity. It has been downright unwise for players to maximise effort through all 82.

The previous lockout-shortened season - 1998/99 featured 50 games and felt vitalising rather than droning.

If only they could cut 16 more this time, they really might be on to something.

Still, removing 16 chunks of chaff proves especially enticing in this delectable era.

To begin, this time frame stars the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade Miami Heat, who bring along a narrative element any type of theatre would crave, that of a brash and looming antagonist.

A bickering nation that unites over almost nothing anymore managed to bond in joy last June as Miami lost the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks and their German centrepiece, Dirk Nowitzki. Now Miami will try again, and James, at 27, will hammer at his legacy again, and the masses will practice mass contempt again. It's so beautiful.

More, this 2011/12 NBA boasts a rare raft of watchable subplots.

It has three tiers of compelling "generations" from fresh marvels such as Chicago's Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin and New Jersey's Deron Williams (who has been warming up in Turkey); to the "middle-aged" such as James, New Orleans' Chris Paul and Orlando's Dwight Howard; to the elderly such as the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Nowitzki.

When the 16-team play-offs began last April, the range of possibilities sparkled more than ever.

In truth, the series themselves wound up sagging - only one of the 15 went to seven games - but they did include No 8 seed Memphis upsetting No 1 seed San Antonio plus the teary crowd pleaser of Dallas over Miami.

To all of that, add that the owners seemed to win the lawyer-heavy, owners versus players tussle of recent months, and while normally it is good to see players win such wrangling, this outcome does seem to produce at least two good by-products.

It should rein in costs in a time of austerity, and it should deepen the wise American sport socialism of competitive balance.

The capacity of bright lights players to gravitate to big cities only, long a league weakness, apparently just took a prudent hit.

In total, that is a lot to pull off at 3am, even in New York.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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