It’s nothing like January Basketball! It’s when champions are made and banners are hoisted up to the rafters.
At least on social media that’s what happens.
January 25th 2016, the Golden State Warriors demolished the San Antonio Spurs in a clash of the NBA titans, 120-90. What was supposed to be one of the best games of the season, ended up being a personal highlight reel for Steph Curry. Steph finished with 37 points, his 7th game in the month of January with 30+ points. The highlight of the night was when he caught Kawhi Leonard with some off ball movement that left the league’s best defender touching the floor trying to regain his footing.
It was bad all around for the Spurs, who didn’t look like the same team that leads the league in point differential and points allowed per game.
What I found most disappointing was how the internet reacted to the game. Of course this was a big win for the Warriors, building their resume for one of the best seasons ever, but to react as if this game was Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals is ignorant.
To further explain my point that overreacting over this game is premature and ignorant, I’ll refresh your memory of situations where January basketball became meaningless basketball in May.
Atlanta Hawks, January 2015
By January 1st 2014, the Hawks were on a two game win streak, on their way to banging 18 straight victories. The Hawks were the best during that span, putting up big wins against the Wizards 120-89 and 110-89 against the Raptors. The Hawks hype level didn’t reach the new heights, but many were looking at them as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference because of that undefeated month of January.
Then came May….
The Hawks walked into the playoffs as the number 1 seed in the East with 60 wins. They escaped the Nets and Wizards – winning both series 4-2 – but then the Eastern Conference Championship came with the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks swept the Cavs during the season but was on the opposite end of the sweeping this time. The Hawks, who had four All-Stars, only scored 90+ once in Game three of their overtime loss.
The Cavaliers that same season fell under .500 in the month of January while LeBron was sidelined by an injury. When LeBron returned, the Cavs won 11-straight.
Dallas Mavericks, January 2011
The Mavericks didn’t walk into 2011 on a good note, in fact according to January basketball analyst, they were destined to be a lottery pick by time June rolled around. From December 28th to January 20th, the Mavericks went 3-11 losing to seven playoff teams from that season without their leader Dirk Nowitski, who only average 19 points in the month.
The only thing that saved the Mavericks in the month of January was how they finished it.
From January 22nd – March 4th the Mavericks went 17-1 but wasn’t on many people radar as a potential NBA Champion, that early skid was still on the minds of January Basketball analyst.
Then came May....
Dirk Nowitski would have one of the best postseason runs in recent memory. The Mavericks went 16-5 during the 2011 postseason, never once seeing a game 7. They swept the Lakers, defeated the young Thunder squad 4-1, and the Heat newly put together Big Three of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh.
Dirk averaged 27 points and 8 boards during that run, while shooting 49% from the field, 46% from behind the arc, and 94% at the charity stripe – complete opposite from his January numbers.
Minnesota Timberwolves, January 2004
This might be the best January team ever - prior to the 2016 Golden State Warriors of course. The Timberwolves defeated the might Los Angeles Lakers twice in the month of January by a point differential of +32. Latrell Sprewell outplayed Kobe in both games, dropping 65 points between both meeting; Kobe on the other hand with 37 points. Kevin Garnett was in MVP form, dropping 28 points, 18 boards, 6 dimes in the teams’ first meeting on January 6th (Shaq did not play).
Sam Cassell even joined the fun, giving the Lakers 28 points and 11 dimes on January 30th. The T-Wolves would go on to become the #1 seed in the Western and Kevin Garnett captured his only MVP title.
Then came May….
The T-Wolves were still hot coming off a tough 7-game Western Conference semi-finals with the Sacramento Kings while the Lakers awaited them in the Western Conference Finals. If you go by January Basketball, the T-Wolves were supposed to win this game but the Lakers proved January basketball didn’t mean anything. The Lakers only allowed the T-Wolves to score 90 points a game, while in January they dropped 106 and 97 on the Lakers.
Kobe ended being Kobe, was the leader scorer for three games out of series, while Shaq averaged 15 boards, all in the midst of the biggest breakup in NBA history. Lakers would go on to lose to the Pistons in the NBA Finals, which ended the Kobe & Shaq dynasty.
And before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not saying that the Spurs will defeat the Warriors come May, all I’m insinuating is that January Basketball holds little value in the bigger picture of the NBA season. Nobody remembers that Sprewell outscored Kobe in January, nobody cared about the Hawks undefeated January after they were swept, and how many people outside of Dallas remembered Dirk only averaged 19 points in January?
You think in a seven game series, the Spurs are going to turn the ball over 28 times. You think Leonard will look lost against the Warriors when they meet up again in March, and two more times in April? It’s too much basketball left to think Coach Popavich won’t have the Spurs prepared for the Warriors next time they meet.
The Warriors are playing great basketball and Steph Curry is the best player on the planet right now, but relax people, it’s five months of basketball left.