The 2016-17 NBA regular season was already pretty meaningless from the beginning since most of us knew — barring injuries to LeBron James or a couple of key Warriors players — that the NBA Finals would be a three-match of the last two years.
That is, of course, how it played out.
Once again, though, the Cavaliers and Warriors took different paths to get here.
Golden State pummeled Western Conference competition in compiling a 67-15 record. It wasn’t quite up to their record-setting 73-9 standard of a year ago, but it was still enough to show they meant business and cared.
Cleveland stumbled and coasted through the regular season, finishing with a 51-31 record. That wasn’t even the best record in the East — Boston earned that distinction at 53-29. But the Cavaliers didn’t care. They knew that all that mattered was getting into the playoffs and then turning the switch from there.
They knew this because they’ve done it before. Of the five teams in NBA history with the biggest gap in net rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) between the regular season and postseason, three of them were the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 (to date) Cavaliers. Some of that can be chalked up to growing pains and slumps. But when it happens three times in a row, there’s a pattern suggesting indifference is also at play.
Cleveland rendered the Celtics’ home court advantage utterly meaningless by winning the first two games in Boston by a combined 57 points and finishing off the five-game series with a 33-point road win. The Cavaliers can similarly wipe out 82 games of good work by the Warriors by taking Game 1 Thursday night in Golden State, thus “stealing” the home court advantage.
If the NBA is really tired of a bunch of teams resting players and treating the regular season like an afterthought, here’s a novel idea: make home-court advantage really worth something.
In a seven-game series, the higher seed should get five home games. The high seed should host the first two, the low seed should host the second two (guaranteeing two home games) and the high seed should host the final three.
It probably wouldn’t have helped Boston this season since Cleveland was so good. But if it meant the Cavaliers cared for 82 games in an attempt to match Golden State’s regular-season output, I’m all for it.