Are We Approaching a Golden Age for the NBA?

After beating the Orlando Magic last night by playing hard for approximately four minutes of game time, the Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 27 (feels like 100) and took one step closer breaking one of the most outrageous records in NBA history.

Obviously, Miami’s streak is the best story of the season, but what’s so awesome about this year’s NBA is that even if Miami didn’t win all of these games in a row, this would still be a great year for the league. In fact, it’s almost a shame that Miami can’t lose, because it’s forced us to overlook the greatness of almost everything else that’s going on. For example:

The San Antonio Spurs are 53-17

Can you believe that the Spurs are only three games back of Miami in the loss column? Their longest win streak this season was 11 which is, you know, 16 less than Miami’s. Oh, and they’ve done this with an injured Tony Parker, a 36-year-old Tim Duncan, and an “I’m-not-quite-Manu-anymore” Manu Ginobili. Despite all that, they are having nearly as good a season as the Heat, and by the end of the year they very well could have a better record than a team that has won 27 games in a row.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are 52-19

Yep, a team that could conceivably win 60 games is the third best team in the league (and you could make an argument with the way the Nuggets are playing that they’re lower than that). Incredibly, a team with a player averaging 28/8/4/1.5/1.2 and another player averaging 23/5/7.5/1.8 is flying under the radar. I didn’t even think that was possible.

The L.A. Clippers are 48-22

When does ESPN ever make a headline about the Clippers? When DeAndre Jordan did this to Brandon Knight? When Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford did this? Those are highlights, but has anyone ever mentioned that the Clippers are actually pretty damn good? The Clips may have taken a bit of a dip recently, but they’re still 26 games over .500 with one of the best point guards who’s ever lived, two guys who are frighteningly athletic, and one of the best bench scorers in recent memory.

The Denver Nuggets are 49-23

The Nuggets just had a 17-game winning streak snapped. They have as many home losses as Miami (3). They have nine guys averaging 8+ points per game. Did I mention they just won 17 games in a row? Honestly, what excites me most about this Nuggets team is that they are spearheading a trend towards a more modern composition of NBA rosters. The league is moving to successful teams being filled with uber-athletic, positionless players with ballhandling and shooting skills who can cover three or more spots on the floor. When I watch the Nuggets play, I feel like I’m watching basketball eight years from now, which is exactly why they’re so scary.

Think about it…

Assuming things go as they should, we’ll definitely have six teams with 50+ wins (Memphis being number six), and if Indiana and New York play well, we could be at eight, which, according to about ten minutes of research, seems average. But the crazy part about this season is that we could theoretically have three 60-win teams. Again, my name isn’t “Elias,” but I couldn’t find another time this happened since the 1997-98 season; you know, MICHAEL JORDAN’S LAST YEAR (I don’t count the Wizards years), when there were four.

Maybe I’m biased because I grew up during the Jordan era, but there hasn’t been a level of basketball since that has matched that season. Consider those four 60-win teams: Chicago obviously had Jordan/Pippen/Rodman, Utah had Stockton/Malone, Seattle had Gary Payton/Vin Baker and three other guys in double-figures, and L.A. had Shaq/Eddie Jones/Young Kobe and three other guys in dub-figs. Not to mention that this was the same era as the Reggie Miller Pacers, the ‘Zo Mourning Heat, and the early Duncan/Robinson Spurs. Craziness, right?

I’m not saying that the NBA has been bad since, because it hasn’t (or I could just be an obsessive basketball fan), but it’s fair to say that basketball hasn’t been the same since. Until now. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but we might be approaching a new golden age of NBA basketball. Here’s why:

  • The Heat are approaching the level of the best teams in history. Even if they don’t break the 33-game win streak record, they’re poised to win championships for the next 6 or so years, and LeBron James hasn’t even plateaued yet. Would it really shock you if they win 70+ games in a season within the next five years?
  • The Thunder are going to be able to at least challenge Miami for as long as the Heat are good. Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka are younger than LeBron/D-Wade/Bosh, they were much closer to beating Miami in last year’s Finals than people care to admit, and KD and Russy haven’t even figured out how to play with each other yet. Imagine how good they’ll be when Westbrook realizes that Durant is the alpha male (to me this isn’t a question of if, but when).
  • True, the Spurs are getting old, but we also were saying that five years ago. Something tells me that as long as Popovich is coaching and their front office remains in place, San Antonio will be an NBA force for years to come. They still have Tony Parker in his prime, after all.
  • The Nuggets have one player over 30, and just about everyone is locked in through 2015. There isn’t a team in the NBA who is athletic as them, including Miami and OKC. This group is just hitting its stride, and now that George Karl is figuring out how to play all of these guys, this is a roster that could dominate for years.
  • Assuming Chris Paul stays with the Clippers (which I really feel is a near certainty at this point), he and Blake Griffin have plenty of years left together, and Griffin hasn’t even learned how to score yet. Assuming he ever does, the Clippers will have two all-stars for at least five years.
  • The Grizzlies have a core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Ed Davis signed through 2015. They could be pretty darn good for a while.
  • As bad as the Lakers have been this year, this is still a team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. What if they figure it out in the next year or two?

Essentially, that’s seven teams that could contend for a championship over the next five years, all with current or possible future hall of famers (excluding the Nuggets, which makes them even more fun). If none of them is able to beat Miami, then we witness a dynasty, and LeBron challenges Jordan as the best player ever. If the Thunder end up winning a title at any point, then Durant and LeBron create maybe the best star-rivalry since Magic/Bird. If the Spurs can get another title, they continue maybe the best long-term stretch of basketball excellence by any franchise ever. If the Nuggets win a title, they usher in the new era of star-free, fluid basketball as a new way to win. If Chris Paul gets a ring, he cements his legacy as one of the best point guards who ever lived, and for the first time there will be a real rivalry in L.A. If the Grizzlies win a championship, we can say that size and post-play will never die in basketball (which is becoming an increasingly difficult argument to defend). If the Lakers win a title, Dwight Howard becomes a malcontent-turned-championship center, and the Kobe/Jordan discussion becomes that much more complicated.

No matter what happens in the NBA over the next few years, fans of the game can’t lose (unless you’re a Sixer fan, ugh). So buckle in, because a decades from now, you’ll be mournfully watching games, wondering if you’ll ever see a period of basketball like good ol’ pre-2020 years.

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