Back when he coached the Timberwolves, Flip Saunders once imparted a succinct piece of wisdom that enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the NBA. "It's all about the matchups," he said.
Most games are indeed played out through that elemental prism. Teams work to create an advantage and relentlessly exploit it until their opponent adjusts, setting off a chain reaction of other potential mismatches. When the matchups involve high-profile performers, you've got yourself a ballgame.
The league's surfeit of precocious talent, especially at the point guard position, makes for matchup nirvana. The prospect of seeing two of the past three No. 1 picks, Derrick Rose and John Wall, trading crossovers, no-looks and teardrops when the Bulls faced the Wizards last Saturday is a prime example. As an added bonus, you get a deeper impression of what two years of NBA experience can mean when two players of otherwise comparable talent and versatility square off.
Sometimes you tune in anticipating one matchup only to be beguiled by others. Monday's Mavericks-Hornets game looked to be an intriguing battle between Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. But Kidd didn't usually defend Paul in half-court sets, and my attention shifted to the physical jousting of star power forwards Dirk Nowitzki and David West and the matchup between defensive-oriented centers Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor, who were traded for each other straight up in July 2009 and have both since followed up disappointing seasons with rejuvenated play that has cemented the defensive identity of their respective teams.
In other words, there is a game within a game within a game within a game during every NBA game, and tumbling down that rabbit hole is one of my favorite parts of observing the league. Not incidentally, it helps inform many of the comments in the Power Rankings below.
(All stats and records are through Nov. 15.)
NBA Power Rankings