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Blowouts Are Leading to Boring Basketball

There are too many blowouts happening in the NBA. What has led to this?

Twenty-nine. Thirty-seven. Fifty-three. Forty-six. Forty-four. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight.

This isn’t me trying out potential lotto numbers, or listening to my six-year-old nephew figure out his math problems. These are actual margins from NBA games the past two and a half weeks.

Since the beginning of April—18 days’ worth of games in total—there have been four separate days with two 20-point blowouts, two calendar days with three 20-point blowouts and two calendar days with four 20-point blowouts.

By contrast, there have been only four days—the 6th, 9th, 15th and the 18th—with no games decided by 20 or more.

If that sounds strange, it’s because it is. According to the folks over at Stats Perform, 20.5% of games since the All-Star break have been decided by 20 points or more, tied for the second-highest rate in NBA history. You have to go back 53 years to the 1967–68 campaign to find the last time more than 20.5% of games after the break played out in such lopsided fashion.

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It goes without saying that this is a strange season, just like last season was with the bubble. We aren’t seeing the coronavirus postpone games anymore, but it still plays a role in things, whether it’s Jayson Tatum's saying he now uses an inhaler before games as he recovers from it or Karl-Anthony Towns's missing time to honor his mother on the anniversary of her passing from it.

I tried parsing a number of different things—analyzing the day-to-day rest advantages, to how inexperienced many of the call-ups and fill-ins are—in hopes of finding a culprit. There wasn’t anything that became abundantly clear in those metrics, though.

Perhaps the most meaningful thing to analyze is which teams are losing big most often. Of this month’s losses by 20 points or more, nearly 40% of them—11 out of 28—belonged to just three teams: the Thunder (five losses), the Magic (three) and Wizards (three). The Cavs, T-Wolves, Pelicans and Hornets are the other clubs that have been drubbed more than once this month.

Orlando tried trading everybody, including me, at the deadline in an effort to rebuild. So it makes sense that things have been ugly for the Magic since then.

But it’s noteworthy that all five of Oklahoma City’s stinkers have happened in the span that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s missed due to injury. (The Thunder were playing well before, but have lost 13 of 14 since losing him.) All three of Washington’s blowouts happened in matchups where Bradley Beal was out. Both of Charlotte's ugly losses took place without LaMelo Ball, who has a fractured wrist. And Minnesota dropped back-to-back games, by 30 and 25, without Towns.

If anything, though, this shows how far things can fall for certain clubs once you remove their best player. Things shouldn’t be that drastic. But for whatever reason, they often have been. And it’s made for boring basketball in a way that we’re not used to.