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4.20.2008

NBAI: National Basketball Association of Intensity


Last October Around the Horn host Tony Reali asked his guests who they would rather start the 2007-08 season with, if the goal were to win a championship: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James.

One guest said KG.

Why?

Intensity.

"Come on, Mariotti," Reali responded, "it's not the National Association of Intensity, it's the National Basketball Association."

That ended that discussion.

But it shouldn't have.

How many ways does intensity shape the outcome of pro basketball games?

I'm not sure we can count them all, but to answer that question, let's pose a few of our own.

--Why do teams like the Boston Celtics streak to a 29-3 start, including wins over good teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and Orlando Magic, but then go on to lose three of four against teams like the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats?

--Why do teams like the Boston Celtics win seven of nine without their star player in the lineup, take a week off for the all-star break, and then lose three in a row with their superstar back in the lineup?

--Why do teams like the Boston Celtics win four of five games on a brutal road trip that included tough wins over Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston only to return home and lose a game against an average team like Philadelphia?

--Why do teams like the 1985-86 Celtics post a 67-15 record that includes 11 losses against teams with records below .500?

--What does it mean to say "they won because they wanted it more"?

--What does it mean to say "they lost because they suffered a letdown"?

--Why does a moderately talented player like Dave Cowens make the Hall of Fame, while hundreds of more talented players don't last ten years in the NBA?


The common thread here, of course, is intensity. The energy, focus, commitment, discipline, and drive a player and his teammates bring to the floor play a significant role in determining the fate of that player and team. Yet all players are human, and no player can "elevate" their play for a big game without returning to earth against lesser competition, because by definition that is what it means to elevate your play.

Teams pay their superstars to perform all season, but they rely on them to perform big when it counts.

So with all due respect to Mr. Reali, Athletic greatness is determined, in part, by intensity, and NBA greatness is no different. If this weren't the case, then every player asked the question 'what makes the playoffs different?' would have to change their answer.

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