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The future is bright for small market teams in the NBA

Plus some cool free throw stats.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

This one will be a two-fer. First, some thoughts on the future of the NBA. Second, a few comments about Miami’s remarkable free throw shooting in two games this week.

The first topic came to mind during the remarkable Alamodome game between the Warriors and the Spurs Friday night. As reported elsewhere, while the game itself was not remarkable — the Warriors absolutely spanked the Spurs — the atmosphere was marvelous. Even for those of watching at home, the sight lines and camera angles were straight out of a Final Four game. The Spurs wisely scheduled the game against a Warriors team whose fans travel well, making it easier to sell those 68,323 tickets. I have been to eight Final Fours, and while I always had good coach’s seats, I know how far away many of those seats were from the action. But the atmosphere was clearly electric, even from afar — as proven by the fact that even the cheap seats stayed filled until the game ended.

But the Warriors’ popularity and dominance is sure to wane as their Big Three age out. Steph Curry is 34 years old, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 32, and all three have many regular season and playoff miles and minutes on their legs. The Milwaukee Bucks have similar issues, with Jru Holiday 32, Kris Middleton 31, Brook Lopez 34, with other key rotation guys older than that. Miami has Jimmy Butler at 33 and Kyle Lowry at 36. The Brooklyn Nets’ best player, Kevin Durant, is 34 and injured again, and even Kyrie Irving is 30 and could decide at any minute that he wants his age reported in dog-years. In the West, father time is winning the battle against Chris Paul (37), the Clippers’ best players are all over 30 and constantly injured, and on the Lakers, the seemingly ageless LeBron James is 38. Other big-market teams like the Knicks and Bulls are not serious contenders for the crown.

Looking around the league must frighten NBA and television executives. While the talent level is extremely high, the next wave of dominant teams will almost certainly be in small markets. If I had to list the teams with the brightest futures, that list would include Memphis, New Orleans, OKC and Utah. The first three have excellent young players, while Utah has one excellent player in Lauri Markkanen (25), a good young guard in Colin Sexton (24), and excellent management and ownership.

Just as important, all of these small-market teams have all of their own draft picks plus a bounty of picks from other organizations. As just one example, the Pelicans — who are already deep and talented — have the Lakers’ pick in 2023. If Frequently-injured Anthony Davis does not come back soon, that Lakers pick could be in the lottery. Utah has multiple picks from the Timberwolves from the disastrous Rudy Gobert trade, OKC has been collecting draft picks like trading stamps, including several from the Paul George trade with the Clippers. Memphis has a top-five protected pick from the Warriors in 2023 and all its own picks. All of these picks will become more valuable as the older teams slide down the standings. We can also throw Indiana into this mix, with excellent young guards, and both Cleveland’s and Boston’s first round picks this year. Another small-market team with a bright future!

You will note that I have not mentioned San Antonio in this list. They too have good, young talent, all their own picks, and several others acquired in trades. But are the Spurs, long dominant in the league, really “small market”? While the Spurs future is bright, especially if they win the French Connection, the 68,323 who attended Friday night’s game say that the Spurs are not actually small market.

Now, the second half of the two-fer: The Miami Heat and free throws.

Tuesday of this week, the Heat set an NBA record by going 40 for 40 on free throws. They needed every single one as they beat OKC 112-111. Thursday night, they went 15 for 16 from the line in beating the Bucks. The only miss was by Jimmy Butler with 27 seconds left, and the Heat up 107-99. He then made the second. Which means that the Heat made 54 in a row and went one entire game and 47+ minutes of the next without missing a single free throw.

I tried to determine if 54 consecutive free throws by a team, over two games, was itself a record. I could not determine that, but I did locate this cool site which tells us who made the most consecutive free throws while standing on one foot (263) or blind-folded (88). However, it does not include the record for most consecutive makes while standing on one foot AND blind-folded.

Even though Butler was responsible for the first miss by the Heat in 95 minutes of basketball action, he did go 23 for 23 in Tuesday’s win. That was the second most ever by a single player in a game. Does anyone remember who holds the record? Try to guess before you click on this link, which has one of my “Fun With Box Scores” posts about the game in which a player went 24 for 24.