Rarely does it make sense to link the NBA and the NHL, other than they tend to play in the same buildings at the same time of year. You wouldn’t really call them roommates, because when one is home the other never is. Though that probably makes them perfect roommates, come to think of it. Still, on occasion you’ll find one cribbing stuff from the other either on or off the court/ice. You’ll occasionally see a bond, like Charles Barkley watching the NHL playoffs while in studio for TNT or hockey players getting loaded courtside on an off-night.
But lately, a trend has been spreading across both winter leagues. They share something. You wouldn’t say they’re cycling together, as roommates tend to do, because this is just about the first time it’s happened. But in both the NBA and NHL, scoring in the springtime has gone a little funny. As in, it’s gone up as the season has gone on, which is the opposite of what usually happens as teams tune up for the playoffs and start nailing down the defensive details that usually light the way come the playoffs.
In the NHL, scores of late have definitely had a 1987 bend. The Panthers, the league’s leading slot-machine like collection of lights and sound, have played 7-6 and 7-4 games in the past week alone. The Leafs and Wings played a 10-7 game a couple months ago. Teams putting up five or six goals a night is commonplace. According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, the average goals per game rose to 6.2 in March, and overall scoring in the league this year is up to its highest level since 1996.
Meanwhile, in the NBA, for the entire season scoring is down to 110.4 per team per game, the lowest mark in five seasons. However, in November just nine teams averaged over 110 points per game. In December, that jumped to 12. January it was 16. February, that was 18. In March, it was 23, with four teams averaging 120 or more points per game. From the last “normal” season, 2018-2019, there were still plenty of teams averaging over 110 points (19), but only one team was at 120 points per game for March. The year before only 12 teams averaged more than 110 points in the month of March. The year before that, only four.
And we’ve seen some bonkers totals of late. The Celtics put up 144 points on the Wizards on Sunday. That matched what the 76ers scored the night before against the Hornets. The Wizards the night before that racked up 135 on the Mavericks last Friday. On the same night, the Clippers went for 153 on the Bucks. (Though the Bucks were carrying the weight of the Fels Motherfuck, so you’ll have to excuse them.)
So what’s going on here? The only constant thread between the two leagues is packed schedules and fatigue.
For instance, when the Panthers put up a touchdown and PAT against the Canadiens, it was the Habs’ fourth game in six nights, and their 14th of 15 games in March. The Habs unquestionably suck, but that’s a lot for any team to take on. When the Devils gave up eight to the Bruins and then another touchdown to the Cats in back-to-back games, it was their 15th and 16th games since March 1st.
And it’s not just the bottom-feeders stepping on their tongues. The Lightning have given up 11 goals in their past two games, to the Canadiens and Leafs two days apart, and those were their 17th and 18th games since March 1st. The Oilers put up six on the Ducks Sunday, in the Ducks’ 16th game since March started.
It’s not much different in the NBA. When the Bucks gave up that 153, it was their 15th game in a month’s time. They had just played 11 in January and 13 in February. When the Wizards coughed up 144 to the Celtics, it was their sixth game in nine days after 18 games in March. When the Hornets gave up 144 to the Sixers, it was their 15th game in a month. We’re seeing this up and down both leagues.
Tightening up your defense sounds great as the playoffs approach. But defense is mostly about effort and want to. It’s a lot easier for players to burn up their energy reserves trying to score than to convince themselves to get into yet another shooting lane or tie up a stick or fight over a screen or close and recover. In the NHL, some teams played through July. The Lightning are giving up 3.00 goals per game in March, 11 percent over their 2.72 average before March started. The Habs are terrible as you know. The Bucks have failed to hold an opponent under 115 points in their last five games.
Which bodes well for the playoffs if you’re into NBA Jam or Hit The Ice-like affairs. Which most of us are. It’s not so good news for the Bucks or Lightning unless they’ve got emergency tanks they can tap. But hey, we’re all here for a 6-5 or 129-126 Game 7, aren’t we?