By Sam Rubenstein

Sometime over the weekend, I had a revelation. A typical NBA game is a microcosm for the season as a whole. You can divide a whole regular season up into four quarters, just like the rules divide a game. Has anyone else come up with this idea before? I hope not. Here goes.

FIRST QUARTER – Opening night until nowish

SECOND QUARTER – Christmas time until All-Star Break

THIRD QUARTER – The return from All-Star Break until the end of March Madness

FOURTH QUARTER – What people call “The stretch run”, April until the playoffs.

In an NBA game, the first quarter begins with a surge of excitement. All the stars are out there, and the possibilities are infinite. Maybe one team runs away with it and you expect them to cruise for the rest of the way. If a team falls way behind, that’s the hole they have to dig themelves out the rest of the way. Plenty of time left though, no reason to panic. For some teams, like the Celtics, the challenge will be to say look we’re way out in front, we will come back down to earth at some point, we just have to be ready to handle it when that happens. For others like the Bulls, it’s time to look at the scoreboard and say okay this is bad, let’s get going. This applies to the individual game as well as the season divided into quarters as a whole. Keep that in mind as you read this.

The second quarter is when the backups come in, the bench players. Superstars sit down just because its their allotted time. The second tier players get their chance to shine. This is the point of the season where you start to look around with some idea of who the breakout players are, and who isn’t helping his team at all. I guess since we’re a little past the 20 game mark already it’s not a perfect four quarters, but it’s close enough. The first is more important than the second anyways. That pre All-Star break surge is like a team finishing the half strong to send a message and feel good about themselves heading into an extended break, the locker room. At this point everyone takes a deep breath with a clear understanding of what teams have work to do or look like contenders. You might go to the bathroom or get a snack at this point. That’s what the All-Star weekend is.

The third quarter is a time where the great teams put the game out of reach. A burst of energy puts a team in position to win that game, and if they blow it open they can relax at the end, like a team resting for the playoffs. Other teams have to go as hard as they can to make it a game, just to stay competitive. They have to play catch-up for falling behind earlier in the year/game. The third quarter is where you might say to yourself “This is coming down to the wire, the last shot, the last possible moment” even though there’s plenty of time. You just know. But it’s the third quarter when people have stopped paying attention and are obsessed with March Madness and they forget about the NBA that the league sets itself up for the stretch drive. Weird things happen during this part of the season/game. Like a nothing bench player hitting 3 threes or Memphis winning 4 in a row, stuff like that. You might start to think maybe they can… but no, they can’t.

The fourth quarter is when the great teams are resting up, preparing for the playoffs already, like when the superstars are on the bench laughing and telling jokes to each other. Lesser teams have to fight and claw and every day is live or die to get into the playoffs, much like the end of the fourth quarter is the time of the game where every little thing is micro managed, and only the playmaker is allowed to touch the ball, and coaches actually think they can draw up plays that an NBA player will care to run. In the same way that a game late in the fourth will be interrupted by 10,000 timeouts, a season will be interrupted every day with daily speculation on how by losing to the T-Wolves the Pacers blew their chance at the playoffs and then the next day the Pacers go out and beat the Spurs and everything changes day to day. A team that couldn’t hit a shot all night suddenly gets hot with the game out of reach and you start to convince yourself “Hey they’ll be good next year.”

The four quarter game ends, and the playoffs begin, which are like overtime. Every possession is AMPLIFIED, players are banged up and grumpy, get sick of each other, every single moment takes on a larger definition… it’s a long ways from now.

And so, here we are at the end of the first quarter of the season. The thought entered my mind that maybe I should write a Dirty 30, go through all the teams and come up with some kind of order… but then in the course of my research I clicked on this one stat category, point differential, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The Cavs would be higher and the Lakers lower if it were a list, but there you go. Power rankers, you are all out of jobs. You’ve been replaced by a machine. See ya.

I should mention that the Celtics haven’t played anyone yet. I guess Toronto is decent, but somehow they’ve already played three times and the Celtics won each time. The other, let’s say “better” teams they’ve beaten are Denver, Golden State, and the Lakers. They lost to Cleveland when LeBron played and they lost to Orlando, two of the teams that could block their pre-ordained path to the Finals.

ALERT: Detroit at Boston on Wednesday night on ESPN. The Celtics are undefeated at home. The Pistons just traded for Walter Hermann. I think Michael Jordan’s competitiveness is boiling over into self-destructive negativity again. He sees that guys like McHale, Isiah, and Billy King (the Billy King is dead! Long live…) were getting all the press in the worst GM race, and MJ wants some of that action too. You’re getting there Mike. Anyways, EASTERN CONFERENCE SUPREMACY is on the line Wednesday night.

And finally… perhaps you are waiting for me to lash out at my NFL team like I spent so much time doing a year ago. I had a lot of strong emotions flowing forth from the calamity that was the NY Giants second half collapse. I swore to myself I wouldn’t fall for their same tricks again. And yet, there I was earlier this season saying the same old things. “The NFC sucks. Anyone can win it.” “There’s only one or two teams that are definitely better than the Giants, maybe.” Blah blah blah. Here we are. All you need to know is last night my girlfriend asked me “Why are you screaming at the TV?” It’s because I can’t believe how dumb I am. To fall for the same act three years in a row. After the Mets meltdown for the ages, the apathetic sorrow of being a Knicks fan, and now this again… I have no emotions left.