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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is also seeing a blowout epidemic.

One can only wonder if the two are related.

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Games are turning into runaways far more than usual throughout the first three weeks of this NBA season. Maybe it’s because there are no fans in most arenas, maybe it’s because teams are tired by playing with a bit less rest than they’ve gotten in recent years, or maybe it’s because the strains of a COVID-19 world are weighing heavily on players.

 

It’s probably a combination of all that, and more.

But the numbers are also quite a bit overwhelming: The average margin of victory right now in the NBA, about 12.3 points per game, is on pace to be the largest in league history. And the rate of teams going up by 30 or more points — it's happened in 20% of games played so far — smashes what has been the norm even in this 3-point-wild, faster-paced era of NBA play.

"This is going to be the craziest NBA season ever," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. "We’ve already seen some incredible scores and oddities and so I think just trying to just be adaptive and continue to work through things and learn through your games as much as anything rather than practices is just essential."

Last season, one NBA team took a 30-point lead on the other 10% of the time. The season before that, 2018-19, that rate was 11%. The year before that, 9%.

Milwaukee has played 11 games and held 30-point leads in four of them; the Bucks only got to a 25-point margin in their win over Orlando on Monday. The Los Angeles Clippers have played 11 games; they’ve either led or trailed by at least 20 points in eight of those, including the biggest deficit in the NBA so far this season — 57 points against Dallas on Dec. 27.

The only teams in the NBA that haven’t led by even 20 points yet this season? Chicago, Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. The only team that hasn’t been down by 20 yet? Indiana. Every other team has been in a very, very deep hole at least once so far this season — and Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon isn’t shy about calling first-year coach Nate Bjorkgren a great one. Say this much for Bjorkgren: He's had the Pacers in every game, no small feat in this era.

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"I think this organization has been slept on for years now," Brogdon said last month. "I think it’s time for people to wake up."

It’s not like every night this season has seen nothing but blowouts.

Monday was the 20th day of games this season; of those days, nine have seen multiple games decided by three points or fewer, most recently a pair of such games Sunday. A glaring exception, though, was the five-game showcase lineup on Christmas Day — where the closest final margin was 13 points. That was the first time since 2006 that the NBA had no single-digit games on Christmas, and it must be noted that year had Miami’s 16-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers as the lone game on the Dec. 25 slate.

And games have tightened up a bit in recent days; in the week from Dec. 29 through Jan. 4, 15 of the 56 NBA games had one team enjoying a 30-point lead, and in the week that followed and ended Monday only eight of 53 games had such a margin at any point. Maybe that’s a sign that teams are getting into better shape, a real possibility after a truncated training camp and shortened preseason.

"When you keep that competitive spirit up, it spreads throughout the group," San Antonio guard Patty Mills said. "It’s contagious."

Who knows where the scoring will go in the next few days and weeks, amid the pandemic that has forced the NBA to postpone games that were on the schedule for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The ripple effects of contact-tracing results will be felt in Dallas, Miami and other cities for the next several days, at least.

Like Nash said, the craziest NBA season ever awaits, on the scoreboards and off.

And it’s just getting started.

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Five reasons Arsenal should be excited going into Premier League season including Saliba and Arteta’s squad rebuild

ARSENAL enjoyed the perfect start to the Premier League season with that 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.

A Friday night match away in a London derby under the lights had the hallmarks of a potential slip-up for Mikel Arteta.

7The season got off to the perfect start for Arsenal with a 2-0 win at Crystal PalaceCredit: Getty 7Mikel Arteta is leading the project to return Arsenal back to the topCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun

But goals from Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka forcing Marc Guehi into an own goal ensured the Gunners took all three points back to the Emirates.

And there is good reason for plenty of optimism going into the rest of the season...

Gabriel Jesus

It is almost impossible to start anywhere else.

The Brazilian centre-forward was the most crucial signing and proved so in pre-season.

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It is not as simple as Arsenal needing a new striker after the departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, but the type of striker required.

Arteta needed a player who would fit the high-pressing style he wanted to play and not just a better goal-getter.

Nketiah improved in this department, but Arsenal’s new No9 has been playing and winning in a team that presses collectively for years.

I am relishing how he will blend with his young and creative colleagues, so Premier League defences beware.

7Gabriel Jesus was in red-hot form during an impressive pre-seasonCredit: Reuters Most read in SportOH BOY! How Reddit took Serena Williams' husband Alexis Ohanian to multi-millionaire statusRIDING INTO THE SUNSET Lance Armstrong marries long-time girlfriend Anna HansenEND OF AN ERA Serena Williams RETIRES from tennis in emotional Vogue interviewHOME BIRDIE Tour Jordan Spieth's unreal $7.1m mansion including golf simulator & jet access William Saliba

Arsenal fans have been desperate to see the young Frenchman in the famous red and white.

Even more so after his hugely impressive third season on loan, which saw him rewarded with individual player awards and international recognition.

7William Saliba impressed on his debut against Crystal PalaceCredit: Getty

Saliba is strong, good in the air, but vitally far more mobile than the ever-popular Rob Holding.

As committed as the Englishman is, when Arteta has to call on him in a back two, his lack of pace impacts the team’s ability to play a high line and his lack of passing range limits us.

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Saliba's man-of-the-match display last Friday at Selhurst Park gave us further reasons to feel excited.

It remains to be seen is the Frenchman will displace Ben White as first choice but having three top centre-backs provides healthy competition and also offers the ability to seamlessly switch between
systems and utilise a back three, as we have witnessed already.

Arteta’s squad

These few weeks will see more departures from the Emirates, and I hope the final stages of transforming the squad from Unai Emery’s to Arteta’s.

Yes, we can bemoan the amount of money we are receiving for some of the players being sold, but I would sooner focus on the positive aspects.

7Mikel Arteta has a talented and hungry young squadCredit: Getty

After all, it is not my money and if it means by the end of the transfer window, Arteta has a more balanced and competitive squad, solely comprised of players capable and, importantly, willing to play
his way, then I see that as fabulous news.

The captaincy

Many fans, and even recent managers of Arsenal, have not seen the club captaincy as being as important.

I am firmly not in that camp and whilst I agree we need several leaders on the pitch, I still want my team to have one captain.

Therefore, I am delighted that Arteta has offered that responsibility to Martin Odegaard, a true inspiration on the pitch, with high energy, amazing ability and a never-say-die attitude.

7Martin Odegaard is a popular choice as the new captainCredit: Getty

I am confident the Norwegian will relish the privilege, as he has for his country.

And when you moan at only receiving small fees for Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno, maybe balance that with the thought that we
signed Odegaard, a £60million player for about £33m.

Momentum

Whilst it is not always sensible to read too much into pre-season, I think we can all agree that the pre-season for 2022-23 was uplifting.

The new players have bedded in swiftly, including Oleksandr Zinchencko who will provide excellent competition for Kieran Tierney and there seems a genuine camaraderie in the squad.

Jesus is playing with Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard as if he has been with them for years and Aaron Ramsdale has got his precision distribution radar back.

After all, Everton, Chelsea and Sevilla are not the Austrian second-division opposition Arsene Wenger’s championship-winning teams warmed up against.

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In pre-season, this team scored 12 unanswered goals against two Premier League teams and the team that finished fourth in LaLiga.

A win away for starters, so bring on Leicester at the Emirates...

7The Gunners won the Florida Cup and the Emirates Cup in pre-seasonCredit: Getty

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