Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in 30 minutes on Sunday night, helping Milwaukee notch their 33rd win of the year. The Bucks are having one of those seasons that contenders a few playoff runs into their lifespan do, where above all else they're trying to survive, get healthy and stay healthy, secure a decent seed, be playing reasonably well as they hit the two-month stretch that actually matters. There are no real incentives for them to push for more. If a preservational approach in January means they end up playing a Game 7 Conference Finals game in Boston as opposed to on their home floor, then so be it.
The remarkable aspect of Giannis's big number performance is that it seemed routine, in its rhythms. He did the usual Giannis things, striding past and leaping around defenders, finishing at the rim with power or finesse, as the situation required. He poured in a few misshapen long-range jumpers, which is less than standard for him. He missed five of 12 free throws, which sounds about right. He didn't play beyond himself; it wasn't a game where Giannis was outrageously lucky, or worked particularly hard. Blow past the first guy, the center steps to my left, so I'll go right… and there's two more. He did this repeatedly, until the contest was out of reach for New Orleans. It is maybe worth noting that on Sunday afternoon he was listed on the injury report as probable, with a knee that's been bothering him. Perhaps he felt roughly what he shot from the field: 76.9 percent.
These are the low-bore joys of the regular season, absorbing with rapt or intermittent attention the exploits of a genius in third gear. It's Milwaukee in January; it's cold and dark by five. It's a New Orleans squad that's down three starters, counting on Naji Marshall to carry the load. You forget these moments almost as soon as they pass, which is not the same thing as not being present for them. I can't remember most good meals I've had or good jokes I've heard. I do think about dumb things I said two weeks or half a decade ago, but that's my problem. If a life were composed solely of what you can remember, entire years of experience would be meaningless. In the face of that terrifying prospect, perhaps you learn to assign discrete events their proper value. Somewhere in the past, for a while, you were happy. You were watching Giannis tear through the Pelicans. It was, in its languidness, a handsome expression of his prime.
There's been a discussion, both lately and near-constantly over the past seven or eight years, about how carefully the minutes of most NBA stars are managed. Rest nights, load management, etc. The problem, articulated so many ways, is this: you don't know who's going to play, on a given night. Broadcasters hate it, because a marquee matchup between Giannis and Luka can rather suddenly become Jrue Holiday vs. Spencer Dinwiddie. Somewhere in the beige hell of Kia's corporate headquarters, a senior vice president whips a J.D. Power Award at the drywall. Fans lament these sudden lineup changes, more reasonably, because NBA tickets are expensive, and so is parking, and everything in the arena is priced like it's a precious, dwindling resource. Nobody forks over hundreds of dollars hoping they get to see Caris LeVert take 22 shots. And though it's a cheaper disappointment, it can be a bummer to plunk down onto the couch on a night when your team plays the Blazers only to discover that Dame is looking after himself.
There are solutions to this—cutting games from the schedule, stretching it out over a longer period, reducing the number of playoff teams, weird draconian measures that punish injured players—that range from unrealistic to only sort of effective. There are solutions to this, really, that have nothing to do with the severity of the problem. It's something else. Sports media has a Solutions Industrial Complex, folks who position themselves as Thinkers, frustrated executive types and people you would avoid eye contact with in a college seminar, who have to churn out a high volume of performed passion. Everything, to them, must be lacking in meaning or relevance, or too short or too long, or too exclusive or oblique, or it doesn't emphasize the right things, whatever right entails. This is annoying, but it's also a gig. We're all working uneasily for somebody.
What all this work doesn't consider, because it would stop the work dead in its tracks, is the idea that the NBA regular season may not have severe problems, or that those problems are inherent, or that they are so vast that their solutions would create something radically different, that might not function at all, like if engineers were to actually make the whole plane out of black box material. There is no such thing, beyond the discipline of math, as optimization. Which isn't to argue against tinkering, floating ideas. This can be fun, but the ceaselessness of the arguments for this adjustment and that implicitly communicate two messages: 1.) that sports need to be perfect, the way that a market is perfect, gleaming with false efficiencies; and 2.) that they are not already perfect, the way that only they can be.
The NBA regular season is six months of nights. Chances are that you're not watching basketball, for most of them. You're doing other stuff. You're out seeing a movie; you're out getting drunk. Work has detained you well past a reasonable hour. You have kids who need your attention. You catch the scores the following morning. You watch condensed game highlights. You get the gist. And then there are nights when you find a game, having planned to ahead of time, having fallen into it halfway through, having thrown it on while washing dishes and been drawn deep into the action without being totally conscious of it, accidentally flinging suds at the tablet after a bad call. The readiness with which you slip into this practice, of watching and being enthralled by basketball, likely has more to do with your night and whatever's going on with you than the particulars of the game—provided it's not a blowout, or a squad of two-way talents being ordered to march toward their death.
On Sunday, you saw Giannis knifing to the bucket repeatedly as the Bucks handled the depleted Pelicans, notching their 33rd win of the year. Or you did something else, remarked on the Greek Freak's achievement later or not at all. You will partially remember or entirely forget this night for your own reasons. The important thing, if there is one, is your experience of it. This exists beyond the plane of problems and solutions. It's too specific to argue about. And that's a profound relief.