The NBA season is almost here

I pay very little attention to the NBA regular season, even though I tell myself that every year is going to be different.

There’s just not enough time to devote to the 82-game season that basically tells us nothing. Half of the teams in the league get into the playoffs, which probably isn’t enough in the West and is way too many in the East.

But I do get into the NBA playoffs, which can’t get here soon enough. For those of you who are keeping

Who is this man? It's first-year Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, of course. He's a former Lakers assistant.

Who is this man? It’s first-year Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, of course. He’s a former Lakers assistant.

track, the regular season ends on April 16. It started back in late October, I believe. Wow, that’s a long season.

So today, in an effort to prepare myself for the playoffs, I spent a couple of hours studying up on the NBA. I’m guessing I watched three games this season from start to finish. And I call myself a sports fan?

Well, my excuse is college basketball. And having a life. But mostly college basketball, which I see a lot of, obviously. It leaves little time for the pro game.

Anyway, here’s some of what I gleaned from today’s study:

* I had never heard of seven current coaches – Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Detroit’s John Loyer, Philadelphia’s Brett Brown, Toronto’s Dwane Casey, Memphis’ David Joerger and Sacramento’s Mike Malone. OK, I had heard of Brown, but only because of the 76ers’ horrible losing streak this season. So I fudged a little there. But I have no idea who he is, what he’s done or why he’s coaching in the NBA.

* I’m glad to see Jeff Hornacek working out as the first-year coach of the Phoenix Suns. I like Hornacek, an Iowa State guy like Fred Hoiberg, who I suspect will also be coaching in the NBA soon.

* Speaking of the Suns, I’m impressed by their 46-31 record and intrigued to watch their backcourt of Goren Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green in the playoffs. If the Suns make the playoffs, that is. They’re currently just a game ahead of Memphis for the eighth and final spot. I hope they hang on.

* Who are the five best coaches in the NBA? Again, I’m not expert. I don’t watch enough regular-season games to be an expert. But if I had to pick, I’d go in this order: 5) Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls; 4) Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder; 3) Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers; 2) Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat; 1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs. I suspect some of the “NBA guys” are questioning Spoelstra being second. Doesn’t two straight championships and three straight trips to the NBA Finals count for something? He wins and he’s created good harmony on that Heat team.

* There are a lot of good teams in the West, but don’t discount the Clippers. Doc Rivers has made a huge difference in LA, as you knew he would. He’s gotten a lot out of center DeAndre Jordan (12.2 ppg, 12.9 rpg) and Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick look to be improved players. This is one of the few teams I’ve seen play a fair amount in bits and pieces this season. They’re always impressive when I’m tuned in.

* Hey, the Toronto Raptors have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Bulls. I haven’t seen a second of the Raptors this season and didn’t know much about their roster. On further inspection, though, I’m eager to see DeMar DeRozan, the ninth-leading scorer in the league, perform in the playoffs. DeRozan has a decent supporting cast, too, led by point guard Kyle Lowry (17.4 ppg) and Jonas Valanciunas (11 ppg, 8.6 rpg). How long has it been since the Raptors have been relevant? They might be now.

* New Orleans was playing much better until a recent five-game losing streak. But it’s nice to see 6-foot-10 Anthony Davis come into his own as a second-year player. Davis is averaging 20.8 points and 10 rebounds and leads the NBA with 2.82 blocks per game. The Hornets could be trouble next season.

* LeBron James is having a highly-unselfish season. His scoring (26.8 ppg) is slightly down from his 27.5 career average. Yet he is having easily his best shooting year, making 56.8 percent of his shots, compared to 49.6 for his career. He has also improved on his three-point shooting – 37.6 percent this season compared to 34 percent for his career. Is it safe to assume the Heat will win a third straight championship? Or can San Antonio, OKC or the Clippers prevail? I’ll take Miami.

* Dwight Howard is working out well in Houston. The Rockets will be a fascinating team in the playoffs, too. Howard fits in perfectly, averaging 18.5 points and 12.3 rebounds and he seems content to be the No. 2 guy on the team, deferring to James Harden.

* What has happened to the Milwaukee Bucks? They’re 14-63. Worse, even, that Philadelphia.

* For the most part, I agree with analyst Charles Barkley, who has said repeatedly this season that the NBA is the worst it’s ever been. Too many young, unpolished, unrefined players. It’s symptomatic of the one-and-done age of college.

* See you next week for the start of the playoffs. I’ll try to lock in. That’s my plan, at least.