2012-nba-playoffs

NBA Finals Preview: Rights and Wrongs

2006 was probably the last Finals that felt like the series would help chart a new course for the league’s future. That was Dallas-Miami, Nowitzki-Wade, the winner seemed destined to dominate the league for years to come.

Of course, other then endless memories of Wade shooting free throws, or Josh Howard calling a phantom timeout, no dynasty was born from that series. The combination of Shaq and Wade never even won a playoff game together after that – swept in the next year by the Bulls before being dismantled; the Mavericks would collapse several times in the playoffs before getting their championship last year.

This year’s Finals has that similar feel. It’s scary – or tiring – to think that LeBron’s reign on the league may finally be just getting started, a first championship would collapse many of the ongoing narratives of failure.

Meanwhile, a Thunder win would mean they would’ve accomplished a rare feat: going straight from the bottom to very top on a continuous upward trajectory without taking a single step back.

What’s interesting is that before the series begins tomorrow night, much of the conversation has been dominated by the morality of how these two teams have achieved their success and gotten themselves into this position to compete for the trophy.

Tom Ziller of SB Nation cautions that there’s more layers to this matchup than simply good vs. evil – with the Heat as the obvious villains.

Jeremy Repinach wrote at The Classical that there may not be that strong of a link between the Thunder’s success in Oklahoma City and their departure from Seattle.

Meanwhile, Dave Zirin lays out a strong argument that we should all root for the Heat in light of how Oklahoma City landed their franchise.

Of course, all these perspectives does is illustrate the subjectivity on the topics at hand. We can all take our thoughts on free agency, and franchise relocation and stand on our moral high ground with them.

At the most extreme of opinions – the Thunder can do no wrong, the Heat deserve nothing. Or Oklahoma City has blood on their hands even in victory. Or LeBron will never be truly respected because he abandoned a hometown for an easier route to the title.

All of that can, should, and will be debated.

But when we tip off tomorrow night, let’s focus on what actually happens on the court. Let’s appreciate and understand how this series will help shape and even define the careers of two of the best players in the game.

Let those story-lines take center stage in a series that will undoubtedly chart a new course for this league going forward.

photo via NBA Through The Lens

The 2012 Playoff Picture

As this truncated season winds down, things are becoming incredibly dramatic. Every game tonight will impact the current playoff brackets. I attempted to work all of the equations and theorems on a chalkboard based on tonight’s games, but I ran out of chalk and room on my chalkboard. 

Let’s examine some of the more ‘sexy’ match ups and show downs: 

  • The Great Los Angeles Hallway Derby Continues: After the Spurs thrashed Lakers last night, the Clippers are within a game of catching their Staples Center roommate. As we all know, the Lakers have the upper hand in case of a tie since they won regular season series (2-1), but if the Clippers were to win the rest of their games….it’s a possible that the Clippers could over the take the Lakers and earn a third seed and the Pacific Division title. The Clippers’ remaining games aren’t going to be easy (Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, and New York), but the Lakers’ final four games aren’t going to be a walk in the park either (The Lakers match up with the Spurs and Thunder on Friday and Sunday) and with Kobe Bryant still out of commission…

  • The Milwaukee Bucks Sneak In… In the immortal words of Vic The Brick, the race for the 7th and 8th seed in the Eastern Conference is tighter than a Queen Latifah jumpsuit. The Bucks are two games behind the current 8th seed, Philadelphia 76ers and the two teams will face on April 25th. The Sixers are in the midst of a three game losing streak while the Bucks are 6-4 in their last ten. Can the Bucks catch the Sixers? Then there’s the Knicks. Can the Knicks hold onto the 7th seed? Will Melo with all of his girth lead them into the promise land? 

  • The 6, 7, 8s in the West: The Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets are in the midst of a tug for the war for the final seed. Currently Suns have the advantage, but anything is possible. Perhaps, the Jazz over take both the Rockets and Suns for the final seed. It’ll be a photo finish for the final spot. The Nuggets and Mavericks could potentially flip positions. 

The Onion explains why so many Americans hate LeBron James:

-Skills second only to Kobe, touch second only to Bird, vision second only to Magic, and strength second only to Russell; therefore, pretty much a worthless second-rater

-Was supposed to be the next Jordan, but chose friendship over a monomaniacal obsession with winning bordering on mental illness

-Does this really annoying thing where he isn’t always playing on Team USA and is instead playing for the Heat so then you have to root against him

-Significant percentage of sports fans are jealous of his high school diploma

-Abandoned and gave up on Cleveland, albeit decades after the rest of us did

-Makes us feel guilty for never doing anything to make Cleveland better ourselves

-Dunked over the pope at last year’s St. Peter’s Basketbasilica Jamfest, even though the game was already out of hand

-Televising The Decision repelled and frightened the American public, most of whom have spent their whole lives trying to avoid making decisions

-Basically, it’s easier not to really think about it

I’d also like to add to this list:

-His receding hairline, besides being an easy target for crappy jokes, reminds us that even LeBron James has to deal with the inevitability of aging and the resultant loss of hair follicles.

-He is an African-American millionaire; that’s more than enough to piss some (racist) people off. 

-He hasn’t cheated on his fiance (that we know of), been busted for drugs, been busted for anything, and he has yet to get fat or lazy during the off-season. Most Americans like a flaw-laden superstar along the lines of Shaq. 

-He has two capital letters in his first name. Outrageous!

-He reads popular twee novels before and after games. Literacy pisses a lot of illiterate people off.

AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Rose

Opening weekend of the playoffs is suppose to be about excitement, about the anticipation of matching our expectations of teams and players formed throughout the season against actual results, and for some of those players to surprise, most of the teams to disappoint, and allow conversations to break out into every direction imaginable.

While the first day did give us those prerequisites — Miami asserted themselves, the Knicks continue to have nothing figured out, Dallas possibly losing their chance at winning their series, Indiana not looking as playoff ready as I expected — it’s the season ending injury to Derrick Rose that hovers over all of that like a black cloud.

Can an injury end the championship hopes of a team? One of this magnitude, to this caliber of a player? A definite yes.

Will it change that player’s entire career going forward? A wait and see I suppose, but definitely a question worth asking for now.

It couldn’t have happened to a better player, someone who deserved to have his exit from these playoffs determined by his performance on the court, and not by an injury in the last minute of the first game where his team led by double digits.

This is the same player who actually lives the basketball never stops slogan, who never got over last year’s Conference Finals loss to the Heat, and went through an injury filled season to get to this point again, to face the challenge once more, with a supporting cast seemingly more equipped to wage battle with their rivals in Miami.

It’s a huge letdown for basketball fans who viewed the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the under card before the main event.

Over the past two seasons, Rose and his entire team became the antithesis of everything that the Miami Heat stood for.

It was talent versus teamwork. It was team constructed through an overnight accumulation of talent versus the blue collar, no nonsense mentality that we could all identify with; or simply chose to do so through a means of latching on to a belief that this is the proper way of going about winning.

All of that is perhaps magnified now, as we reconstruct our arguments for the Bulls’ chances at a championship.

But in one play, it would appear that all of that went out the window, at least for these playoffs.

We’ve seen several injuries this year that abruptly ended great stories. Jeremy Lin’s injury didn’t feel as devastating if only because the momentum of his rise was already on the downside, and he wasn’t in the grand scheme of things the most important player on the team. Ricky Rubio’s injury halted the Wolves’ chances at a playoff appearance, but because the team had a considerably lower ceiling, the disappointment was more associated with the lost enjoyment of watching his ascent happen at a faster pace than it is when he’s not on the court.

In Rose’s case, it’s a bit darker and carries with it considerably greater amount of sadness, if only because he was the centerpiece to a contending team with aspirations of winning it all; and because players of his makeup deserve to construct their own endings on their own terms.

When you take that away seemingly at the very start of a journey he waited all year for to begin, it makes it that much more difficult to accept.

Footnotes:

You can read all my 2012 NBA Playoff related posts by clicking here, and by following me on Twitter for in game musings and on Facebook for other great reads, videos and links throughout the post-season.

NBA Finals Game 1 Diary: First Shots

They don’t hand out no trophies or raise banners for an opening Finals win. But that’s not to say the wins don’t all count the same.

First games are more about setting the tone, establishing storylines, reaffirming beliefs and opening new narratives for further discussion. You don’t reach conclusions – as I learned just a week or so ago, when a Duncan-Garnett face-off was more reality than daydream – but you collect the facts, form your arguments, and move onto round two.

It’s obvious to me that the Thunder have reached a new level – if only because even in victory, even as their best player scores 36 points and their point guard puts up a near triple double – I still wonder where Durant went in the second quarter, I still have doubts about Westbrook’s decision making. Three wins from the championship and I’m still expecting more, because there’s still a better game to be played.

For Miami, the dynamic of The Big Three has now shifted. Wade seems like a superstar in decline, Bosh is taking on the new role as the sixth man, LeBron now supported by an array of three point shooters who proved effective for much of this game. James himself played well, but that lackluster fourth quarter line will help rehash the same old storylines – as they should.

Down 2-1 to Indiana on the road? 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks. Facing elimination on the road against Boston? 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. Now, staring at a 0-2 deficit against a team that’s yet to lose at home in the playoffs? Recent results show that there’s a huge punch coming from LeBron on Thursday.

For all the talk of the Thunder’s youth and the Heat’s talent, one narrative will crumble by the end of this series. The growing pains may continue in Oklahoma City before a title is won, the championship may still prove elusive for LeBron. Neither ending will surprise anyone, just the suspense of which one of them will prevail hangs in the balance. It’s a two week race to see just which way the scale will tip.

One lap in: advantage Thunder.

photo via NBA Through The Lens

3

Before I get to the recap, I want to remind all the basketball fans out there they may have witnessed the single greatest performance by a losing player in the history of the NBA. That may end up sounding like hyperbole tomorrow, but he’s got as good a case as anyone and there’s really no way to embellish what he did tonight.

Here was Rondo’s stat-line for game 2, where he played every single minute in a tough overtime loss ( that’s 53 for arithmetic averse folks): He scored 44 points (a career high) on 16 for 24 shooting, 2/2 on 3-pointers, 8/10 at the free throw line, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, just 3 turnovers and the undying respect of this blogger. 

Whatever happens in this series, Rajon Rondo should have carte blanche from Celtics fans for life (remember people were discussing a trade earlier this year), and a new-found respect (if he didn’t have it already) from every basketball fan the world over. 

To put it simply, I am in awe of him. Fortunately for Heat fans, their team was not, but HOT DAMN, what a peformance. I didn’t think he’d keep his 1st quarter production going like he did, but he just kept hitting jumpers all game and after playing every second, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to force Wade to hit that last free throw. Just an amazing performance from an amazing player. 

I’ll remember Rajon Rondo’s game more than anything else that happened tonight. He was that good, and even though the Celtics lost, this game should go down in the pantheon of incredible performances by Boston Celtics players in the playoffs. 

2

10 Things to Watch For in Tonight’s Game 3 Between New York and Miami

  1. How gingerly Jeremy Lin moves to slap five with whichever returning Knicks player just hit a big shot. If he goes for the jump in the air, swivel-waist-bump, then you can expect to see him in game 4 in New York. If he winces every time Tyson Chandler puts him in a lovable bear hug, he’s done for the year and we should stop writing about him so I don’t lose my mind.
  2. Chris Bosh’s emotions. He just had a baby boy, and that’s a life-affirming event. Moreso than some silly playoff game. That being said, the emotions are already running high in the playoffs and if you add a newly-born son to the mix, that could unleash a pterodactyl scream (or is it ostrich? I can never get my memes in order) for his son and the Heat and his latin-loving wife back home.
  3. The New York Knicks’ starting small forward. ‘Melo will move over to the 4 spot with Amar'e out, and so that means Steve Novak or Jared Jefferies will suit up and start in Amar'e’s place. I vote for Novak who is freakin’ automatic from three this year. But he has no chance against LeBron, unless 'Melo takes on that role as well. Jared Jefferies has bothered me since I saw him play for the Wizards when I lived in DC. He is a good defender, and little else. Plus, he has a perpetual look of confusion to his countenance. Totally judgemental, but whatever.
  4. Baron Davis. He was surprisingly crafty in game 2, scoring 12 points on 5/8 shooting to go with 6 assists. Does this mean he’s gonna up his play in the first playoff game in MSG this year? I hope so because Mario Chalmers is killing us. No he isn’t. It’s that other guy.
  5. The fronting of Melo in the low-block. Miami did this really effectively in game 1, but the Knicks moved 'Melo out to the 3-point line and initiated the offense (really just some isolation’s) through him in game 2. With him playing the 4, expect to see him closer to the basket at the outset. Does this mean LeBron will take turns with Haslem or Battier fronting Melo like they did in game 1? I don’t know, but if they do expect to see a lot of questionable calls both ways as they battle for position.
  6. The celebrities in attendance. Spike will be there, but it’s a playoff game in the Garden before the Knicks have lost all hope (if they lose tonight they’ll have the record for most consecutive playoff loses, and they’ll be all but done in this series; no team has ever come back from being down 0-3), so that means HOVA might show up to see his boy LeBron. Maybe Weezy will be there too–like a cherubic, tatted plant of iridescent swag gesticulating to the affects of promethazine with codeine. Or maybe it will just be the hottest NBA fan in history showing up with Jimmy Goldsmith and his stupid grin. 
  7. Shane Battier’s neck rolls. Watch them, they’re mesmerizing. He could be a bouncer if he put on like a 100 lbs. of fat.
  8. The people’s lips sitting behind Amar'e Stoudemire. Watch them for the crass gestures and contemptuous expressions; you can be sure the New York fans will be giving him shit, as well they should. Watch them closely and pray, PRAY, for Amar'e to rebound from this. At least better than he rebounds on the offensive end of the floor.  
  9. Dwyane Wade going left. Even when he’s on the left wing, he prefers to pull up going left, and he’s more comfortable going left all the way to the bucket. It allows him to reverse course for a turn-around jumper, or fake right to shoot the fadeaway towards the end-line, or to perform one of his patented Mikan shots as he crashes through the lane with only Chandler to contend with. He is a treat, as long as you ignore Landry Field’s sleepwalking defense. 
  10. Steve Novak in the 4th quarter. His championship belt does not come out when he’s raining 3’s in the first half. If he gets a chance to hit a big, momentum-shifting 3 in the second half, he’ll put that championship belt on lickety-split.