After 82 games (many of those last week being played by guys who won’t see much action from here on out, so the key guys would be well-rested), the NBA playoffs are finally here. It sure seems like a long season just to eliminate less than half the teams.
The final week of the NBA schedule was like training camp – it gave most teams a chance to see some of its “prospects” in game action, even though the games meant nothing. Except for the Bulls and Raptors (and with Chris Bosh’s season-ending injury, it was much better for all concerned the Bulls got the 8th spot) and, maybe, a few others jockeying for a chance to move up a spot, most of the teams were resting for the playoffs (or the lottery).
Now, the level of play will certainly ratchet up several notches (except for Joakim Noah, Chris “The Birdman” Anderson and Edjuardo Najera who are always ratcheted up) and interest in the NBA will increase in direct proportion. I know many basketball coaches who won’t watch a pro game until the playoffs. Ask them why and they’ll say they’re bothered by the less-than-all-out effort during the regular season. Ask them why they like the playoffs and the answer’s usually, because then, we get to watch the greatest athletes in the world.
When the season began, and even as it progressed, many thought a Lakers-Cavs showdown was inevitable. Now, there are diverse opinions as to whether either or both may not even be there when the finals roll around (in June, as amazing as that sounds). Will Shaq’s return raise the level of Cleveland’s game (after all, he is one of the greatest players to ever put on a uni and has four championships on his resume) or will his presence slow them down, clog the lane and mess with what’s been pretty good chemistry to date? He’s allegedly been working out during Cavs’ games – even on the road, where he burns a game’s worth of calories by riding the bike and working out in the weight room, on the road as well as home. Supposedly, he’s in the best shape of his career and totally focused on fulfilling his promise of bringing a championship to Cleveland. Shaq has been known to blow smoke every once in a while, however.
How about LA? Is Kobe’s finger healed? Don’t ask him. We know what that answer will be – even if he comes out to shoot with only four of them on his hand. What about the addition of Ron Artest? He’s a lightning rod for controversy, but has also been a lockdown defender – and if his head is right, he’d be an major asset. Incredible as it sounds for someone of his talent, all he’s expected to be is a role player, albeit a significant role.
Consider the potential road blocks for these two along the way. Although Boston occasionally looks old, the every other day off format of the playoffs aids veteran teams. Think all the way back to the Celtics when Bill Russell was at the end of his career and the Knicks a few years later. Because of KG’s injury last season, the Celts still consider themselves the defending champs, i.e. no one’s beaten them when they’ve been at full strength. As for their X factor, Rasheed Wallace has a bad rep with officials (and deservedly so), but, throughout the league, he’s known as a great locker room guys and is as crafty as he is talented. Plus, now is the time Doc Rivers is at his button-pushing best. The flu bug has hit Boston (mainly Rajon Rondo and Glen “Big, But Don’t Call Me Baby” Davis), but what could cause Boston to be really sick is if Dwayne Wade takes over the games, as he is able – and prone – to do.
There are those who feel Orlando will repeat in the East (and they have the best chance to take down the Cavs) but they have to get through Charlotte first. Larry Brown is as good as any coach at game-planning and now that he has quelled the rumor that he’s headed to the Clips or the Nets (for at least a week), the Bobcats and Magic series is an intriguing one.
Forget even attempting to handicap the West. The Mavs had a terrific season, got the number two seed and their reward is they get to play the Spurs. All the other match-ups in this division are just as compelling. In a best-of-seven series, it’s usually the better team that wins. Yet, with all the injuries this year, no one’s sure which is the better team!
The games start today, so as far as analyzing the NBA playoffs any further, it’s time to follow the advice from the Al Pacino-Robert DeNiro movie, Heat, in which the famous exchange ends with the line:
“Yeah, stop talking, OK, Slick?”