Words by Phlip
And here we are, down to the last few days of the season…
As clear as the MVP race was just 6 weeks ago, it has become a back-and-forth affair, still between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. LeBron showing up to monster on the New Jersey Nets may have been the thing to swing it back into his favor, unless Kevin Durant does something huge in his last few games. With the only real “quality” competition in those games being an oddly resurgent Lakers team, he may be dead in the water.
Speaking of the Lakers, has anyone noticed this trend of teams winning big games while their biggest stars are out injured or resting? San Antonio has surged to the top of the Western Conference (as of when I type this, naturally), Chicago has pulled off some thrillers with Derrick Rose out and/or compromised when in, and the Knickerbockers are refusing to stay dead without Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. We’ll see how that changes when Stoudemire returns – reportedly on Friday – and Lin is done until at least after the first round of the playoffs, which will be as far as NY gets.
While we’re on the subject of the Knicks, I will cop to being impressed with their splitting that “murderer’s row” they went through, with 7 of 8 games between 4/4 and 4/15 coming against playoffs-bound teams, with the added pressure of one being against the team they were (at the time) battling for the 8th spot and three being against the two teams they’ll most likely meet in the first round themselves. Through it all, Carmelo got to continue to play his heroball and shirk defensive responsibility. Amazingly, it has produced wins, and with only Boston and the Clippers as the remaining playoffs-bound teams remaining on their schedule – both home games – they will have momentum headed into the playoffs. Then we will be reminded of Mike Woodson’s penchant for being outcoached in the playoffs, even when talent matches (which this time it will not, due to injuries).
The corollary to teams surging or holding court headed into the playoffs, and the teams who are apparently headed in the other direction are noteworthy. Dallas (defending champions), Portland (hot start, fizzled out), Denver (yes, them too), Philly (yep, same) and Indiana (noticing a trend here?) and Utah (déjà vu much?) all came into the season with lofty expectations for the former and hot starts for all of the latter only to see two of them missing the playoffs and 2 of the other 3 slated to barely make it in, with only Indy comfortably in with less than a week left in the season (not that they will make any noise, though).
Strangely, the more things were supposed to change with this lockout business, the more they have stayed the same. With the exception of the
Cripples Clippers actually making good on my prediction that they would make the playoffs this season (which, by the way, I made BEFORE the Chris Paul thing), the best teams in each conference are pretty much unchanged from the last 3 years… San Antonio, LA and OKC in the West; then Miami, Boston and Chicago in the East. Sure, specific standings have changed, but outcomes expected have remained unchanged. The so-called “small market” teams not in San Antonio still suck and are mired in rumors of sales and moves and the same teams who have been winning it appear poised to win it all yet again.
I have said it before… I was born in July 1979 and in the 32 NBA Finals since then, only TEN teams have won it all, with 4 teams – LA with 10, Chicago with 6, and Boston/San Antonio with 4 each – splitting 24 of those. If the lockout was about “parity,” mimicking that of the NFL or Major League Baseball, then someone failed miserably in forcing a bad deal on the players. As a fan of one of the aforementioned 4 teams, I am not in position to be all the way mad at it. I say all that to say that “ten” will likely not change this season.
[Phlip note – the only combo breaker would be OKC who technically won it all in 1979 one month BEFORE I was born and hence not counted in the above-mentioned 10 teams, when they were still the Seattle Supersonics]
Well, we’ve seen the condensed season speed by and is drawing to a merciful-for-some close. Week after next comes the playoffs.
In the in-between, expect to experience my opinions on who should take post-season awards in the very near future.