THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO OR CURRENTLY ENJOYING ABOUT THE 2011 NBA PLAYOFFS
Love it or hate it, the NBA season is kicking into high gear and the playoffs are hitting their stride as some of the 2nd round match-ups are already set. I personally can’t get enough of the NBA playoffs and could sit and watch any of the match-ups all of the way through the NBA Finals.
Maybe it stems from my basketball card collecting days of the 90′s, but what can I say, I’m a fan of the NBA. And regardless of whether or not you think college basketball is better, their season is over, deal with it. So, since it’s the only roundball going on right now worth watching, here is my Great 8 List of what I’m looking forward to (or currently enjoying) about the 2011 NBA postseason.
1. The ‘Little Guys’ – Most teams have at least 1, maybe two superstars (Sorry, Bosh), but inevitably, the teams that are truly hoping to win a championship this year will have to get some major help from some minor players. I don’t mean to use ‘minor’ in such a negative way, it’s just the word you use when comparing Mario Chalmers to LeBron James. But somewhere along the lines, key shots, clutch free-throws, and stout defensive stops will need to be done by the guys who aren’t getting paid $2.3 million a game* (*slight exaggeration). We already saw it with the Spurs/Grizzlies series as a rookie named Gary Neal hit a game-tying 3 pointer to ‘spur’ San Antonio on to an overtime victory. I love seeing guys step up when their name is called and come through for their team in a big way, and I keep watching to see the next time it happens.
2. The Perkins-less Celtics – In what still seems to be a little bit of a head-scratcher, the Celtics traded away one of their key big men, Kendrick Perkins and have been dancing with mediocrity ever since. They stumbled into the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference and have looked pretty vulnerable on the inside. By trading away Perkins, the Celtics have put their faith in Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Glen Davis to be the big defenders and scorers in the middle. Shaq has been injured for half the season and didn’t see any time against New York. Jermaine O’Neal is hardly a stopper and Glen Davis has limited mobility and is turning into more of a jump-shooter. Perkins brought a toughness on the defensive end and could be trusted to haul down a few offensive rebounds a night. And even though they swept New York in the first round, they will miss Perkins on the inside when they face Miami in the 2nd Round (and if they get past Miami, they will more than likely face the #1 seed Chicago Bulls).
3. Can the Thunder Roll? – Speaking of Kendrick Perkins, he is now crashing the boards (and the opponents) while wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey. The Thunder have the NBA’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant and a good secondary scorer (with some serious hops) in Russell Westbrook. This team has gone from the basement to the rafters in a matter of a few seasons and much of it is due to drafting Durant instead of chronically injured and potential draft bust Greg Oden. Last year they were excited to make it to the playoffs and got bounced by the eventual champion Lakers. But this year, they have the talent and the experience that could lead them to a not-that-surprising run at the NBA Finals. And with the recent acquisition of Perkins from Boston, they have turned themselves from a cute story into a legitimate threat.
4. The Bulls Potential Return to Glory – It’s been 13 seasons (1998) since Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their 6th NBA Championship. Not long after, Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Coach Phil Jackson all were gone and the Bulls plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But now, behind the tremendous talents of assumed MVP Derrick Rose and guys like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and offseason acquisition and interior presence Carlos Boozer, the Bulls were able to finish with the NBA’s best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs (and the NBA Finals, if they make it). They’ve got the talent, they’ve got the experience, and come June, they could also be saying that they’ve got the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
5. Hot Hot Heat - Despite a Game 4 hiccup in Philadelphia, the Heat sailed into the second round with a 4-1 series victory over the 76′ers. And while Miami was a team that dominated lesser talent (except for the Cavs on March 29th), they have been average (at best) when going against ‘upper-level’ competition. Now they have to take on the Boston Celtics who swept the New York Knicks on their way to the 2nd round. Boston holds a 3-1 edge in head to head games this season, but I’m expecting to see that go out the window when these two teams meet in Miami for Game 1. I’m interested to see how LeBron does against the team the embarrassed him last year as a Cavalier and a guy, Paul Pierce, who has played him exceptionally well. This series has great matchups (James vs. Pierce, Bosh vs. Garnett, Wade vs. Rondo) and at the end, either team has a chance to be on top.
6. Lakers 3-Peat – Until they get knocked out of the playoffs, the Lakers are still the champs. And if Bynum is healthy (which is a very shaky ‘if’), they are very tough to match-up with. If Bynum is in, they have 3 bigs (Bynum, Gasol, Odom) as well as the extremely dangerous even if he has a tweeked ankle Kobe Bryant (6 rings) and a coach (Phil Jackson) who would be hoping for his fourth 3-peat. In the back of his mind, you know Kobe is looking for a shot at the Heat in the Finals, but he will have a tough road ahead. They will have to go through some stiff competition to even make it to the Finals, but if they can not only make it there but win it all, Jackson will have 12 rings as a coach and Kobe Bryant will have 7 rings (one more than Michael Jordan).
7. Don’t Get Upset – It already happened to the Magic, and the Spurs barely escaped it the other night: the upset. It’s bound to happen and it’s what makes the playoffs more exciting. Every victory by an underdog calls into question the favorite. If the Bulls lose to the Pacers in January, not much is said about it. But if the Bulls lose to the Pacers in the playoffs, it’s “What’s Wrong With the Bulls?” and “Where’s Carlos Boozer?” and “How is Derek Rose’s Ankle?” It’s a much bigger deal because it’s the playoffs. Memphis is going home for Game 6 against the Spurs with a 3-2 lead. They are the 8 seed and if they’re able to beat San Antonio, the Grizzlies will be praised for their tenacity and the Spurs will be written off as “Yesterday’s Champions” (having beaten Cleveland in the 2007 Finals). The first round isn’t quite over, and we’ve already seen it a little bit, but the upset is one of the more exciting things about the playoffs.
8. It’s All About the Match-Ups – There are many predictions and many ‘experts’ declaring this team to be the best or that team to be washed up. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the match-ups. I wrote earlier about the Boston/Miami matchup and the key players that will be facing off against each other, but there are also some other teams and players that could make for some amazing games. The Hawks are facing the Bulls and the Bulls have dominated the Hawks all season. I don’t see that changing in the playoffs, but it will get interesting when Chicago has to go up against either Miami or Boston (both teams will no-doubt be limping out of that series). I would think Chicago would want Miami, because they went undefeated against them in the regular season and the Bulls don’t really have anyone to stick with Ray Allen on the perimeter. The Lakers should take care of Dallas on their way to a showdown with (more than likely) Oklahoma City. If the Lake-show can shut down Durant, it should be a short trip to the finals and I wouldn’t mind seeing Los Angeles play either Chicago or Miami (sorry Boston, just suffering from a little ‘been there, done that with you and the Lakers). But whether you’re referring to whole teams or individual players, when it comes to the playoffs, it’s all about the match-ups.
There you have it. Anything that you’re looking forward to or currently enjoying about this year’s NBA Playoffs that I didn’t list here? Make your own list in the comments, and sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.