Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just Once

The first round of the playoffs was pretty lackluster.  The Spurs and Pacers won decisively.  The Lakers and Nuggets going seven games was more about the Lakers’ lack of urgency than it was about the Nuggets actually being competitive.  The Hawks are not really interesting anymore; they’re basically the New York Jets of the NBA (a competitive playoff team with a glass ceiling that isn’t really going to make a run at a title anytime soon).  The Derrick Rose injury ruined the Bulls' postseason.  Multiple injuries ruined the Knicks-Heat series, which was the one I was looking forward to the most.  I was hoping the Knicks would do a poor man's version of last year's Mavs (Carmelo as Dirk, Shumpert as Stevenson, Chandler as himself, Smith as Terry), in addition to getting contributions from Stoudemire, Davis, Fields, and Novak, and actually give Miami a run for their money.  Not that they would've won necessarily, but a game six in the Garden would've been fun.

The two highlights of the first round were Thunder-Mavs and Clippers-Grizzlies.  The Thunder are an immensely entertaining team and the Mavs are so savvy and gritty (especially Kidd and Marion).  It may not have been very competitive, but the first two games were quite entertaining.  The Clippers-Grizzlies was obviously the bright spot of the first round, since it was the only truly competitive series.

While that's disappointing, it wasn't exactly surprising.  Unlike the Grizzlies and Blazers last year, no low-seed seemed likely to pull off an upset.  There was an obvious disparity in quality between the top seeds and the low seeds.  The good news is that as obvious as that disparity was in the first round, it appears to be non-existent in the second round.  There's not a clear favorite to make the Finals in either conference.  Every team has some kind of flaw that makes them beatable, so the second round should be especially good.

But while any team can emerge from either conference, there's really two that need to: the Heat and the Lakers.  Earlier this year, Kobe was quoted as saying that he didn't have any rivals.  For the most part that's true, but if there's one who comes close it's LeBron.  Fans have been debating who's better for years.  Unfortunately, that's the extent of the rivalry, because they've never faced each other in the postseason.  Kobe or LeBron has been in the Finals every year for the last five years, yet they've never managed to be there at the same time.  They have to play each other just once.

Not only do they need to compete against each other for a championship because it would be a travesty if they never did, but also because it's time to move on from them.  Ever since Jordan rose to prominence, the league has pretty much been about one man shows "wanting to be like Mike."  There have been enough players in the mold of Jordan.  It's time to see some in the mold of Bird and Magic.  Bill Simmons wrote about the possibility of this happening with Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose:

"You'd never think of these guys as our next Bird-Magic rivalry … but when you remember their ages (23), mind-sets (basketball-only, all the time, nothing else matters), positions (one's a guard, the other's a forward), conferences (one East, one West), situations (contenders for each), characters (everything they do is about their team), styles (balls-to-the-wall all the time), crunch-time chops (significant) and humility (you never hear either of these guys talk about himself as a brand, just a basketball player), suddenly that Bird-Magic tag isn't so farfetched."

I hope this is the future of the NBA.  I want these two guys to be the faces of the NBA.  I want to see them be in the Finals every year. I want to see them on a talk show 25 years from now talking about their championship battles.  I want LeBron vs. Kobe just once.  Then I want Durant and Rose for the next decade.

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