Friday, June 8, 2012

The NBA Playoffs...

We are two days away from finding out who will join the Oklahoma Thunder in the NBA Finals. These have been some of the worst playoff series I've ever seen in my life, and thankfully they will be over soon. Watching bad basketball is annoying enough-that's what Division I college is for. But once you get to the pros, you figure these cats can represent themselves with a bit more panache than what we've had to endure so far.

The first round should go back to the previous best-of-5 format. Seven games is just too much, and does nothing but extend the inevitable torture of watching the pathetic lower seeds going down in flames. The outcome of the first round is always predictable, so instead of putting us out of our misery as quickly as possible, the NBA has decided to drown us in prolonged mediocrity. This year an argument could have been made to reduce the first round even further to a best-of-three. Yes, it was that bad.

The ensuing series weren't that much better, with the Boston vs. Philly torturefest as the unanimous winner of  the "Egregiously Bad Basketball Played Badly" award of the year. Here is the problem with Philly, and the same goes for Indiana-they are overachievers driven by micro-managing, control freak coaches. And overachievers have their worst attributes-usually scoring-exposed more harshly during the playoffs than during the regular season. Yes, Doug Collins is a good coach, but he is the type of coach that does better with teams with limited talent because if they aren't run on a short leash, with every single move choreographed from the bench, they'd be lost. But that doesn't make for artistically aesthetic or creative basketball. Watching teams like this is like watching a choreographed play scribbled on a telestrator with magic marker come to life.

The Miami-Indiana series was just as brutal. You have a 7-2 center in Roy Hibbert who has no signature low-post move and could not stop James or Wade ripping towards the basket like the Allies storming the beaches of Normandy. When he scores it's more of an accident than anything else. Now there is talk about him being a max-contract player, which he most definitely is not, but it says more about the overall dearth of talent at this position than his limited skill set. I have never seen a dry spell at the center position in all my years of watching the sport, and seeing who is coming out at the NBA draft this is a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future. There are no Hakeem Olajuwans or Ralph Sampsons coming down the pike, no transcendent big man on the horizon. So we are stuck with stiffs like Hibbert and his overrated contributions to the game.

As for the Miami Heat, their main problem is their lack of fluidity on offense. They decided to sign Lebron James, who isn't polished enough to be a point guard, doesn't shoot well enough to be a shooting guard/small forward, and despite his gargantuan frame doesn't have a sufficient defensive low post presence to be a force in the paint. As talented as he is, his main fault is that he does everything well but cannot be counted on to take over game in any one position.

The Heat need a point guard, because their offense relies on both  James and Wade dribbling around until they chuck up a shot or take the ball to the rack. Granted, they are the best in the world at this, but in the grind-it-out world of half court basketball that dominates the playoffs, this predictability will show up on game films and a team as talented and athletic as the Oklahoma Thunder will put stop this because they have the athletes to match Miami head-to-head.

They need two players that could be available to them-Steve Nash and Stephen Jackson. They can get rid of one of their point guards and put Shane Battier out to pasture. In fact, with Jackson you could also trade Mike Miller, who always seems to be hurt and is a defensive liability. With Nash at the point you will have a more free-flowing offense that won't rely exclusively on James and Wade going one-on-one, which is always susceptible to double-teaming.

The Celtics wouldn't have to blow their team up, as many pundits predict after the year is over, if they had not gotten rid of their core secondary unit. I've said this in a previous post but it bares repeating-they could have used Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson for players who missed the season due to injury, illness and others who have proven to fall short in the category they are woefully short on-energy and young legs. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a testament to this. The Celtics, in an elimination game on their home court, played like a bunch of "muertos". They looked old, tired and totally unmotivated, and this is what has been their Achilles heel regardless of how much Kevin Garnett balks at this assessment. They lose because they collectively run out of gas. This has affected even Rajon Rondo, who has been putting on a point guard clinic for the ages but cannot do it by playing all 48 minutes of every game. Even HE gets tired.

The talk is that Ray Allen is the player who won't be back next season. Again, if Stephen Jackson is available he can be of use, but he also is getting on in age and would be a better fit in Miami, who have athleticism to spare and could use a defensive-minded three-point specialist to take clutch shots when they need them.

The biggest surprise was the Oklahoma Thunder's complete dismantling of what was arguably the best team heading into the playoffs-the San Antonio Spurs. After the first two games of the series, many felt there was no way the Thunder could win even one game going forward. No one anticipated the beat down Oklahoma laid on them, seeing as the Spurs were not only on a 20-game winning streak but were playing the best team basketball the NBA has seen in years. The bottom line is coach Scottie Brooks made the necessary defensive adjustments, out-coached Gregg Popovich and took advantage of the horses he had and ran San Antonio out of the gym. Even an 18-point first half lead wasn't safe in the final game, and Kevin Durant showed that when he is focused and on his game, no one can stop him. And credit goes to Russell Westbrook for remembering he a point guard first and foremost.

So we are left with an aging Celtics team who may or may not have the legs to show up on Saturday against the marauding Lebron James, who basically beat them all by himself in game 6 of their series, putting up numbers not seen in the playoffs since Wilt Chamberlain 48 years ago. If Boston had not gotten rid of their core secondary unit from a few years ago, this series would have been over already. But even if they win game 7, they will lose and lose badly against the Oklahoma Thunder, who barring injury to any of their key players, looks to sweep whoever comes out of the East. I'm just hoping The Celts put up one last great defiant stand because I want to see a good game, not the bullshit debacle they came up with in game 6. Let's see what happens.

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