After the conclusion of The Wire last month, I was convinced that, in terms of pure quality of programming, I would never have a parallel TV-watching experience. When it comes to creative works, that’s still probably true.
This year’s Western Conference Playoffs, however, has the potential to be the best thing to ever appear on television. To put things in proper perspective, the worst First Round match up features an “underdog” that has a Top 50 player of all time, a potential Hall of Famer and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in its starting lineup.
So…to preview each team’s chances in what hope to be some of the best NBA Playoff series (serieses? seriesi?) ever played, we’re gonna let characters from the final season of the best television series of all time do the talking.
Today, we’ll start with the first four Saturday match ups that are kicking things off this weekend.
Check back tomorrow for the last — and certainly least — half.
“I wasn’t meant to play a son.” – Marlo
Gilbert Arenas coming back is one of the best things for NBA fans.
Gilbert Arenas coming back is maybe the worst thing for Wizards fans.
I love Hibachi. I really do. Most entertaining aspect of the NBA without question. But after playing one way all season, Caron, Antwan, et al. will have to adjust now that Gilbert is back and dominating the ball again. He did well to blend in and just be part of the offense in his limited minutes during his regular season return, but as we saw in the waning minutes of Game 1, the Wizards late game offense is “Hope for Hibachi.” When he hits his shots, it’s amazing. When he doesn’t they can’t win.
Maybe after Game 1 he will revert back to being just another one of the guys. But it’s pretty hard to see him stepping aside so that Caron can take the shot or that he will just run the offense to try and find an open look. And it really seems that his teammates are conditioned to defer to him late and that’s all they know how to do anymore.
I’m not saying they woulda had a chance without Gil either. They would have lost to Cleveland regardless.
But now they know exactly how it’s gonna happen.
“Why don’t you just shove the broom up my ass and I’ll sweep the floor while I’m at it?” — Bill Zorzi
In last year’s Playoffs, the Cavs swept the Gilbert Arenas-less Wiz and then handled the rudderless Nets with relative ease. Then came Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Few thought they could win. In the first two games, they looked outmatched. Still, even after shooting a miserable 37.2% as a team in Game 1, the Cavs had a chance to win at the end. Bron Bron famously drove and dished to Donyell Marshall, who subsequently clanged a jumper off the rim to seal the loss. For the next two days, LeBron was skewered by many for passing the ball to a wide-open shooter. There was a legitimate debate over whether he should have taken a shot while double-teamed or passed to the open guy in the corner. Seriously…this happened. I’m sure Skip Bayless would tell you all about it if you don’t believe me.
In Game 2, the Cavs again shot like dogshit (40%) but managed to hang in a very similar game that Flip Saunders called “like Groundhog Day.” At the end of the game, LeBron was in the same scenario with a chance to win and this time he dribbled into the lane, spun and took an off-balance jumper with Rip Hamilton all over him. It missed. Again, LeBron was criticized widely — by some for missing the shot and by others for failing to pass.
In Game 3, dude said “fuck yall” and dropped 32/9/9 while dunking over people, hitting clutch jumpers and drilling step-back threes throughout the fourth quarter.
In Game 4, his line wasn’t as impressive, but he similarly controlled all late game situations by playing point guard, point forward and even point post player.
Then came Game 5.
If you don’t recall, you can witness here.
Or if you don’t want to recap, all you really need to know is that at one point while calling the game Steve Kerr calls LeBron’s performance “Jordanesque.”
It was total bullshit. Because not even Jordan ever did anything like that.
After that explosion, it was game…set…match. Frankly, I’m not even sure why Detroit showed up for Game 6 (and, actually, they really didn’t: Cleveland won 98 – 82).
Then they got swept by San Antonio in the Finals.
Predictably, that was LeBron’s fault too.
Fast forward ten months and it’s looking like more of the same.
Sure, Danny Ferry shuffled the deck chairs a little bit and this Cavs team is improved. But they’re also gonna hafta get through both a “Remember the Alamo” Detroit team as well as the Boston Three Party, who are vastly superior to anything the East had to offer last season. And if the Cavs somehow manage to get through all that, then, surprise, they get the best team in the West.
Basically, there’s absolutely no chance this is the year LeBron gets his first ring.
But it sure will be fun watching him try.
“You think I’m gonna be the scapegoat for the whole damn machine? Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.” – Sen. Clay Davis
As most diehard NBA fans know, TMac’s reputation as a loser that can’t get out of the First Round is half truth/half bullshit.
Like Bill Buckner, sure, plenty of blame can be thrown Tracy’s way, but the man is not a loser. His infamous proclamation of “see ya next round” when his Magic were up 3-1 in the series only to eventually lose still haunts him, but the guy has two scoring titles, six All NBA selections and just recently captained a ragtag Rockets roster to a 22-game win streak — the second longest run in League history. Most importantly, a guy that dropped these 62 points in a game, scored these 13 points in 35 seconds, hit this Playoff game-winner against Dallas, hit this three-point Playoff game-winner against Dallas, and had this Bird/Niquesque shootout with Dirk against Dallas is not a loser. (Sidenote: “Niquesque” is now my favorite word and you will see it used on this site with increasing and inappropriate frequency.)
Unfortunately, this still aint gonna be the the year he wins a series. With Yao out, he doesn’t have the supporting cast to even beat a solid Utah squad, let alone stand any real chance in this cut-throat Western Conference. The dude is bringing knives to tank fight.
But if it’s any consolation — and I’m sure it’s not — Tracy can watch this fantastic clip, which will unequivocally go down as the best user-generated, heartfelt YouTube tribute to Tracy McGrady’s Playoff frustration featuring Evanescence background music and multiple black-and-white replays of two back-breaking Mehmet Okur three-pointers.
And don’t worry about the legacy, TMac. Heads know.
“There’s something to this. I just haven’t figured it out. We need some more manpower.” – Det. Lester Freamon
It’s hard to argue that anyone in the West (aside from LA) goes any deeper than Utah.
Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are a force of nature. It’s really hard to believe that there is once again such a great PG/PF combo in Salt Lake again. But Deron is just that refined, that savvy, that physical, that clutch, that….great. And Booz can do everything offensively. Okur, as Charmin soft as he can be, is one of the more offensively adept 7-footers in the NBA. And although you never know if AK-47 will hold the other teams best player in check for 40 minutes or sob quietly after the game for 40 minutes, the guy can play. The move to get Kyle Korver was incredibly savvy and the way his range spaces the floor makes the Deron/Booz pick-and-roll borderline unstoppable. Paul Millsap is one of the best rebounders in the League and an ideal first big off the bench. Matt Harpring is a pro’s pro and though he does nothing great, he does everything rather well. The Ronnies (Brewer and Price) play good perimeter D and add change-of-pace athleticism.
All in all, that’s very solid.
So what’s the problem?
Other than lack of interior defense (which is obviously a big problem against San Antonio, LA and Phoenix) all this goes to show that in the NBA, quality always trumps quantity. Having the options to complement Boozer in the frontcourt with any of Okur, AK, Millsap and Harpring is nice. But if Utah makes an off-season deal to create something like Boozer/Marion/Millsap or Boozer/Camby/AK, they would be all that much better.
Until they can trade quantity for quality, they won’t make it over the hump.
“It’s genius. Or not.” — Det. Jimmy McNulty
Even Suns GM Steve Kerr knows there was no middle ground in getting Shaq. “If it works, I’m a genius,” he said at Diesel’s introductory press conference. “If it doesn’t, I’m a moron.”
Though it looked suspect at first, things turned out well and Amare is now free to do any and everything he wants on offense. I doubt we’ll ever see the 37 ppg/10 ppg he put up in against Duncan and San Antonio in 2005, but with Shaq there to help slow down Timmy a little bit, we probably will not see the Suns lose 4-1 either. Ideally, Nash/Amare/Shaq would have one cupcake series first to tune up and get running on all cylinders.
Too bad they’re playing the Spurs in what should be the most competitive First Round series ever witnessed. If they can manage to make it out, this could finally be the year they get out of the West.
If not, I wouldn’t say this is the Suns last hurrah. But it’s hard to believe that next season won’t be.
San Antonio Spurs
“My name is my name.” – Marlo
I’m not even wasting my time on this one.
Yall knew who they are. Then yall forgot. After Game 1, yall remembered again.
They’re the favorites.
“Yeah, that’s what you say. But it’s how you carry yourself…You was never one of us, and you never could be.” – Snoop
The Mavs won’t get it done. It’s as plain as the David West hand on Dirk’s face.
I never liked the Kidd move and didn’t think they had a shot at the trophy regardless, but I saw all I needed to see in the second half of Game 1 against Nawlins. And no, I’m not talking about Chris Paul’s utter destruction of Big Ds nonexistent D.
I’m talking about Dirk (and all of his teammates) allowing the reigning NBA MVP to get shown up, embarrassed and downright “sonned” by a first-time All Star who is physically smaller than him. I mean, are you kidding me, Dirk? I know you’re European and all, but you’re never gonna lose the tag of “softest Superstar in the League” when you allow David West to put his hands on your face and finger-point scold you like you’re a low-earning trick working his corner.
Don’t make Tyson Chandler hafta choke a bitch.
New Orleans Hornets
“Shit, you just a boy.” – Vinsone
“That’s just a knee.” – Michael
Unfortunately, I’m an Indiana Pacers fan.
So each year of late, I’ve been selecting one other team with a shot to follow closely as well just so I can at least have someone to watch in the Playoffs. It’s not that I’m actively rooting for that second team — I just tend to watch most of that other team’s games and build some sort of familiarity. Basically, watching one good team play real basketball in a style I like to watch helps counteract the pure agony that is following the JailPacers.
Two years ago, it was Flash and Miami, which worked out really well.
Last year it was Deron, Booz and Sloan, which worked out pretty well.
This year, it was CP3 and Nawlins.
And it’s gonna work out pretty well.
Everyone seems to think New Orleans is a year away. The only legit reason most people have for this (other than the thin bench) is that few teams ever put everything together in their first real Playoff run. Well after watching thirty Hornets games this year, I know one thing: few teams have ever had Chris Paul either.
After his nightly MVP campaigning since the All Star break and his national coming out party in Game 1 on Saturday (not in a John Amaechi sense in case you missed it), I’m not even gonna bother listing his abilities and credentials. If you don’t see “it” in this kid, you might have something in common with the governor of New York.
But it’s not just him.
David West is highly skilled and, on the court, it doesn’t matter that his status among pundits is now bordering on “being called underrated so much that he’s overrated.” (And can we get this guy a damn nickname so I don’t have to type his full name every time?) Tyson is an animal. Peja is still the best shooter in the League. Mo Pete is always solid even without doing anything particularly well. Bonzi can score and has no problem carrying the offense when others are slumping. Even Pargo is instant offense off the bench. Sure the rest of the bench is thin. But outside of LA, whose isn’t?
Look, the Western Conference is insane.
Anyone telling you they know who’s coming out is just a liar or an idiot.
So, yeah, New Orleans might indeed not make it through this unprecedented gauntlet.
But much like Phoenix, San Antonio or LA, it won’t be because they or Chris Paul lack the ability to make the Finals. It will just be because the two or three end-of-game plays that will inevitably decide the West champs will not happen to go their way.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t ready.
It just means, in the words of Billy Hoyle, sometimes the ball don’t go down.