The NBA playoffs start this weekend; here are some musings on both conferences, somewhat-respectively.
-I have to start with what could have been for the Milwaukee Bucks. I still think they will make a series out of whoever they play, if they can stay close in the rebounding battle, but replacing Andrew Bogut’s all around impact will be impossible. What’s worse is that Dan Gadzuric probably had a pretty dapper lineup of suits to wear on the bench for the playoffs that will now go wasted. Sigh.
-The most detestable team in the playoffs? For me it’s the Celtics, who have taken over the spot held in previous years by the likes of the Spurs and Lakers as the team I cheer against with most zeal. The difference is, though, those San Antonio and Los Angeles teams were usually title contenders. Other than that, unless you don’t like Kobe Bryant, there weren’t many logical reasons to dislike them. This aging Celtic team is different. After floating through a season of bad losses and closed-door team meetings, Boston is clearly a second-tier team in the East, but you wouldn’t know it watching someone like Kevin Garnett. Garnett, for no longer being able to hit open 15 footers on a consistent basis, looks convinced he can make up for this loss of a step by continuing his tired act as most intense mock-enforcer on the court. Problem is, I don’t think anyone is too worried about him anymore. All of that yelling, at this point, may be more of an attempt at convincing himself that he is still relevant more than anything else. I look forward to them losing and blaming Rajon Rondo.
-Somewhat under the radar, or as much as a defending conference champion can be, are the Orlando Magic. Watching Dwight Howard work offensively in the Finals last summer was an exercise in frustration, but this year he looks comfortable in the post, making the outside shooters surrounding him that much more of a threat. It will be most interesting to watch Vince Carter, a member of this talented supporting cast, back on a contending team in the playoffs. Can he stay within the boundaries of the offense, or become the shot-chucking wrench to the system that he at times insists on being? This could decide the fate of the current Eastern conference champions.
-Lastly, inevitably, you have to look at LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously this postseason is a special version of LeBron’s Quest for the Title because of the upcoming summer, but it’s also important because this is the best version of the Cavaliers put together since James was drafted. Rest assured, whether they win it all or not, the where-is-LeBron-going? can of worms will be ripped open, it’s unavoidable. But for now, I think it’s best to focus on the present.
-Many in the NBA community have not been too amused with the Lakers’ aversion to effort towards the end of the regular season. No doubt, they are the favorites out West, assuming they flip that switch you always seem to hear about concerning Los Angeles this time of year, but there’s a feeling to the Lakers right now that they know something the rest of us don’t about these playoffs. Because it seems the talent level of the eight teams in the West bracket is strong enough to not only challenge but beat the Lakers at some point in the postseason, which I don’t think many people believed last year. They don’t appear too concerned about this. I still have my doubts as well, but it’s hard to argue that at the least, other teams look more interested than Los Angeles does at the moment.
-A team many believe has equipped itself to contend for the Western conference crown are my Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of them yet. This “new” team, with Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in the mix, has been together for about half a season, which I guess will have to be enough in the on-court chemistry department. And although I believe they are one of the most complete teams that Dallas has gone with into the playoffs, I’m trying not to put too much thought into it. The playoffs are a stressful enough affair with low expectations; so I’ll probably wait until at least the middle of the first quarter in game one to start freaking out.
-Going back to the rest of the Western field, almost every one of the eight qualifiers have been the Team No One Wants To Face at some point this season, starting with the aforementioned Lakers and Mavericks and also including Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and Denver. Throw in the offensive freak that is Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and boy, someone will supposedly survive and make it out of this mess, but that’s about all I know for certain. It’s the playoffs; I wouldn’t want it any other way.