NBA Playoffs: Thoughts and Notes
Spurs the team to beat in the West
By Will Schmidt,
1:00PM, Mon. Apr. 30, 2012
After a weird 66-game season, after an elbow to the back of the dome, after a guy missed a game for being old, after all of this and even more, it's time for the NBA Playoffs to kick off once again. Say what you will about lockout-shortened seasons, the fact is that these teams had less preparation than any of them are accustomed to.
Rookies and young fellas were without training camp and summer league, like growing children going to school without breakfast. So if anything, this season has been a greater challenge to the contenders. "It's just another log on the fire," commented NBA facilitation expert and longstanding Prince of Delaware Hoops, Brad Chassy. He continued, "With the constant games and the little time for practice and creativity within, it's just going to make this season all the more brutal. It's going to result in the kind of playoffs one dreams of. A real grind-house. It's more like four or five logs actually."
"How many logs is that in the end?" I asked.
"It's a big fire. The log count is too much to know," Brad replied.
The thing that Brad was trying to tell me and the other reporters at journalism camp is that the playoffs are going to be a fun ride with constant twists, turns, wipe-outs (as early footage of Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert's knees have already reminded us), and of course, the best part of every NBA postseason, the sweeter than everything else glory and honor of winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the Finals. Very little can compare to the absolute cheer and total positive sensation of having your favorite team win an NBA championship. It almost gives magic powers, or telekinetic powers at the least.
And this season's cast of teams come a cut above.
You got the steady veteran teams like San Antonio, Dallas, and the Lakers, each with steady hands to control their own destinies. San Antonio has been the top seed almost all season in the Western Conference, and their depth and professionalism are unmatched. The Spurs have their all-star elders in Timmy Duncan and Manu Ginobili, their MVP in Tony Parker, and their small army of shooters and defenders coming at you from every which way.
But the most valuable piece of San Antonio's arsenal? It's the mad scientist Gregg Popovich, the angriest man in sports. You see, old Pops has never been flustered in the playoffs, not since the Spurs took it all in the previous lock-out year of 1999. He's constantly in control. Some coaches second-guess, or switch things up on bad hunches that ruin everything. Some coaches lose trust in their players and in themselves, usually in the slightest of ways, but it shows in their eyes, and in their energies on the sideline. It infiltrates their players' minds through invisible energy waves, resulting in an uneasiness that becomes detrimental to success. Not Gregg. Not Coach Pops. He's the best coach in the NBA, and with him and those icy cold eyes, the Spurs are right there, when everyone thought they'd be too old, they're proving that they're exactly the right age. Defending champs, the Mavs, have quite a journey ahead of them if they want to repeat this spring. Dirk Nowitzki is pure greatness, no doubt about that, but the team depth isn't what it was last season, and second-best player from a year ago, Tyson Chandler, is now solidifying New York's defense instead. Can the Mavericks beat the Thunder in round one?
My grandfather always said, "Eine Reihe beginnt erst, wenn die Heimmannschaft verliert," which translated to English means, "A series doesn't officially begin until the home team loses." I think my grandfather was right, however, if Dallas doesn't steal a game in OKC during the first two, it's going to be a long summer in Big D.
You got the new breed of Western Conference threats: the Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Nuggets. These teams could all sneak their way into the Finals in the wide-open west. Memphis and Oklahoma City faced off last year in the second round, going the distance to game 7 when OKC took the win. This season has the Thunder and the Grizzlies looking even stronger than the two clubs who battled so intensely for a shot at the Conference Finals.
They've got to beat the veteran big brains of Dallas, San Antonio, and the Lakers, but we all feel a changing of the landscape out West. It might not be this season or next, but very very soon we'll be watching the Thunder, Grizzlies, Nuggets, and Clippers routinely finish near the top of the standings and deep into the playoffs. Well, maybe not the Clippers. They always find a way to screw things up.
It's a great story that the Utah Jazz made the playoffs. With apologies to Suns and Rockets fans, Utah is the team that needed to make it. Look at their roster; they're a bunch of guys who nobody wanted, the Bad News Bears of 2012's NBA, if you will. Al Jefferson's been traded twice. The second time the Timberwolves were basically trying to give him away. Dallas could have had him for Eric Dampier's contract, but they didn't want him. Utah decided they needed somebody to replace Carlos Boozer, so they decided to bite, getting Big Al for two draft picks and Kosta Koufos.
Devin Harris has been traded twice by teams who didn't want him, last time getting bundled up into a large package for Deron Williams. Derrick Favors has already been traded in less than two years of being a pro. They have Jamaal Tinsley on their team for Pete's sake! Nobody thought Utah was going to make the playoffs this year, but they're a pretty good team. They beat inferior talent all season long and that's why they're still playing basketball. It's always important to root for the rag-tag overachievers in the NBA playoffs, and even though the Spurs are going to beat them, showing support to the snarl-toothed stepchild that is the Jazz shows a classy move. So please, give it up for the Utah Jazz.
So how are the Western Conference playoffs going to play out, you ask? Don't be silly. I'm no fortune teller. You'll just have to watch every second and find out. But, if you are asking me who I think will win, well :
Spurs beat Jazz in 6
Thunder beat Mavs in 6
Lakers beat Nuggets in 5
Grizzlies beat Clippers in 7
Spurs beat Grizzlies in 7
Lakers beat Thunder in 6
Lakers beat Spurs in 6