So the rootin’ tootin’ race out west has got me thinking, why the hell is the Eastern Conference so damn terrible these days? There was a time when the best games were played in Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Indianapolis, and Boston. Now? It’s as though good basketball has become a thing of the past in the colder parts of the world. Why the phenomenon? When did this whole thing go bad?
In 1997, a young man who, unlike most of his peers decided to go to college for four years, was drafted out of Wake Forest. Interestingly enough, Tim Duncan is the only player from what was a pretty good draft class – What? You didn’t think that God Shammgod would stick in the league back then? – that has remained with the same team since then. Funny how the man with the most success in his first ten years in the league since Magic Johnson is the one with the most longevity. That same year the Chicago Bulls were wrapping up championship number 2 of the second three-peat. The Western rep that year was Utah, as they’d be again in 1998, which was the final banner year for the East. Those 1997 playoffs were the last really great series’ for the Eastern Conference. A war between the Heat and Knicks went 7 games in a series that featured some of the greatest battles in NBA History. The Heat were left so weary they were hardly a match for a Bulls team was likely the greatest team to ever step on a court.
A year earlier the Lakers signed Shaquille O’neal in a coup that perhaps led to the current CBA which prevents the type of dominance the Lakers once enjoyed. These two moves created a decade of dominance that continues to this day. The Lakers were unable to supplant the Spurs in their lockout shortened championship of 1999, but finally won the title in 2000 and followed with two more. But I digress. The point of all of this is to reminisce back to a time when there was a different balance of power in the NBA. The best teams in the league played in the Eastern Conference and the West was just decent, if not worse (the jury’s still out on that one.) In fact, just as the East has today, three teams made the playoffs with records under .500 that year. The Clippers made it at 10 games under .500!
There is a lot of talk around the sports world right now about changing the format of the NBA playoff. My only question is why? If we can look back at the previous two decades of basketball and come to the conclusion that the door does swing in the other direction eventually, why in the hell would we want this thing to change? In the event that we should have a sublime decade like the 80’s again, in which the two best teams in the game were from different conferences and competed for essentially 10 years, we would lose the chance to watch such epic battles again.
I guess what I’m really trying to say in the end of all of this is that the Eastern Conference needs to get it’s damn act together. Lucky for all of us, it’s just about time.
Last night, I sat on my couch and watched the three best teams in the NBA each take on teams they should’ve beaten. Two of those teams did.
The Boston Celtics thoroughly dominated the Chicago Bulls in the first part of the evening. Watching the Celts pick apart and outwork the much younger Bulls was like watching the old lion put the young lion in his place. The Bulls were loafing the entire night, and granted they played the night before and put a whipping on Bron Bron’s Cavs, they got run off the court.
The Spurs took on the Nuggets in the second game, at relatively the same time as the game between the Lakers and Clippers. The game between the Spurs and Nuggets was predictably boring for a half then the Nuggets came to life and beat the Spurs for the first time in a long time. The Lakers and Clippers game was fun to watch, if only because the Lakers showed again, after a little rest, why they are a favorite in the Western Conference.
Watching these three games, I learned little bit about how this season should shake out. The Lakers and Celtics are going to play in the NBA Finals, and the greatest rivalry in professional sports for over 30 years will be reborn. Once again the two teams embody the cities they play in. The Lakers have the flash and sparkle of Hollywood, and the Celtics are the hard working, blue collar Boston. Magic and Larry, Wilt and Bill, Worthy and Ainge, the list could go on and on. I won’t do that here. It’s new again, and David Stern must’ve been weeping with joy at Staples Center last night watching a fast-breaking Hollywood story unfold in front of his eyes, while in Boston the Mean Green Machine had pounded out another win. The styles contrast again as they always have. The Lakers move the ball and rely on a strong post player to anchor their half-court offense, then they get out and run when the opportunity arises. The Celtics are again the defensive stalwarts, with an amazing Power Forward leading the charge on offense. Two great teams. One O’Brien Trophy.
I’m not ready to call who might win the series between these two teams, because the Lakers are so much different now than they were when the two played last, but it will be another series for the ages, and will likely go 7 games.
The NBA is finally out of the doldrums. Ain’t it grand?
Are the New York Knicks the worst franchise in sports? In the last few seasons, they’ve really stunk it up. There are rumblings that perhaps two of their good young players may abandon ship in the coming years for more succesful endeavors. If I’m a Knick fan, just the thought of this is another sad chapter in the recent history of what was once a bastion of regular success in what should be a capital of basketball.
How is it possible that this team has become so dismal? It seems rather imprudent to keep Isaiah Thomas around beyond this season in any capacity. The only other front office personality that comes to mind when I think about disastrous situations is Al Davis. The only reason he gets to keep his job is because he owns the team. At least Al can point to past success. Isaiah has NADA. For the good of the league, it’s time for James Dolan to get rid of Isaiah and start fresh in New York. The NBA needs the Knicks to be successful.
Pat Riley is up to his usual tricks down in Miami. Riles is getting out of dodge for a few days in the coming weeks, so he can scout Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose and others for the draft. Does anyone even feel a little bit sorry for the guy? Or the Heat in general?
After hoisting the O’Brien trophy just a couple of seasons ago, they are the saddest story in sports. Dwayne Wade’s playoff comeback last year might be to blame. With an injury as bad as his was, it seems like they should have been more prudent about bringing the guy back. I mean, Wade is 25 years old, with at least another decade of basketball in front of him and you’re gonna let him play after an injury that bad, that soon? Shaq’s swift decline over the last two seasons is the major reason for the decline of the Heat – even with a decent supporting cast last season they couldn’t get out of the first round – so why risk the rest of Wade’s career by allowing him to play again and not have the surgery he needs right away to avoid further damage?
I just remembered a great moment earlier in the season when Marco Jaric checked into a game for the T-Wolves with his jersey on backwards. Fantastic. Even funnier is the following shot of one of his teammates. Hilarity ensues.