Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Final Word About The Opening Round Of The NBA Playoffs

Bored, Not Entertained
I know, I know, I've filled the blog hole with this, and some of you are just checking the page and wondering when I'll get back to stuff you care about. Soon, I promise, and it's not as if this doesn't happen every year. Bear with me.

Every year around this time, as the wildly fun and entertaining, every single night there's a game you want to see playoffs churns along, someone talks about how great it all is this year, and how this is only the first round! But what's being lost here is that there is no Next Level of tension to go to once you are in the playoffs; every series is its own little short-term world of preoccupation, and the level of play and willingness of guys to put everything on the line doesn't change from round to round. Golden State's David Lee came back to give his team 90 seconds of inspiration and a rebound, just nine days after a hip flexor injury that was supposed to keep him out until next year. He didn't wait to spring that on his teammates in round two; he was willing to risk his health and future earnings just to end the Nuggets. The same thing goes for seemingly half of the active rosters of the Nets and Bulls, possibly some Clippers, and so on, and so on. There is no Next Level when you are, already, all in.

No, the real reason that the first round of the NBA playoffs is so much damned fun is this: it's very easy, very easy indeed, to just ignore the team that's going to win it all at this stage, because they usually play a remarkably dull series and close things out while much better ball goes on around them. There were two sweeps in the first round this year, between the teams that have to be considered the favorites to be in the Finals now; those would be the Heat and Spurs. And after watching the Nuggets and Warriors redefine home crowd energy and wild momentum swings, and the Bulls and Nets fight a Pyrrhic war, and the Grizzlies leave the Clippers a smoking ruin and the Knicks finally chop the Celtics' heads off, stuff the mouth with garlic, bathe it in holy water and leave the reside to burn off at high noon on a sunny day on consecrated ground... well, um, LeBron James winning it all again or Tim Duncan somehow getting his I'm Never Going Away ring sounds about as exciting as filing your taxes.

And this is what happens every year.

The best series are early, with teams that are too flawed to win it all, because those teams are more fun to watch. Pro hoop is different from every other American team sport for this; if a game is a blowout, or a team is just so much better than the other team, the games are no fun to watch. Miami swept the Heat; no one outside of Miami gives a damn .San Antonio swept the Lakers, my second-least favorite team on the planet of hoop, and I love hoop. Had this been, say, the Atlanta Falcons crushing the Cowboys or the Houston Texans curb-stomping the New England Patriots, I would have watched every minute of it, stopping only to pull up Twitter feeds of Cowboy and Patriot fans to delight in their pain.

Hoop is different. I switched to a better, closer game. And as the playoffs progress, those games, more often than not, go away.

So if you are waiting for the Finals to tune in the NBA and see if you like hoop a little more than you used to... no, please, don't. Try the Grizz-Thunder series, or Warriors-Spurs, and pray the favorites (that'd be Memphis and San Antonio) stumble and make it long. Maybe even give Pacers-Knicks a look, especially if you get off on defense; it'll be more fun than watching the Heat destroy the shambling wrecks that survive Brooklyn v. Chicago. But know that you've probably already missed the best that the Association has to offer, and that you'll need to wait until this time next year to see it again.

We're about to start the second round, when the NBA Playoffs gets serious. And a lot less fun.

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