April 25, 2012
Playoffs NBA's saving grace
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI AGENCY
From labour peace to World Metta Peace, the NBA’s lockout-shortened season has seen its share of moments worth savouring and moments when one is left in complete horror.
With so many games played in so few days, it was expected the play would suffer, players would suffer injuries and teams that would normally attract a full house in some markets weren’t made available.
The most graphic illustration is found in Phoenix, where Steve Nash may have played his final game in a Suns uniform when the rival San Antonio Spurs paid a visit Wednesday night.
At no point during the season did the Suns play in front of a sold-out house, one of the vagaries of a season ravaged by a labour disruption that meant Eastern draws such as Miami, Chicago, New York and Boston never ventured to the desert.
Overall, the only saving grace as the NBA closes out its regular season on Thursday is the promise of a post-season that is shaping up as one worth watching.
In today’s NBA, there is no slam dunk, no clear-cut favourite, no team being able to sustain a level that has separated itself from the pack.
San Antonio is good, but playoff basketball is more about matchups than any past achievement, the Spurs’ exit at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies last spring providing the proof.
With one day left before the regular season is put to rest, one of the storylines features the league’s scoring race, a battle that pits Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
With Oklahoma City playing host to Denver on Wednesday, Bryant will know by game time Thursday night at Sacramento the amount of points required to claim the scoring crown.
As it stands, if Durant, who is averaging 27.9 points, scores fewer than 30, Bryant, who averages 27.8 points, must outdo Durant by at least seven points.
If Durant pours in excess of 30, Bryant must out-score Durant by at least six.
Back in 1994, David Robinson won the scoring title on the final night of the season when the Admiral torched the Clippers for 71 points, a number that would move the Spurs’ centre past Shaquille O’Neill.
On the other end of the basketball spectrum lies the Charlotte Bobcats, a franchise that has reinvented losing.
Heading into Orlando Wednesday night, the Bobcats had lost 20 in a row.
A loss to the Magic combined with a home defeat to the Knicks on Thursday will earn the Bobcats the distinction of being the worst, percentage wise, team in NBA history, no small feat given the litany of pathetic teams that have suited up over the years.
The reward for all this misery may be Anthony Davis, but there’s no guarantee when all that’s assured is that Charlotte will have a 25% chance to win the NBA’s lottery next month.
Things have turned so bad in Charlotte that head coach Paul Silas and power forward Tyrus Thomas had a physical confrontation over the weekend.
Love, literally speaking, has been lost in Minny, where the T-Wolves’ promising season came to an end following a season-ending knee injury to rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, followed by a concussion to all-star forward Kevin Love, at one point an MVP candidate.
“We’ve got problems here,” said guard J.J. Barea, who jumped to Minnesota after helping Dallas win a title last year. “We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t care.
“We’re just going to keep getting L’s until we get players here that care.”
Outside of Jeremy Lin’s media-fuelled rise, there have been plenty of L’s across the NBA.
Mercifully, it’ll all come to an end Thursday.
Thankfully, the playoffs should make many forget the truly regrettable play that has unfolded in this unusual of seasons.
AND THE WINNERS ARE?
(A look at the NBA’s major awards, who should win or who should be considered.)
Winner: LeBron James (Mia)
There’s no one better in basketball, though LBJ needs to be better this post-season when games need to be won.
Candidates: Kevin Durant (OKC) and Tony Parker (SA)
Coach of the year
Winner: Tom Thibodeau (Chi)
Bulls never missed a beat, even as players, namely Derrick Rose, missed games; culture of defence never compromised.
Candidates: Gregg Popovich (SA) and Tyrone Corbin (Utah)
Rookie of the year
Winner: Kyrie Irving (Clev)
There’s a reason why so many teams wanted to win last May’s lottery; Irving gives Cavs reason for optimism in the post-James era.
Candidates: Kenneth Faried (Den) and Isaiah Thomas (Sac)
Most improved player
Winner: Ersan Ilyasova (Mil)
An unrestricted free agent this summer, the NBA’s best Turkish-born player is in line to quadruple the $2.5 million he made this season.
Candidates: Greg Monroe (Det) and Jeremy Lin (NY)
Defensive player of the year
Winner: Serge Ibaka (OKC)
Air Congo is a beast in the paint, blocking shots, altering shots and controlling the glass; if he develops an offence, watch out.
Candidates: Dwight Howard (Orl) and James
Sixth Man Award
Winner: James Harden (OKC)
On most teams, Harden would start and be the first option; OKC must find a way to keep Harden in place financially for years to follow.
Candidates: Lou Williams (Phi) and Jason Terry (Dal)