Before moving on to more interesting things, I feel compelled to write a little bit about the NBA playoffs, or if you prefer, the race to see how many completely uncompetitive series we can have on the way to a championship. After a fairly interesting first round, at least out west where all four series went to game 6, and Atlanta-Milwaukee in the east went the distance, it’s been a bore a minute. Three of the four second round series were sweeps, with only Boston-Cleveland making it to 6 games, but that series stopped being competitive after game 3. So far, the Conference Finals have all the look of adding two more sweeps, which would make 6 series sweeps out of 14 total series. Not exactly compelling television. And this was supposed to be a deeply interesting and combative playoffs. I’d be willing to bet that David Stern in praying for another epic Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. Nothing else will tune down the din of all Lebron, all the time.
I thought Phoenix was much better suited to put up a decent fight against L.A. than they had been in the past. Boy was I wrong. The Suns gave up a disgraceful 126 points per game in the first two, and that’s not even in overtime games. So much for that vaunted defensive improvement. In reality, Steve Nash can’t guard a lamp post and Amare Stoudemire may well be costing himself millions and a free-agent suitor or two with his epic soft play. Stoudemire, who fancies himself a beast, has a total of 9 rebounds in two games. For a 6’10” power forward-center, to be averaging 4.5 boards a game, even against the Lakers size, is just sad. When people talk about the big inside guys available in free agency this off season, we repeatedly see three names- Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh. Let the buyer beware here. A 12-pack of squeezably soft Charmin could play tougher than this trio. And unlike Amare, I bet even Mr. Whipple could box out once in a while, and at least have a clue about what a “defensive rotation” actually is. Unless L.A. completely falls asleep on the road, the next game in Los Angeles will be Game one of the Finals.
Meanwhile in Orlando, we’re seeing somewhat of a repeat of last season. Orlando cruised through the first two rounds, getting all cocky and arrogant, before getting punched in the gut by an actual championship caliber team. Same thing happened to Cleveland last season. I said before the season, and I’ll reiterate here, replacing Hedu Turkoglu and Courtney Lee with Vince Carter was, and continues to be, an enormous mistake. Say what you want about Hedu’s bust year in Toronto, this guy was perfectly suited to the Magic’s roster and style, and Lee was an upcoming spark off the bench before being exiled to the Jersey swamps. I hope everyone enjoyed watching Vince choke on those late-game free throws the other night, especially his cop-out setup of a sore wrist beforehand. Nobody sets up excuses for failure ahead of time like VC. Vince is a blackhole of bad jumpshots and worse defense. Wasn’t anyone paying attention when the Nets added Carter as the final piece to a championship puzzle a few years back and ended up presiding over the downfall of a franchise that played in two straight NBA Finals before acquiring him, but none after?
Dwight Howard is a good example of why the Defensive Player of the Year award should have absolutely nothing to do with individual stats. Sure, he’s an aggressive rebounder, and he blocks a lot of shots, but his straight up and team defense are pretty lacking. A guy who doesn’t stay patient and within the defensive system, flying all over the court trying to block every shot is ripe to be eaten alive by an actual team effort. Boston has made this look entirely too easy. I was very confident in my pick that the Celtics would win this series outright, but despite their obvious shortcomings, I really thought Orlando would bring at least some effort and win a game or two. Guess not. And don’t get me started on Rashard Lewis. Five points per game in the Conference Finals?!? After this pasting by Boston, Orlando may have to start rethinking the players surrounding Howard. And possibly even the coach. Of course, I doubt there’s anyone in the league who would want either Carter or Lewis at this point.
The Houston Rockets laid out the blueprint for championships won by surrounding a dominant big man with three point shooters, taking that style to consecutive titles in ’94-’95. Hell, even the Shaq-Penny Hardaway-Nick Anderson-Dennis Scott ’95 Magic had that formula down better than this version, and they got swept in the finals by those same Rockets. Dwight Howard may indeed be great, but he’s not even in the same hemisphere as Hakeem Olajuwon. And the guys Orlando has currently around the arc are a pretty far cry from Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry and Mario Elie. If Orlando really wants to win a title with Howard, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.