Just How Open Is The West?
The Playoff picture has seen this parity before.
by Chris Deaton
Let’s be realists, here. There are two teams that can rep the West in the Finals: the Lakers and the eventual 2-seed. That’s it. Parity be damned, there are just too many holes, too many questions about the bracket’s bottom six to win consecutive playoff series without home advantage. Right?
Ugh. Numbers always pull in different directions to the point where making a logical argument in favor of Team X is reasonably challenged by the numbers so conveniently eschewed to make Team X look so good. You follow? I almost don’t. That sentence sucked.
But the truth is buried in there. Somewhere.
Let’s say the Mavs lock up second in the conference.
I like the Nuggets. ‘Melo is now a title-worthy superstar, Chauncey is still as valuable a playoff point guard as there is, they have fire on their front line (Prank Martin, Birdman), an improving big to tussle with the League’s best (Nene), full doses of energy off of the bench (Lawson, Afflalo), an X-factor (Smith), good ball control (879 bad pass and ball handling turnovers compared with 1,015 by their opponents) and a 3-1 regular season mark against LAL.
Where are the problems? A sub-.500 road record, an unfortunate flux on their coaching staff and a questionable pace. (If someone names me an NBA Finalist that surrendered north of a hundie a night in the regular season, I’ll donate a milli to Weezy’s “Rebirth My Rap Career” fund.)
Much of the same could be said for the Suns. They’re the hottest team in the West, yeah. And they have the NBA’s best point guard. And sure, Amar’e's five most recent lines spell out B-E-A-S-T (59-100 from the field, cumulatively), and J-Rich has found a role that emphasizes quality looks over quantity thereof (.473 shooting this season, compared with .442 for his career), but … can a team that surrenders almost 106 per really go to the Finals? And can the Suns do it without a healthy Robin Lopez?
Curse that word “but” followed by “and” after “and”.
That’s how it goes. The Lockout Knickerbockers remain an aberration, and no team with three nicknames running the show (Dream, Glide, Rudy T) is really a 6-seed. Fact is that it’s always been a tough trip for the side with the jet-hopping road to play into June, no matter the tale of balance told in the standings.
Remember those 2008 Playoffs? The Lakers and Nuggets, the 1 and the 8, were separated by all of 7 wins. Had the League ever seen such a marvel? There was the potential for some whack West final — the fifth-seeded Rockets and the seventh-seeded UConn Huskies, or something — and the journey there would be gripping, unexpected, unconventional, and above all else, cool.
A big-boy interpretation of March Madness? Sweet.
And then Los Angeles tidily swept Denver, New Orleans (2) and San Antonio (3) both cruised in five, and Utah took out Houston in six. Chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk. It’s noteworthy that each favorite held serve on home court to take 2-0 series leads, and only 20 times have trailing teams overcome that deficit in a best of seven to win. Far more often than not, a playoff club is for real — give a dog a steak and he’ll eat it. A 2-0 series lead is a New York strip.
In the event that they match up, it’d be nice to see Durant’s Thunderstorms hang with Kobe and Co. But for OKC’s first trip to the Playoffs, KD-Bryant is to Jordan-Bird circa 1986 (lite) at best — individual brilliance, signs of things to come and a quick five games. Do the Spurs have anything left to give? Can the Jazz take the next step? Can the Blazers take their first?
Parity goes by another name in this instance: uncertainty. Two things are certain: (1) the Lakers, no matter their enigmatic behavior down the stretch, have the West’s best record and the core pieces of last year’s title winner; and (2) whichever team nabs that 2-seed gets an incomparable shot in the arm. Things are separated by the most minute of degrees in this conference playoff race, and the most noteworthy of these degrees could be tallies in the win column.
So games 81 and 82 count. Once game 83 tips, Western Conference business will be closed to all but a select couple: Los Angeles and ________.