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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 at 12:05 pm  |  23 responses

Where Parity (Finally) Happens

The Playoffs are once again a real toss-up.

by Allen Powell II

Despite all the evil things the lockout-shortened season has spawned—sloppy play, ridiculous injuries, skewed statistics—it should be praised for creating something that has long been lacking in the NBA. Parity.

Obviously, the NBA will always have crappy teams, (hello Bobcats and Wizards) and elite franchises. But this year’s compressed schedule has interjected some much needed randomness into the regular season. And that ‘impulse’ factor may carry over to the upcoming Playoffs.

As the regular season enters its final month, there may be clear “favorites” heading into nut-cutting time, but there are no juggernauts. Every single Playoff team has obvious flaws and definite strengths. Most Playoff series will come down to which coaches and players can accentuate the positive, and distract from the negative. Basically, these are the makeup Playoffs.

THE EAST

Chicago and Miami remain the clear heads of the class, but they seem less secure on their perches. Boston is showing some friskiness thanks to KG finding his fountain of youth and Atlanta is still maddeningly Atlanta. That means they can beat anyone and lose to anyone without breaking much of a sweat.

Philly and Indiana need consistency, but remain dangerous, and Orlando’s Jekyll and Hyde play fits perfectly with its vacillating leader. And please, please don’t mention the Knicks. But don’t ignore them either.

Chicago

The problem in the Windy City is obvious. Chicago does not have a dependable shot creator outside of Rose, although they’ve performed admirably without their superstar this year. To depend on Carlos Boozer would seem foolish, and while Luol Deng is a very good player, nothing has changed in his game from last year.

More importantly, exactly how serious is Rose’s groin injury? Without his explosiveness, will he be able to carry the Bulls during their predictable scoring droughts? Will the team revert back to standing and looking at Rose instead of employing the passing and cutting offense they’ve showed off in recent weeks? Is Boozer preparing diabolical surprises like that hairline he revealed earlier this year?

Miami

In Miami, the Big Three came into the season looking like they were going to be the soul-destroying collection of beastliness critics feared post-Decision. But lately, that beast has disappeared and they are back to the middling collection of parts that limped through much of last season before catching fire early in the Playoffs.

After starting out banging on the block and showing aggression nightly, LeBron has drifted back to the wing and inane facilitating. Instead of using his amazing court vision after he’s exhausted his scoring options, LeBron too quickly makes the “right play” even if it’s not the best play.

Rookie Norris Cole is playing like a rookie; Chris Bosh still loves jumpers like Skip Bayless loves talking trash from a perfectly safe studio and Spoelstra remains enamored with undersized, offensively challenged “gamers.”

Can the Heat get consistent production in the half-court? Will LeBron stop being so passive, so often? Can Bosh remember that he’s still one of the best big men in the League? The Heat need LeBron attacking from the post, Bosh attacking off the dribble and Wade providing his particularly delightful amalgamation of unpredictable awesomeness if they are going to avenge last year’s embarrassing loss.

THE WEST

Only one team has played like an elite squad the entire year, and that’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. They appear to have pulled away from the pack with only San Antonio offering token resistance. But, Oklahoma is obviously flawed, which should give hope to all of the West’s Playoffs teams.

Memphis is a dark horse given its talent and confidence, but ZBo’s recovery from his injury is still in its infancy. Plus, the team feeds off Tony Allen’s defensive energy and overall effort, but his lack of outside shooting compresses the lane. Lionel Hollins definitely has his work cut out for him.

The Clippers have an amazing young talent, an amazing floor general, and a terrible leader on the sidelines. That’s a big negative offsetting some substantial positives. Dallas has a key cog upset about money, and the entire team is still struggling to recover from its Larry O’Brien-induced hangover. The other team in Los Angles still has Kobe and an intimidating frontline. Only, it’s the new Kobe, which means he shoots just as much as the old Kobe, but much less efficiently.

Oklahoma City

Oklahoma has really benefited from Kevin Durant’s surprising growth as a facilitator and he’s tempered his offensive aggression with smart passing to open teammates. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook’s complete abandonment of any pretense of being a point guard might be good for the Thunder. Yes, he takes some bad shots, but the anger and aggression he displays at all times can be a catalyst for his team. In fact, the two superstars can make a legit claim to being the most consistently dangerous duo in the League.

James Harden remains the majestic galloping unicorn of glue guy due to his ability to do a little bit of everything, and still drop 30 points. Serge Ibaka blocks lots of shots, Nick Collison is the Meryl Streep of role players, and Kendrick Perkins leads the League in intimidating scowls. Oh yeah, the Thunder also picked up Derek Fisher, and that means it mandatory that his Championship mettle be praised without focusing too much on how often Lakers fans prayed for him to be cast aside.

But, the Thunder struggle even worse than the Heat in the halfcourt, turn over the ball like it’s greased, have a very short bench, and are begging to be outmaneuvered in the coaching department. If their jumpers are falling, they can and will beat any team in the League, particularly at home. If not, all bets are off.

San Antonio

San Antonio may be the most underrated and overlooked 2-seed in League history. The Spurs are doing their typical work as a well-coached veteran squad, and they’ve even upgraded thanks to some good free-agent pick-ups and trades. Tony Parker is having an MVP-caliber year and Duncan is still good for 15 and 9.

On the surface it seems like the Spurs would be justified in playing the Rodney Dangerfield card, but the truth is they earned their disrespect by being toppled by Memphis last year. Their defeat wasn’t exactly a surprise, but they were still a 1-seed with a stellar record getting toppled by an 8-seed sans its second best player. That qualifies as a debacle.

The Spurs have one of the most cohesive attacks on both sides of the ball in the League, but there is something about them that doesn’t inspire confidence. The team always went as far as Duncan could carry them, and he obviously isn’t The Big Fundamental of yore. It’s unclear if Parker can shoulder that sort of load alone, or if Manu has enough in the tank for one last run.

The air of uncertainty surrounding this year’s Playoffs is really encouraging. Few folks picked Dallas as the eventual champion last year, but their victory was mostly talked about in terms of LeBron’s failure. Barring a similar collapse this year, pundits and fans should be treated to a final stanza where every series is either a toss-up or is guaranteed to feature hard fought, close games. There is the potential for history to be made every where you look, and that’s refreshing.

It seems people were right about outstanding upside potential of parity after all.

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  • P^2

    Im calling it right now: Celts – Lakers finals. Ray Ray comes back, quick sign and trade for Glen Davis. Championship baby!!!

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    From a potential lockout to potentially one of the most entertaining Playoffs in a minute! No complaints here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Bulls/Thunder in the Finals.

  • http://nba.com GP23

    Lakers/Heat in the Finals.

  • MUBWAR

    thunder are iso’s all day and the bulls don’t haveenough fire power. I think this is the year we finally see what we all wanted. Kobe vs Lebron in the Finals with the heat taking it all. if not i can settle for the only 2 teams in the league with non plural names

  • http://slamonline.com ILMago

    Jazz-Magic?

  • SCOTTY D

    either way miami fans are going to show up http://theheroesandvillains.com/handv/H_%26_V_-_Miami_Fans_Are_The_Worst…And_Thats_Okay.html

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    If the Lakers make it, that would a shocker. Not because they don’t have the talent, they might have enough there. But, it would mean Kobe and Mike Brown would have to show abilities they haven’t shown yet in their careers. Longshot.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Brown and Kobe have both taken teams to the Finals numerous times playing their way and coaching their way. I’m feeling alright.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Brown made it coaching an ubertalent whose raw physical ability was off the charts, and he was fortunate enough to get matched up with Flip Saunders, Eddie Jordan and Mike Woodson in the playoffs.
    Kobe made it when he was still a physical beast and running an offensive system that tempered some of his worst offensive impulses.
    Neither of them have that now.

  • http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/miamiheat/post/_/id/13215/charting-the-heat-five-problems-for-miami Allenp

    ESPN had an interesting article about some disturbing Heat trends. Click my name.

  • permaculture james

    Thanks for the article!

  • bike

    I read that article. SI has a similar one too. It would be worrisome for a Heat fan, but the Bulls aren’t beating them. Heat/Thunder finals with the Heat taking it.

  • bike

    On another note:Jake is crazy Lake is lazy, call me what u want but that ish don’t faze me. Say hi to ya mom cuz the trick just layed me. U can keep ya brother cuz it aint my baby. Ya mama jus finished messing with my boy Davey. Next up we gonna run a train on ya lady ooooooooow!

  • Zo

    I am assuming most “writers” never actually watch the NBA. Or at most teams they write about. Article after article have discounted the Spurs this season because of what happened last season. Last season Grizz beat the Spurs in the “Regular” season, which is why they wanted to play the Spurs in the playoffs, where Duncan was hurt 2 weeks before that playoffs, and Manu the DAY BEFORE the playoffs. This year 1. they have beaten the Grizz in the “Regular” season. 2. No more RJ (who i like), was HORRIBLE on this team, SJax off the bench is doing more then he did, and Kawhi is doing AMAZING for a rookie. Arguably playing the most meaningful minutes for rookies this year. 3. They are deeper and healthier this year. If they can carry that to the post season they won’t be beat in the first round, and possibly any. OKC has beaten the Spurs 2 times in 10 tries the last 3 years. Grizz don’t want to play them this year cause they know they are VASTLY improved. So please “Writers” know WHY the Spurs lost last year, and why things are different this year. Should have a lot more respect for a team 1 game out of first place in the league.

  • http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/miamiheat/post/_/id/13215/charting-the-heat-five-problems-for-miami Allenp

    Zo
    I watch the League. I gave my reasons for why I’m not sold on the Spurs. I feel like that team was always built around the greatness of Tim Duncan. Neither Manu or Parker or good enough to replicate what Duncan brought to the table in every facet of the game, particularly in the post season. That’s my opinion though, not fact.
    Thanks for reading.

  • whooo!

    While i think its warranted to look at last years fizzle for the spurs, Manu missing games to injury hurt them a lot. But SA has ugraded subatantially from last year. Los Hill, Dice and RJ and now have Kawhi Leonard, SJax, Diaw, and 2 guys in Neal and Splitter who are completely different from last year’s version. A team with Matt Bonner playing heavy minutes at C is always questionable, but while Memphis is still their toughest matchup, they will own OKC beavause their perimeter gays can match up and Duncan and Blair somhow dominate against OKC. Matchups in the west are a mofo, regardless of seeding.

  • whooo!

    And by Neal i meant Danny Green

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Good work Allen

  • http://www.fiba.com Darksaber

    Nice recap, AllenP.
    I shudder to see who Dallas will face in the 1st round, after that 21 pt loss last night to the clips….IN DALLAS, this team has robbed me of my last nerve.
    Horrible to think the only chance this team has in the playoffs is if Lamar-Whiner shows up to work.

  • Lan

    Thunder for the West. Heat or Bulls for the East.

    I put it down to tthese are teams that should still have gas in their tank after a condensed season.

  • http://slamonline.com Ugh

    @Zo – Most writers don”t watch the league, they spend their time drinking beer while texting their girlfriends playing 2K12. That’s how they get jobs as writers, because publishers are the dudes who own the bean bags for the games of 2K12.

  • Drig

    @Allenp, Kobe’s off-ball game vs Nets just might force you to retract from that statement. I still think Kobe, Bynum and Pau are the best big 3 in the L and if the O goes through Pau/Sessions who’re building a great rapport, Kobe plays off ball and Baby Bynum gets his head out of his a** ( Or someone does it ), LAL is just as dangerous as SAS. We may not be as agile or sustain our D for 4 quarters but LAL has shown it has the ability to put a lot of distance vs good opposition as well. The problem is whether Brown can make changes on the fly to different strategies. That’s the bigger worry as a Laker fan from me, aside from the usual “WTF DID LAL DO TO DESERVE SUCH A BENCH?!?!?” worries that we’ve been having since ’08.

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