Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The NBA playoffs: My favorite six months of the year

The playoffs started Saturday and will end sometime in mid-June. In between now and then, dozens of people will complain about how long it takes the NBA to crown a champion. This has never bothered me, though having three days - or more - between early-round games can be annoying. Old-timers will whine about how it was back in the day. No, the Finals don't end on April 25 anymore, like they did in 1965. Then again, there are now more than six teams in the playoffs.

There's basketball on in the middle of June. To me that's not a problem. Watching the Finals won't keep me from enjoying the outdoors and it's not some type of intrusion. It's more basketball, played by the best players in the league in long battles that invariably include buzzer-beaters, cheap elbows, posturing about the referees and flameouts. I'll continue to whine about four-hour baseball games. But the length of the NBA playoffs? I just wish they were longer.

A handful of tidbits as I count down to Game 2 of the Lakers-Thunder series (played two days after the opener, which should satisfy the grumps of the world).

* LeBron James continues to amaze and dominate. The Cavs certainly appear to be the favorite to win the title. But before LeBron's sculptured body is permanently put into statue form in the middle of Cleveland, it's worth noting he's beaten one 50-win team in the playoffs in his career. He's put up incredible numbers in the playoffs, but it's often against the NBA equivalent of a 14 seed. Here's the teams Cleveland has beaten in the playoffs with LeBron:
- Washington in 2006. Won 42 games.
- Washington in 2007. Won 41 games.
- New Jersey in 2007. Won 41 games.
- Detroit in 2007. Won 53 games.
- Washington in 2008. Won 43 games.
- Detroit in 2009. Won 39 games.
- Atlanta in 2009. Won 47 games.

Yeah. Forget beating 50-win teams. Cleveland's only twice beaten a team that won at least 47. They're a D1 top 25 football team pounding a Division II school 72-0 in the first week of August. And their opponent in the first round this year? The powerful Chicago Bulls, winners of 41 games.

* Remember when the worst thing for Timberwolves fans was that their favorite team could not make it out of the first round of the playoffs? The 67 remaining fans in the state would probably sacrifice Crunch at center court in a three-hour ritual if it meant they at least got to watch the team be swept in the first round. Still, if they do sign LeBron in the offseason, he could form a nice trio with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love.

* For years, the NBA did a below-average job with its videos. The 1982 title video that sometimes pops up on ESPN is among the worst. Instead of highlights, they present countless shots of the crowd, and not just of the stars who occupied the seats at The Forum. It's Joe Customer, grimacing as we hear about what happened, instead of seeing it. They showed very little on-court action. Nearly 30 years later, it's maddening to watch these productions, especially when compared with the work done by NFL Films, which deserves a lot of credit for helping grow the NFL's popularity back in the 1970s and '80s. But in 1985, the NBA finally delivered, as did the Lakers. The league put out a video called Return to Glory, a recap of the playoffs, focusing on the six-game series between the Lakers and Celtics. It's now available as part of a package the NBA brought out a few years ago. They released all six games on DVD, and include Return to Glory (for some reason, the first half to the Memorial Day Massacre is not on the Game 1 DVD. Some technician with ties to the Lakers must have urinated on the tape).

The best thing about Return to Glory is the writing, which added an operatic tone to the pitch-perfect music and the scintiliating game action. I can still recall many of the lines from the video, like a scholar reciting Shakespeare in front of a classroom. Don't ridicule. This was art, from the passing of the Lakers, to the script that Dick Stockton read on the video. I want to meet the person who wrote these lines, and thank them for contributing to Lakers lore, and literature. I'm assuming this is the last time the word incantation was used in an NBA highlights video.

"The leprechaun charm of the Boston Garden now seemed as thin as the Celtics hands were heavy."

"Overhead, the championship banners of Russell, Cousy and Havlicek recited a silent incantation, reminding the Lakers that no one takes away the title when it's played on the parquet. But with the championship in reach, the Lakers turned a deaf ear to the Celtics' haunting refrain."

"It was the greatest of the Lakers nine NBA championships. For Wilt, Elgin, Jerry and everyone who wore a purple and gold uniform, this was the fulfillment of a promise, and a return to glory."

* Trivia question. How many NBA franchises have won a title since 1980? Eight. Parity certainly does not reign, but dynasties do. It makes sense that fewer teams would control the NBA compared to the NFL and MLB. Get an all-time player on an NBA team and you're almost guaranteed to at least contend for 10 years. Get a couple of them on the team and you'll probably win a couple of titles in 10 years. Or, if you're Detroit in 1989, have a top-5 player on the opposition injure an hamstring and you're guaranteed a crown.

* One of the most surprising NBA records is the player with the most field goals in one half in the playoffs. It has to be Wilt, right? Or Jordan. Maybe a young Kareem, when he was still Alcindor. Or Rick Barry during one of his hot streaks. Kobe?

Dave Bing. Former point guard and current mayor of Detroit. Bing made 16 field goals in one quarter in 1968 against the Celtics.

* Shaq holds the record for most free throw attempts in a playoff game, an absurd 39 against the Pacers in the 2000 Finals. Yes, it was Hack-a-Shaq, thanks to Indiana coach Larry Bird, who was obviously still haunted by that 1985 loss and wanted to make his inevitable defeat 15 years later as ugly as possible. But even more ridiculous than those 39 attempts is Shaq's record for free throw attempts in a quarter. Earlier in those 2000 playoffs, he took 25 in the fourth quarter against Portland.

This is my favorite time of the sports year, even ahead of March Madness, Opening Day and the Meineke Car Care Bowl the day after Christmas. I bought a new pack of dusty VHS tapes from the bottom shelf in the bad part of the local Rite Aid. I'm firing up the VCR. Have to record the games. Before you know it, the playoffs will be over. Well, they'll be over at some point. Theoretically. In the sort-of-distant future.


Brock said...

Lebron is the man! Kobe go home!

Brock said...

Lakers fans chanting MVP when he shoots? They need to watch sportscenter once... Lebron or Durant!

Brock said...

Also in defense for the Cavs, because I am riding their wagon, they dont get the chance to play 50 win teams as often when you are playing in the East! The wolves would make the playoffs without Crunches sacrificial ceremony.

Shawn Fury said...

The East is terrible and that is part of why they don't play anyone in the playoffs. But still...they don't play anyone and when they have, they've lost.

The MVP chants throughout the league are ridiculous. They do it for everyone. Surprised Al Jefferson didn't hear the chants.

Jerry said...

Easy Brock - geez it's only the first round. Wait until they actually play someone other than a 500 team before you get that excited. And I think you may be optomistic in saying that the Puppies still have 67 fans left. I don't think Glen has THAT many ex-wives...

Brock said...

Actually, I am surprised Corey Brewer didnt hear them. He seems to be a fan favorite! And no, the Wolves dont get that many fans... I went twice and I think that the Class A girls state tournament got more fans so the 67 might be a little high. Cavs = 2010 NBA champs.