At very least, NBA playoffs have been, well, whimsical
Apr 20, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) drives around Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the second quarter of game one of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the United Center.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this NBA postseason is its unpredictability. And that’s just the way new commissioner Adam Silver wants it.
He wants equality. He wants everyone to feel a sense of hope. He wants surprise and drama and smaller markets and lower-profile teams to legitimately believe.
Well, after just a couple games of the first round, you got all that and more, Mr. Commissioner.
Take the Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards, for example. Neither made the playoffs last season. In fact, both were sort of miserable. Both of their coaches (Terry Stotts in Portland and Randy Wittman in Washington) were supposedly on the hot seat entering the year.
Yet today, both the Blazers and Wizards lead their first-round series 2-0 (over the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, respectively) despite not yet playing a home game.
Oh, and about those home teams. After 16 playoff games, those at home compiled a bewildering 7-9 record. Last year, they were 14-2. The year before that, 13-3. The year before that, 13-3. Ten years ago, it was 15-1. Read: Something really weird is going on here, and yeah, it’s kinda neat.
The Atlanta Hawks were the worst team, record-wise, entering the postseason. So what do the Hawks do? How about throttle the Indiana Pacers in the first game of the first round. (The Pacers won Game 2 to tie the series.)
Or what about the Dallas Mavericks? They should’ve defeated the San Antonio Spurs, the team with the league’s best regular-season record, in Game 1. They didn’t. The Mavs should’ve defeated the Spurs in Game 2, too. They did.
And did we mention that Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri cussed out all of Brooklyn prior to Game 1 vs. the Nets? Then the Nets won at Toronto. Then the Raptors beat the Nets in Game 2. Then we all couldn’t wait for Game 3.
Already, there have been an inordinate amount of storylines — even for a time of year in which storylines are sometimes all you have.
The Pacers are fighting. The Pacers are melting down. The Pacers’ coach, Frank Vogel, could be a goner if this continues. That’s right, we’re talkin’ about the Pacers — the league’s most-respected team two months ago. Now, they appear to be a mess.
The Bulls were the ultimate survivors under coach Tom Thibodeau, earning the East’s No. 4 seed (and home-court disadvantage in the first round) via sheer will. They lost Derrick Rose (again) to injury and traded top scorer Luol Deng for draft picks. Yet they continued to win by bending their knees, shuffling their feet and playing a playoff level.
Then the playoffs arrived and the Bulls turned to mush. Their defense is still very good. The offense really stinks. And suddenly, Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal have become known simply as The Backcourt of The Future.
Let’s not forget Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s always been good, but the Blazers followed their fanciful start by fading in the season’s second half. Then came the playoffs. Whatever had worked for Aldridge, dynamo second-year guard Damian Lillard and the rest of the Blazers earlier suddenly has sprung back to life.
Today, Aldridge is the postseason’s leading scorer at 44.5 points per game. He didn’t just score more than 44 points in a game — that’s his AVERAGE in two.
Of course, we can’t forget about Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs. Then the Grizzlies parted ways with their coach (Lionel Hollins) and replaced him with some guy who eats his pregame meals in the media dining area (Dave Joerger). But other than that, the Grizzlies have looked every bit the threat, suffocating the Thunder in a Game 2 victory and tying the series at a game apiece.
As for the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, who the heck knows what’s next? The Warriors won Game 1 in LA, then lost Game 2 by what felt like 107 points. And like the Pacers, if the Warriors don’t win, it may mean the end of their coach. In the Warriors’ case, that’s Mark Jackson. Why he’d be in trouble is anyone’s guess, but that’ i just this year’s playoffs for you. They keep you guessing.
About the only thing that’s gone as expected is the series involving the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and wildly inexperienced Charlotte Bobcats. The Heat lead the series 2-0, but not by much. They had to hang on to beat the Bobcats by four points in Game 2. And while LeBron James is on center stage in any series featuring the Heat, there’s something to be said for how Bobcats big man Al Jefferson has played on one good foot. At least, one foot that doesn’t require a walking boot if he wants to get anywhere prior to tipoff.
During the lockout season of 2011, it was then-deputy commish Silver who said every "well-managed" team deserved a chance, regardless of the size of their city or the passion of their fan base. Well, forget all that. You don’t need to be well-managed. All you need to do, it seems, is play a couple on the road.
But no matter how you spin it, Silver is getting his wish. People are talking about the NBA playoffs — and they’re doing without the Los Angeles Lakers, without the New York Knicks, without the Boston Celtics, and without the Philadelphia 76ers.
All four of those traditional powers failed to qualify, and it’s the first time since 1946-47 all four have worn that dishonorary badge the same time. It’s not ideal, but it is reality — and it is working out just fine, anyway.
Granted, Silver has little to do with how things are playing out, and there’s still plenty of time for the down-and-outs to get things turned right-side up. If not, hey, what’s happening now ain’t so bad.