Playoffs set to open without Kobe, D-Wade and more stars
MIAMI (AP) No Kobe. No D-Wade.
Not even any wild Russell Westbrook outfits.
New standouts might emerge during these playoffs, but there’s no arguing that there’s plenty of star power missing.
If jersey sales are a true measure of a player’s popularity, then four of the NBA’s top nine stars – the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Miami’s Dwyane Wade – have already seen their seasons come to an end.
So has Westbrook, the league’s first scoring champion to miss the playoffs since Tracy McGrady in 2004. And that means his collection of ”what was he wearing” shirts won’t be on display in those postgame news conferences this year.
”I’m at home, watching other teams play,” Westbrook said when asked about the scoring title after he and Oklahoma City saw their season end Wednesday night. ”It doesn’t mean nothing.”
Sure, there are plenty of usual suspects ready to shine in this postseason.
Tim Duncan will try to win ring No. 6 for San Antonio, LeBron James is resuming his quest to bring a title to Cleveland, likely MVP Stephen Curry led Golden State to the league’s best record and James Harden might have Houston primed for its first Finals run in 20 years.
And new faces are ready to make a splash. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love make their playoff debuts when Cleveland opens against Boston. Anthony Davis gets his first taste of the postseason when New Orleans takes on the Warriors.
Games will sell out and ratings will surely be high, but something might just seem off.
”These (are) guys who’ve been in the playoffs year in and year out, who bring a lot of excitement to the game and to the postseason,” Anthony said. ”So when I look back and see all the guys that’s out, it’s like the game is missing something. But at the end of the day, guys got to get healthy, guys got to get right. You can’t push it.”
Bryant, Durant, Anthony and Chris Bosh were among those who saw their seasons end early because of injury or illness. Of those, only Bosh played in more than half of his team’s games. They’ve all been out for a while, and Bryant was spotted in Milan on Thursday while 16 teams at home started tuning up for what they hope are title runs.
Paul George made a gallant effort to help Indiana after he recovered from the horrific leg injury he endured last summer, but the Pacers were ousted on the season’s final night. Wade and Miami had a chance until the next-to-last night.
”It’s been my toughest year by far,” George wrote on Twitter, ”but looking forward to my greatest summer ahead!”
In all, nearly half of the league’s 32 highest-paid players won’t be in the playoffs.
Wade has had the shortest offseasons in each of the last four years, with Miami going to the Finals in each. He played in 86 games in those four years, which means he basically logged an extra full season – and then some – during those postseasons.
”I haven’t had that much time off in a long time,” Wade said. ”Playing into late June the last four years, it’s been a lot, mentally, especially physically. Then coming right back into this season and all the things we went through, from the summer to the season with all the injuries and everything, it was a lot.”
Would he have rather been in the playoffs? Absolutely.
But with that not an option, Wade can see a silver lining.
”It’ll be good for me to get away for a while,” Wade said, ”and come back better next year.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.