NBA Playoffs Fun This Year Thanks to Spurs, Pistons
By Travis Johnson
For the first time in years, I’m really excited about the NBA playoffs.
I know the players take three steps down the lane, don’t play defense, and only care about their paychecks. But I’m hooked this year, and I think I know why: for the first time since the Celtics and Lakers of the 80’s, there is a dominant team in each conference, the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons. Both teams are number one seeds and can make the finals winning only at home, where they have the best two records in the league and looked dominant in their opening round series.
What about the Dallas Mavericks, you say? I think San Antonio is still the favorite thanks to their playoff experience and depth, but an upset is certainly possible.
Already you can see one reason dominant teams are a good thing: it means you can have upsets. If San Antonio weren’t the favorite, Dallas’ great first round victories and game two win over the Spurs would just be an example of the blue uniformed team from Texas looking better than the black uniformed one. But now it’s an upset in the making, and college basketball’s March Madness has proven how fun upsets can be.
The rivalry between the Spurs and Pistons also gives otherwise uninteresting playoff games a context that makes them more enjoyable. Watching the Spurs beat Sacramento by 34 in the first game of their first round series was still interesting because it was a message to the Pistons. The current quarterfinal series between the Heat and the Nets, the least entertaining series of the second round, is still fun to watch in the hope that someone will emerge to challenge Detroit.
While rooting for underdogs like Dallas and the Cleveland Cavaliers, I still hope they lose in the end so we can have another Pistons-Spurs final series. Last year the Finals between them went to game seven, the first such game in the Finals since 1994. Watching the Lakers beat up on the Nets or Sixers in previous Finals was fun, but only if you live in Los Angeles. The rest of us want every game to be close, and we have a good chance of that in 2006 if it’s the Spurs and Pistons.
Anyone who complains about how selfish NBA players are should be spewing praise for San Antonio and Detroit. Both teams succeed by distributing the ball and playing as a team. They each have four starters averaging 10 or more points a game, and the only player on either team to average more than 20 is Richard Hamilton of the Pistons at 20.1.
Detroit has gotten a lot more fun to watch under new coach Flip Saunders. Their offense has become much more aggressive, resulting in a 3.5 points per game increase in scoring and a noticeable change in their style. So far in the playoffs, they are second in scoring with 106.6 points per game.
For their part, San Antonio has added Michael Finley to an already potent lineup. Along with Brent Barry, he gives stars Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan two great shooters to kick to. They aren’t that far behind the Pistons in playoff scoring, sitting at third with 102.4 points per game.
The league as a whole is getting more watchable every year thanks to teams like the Phoenix Suns and Dallas. Phoenix is by far the most entertaining team in the league with their strategy of fast breaking, shooting in 7 seconds, and going for 130 points. Matched in the first round against a surging Lakers team with a contrasting style and clutch Kobe Bryant, their games were the best I’ve seen in the NBA.
Dallas fast breaks too, but I swear their owner Mark Cuban is the real reason they are so fun to watch. He suffers more after a loss and glows more after a win than anyone on the team, and has invested a lot in making the American Airlines Center a great place to watch a game in person or on TV.
So what’s my prediction for the rest of the playoffs? San Antonio squeaks past Dallas and easily beats Phoenix but loses in 7 to Detroit, which obliterates the Eastern Conference and uses the extra rest and home court to reclaim the title.