Thursday, May 31, 2007

2007 NBA Playoffs

Disclaimer: As a matter a full disclosure, I feel it necessary to point out that I grew up in Utah and therefore I am a huge Jazz fan. However, I now live in Phoenix and the Suns style of basketball has wooed me to the point where I now count myself among their fans as well.

Now that the 2007 NBA Playoffs are over, I thought it would be a good time to recap the action. "But John," you're probably saying to yourself, "the playoffs aren't over yet. We still have to decide the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals." Let's stop and reflect for a minute. The San Antonio Spurs versus any team form the East. How about somebody just send me an e-mail when it's all done letting me know who wins.

Let's begin with the first round. The big story is Golden State's dismantling of Dallas (my sympathies to Fatty and Jonny). While I'll agree the Warriors played some excellent high-energy basketball, I wasn't ready to anoint them the champs like everyone else. In fact, after they won the series in six games, I wanted the Jazz to beat Houston worse than ever because I knew that would mean a real chance of advancing the conference finals. The Utah-Golden State series showed that the Warriors' success over the Mavs was all about match-ups, which is why Utah had such an easy time with them in Round 2. I know, Golden State was right there in Game 1, should have won Game 2 and blew out the Jazz in Game 3, but after that, the wheels came off. Their performance in Games 4 & 5 reminded me of Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals where Houston defeated New York because John Starks couldn't hit a shot but refused to stop trying. Talk about one-dimensional basketball. It was as if Don Nelson really wanted to beat Dallas and after he did he just sort of exhaled and went in to semi-retirement for Round 2. Speaking of the Jazz, how can their fans not be excited for the future, especially after the way DeRon Williams emerged as some sort of 22-year-old hybrid of Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. Also, that bench is full young promising stars like Paul Milsapp and Dee Brown, two rookies who both played quality minutes. The fact that Jerry Sloan has never won Coach of the Year is a sham. This year it went to Toronto's Sam Mitchell. Please. The Eastern Conference is the NBA's answer to the NIT and should be treated as such. (In a related matter, the fact that the lottery awarded the top two picks to Western Conference teams suggests that things aren't likely to get better any time soon).

The other half of the Western Conference bracket was just as intriguing, at least in the second round. After Phoenix dismissed the Lakers in five (oh, poor Kobe), and San Antonio did the same with Denver, NBA fans were treated to the true NBA finals. Seriously, with Dallas out of the way, did anybody have any realistic expectations of winning it all besides these two? Too bad David Stern and his cronies had to go and ruin it. I know a rule is a rule but so are traveling and lane violations and how often are they enforced? In essence, suspending Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire for almost leaving the bench after Robert Horry's hard fowl on Steve Nash rewarded the aggressor and punished Phoenix even though the two players really didn't do anything. What that ruling did is encourage thuggary in the NBA because it sends the message that if you send in a bench player to commit a hard foul, you've got a good chance of inciting your opponent into behavior that could result in suspensions. It really is a shame because Phoenix most likely would have won Game 5. Would they have won the series? I guess we'll never know.

I've found it interesting how the Spurs have fallen out of favor with me the past few years. It was hard to root against David Robinson and Tim Duncan because of their attitudes and work ethic, but now Duncan has supplanted Dikembe Mutombo as the player with the most outlandish look of disbelief when whistled for a foul. Yes, Tim, when you grab a guy's elbow and clock him in the head as he goes up for a shot, it is a foul. How Tony Parker continues to get calls after driving into the lane and falling down baffles me. The rest of the Spurs are a lot like Detroit's bad boy teams of the late 1980's, but with a more international flavor. Bruce Bowen is a dirty player, despite what he says, and Robert Horry is nothing more than a cheap-shot artist, reminiscent of the legendary Rick Fox.

For the most part, TNT and ESPN/ABC's coverage of the playoffs was poor. I think Steve Kerr is the best color commentary guy in pro basketball and Craig Sager is the be all and end all of sideline reporters. I found myself tuning in just to see what suit-shirt-tie combination he would wear next. Aside from them the coverage sucked. I know the NBA season is long, but did anyone else get the impression that the guys picking the camera angles were bored? That wire camera was vastly overused. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a camera constantly fixed on Eva Longoria so they could cut to shots of her at a moment's notice. Of course, that way ABC can plug her show which happens to be on their network. The announcers were mostly pretty bad too, especially during the Western Conference Finals. Mike Breen is fine, but Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy's playful banter and jabs at each other got old fast. Also, some geography lessions might have helped the announcers. At one point Breen, talking about Spurs center Fabricio Oberto, said he was in his second year in the NBA, but was 32 years old because he had played 12 years in Europe: six years in Argentina, one in Greece and five in Spain. Another occasion saw them talking about how when drafting Argentinian Manu Ginobili, the Spurs had a choice between him and another European player. The guys at ESPN Deportes need to slap their colleagues on the back of the head. I suppose it could have been worse. Had it been Bill Walton during every game I would have watched on mute. I've never been a fan of the three-man broadcasting team. The art of the two-man team is apparently lost on ESPN who had no less than 11 on-air personalities at Game 1 of the Utah-San Antonio series. At least none of them was Charles Barkley, the epitome of unprofessionalism. Below is a clip of the post game show following Utah's Game 7 victory over Houston in the first round (1:57). Sir Charles was too busy watching a boxing match to do his job.

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