I don’t want to hear any more complaints about the NBA. All year long, it’s been, “pro basketball is so boring,” or “the only exciting thing about the NBA is the playoffs.” Everyone whines about how long the regular season is, how lazy and overpaid the players are, and how March Madness is so much more exciting.
Well, guess what?
March Madness isn’t for another 11 months and starting today, the only thing the pros will be playing for is pride. Yes, all you haters out there, the regular season is finally over.
It’s playoff time.
So starting Saturday, tune into any NBA games you can because the most exciting postseason the league has had to offer in recent memory is about to get underway. The Lakers are favorites, sure, but even if they do three-peat, you know there are going to be memorable series against Sacramento, San Antonio, or Dallas. The first round alone has L.A. pitted against Portland, the third time in as many years that the teams have met in the postseason.
Meanwhile, in the East, the top three seeds — New Jersey, Detroit, and Boston — weren’t even in the playoffs last year, meaning everyone from first to eighth has a chance of slipping into the Finals. And if you’ve forgotten Allen Iverson because of all the games he’s missed due to injury this season, just wait until he delivers yet another 50-point playoff performance and it’ll all start coming back to you.
Of course, the end of the regular season also means it’s time for some awards to be handed out. I don’t (yet) have a real vote in these races, but here’s the players I would have picked:
Sixth Man: Bobby Jackson, Kings. I hate Bobby Jackson. Four times this year — twice on national television — the Kings played the Jazz, and four times Jackson turned a close game in the second quarter into a blowout by the end of the third. Jackson simply breaks your back. Teams play so hard just to keep up with Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovich and Vlade Divac and Doug Christie, only to have some little guy off the bench that you left unguarded on the switch bury the three over, and over, and over again.
Most Improved: Jermaine O’Neal, Pacers. The league’s other O’Neal has become the only other center in the NBA that can play both ends of the court. With the departure of Jalen Rose in Indiana, O’Neal has bumped his scoring up from 12.9 to 19.1 points per game this season, and unlike the other O’Neal, Jermaine drastically improved from the charity stripe, sinking free throws at a career high 68 percent.
Defense: Ben Wallace, Pistons. No question about this one. Wallace led the league in blocks, rebounds, and shot-altering hairdos. His numbers haven’t improved a great deal from a year ago, but his presence in the paint — and in the league — have. I said two weeks ago that Big Ben should be MVP, but it wouldn’t be right to give him two major awards and Jason Kidd none.
MVP: Jason Kidd, Nets. If you take Shaq away from the Lakers, L.A. still makes the playoffs. If you take Tim Duncan away from the Spurs, San Antonio still competes for the playoffs in the West. If you take Tracy McGrady away from the Magic, Orlando still competes for the playoffs in the East. If you take Jason Kidd away from the Nets, New Jersey doesn’t compete. Don’t believe me? Look at the Nets’ franchise history. All of it.
And finally, my All-NBA teams:
First Team: Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal.
Second Team: Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Chris Webber, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal.
Third Team: Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutumbo.
Almost all of the above are playing in the playoffs. You’ve got two days to get prepared, but beware — miss them, and miss out on one helluva postseason.