Lackluster No More


Anyone who knows anything about basketball will tell you that the 2006-07 NBA season was lackluster at best. It was going to have a tough time after the 05-06 season, but it failed to live up to the expectations. Injuries robbed nearly every superstar of time on the court. The separation between the good and the bad was so apparent that the idea of “tanking” was around for half of the season. Everyone knew who was going to the playoffs, and once the playoffs started the drama left. There was no exciting series between Cleveland and Washington like in 06 where LeBron led the Cavs to OT victories over Washington. Those were replaced with a boring Cleveland team demolishing a depleted Wizard team. There was no dramatic Miami comeback like they did in every series in 06…instead they were a beat up, old and satisfied that got killed by the Bulls. There was no competition between the Suns and the Lakers this year. LA was overpowered and everyone knew it. As a matter of fact, the only stories were the Warriors beating Dallas, although if you’re like me and you predicted it, the surprise factor was taken out. The other was Cleveland’s unlikely run to the Finals…unfortunately that was just plain boring and mind-boggling to watch. Even the WNBA Playoffs was better than the NBA playoffs courtesy of the fact that all their games went down to the wire and there was genuine drama.

All that being said…the L will be back this year. I have no doubt in my mind. I’m so excited I can barely hone in on one thing to write about. There are just so many questions surround this season. There’s the defending champion Spurs, who while they have won three NBA titles in five years, have never gone back-to-back. I hesitate to ever call them a dynasty due to the fact that they aren’t quite dominant. They will win 55+ games and be very good but they have a tendency to get satisfied. Case in point why the Lakers and Mavs were able to interrupt during the two seasons they couldn’t make it to the Finals. The most dangerous thing is a hungry San Antonio team. This team won’t be nearly as hungry as last year, especially considering the revenge stories coming from Dallas and Phoenix.

Speaking of Dallas and Phoenix…how many times do you have two teams with compelling stories, that are championships contenders and are in the same conference. Dallas we know the story. After years and years of futility at the bottom of the barrel, they became a playoff team and contende. In the past 6 seasons, Dallas has failed to win more than 55 games only once, going 52-30 in 2003-04. However they have only been to two Conference Finals and one NBA Championship. And this is a team that is coming off two amazing collapses in a row. The first in the 2006 Finals, as Dwyane Wade single-handedly destroyed the Mavericks over a four game span. The blew lead after lead in that series. Then they managed to get it all back together, go 50-5 at one point in the regular season and thanks to a combination of them reminding me of the 93-94 Sonics, and Avery Johnson resting his players during a regular season defeat to the Warriors…they end up playing the one team that they had little to no chance at beating. Add to that fact that Avery Johnson got powerbombed by Don Nelson and Dirk failed to show, and you have ‘the greatest upset of all time’. Now after all those struggles…the obvious answer is that this should be the year for Dallas…right?

Wrong. Believe you me it would be a wonderful story of the team that blew it twice that finally came back and won the championship. But you only get so many chances at a fairy tail ending. You only get so many shots at the NBA Finals in the Western Conference. The year they went the Mavs had an almost storybook run. They finally overcame the Spurs in seven games, then they overpowered the Suns. It looked as if it was finally their year. Dallas not only had their chance but were about to go up 3-0, before blowing Game 3 and eventually the rest of the series. Mentally I’m not sure that Dirk is the guy to lead these guys to the title. His best year was when they got to the Finals. He had the hair going, the German mean-mug and a different kind of swagger. Now he just seems like a defeated man who is tired of all the attention being paid to him. Unfortunately for the Mavericks that microscope is not going away anytime soon. Also an unfortunate fact is this; nothing in the first 82 games will matter. Everyone knows that they are good and that barring injury they will be in the playoffs and will be a top seed. It’s like when Jay-Z came out with Kingdom Come…you knew it was going to be good…but was it going to reach masterpiece expectations. The only thing that matter is can they win 16 in the end. The pressure is amazingly high in Dallas as for the second straight year it is NBA Title or Bust. Will they learn from their lessons and finally perservere when it counts, or are they headed towards another collapse?

(History by the way is not on their side. That 93-94 Sonics team I love comparing these Mavericks to. They lost to #8 Denver. The next year they went 57-25 and lost in the first round to the Lakers. This wasn’t Magic’s Lakers..this was Ceballos, Van Exel, Divac, Jones, Elden Campbell and Anthony Peeler. Get ready for disappointment LA.)

The more compelling story….the Phoenix Suns. This is bar-none, the most exciting team in the NBA (although if the Warriors can sustain their play for 82 games it’ll be a competition). They way they play the game is simply beautiful. With a tremendous system, one of the best PGs of all-time (the man won two MVPs, deserved or not) and an emerging monster in Amare Stoudemire all the pieces of the puzzle are there. The only question is when will they get it done in the playoffs? In 2005, they burst onto the scene with 62 wins and plowed their way through the playoffs before running into the brick wall known as San Antonio. Add to that the fact that Joe Johnson got hurt and they got beat. I’m sure they thought it was just the beginning of great things to come. Except Joe was in the ATL and Amare went down to microfracture. And they still made it to the conference finals…where they lost to Dallas. And we all know what happened this year when they choked away Game 6 without Amare. There has always been a distinct feeling in each loss that the Suns could have won if something had happened. If Joe Johnson hadn’t gotten hurt, if Amare hadn’t gotten suspended. They are the rare team that owes both San Antonio and Dallas a win…mainly San Antonio though. It reminds me of how the Bulls kept losing to the Pistons before finally vanquishing them and winning the title. For the Suns to get to the Finals they have to hope that a) they don’t run into the Spurs or b) Amare returns to monster form. I’d say the Suns are more likely to have their Hollywood ending than Dallas simply based on the double revenge-factor the Suns have.

With those three dominant teams in the West…that leaves Houston, Denver, Golden State, Utah and the Lakers fighting for the right to lose to them. Houston has all the makings of a contender but its hard to back a team that is coached and led by a noted choker. They have to get out of the first round before I put any real faith in them. Denver also has a coach that struggles in the postseason. Can Golden State sustain last years run for a full 82 games? Was Utah’s re-emergence just a fluke? How about Kobe carrying the Lakers to the playoffs again? Look at all this intrigue.

And that’s just in the West. Let’s not forget about the Eastern Conference. We know who the contenders are. Detroit is at the top purely based on the fact that not only are they bringing back the same team with depth, but the fact that they have been to the Confernce Finals the last five years in a row. Boston has re-emerged not only as a playoff team but as a contender. No team with KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can be doubted I don’t care if the two other players have no arms or no legs. If Cleveland could make it to the Finals and Sou
lja Boy makes “music” than the Celtics can win the East. After that…there are a ton of questions with no answers. The Bulls took a step by finally getting out of the first round but showed that they weren’t ready to contend quite yet. They bring back the same team but they also bring back the same weaknesses. When it’s winning time in the playoffs can they get the job done? How about Cleveland? I’m very quick to count them out seeing as how they had a terrible offseason and got lucky last year…but if Kobe can carry the Lakers, why can’t LeBron carry a solid defensive team with a good frontline? Can he do it by himself this year? Is this the year Miami runs out of juice or can the Diesel, D-Wade and Pat Riley get enough wins to get into the playoffs. Can the Raptors prove that they weren’t a fluke last year?? Was Rashard Lewis worth all the money, can he take the Magic from the 8 seed to the middle of the pack?

Look at all this. I didn’t even intend on typing this much…but doesn’t that tell you we’re in for a treat? I’m ready for this season. The NBA…lackluster no more.