Second Round Musings, First Round Reflections
Is it just me or does the NBA really have to re-think this playoff seeding? This is the second year in a row that the best series will be played in the second round. Although the Miami Heat won the NBA title last season, there was no more entertaining series than that epic seven-game wonder between Dallas and San Antonio in the second round. The Mavericks built a 3-1 lead, San Antonio came back to force Game 7 and Dirk Nowitzki arrived as a legitimate superstar - or so we thought.
We appear to be headed down a similarly exciting tale this year with Phoenix-San Antonio. I'm looking forward to another seven-gamer. I hope I'm there for a few of them. This series has classic written all over it - a classic contrast of styles (the hyper Suns and sleeper Spurs), a classic duel of two-time league MVPs (Tim Duncan and Steve Nash have won four of the past five) - especially since top-seeded Dallas is history. That first game was a beaut - until Nash's nose met Tony Parker's head (I know Mr. Eva Longoria goes by the rap alias, T-Pizzle, but he might want to switch it to Busta HeadOpen after that collision. How does an NBA game draw more blood than De La Hoya-Mayweather?).
But back to my original point: Would it really hurt the league to re-seed these guys? I wouldn't mind seeing Phoenix-Golden State, San Antonio-Utah in the West, and Detroit-New Jersey and Chicago-Cleveland in the East right now. Otherwise, all of the interesting storylines are dried up by the time we get to the conference finals - which leads us to the other issue here: What does a star-driven league do when it has no stars?
This is no disrespect to LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash, but these playoffs are devoid of most of the must-see performers like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Nowitzki. I must say, the second round of those T-Mobile commercials with Wade and Charles Barkley aren't nearly as funny as the first round, but it's more frustrating when you consider that Wade's home watching these games just like me. Every time I see one of those commercials, I just shake my head and think, who can the NBA really promote right now?
It's crazy. The first round was about the elimination of the stars, but the second round might see the elimination of one or two of the better teams. It's a little bit ironic, don't ya think?
As for the first round, I can't think of a more painful image than seeing Tracy McGrady so choked up that he couldn't complete the post-game interview after the Houston Rockets lost in Game 7. Before the series began, McGrady screamed that if Houston lost in the first round, it was "on me." And when they lost, you could tell that we really shouldered the weight of the loss on his shoulders. He deserved better, but he didn't get much help. Dude scored 29 points with 13 assists and accounted for all but nine field goals for the Rockets. He gave it his all and came up short. He lost, but you really can't blame him.
As for Nowitzki? I know everybody is piling on Dirk right now, and he really has no alibi for disappearing against the Warriors. He will justifiably be named MVP soon. Look, the MVP is a regular season award, based on the player with the best regular season performance. Since there were no real standout performers this season, and there was a standout team that he led to the top, so he earned the honor. He went out like a chump in the playoffs, but MVPs aren't handed based on the playoffs.
Baron Davis was undoubtedly the best player on the floor that series, but this isn't the first time an MVP got showed up in the playoffs. I happen to remember Hakeem Olajuwon showing up David Robinson in the conference finals in 1995. The difference, of course, is that Olajuwon had already won the league's MVP award and Davis has never been in the discussion, but it just proves one point: I think you can win a title with Nowitzki, but you have to pair him with a pitbull or robotic destroyer (Robinson needed Duncan to get two rings).
Twenty-six of the past 27 NBA titles have been won by teams led by just eight men - Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Moses Malone, Michael Jordan, Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Duncan. What does that tell you? Only a few guys actually have what it takes to lead his team to the top. The rest need a little help. This year, we learned that Dirk is among those that he needs a little help. I mean, Kevin Garnett didn't win a playoff series until he was teamed with a pitbull (Latrell Sprewell) and cocky, clutch shooter (Sam Cassell). And, if Cassell hadn't gotten hurt in 2004, Minnesota could've won it all. Is Garnett really a bum because he lacks those qualities? It just takes time to figure these things out. Maybe Dallas needs to do all it can to bring Chauncey Billups to town.
And in defense of Nowitzki, he has taken a lot of criticism for some of his remarks against Golden State (he said that if the Mavericks lost Game 4 the season was pretty much over. Was he wrong?), but I like that Nowitzki is honest. I respect him for that. He tells the truth, even if the truth shows a sign of weakness.
But enough on the losers. Let's just enjoy the teams that are still here.
May 7, 2007; 1:37 PM ET
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