Back when he was stumping for his memoir at the birth of this NBA season, our sport society’s Curmudgeon- Emeritus, Bob Ryan, seemed to relish scoffing at the very notion of championship prognostication. “Tell me who’s gonna be healthy when the playoffs start…” disclaimer notwithstanding, the old Scribe did anoint the defending champion Spurs the favorites.
My early-season expectations/hunches centered around two teams, both of whom seemed to be upwardly mobile in the matter of contention and either of whom could be poised to break through to the championship round of the post-season. Since neither of these teams play in a particularly media-friendly market, I mischievously began to conjure up reasons to believe both could reach The Finals.
My prospective finalists are the Wizards and the Grizzlies – nirvana to Sesame Street fans of the letter “Z,” huh?
No wonder Mr. Ryan’s thoughts emanate to millions and mine remain mere Straight Lines.
Best Case Scenario – Memphis
Unlike the syncopated Three (pointer) Step preferred by most of the league these days, the battle-tested Beale Street Bunch dances to a mellow old-school blues beat, eschewing the trey more than any other team, been playing that way for nearly a decade now (remember Marc Iavaroni, Grizz Fan?).
Memphis can finish seeded anywhere from second to sixth (except fourth, Portland’s locked in). Health, though, may be the biggest immediate concern – three rotation players are currently hobbled (Conley, Allen and now Gasol). Dropping to the fifth seed could be the most beneficial thing that could happen. The Grizzlies would hold home-court advantage over Northwest champ Portland.
Handling the Blazers would set up a second-round match-up with Golden State, very likely to have been unchallenged by a callow New Orleans squad. Now, despite all the Warriors’ recent success, this is a franchise that has not reached a conference final series since our nation’s bicentennial celebration and would be celebrating just their third playoff victory this century. These veteran Grizzlies – the “kid” point guard is in his seventh year – can, if healthy, make the moment too big for the Splash Brothers and their rookie head coach with their style and guile.
Mr. Ryan’s Spurs will probably have navigated past the Rockets, Mavs and/or Clippers on the other side of the bracket for a re-match of 2013. That’s certainly no cake-walk, but stranger things have happened.
Best Case Scenario – Washington
Since the three-point field goal was introduced to the NBA game, the Wizards/Bullets have won a grand total of three playoff series, one of them a best-of-three. Outside a four-year stretch of .500+ ball under home-towner Fast Eddie Jordan, this team has been no less than a doormat for a quarter-century.
But due to health (Indiana, Chicago) or insurrection (Miami), the East seemed extra wide-open this year, as Atlanta decided to jump up and prove. As the game’s best player acclimated to familiar surroundings but new teammates, the Wizards, Hawks and Raptors made hay during the season’s first twelve weeks, collectively winning nearly 75% (90 of 125) of their games.
Then Coach Wittman’s crew simply forgot how to win games – old habits die hard, huh? They lost 11 of 13 games in 30 days and dipped off the radar. But since the onset of March, they’ve lost consecutive games (albeit four in a row) only once. Throughout their struggles and beyond, Washington continues to rank in the top ten in both FG offense and FG defense.
While their flashy young backcourt garners headlines and old-head Paul Pierce dominates microphones, there’s a veteran presence on this squad that emanates from the likes of Nene, Marcin Gortat, Drew Gooden, even Spurs-ex DeJuan Blair.
A reprise of last season’s “4” vs. “5” encounter with Chicago leading to a second round match-up with the Hawks seems inevitable. The James Gang figures to be awaiting the survivor, barring an unexpected Canadian sunset.
The Wizards advanced further in the post-season last year than any of these teams.
In this year of the “Tank,” wouldn’t it be fitting if both Boston and Brooklyn were to get on a roll and meet in the Conference Final – or maybe Milwaukee?
Uh-oh, I’m feelin’ a new Final. How’s about Lionel Hollins against the team he’d taken to the Conference Final two years ago – ya know, right before they canned his arse?
If you smell what Rock’s abacus is cookin’!!