NBA playoffs: Today and yesterday

Posted: April 30, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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The good thing about writing about the NBA playoffs after they’ve started is that you won’t type sentences like, “Iman Shumpert’s defense will play a key role when the Knicks upset the Heat, but the Derrick Rose-led Bulls will ultimately prevail in the East.”

The playoffs are only two days old and already two players have been lost, injuries that not only ended their season, but will carry over into the next one. Rose’s torn knee alters the entire Eastern Conference race. While the Bulls should still have enough to ease past Philadelphia, most people would expect them to lose to the Celtics in the second round, if Boston’s old bones do make it past Atlanta. And the Heat become the overwhelming favorite in the conference, though they might have been just that even before the defending MVP went down.

All predictions are meaningless and mine are often especially terrible. So when I say the Lakers will defeat Denver in five, Oklahoma City in six and the Spurs in six, before defeating the Heat in seven for the title, please don’t throw it back into my face in two months or even in a week. I know it’s probably not going to happen like that. But for now it gives me hope.

For me the playoffs are never just about the present, not when I have so many memories from the past. Games that happened 25 years ago are as clear as ones that ended 25 minutes ago. So here’s a little tour through yesterday’s NBA and today’s playoffs.

* I’ve been trying to remember if there’s been anything similar to Rose’s injury, as far as the top seed in a conference losing its best player in the first round. Injuries have always played key roles, but they usually happen later in the playoffs or during the regular season, whether it was Havlicek getting hurt in 1973 or Magic and Scott going down in 1989. Isiah’s injury changed the 1988 Finals but that came in the second half of Game 6, not in the final minute of Game 1 of the first round. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when a favorite became an afterthought so quickly.

* On Saturday, Bill Simmons tweeted that Rose’s injury means this will become another asterisk season, meaning that people remember “those seasons not just by the champ but by something else.” He listed a bunch of years that fit the criteria. There was Havlicek, of course, and 2009 because Garnett was hurt and 2006 because of the atrocious officiating and 1994 and 1995 because Jordan was flailing on a baseball field instead of dominating a court. The reffing in the Kings-Lakers series apparently made 2002 an asterisk season, while the Palace Brawl put 2005 on the list. Simmons, a superb NBA writer but also a diehard Celtics fan, did forget one that is fairly obvious. 1989. That year, the Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs before reaching the Finals. They were the two-time defending champions. But before the Finals began Byron Scott injured his hamstring and in the second half of Game 2, Magic did the same thing. Detroit swept the Lakers for the title. Now, not only had the Lakers been on that unbeaten roll, and not only had they won two straight championships and were battle-tested and ready for a third, but they held fourth-quarter leads in Games 2-4 of the Finals. They blew them all, as David Rivers and Tony Campbell played major minutes. I’ve always believed – and this might just be the Lakers fan in me – that Magic and Scott would have performed better down the stretch than Rivers and Campbell. Put an asterisk on that title, damn it. It will help me sleep better.

* If the Heat fail to win the title, fans and media alike will pounce. LeBron and Wade will be chokers and that’s it. Bosh will suffer his own indignities and folks will call for the Heat to trade him. Spoelstra’s job could be in jeopardy. Mike Miller will be shipped back to the Corn Palace. All of those things would happen and maybe all of those things should happen if the Heat lose. But what if the Spurs don’t win it? Will anyone label them chokers? Will Skip Bayless dedicate two hours each weekday for four weeks ripping on their weaknesses? Will anyone talk about them underachieving? No. But why not? Last year they had the best record in the West and were embarrassed in the first round. This year they rolled to the best record in the conference again and look like a powerhouse. They’ve looked just as dominant as the Heat, more dominant, in fact. But if they lose they’ll simply be forgotten. Then again, if they win, they’ll suffer the same fate.

* I miss Phil Jackson. The smirks, the ridiculous record, the fact he never lost a series when his team won the first game, the postgame barbs at officials or opposing players or owners, the sideline interviews at the end of quarters, the high chair, the whistle with the fingers, the Triangle and the calm. Mostly the calm. He never looked panicked, not even when the opposition went on a 12-0 run and everyone in the building screamed for a timeout. He didn’t panic when the Lakers trailed by double-digits in a Game 7. Kurt Rambis tried pulling off the same type of personality, but he simply fiddled while the Target Center burned. Only Phil could pull it off. Even last year, as the Lakers fell behind 3-0 to Dallas, I thought the Lakers could rally, even though it’s never been done before. He maintained his confidence, the arrogance that drove so many people crazy. Of course it all ended in humiliating fashion, as it often did with the Lakers under Phil, who suffered devastating defeats in elimination games in 2003 against the Spurs, a year later against the Pistons, in 2006 and ’07 against the Suns and in ’08 against the Celtics. Phil’s laid-back nature and relaxed ways filtered down to the players a bit too much, perhaps. But those ways also won 11 titles.

* Remember the 1981 Western Conference Finals? No? Hard to believe, considering it featured a matchup between the 40-42 Houston Rockets and the 40-42 Kansas City Kings. Test patterns edged that series in the Nielsen Ratings that year. Oh, Houston won, but lost to the Celtics in the finals (since Bird and the boys defeated a team that was under .500 for the title that season, I’m adding an asterisk to it).

* The Nuggets and Lakers are meeting for a fifth time in the playoffs. In 1985, the two met in the Western Conference Finals and the Lakers prevailed in five games. The scores from that series give an indication of how different the NBA was back then:

Lakers 139-122
Denver 136-114
Lakers 136-118
Lakers 120-116
Lakers 153-109

Somewhere, Jeff Van Gundy is spinning in his chair while complaining about flopping and making bizarre jokes.

* At some point in these playoffs — perhaps in Game 5 against the Lakers, as they close out LA and I throw things across the room — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook might both score 40 points in the same game. Teammates have both went over 40 four times in the playoffs, the most recent time in 2000 when Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose did it. Hakeem Olajuwon was part of two duos that did it, once with Eric Floyd, another time with Clyde Drexler. The fourth duo? Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in 1962.

* I get tired of the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan that every player endures, but let me throw in one that doubles as something of a cheap shot. LeBron James’ teams have lost three straight years when they had homecourt advantage. Jordan never lost a series with homecourt. And, yes, for the record, Kobe has lost twice with it, including last year against the Mavs.

* Andrew Bynum’s triple-double Sunday was the first by a Laker since the 1991 Finals, which is surprising because I thought I remembered Travis Knight pulling it off. Magic Johnson was, of course, the last guy to do it, in Game 5 of the Lakers’ loss against the Bulls. He had 16 points, 11 boards and 20 assists. The 20 assists are impressive enough but consider this: James Worthy and Byron Scott were both out that game with injuries. Vlade Divac – in his second year – Sam Perkins, A.C. Green and the immortal Terry Teagle were the starters. The two guys off the bench that night, the only two who came off the bench? Tony Smith and rookie Elden Campbell. Yet Magic put 20 assists on the board, even while playing with no-names and has-beens, and even while going against one of the great defenses of all-time. Of course, five months later Magic called a press conference that would be immortalized in an ESPN documentary two decades later.

If Bynum plays like that throughout the playoffs the Lakers actually could pull it off and my predictions could come true. Realistically it’s probably not happening.

Still, no matter when the Lakers’ season ends – whether it’s at home against OKC or on the road in San Antonio – the playoffs are always my favorite time of the sports season, ahead of spring training and the start of NFL training camps and even March Madness.

They really are the best four months of the year.

  1. Mark says:


    Loved the article, and totally agreed on Simmons. He’s a good writer, and I enjoy him alot, except when it comes to Lakers/Celtics… or basically any Boston based team.

    Yeah the Celts get a pass or an asterik because of the year KG missed, or the single game that Perkins missed… but the Lakers don’t get one the year Bynum was out? Weak.

  2. Miller says:

    Fury: We need 1,500 words on Bynum … that guy would drive me crazy if he was a Timberpuppy … Could be one of the best in the league, yet often isn’t … break it down, Fury.

    • shawnfury says:

      And he could have been a Timberwolf, if McHale had sent Garnett to the Lakers for Bynum and Odom. Supposedly. Not sure if that was ever completely true. Then again, if the Wolves had him, they wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Darko the last few seasons.

      He is frustrating at times. Did you see Wojnarowski’s story today on him? During the last regular season game, Bynum stayed on the bus listening to headphones instead of going into the arena. The team didn’t really care but still…

      I’m sure he gets a bit frustrated with Kobe at times but he can just look totally disengaged, on both ends of the court, and it’s just maddening. Like the OKC game last week, when Jordan Frickin’ Hill was much better than Bynum. Next game against Denver he could come out and score 20 but grab 2 boards. A lot of Lakers fans want him to be the No. 1 option but I don’t think he’s ready for that. When he’s double-teamed and the focus of the defense, he can still look utterly confused.

      Still, in a league with almost no centers, he’s a great guy to have. The Howard-Bynum swap is more interesting now because Howard has the bad back. I see the Lakers keeping him and in the post-Kobe era, being extremely frustrated with the big man.

      Mark, the Perkins excuse from Celtics fans is especially annoying. The Lakers did manage to win two games when he played and even in Game 6 LA was drilling Boston in the first when he went down. He was an important piece, a great role player. He was not Bill Russell.

      • Jerry says:

        500 words on Bynum would have been good enough. I would rather see you do 1500 words on Kwame but that would be a waste. One question…who the hell is Travis Knight and even more frightening is the fact that you know that.

      • shawnfury says:

        Travis Knight, former Laker, then signed by Rick Pitino for 22 million over 7 years. Good deal. Returned to Lakers for 2000 title. Ultimate stiff. Holds record for quickest DQ with six fouls in six minutes.

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