Well, it’s April and the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs, neither did the Nets and if you cheer for the Sixers it’s a well-documented fact that you’re a communist. So, with baseball about to start, why should anyone around these parts be as excited as I am about the 2009 NBA Playoffs?
Because this year they could prove to be really freaking exciting. I’m not necessarily talking about March Madness, heart-attack inducing excitement, but after sitting back and consulting my crystal ball, I’ve decided there are a host of interesting story lines that even the most lapsed basketball fan could appreciate when the 16 surviving teams tip off on Sunday.
1. All Hail The King?
Ever since he first stepped onto the hardwood, LeBron “King” James has been drawing comparisons to His Airness. But if LeBron truly wants to be like Mike, then he needs to put a championship-ring-shaped exclamation point on what has already been a monster season. By the end of ’09, LeBron could potentially lead his team to the best record in the NBA, a 65-plus win season, a tie for the best regular season home record in NBA history (40-1 at Quicken Loans Arena if they close out the season flawless) and an NBA championship all while earning himself regular season and Finals MVP honors. The Cavs winning the title wouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but it would certainly heat up the conversation as to who is better . and with Jordan entering the hall of fame this year, some brazen reporter is sure to start probing him about it.
2. Shuffle up and deal
Many of this year’s playoff contenders could be in for a facelift if they don’t succeed. Mark Cuban has already threatened to burn down the house and start again if the Mavericks don’t make some noise in the playoffs this year. The eccentric owner is still smarting from first-round losses at the hands of the Warriors and Hornets in consecutive years, but with the Mavs slated to face the Lakers in Round One, this might be the last year we see Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitizki and Josh Howard on the same team. The same goes for the Suns, who may fall victim to some front office tinkering if (when) they don’t make the playoffs. Houston is in a similar situation. Even though they hold the four seed right now and are looking at a winnable first round tilt with New Orleans, failure to advance could mean coaching or lineup changes.
3. Uh, c’mon, shake your moneymaker!
Consider the top five teams in the NBA and you will see at least one Finals pairing that nobody on the corporate side of things wants to acknowledge as a possibility. Denver-Cleveland. If that happens, the NBA is facing the same problem the MLB suits did this year when the Phils and Rays went head to head . both home teams were outside of major metropolitan markets. Ratings tanked and the guys in corporate started popping open bottles of scotch to drown out the misery. This is becoming a problem in every sport that isn’t football, because everybody will watch the Super Bowl even if The Signal editorial staff is lining up against the London Silly Nannies of Family Guy fame. The SuperBowl is a holiday, the NBA finals are not. Everyone who makes money off this league wants to see Kobe vs. LeBron because they know it will pull in ratings, advertising and cold hard cash. But if we end up with a Denver-Cleveland or Denver-Orlando pairing, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens on the business side of things.
4. May Madness?
Everybody loves dark horses and I’m no exception. This year, Utah and (gasp) Detroit are the two teams I think could cause some upset havoc in Round One. Barring a freak accident, Utah will enter as the sixth or seventh seed in the West and earn a date with Denver or San Antonio, but they have been scraping by due to injuries to my main man Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andre Kirilenko. The Jazz are a far better team than their record shows, they are very dangerous at home and their lockdown defense matches up well with a Nuggets team that likes to run. Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” might as well be the Pistons’ march song throughout these playoffs. One week they look like they belong in the lottery, but then they play Orlando and have no problem dealing them a 20-point loss. Detroit holds a semi-comfortable lead over the Bobcats (never thought I’d say that) for the eighth spot right now, but the team is made up of a bunch of proven guys who know how to win. They also owned the Magic this year, so if Detroit and Orlando lock up in the as the seventh and two seeds respectively, Detroit could pull an upset in seven games.
5.I Love This Game!
And you should too. For argument’s sake, I’m going with Cleveland over L.A. in seven games.
James Queally can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.