Playoff Talking Points: The Future Is Cloudy
No one with a wife and kids, or the need to eat leafy greens, has time to watch all this basketball. But we do. So, as a service to the public, here are the Playoff Talking Points you need to fake it at the water cooler:
• Anything Goes: I have no idea what's going to happen tonight, and neither to do you. Ordinarily, that would be a good thing. In sports, we live for suspense and upheaval. Otherwise, why bother watching anything but the final quarter? Why bother watching at all? But if there's no solid ground to stand on, it can make a man uneasy. Afraid to look, even. That's the fun we have to look forward to tonight.
Hawks-Magic should be a simple proposition. Orlando owned Atlanta during the regular season, and with no clear favorites, remain very much in the championship hunt. The Hawks, by contrast, were taken seven games by a Bucks team that got by on nothing more than effort and hot shooting. When these weren't enough, Atlanta rolled. But throw these obstacles in their past, especially on the road, and the Hawks falter.
Yet Orlando is by no means foolproof. Dwight Howard has picked the worst possible time to get irritated at opposing players, annoyed with refs, and just generally distracted from (or taken himself out of) the game.
They were okay when this happened with the Bobcats, in large part because Charlotte's just not that good and Jameer Nelson simply could not be checked. The better the teams get, though, the more Orlando's going to need Howard -- their MVP candidate -- to come through regularly. And we haven't gotten started yet with the annual "what's the deal with Howard's offense, or the Magic's unwillingness to get him the ball in right spot" onslaught.
There's also Vince Carter, brought in to replace, or as a replacement for, Hedo Turkoglu. Turk the Turk was last spring's playoff hero. He provided much-needed ball-handling and playmaking helping with Nelson either injured or ineffective. He took over games late. Carter is no longer his old self, and yet has always been underrated as an all-around player. But he's no multi-dimensional threat like Hedo was -- and, incidentally, isn't any more in Toronto. A healthy Nelson takes some of that burden off of Carter, and yet whether or not he'll show up does a lot to cloud Orlando 2010.
As for the Hawks, who knows. It would be easy to describe this as a fun house team, like the Denver Nuggets -- Charles Barkley already made this comparison -- if their brand of unpredictability were actually fun or entertaining. The Hawks are accomplished or utterly flat. When they fall apart, there's nothing resembling drama. They just fizzle and wander around, in either order you like best. It's gotten to the point where watching them hasn't become "what Hawks team will show up" but "will a team show up, or just some uniforms with people holding them up?"
The circus would be great on ice skates, and I would watch a cooking show if everyone on it were blindfolded. The circus with no staff and all doors left open, or a blindfolded cooking show that involved serving food at a party ... those just make me nervous.
Similar thoughts about Lakers-Jazz. Kobe Bryant is healthy. Andrew Bynum is not, but can play a little. If he can't, then we get to watch the sublime combo of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom work off of each other. Ron Artest is locked in. Sounds great, doesn't it? Forget for a second that the Lakers bench is putrid. As we saw in Game One, it's not that the Lakers are less than the sum of their parts, but that the sum of their parts is less than the sum of their parts.
They know what works and how to do it, and yet rarely stick to a script. No one's breaking plays, or acting stupid. The Lakers just only periodically execute like they all know they can. Case in point: Going inside against OKC. Using Kobe to draw the defense. Having Gasol or Odom move the ball. This stuff wins championships. These Lakers aren't a team at war with itself, but one suffering from a mysterious form of viral narcolepsy, or short-term amnesia.
The Jazz almost stole Sunday's game. But they needed the Lakers to let them in. Andrei Kirilenko may be back. Does him coming back because he can, a la Brandon Roy, mess up the roll this team is on? Or are these the reinforcements they need? I guess that's why we watch the games. We watch to know what's going to happen, amazing or otherwise.
• It Happened Last Night: Here's an unpopular theory: Boston's better than we thought, LeBron James isn't hurting that bad, and the Cavs might just not be that sound a team. Short and sweet on this: James isn't gone if Cleveland fails to win a title, in large part because of the cap room they'll have. At the same time, if they roll over and bow out here, that will shake the King's Confidence. It's the same way that Bron stayed in, and kept playing, in hopes of at least making a last run and keeping the final score from being a blowout.
• When Tides Converge: Note to everyone: This isn't 2005. The Spurs are fast, the Suns play defense. The last few minutes of last night's game should be proof enough of that. Though Phoenix is also as explosive as its been since the first days of Seven Seconds or Less. That's why they will win this series. But if they beat a Spurs team that no longer stands in direct opposition to them, is it really getting that monkey off their back?
• More No Respect: Forget this Deron Williams hype. What about Rajon Rondo for Point Guard President? Or at least Supreme Court nominee.