BOSTON - MAY 22: Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics is held back by Kevin Garnett #5 as he exchanges words with Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic at TD Banknorth Garden in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The conference finals of the NBA playoffs could end as soon as Tuesday, and so far there's been about as much suspense as an episode of "Saved by the Bell." I mean, I never really watched "Saved by the Bell", but it never struck me as particularly suspenseful. The NBA playoffs - Where formulaic predictability happens.
Maybe that's not the right description. I mean, I guess I am at least surprised by the way the Celtics are dominating the Magic. But it's not making for entertaining games. There just haven't been enough competitive series, or even competitive games for that matter.
Consider this: in 12 series so far, there has been only one that went to seven games (and that was much more a testament to the Hawks ineptitude against the injured Bucks than it was classic NBA action). On the other hand, there have been four sweeps, with both conference finals looking like potential (LA-Phoenix) or even probable (Boston-Orlando) sweeps at this point.
Think of it this way. You have to go back to game 3 of the Cleveland-Boston series to find a game in which the eventual loser of the series won so much as a game. That was May 7, more than two weeks ago. Since then Cleveland lost the last three to Boston, Atlanta, Utah and San Antonio lost four each, Orlando has now lost three and Phoenix has lost two. That's a lot of consecutive losses. For a guy who likes to root for the underdog, there's not a lot to cheer for.
The playoffs have had a particularly depressing impact on the various fan bases this season. More often than not, a team that makes it to the playoffs can go into the off-season with a fair amount of momentum even if they don't end up winning the title. But this season, the way teams are getting embarrassed, almost every team that exits the playoff race finds itself in crisis mode. Two playoff teams have fired their head coach despite regular seasons that far exceeded expectations (Atlanta and Chicago). A third will likely do the same, despite having the best regular season record in the NBA (Cleveland). Across the board, of the 12 playoff teams eliminated thus far, there aren't more than a handful that feel good about themselves going forward. Certainly Milwaukee and Oklahoma City are feeling optimistic, with the Bucks playing well in the playoffs despite missing their two highest paid players and the Thunder being a young core advancing to the playoffs for the first time (not to mention that they're the only team to have beaten the Lakers in the post season). Portland has an injury excuse to explain another first round exit. Charlotte probably feels OK just having made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, despite being swept by Orlando. And that's about it. Every other team so far has to feel pretty damn embarrassed about the way they exited the post season.
And Orlando figures to be added to that list unless something drastic changes.
The other big problem for me, and I suspect for the vast majority of the fans in about 28 NBA cities, is that we appear to be on a course for a Lakers-Celtics final, for the 400th time in my lifetime. Does anyone who isn't a Laker fan or a Celtics fan want to see these teams in the finals AGAIN? It was one thing when it was Bird and Magic leading the teams - both likeable, classy superstars. Kobe and Garnett? Great players, not classy.
It's pretty much up to Phoenix to salvage this post season for me. Prior to the conference finals, the Suns were the one decent storyline the NBA had going. Steve Nash playing with one eye shut to finally beat the Spurs. Grant Hill playing in the month of May for the first time in his stellar NBA career. Not to mention that nobody figured on the Suns making the playoffs in the West, let alone going to the conference finals. Phoenix was by far the best thing happening in the NBA this postseason. And then they got blown out in LA a couple of games.
The Lakers two wins were impressive (and depressing), but with the series moving to Arizona, it's not over yet. The Suns have yet to get hot from deep in the series, and if they can win in Phoenix, and have one hot shooting game in LA, a series upset is still possible. But if the Lakers win tonight, then we're pretty much stuck with Celtics-Lakers (again).