This Is How a Heart Breaks
- The NBA is back. The first round of the playoffs has exceeded expectations in almost every way imaginable, unless you are a Carmelo Anthony fan. The Clippers finally won a playoff series, LeBron James is hitting clutch shots, Kobe Bryant is playing unselfishly, and Raja Bell is putting together a tryout tape for the WWE. It's too early to tell, but the NBA has the right mix of Hall of Fame caliber talent (Kobe, LBJ, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand), elite teams (Pistons and Spurs), upstart teams (Lakers and Bulls), interesting characters (Ron Artest, Kobe again), mediocre players raising their games (Andres Nocioni, Bonzi Wells, Kwame Brown), physical play, and close finishes to start bringing back the fans in significant numbers.
The league has always promoted its star players, but fans are responding to the intensity that has been present in every game. Perhaps this is because the star players all have something to prove: Dirk and Steve Nash have to prove they can win in the playoffs, Kobe has to prove he can win without Shaq, Shaq has to prove he can win without Kobe, LBJ is doing it for the first time, and Chris Kaman is just trying to keep his man-bag in one piece. And of course, all of them know that in order to secure a legacy in the NBA, you need to win in the playoffs (just ask Patrick Ewing). It is leading to some riveting basketball as this has been called the greatest first round ever.
Hopefully, the first round has softened the resolve of those sports fans who believe the NBA isn't worth watching since Jordan retired. At any rate, here is what to look for during tonight's games as 3 teams face elimination:
- Raja Bell deserved to be suspended for Game 6, as my understanding of the league rules is that any intential contact above the neck is an automatic suspension. However, as a Laker fan, I have to agree with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant who hoped that Bell would play in Game 6. The Laker fans would have shown no mercy towards Bell and his battle with Kobe would have been must-see TV. Instead, we are left with a fairly entertaining war of words. Bell has called Kobe pompous and arrogant while Kobe has stated that he has "bigger fish to fry than Raja Bell" and speculated that perhaps Raja didn't get enough love as a child. Advantage, Mamba.
Despite being up in the series 3-2, tonight's Game 6 is a must win for the Lakers and they know it. Kwame Brown, who is under investigation for sexual assault (by the way, he has not even been interviewed by the police, does that make any sense?), put it this way: "We don't want to go back to Phoenix." Brown played well in Game 5 but could not provide Phil Jackson with enough minutes because of foul trouble. He has to continue to set aside the distractions, stay out of foul trouble, and provide an inside presence tonight. If he can, the Lakers will advance and play the Clippers in the "Hallway Series" at the Staples Center.
- I am still waiting for Vince Carter to tea-bag Scot Pollard; I hate that guy. Even if he doesn't posterize Pollard, he can win the first playoff series of his career tonight in Indy, as the Nets lead the series 3 games to 2. It has to be pretty disappointing to Pacer fans that Peja Stojakovic has been hampered by a knee injury while Jermaine O'Neal is hampered by the flu. It also must make them sick to know that Ron Artest could be absolutely shutting down either Vin-sanity or Richard Jefferson. I picked the Pacers initially, but now it really doesn't appear that they have any gas left in the tank. The worst news for Pacer fans? Larry Bird is probably going to trade Jermaine O'Neal this summer.
- The Bulls have played better than expected and have a chance to even the series against the Heat tonight in Chicago. Andres Nocioni, who has always been a fan favorite here in Chi-Town, has played magnificently and is averaging 22.8 ppg and 9.6 rpg in the series. He has been their catalyst. The Bulls will also need Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich to combine for 50 points or so, which they are certainly capable of doing. If the Bulls are lucky, Dwyane Wade's hip will have tightened up since Game 5. Of course, Wade just proved that there IS truth in advertising as he recovered from that nasty spill to carry the Heat to victory ("Fall down 7 times, get up 8"). This is the front end of TNT's double header tonight and it may be every bit as entertaining as the Suns-Lakers nightcap. Let's root for a Game 7.