Playoffs Article: The best is yet to come
Encore? While NBA fans are still savoring the most thrilling and entertaining NBA Playoffs in at least a decade, here is another delicious thought: The best is yet to come.
A shift towards a more aesthetically pleasing style of play combined with an altered power structure due to off-season player movement and the emergence of new superstars makes two things clear. The NBA of the near future will more entertaining and more intriguing than in past seasons.
In the coming years, we might just come to view the recently concluded 2005-06 season as a pivotal year in the league’s history. We might safely say that after more then a decade and a half, defense is no longer king in the NBA and there is much more of a competitive balance between offense and defense.
The relatively new rules that have freed up perimeter movement and eliminated the dreaded illegal defense call as well as the effect of more innovative thinking on offense in general (and by Phoenix in particular) were evident during the showcase phase of the NBA season. I respect both the Spurs and the Pistons tremendously, but I was happy to see neither of them in the Finals. I suspect that I wasn’t alone.
This year we were treated to a main course of tremendously competitive playoff basketball with plenty of surprises for dessert. The Cleveland-Washington series was a heart stopper while the Suns and Lakers was melodrama worthy of Hollywood. The Dallas-Phoenix series was highly entertaining and the Mavs-Spurs series was the best of all, maybe one of the best playoff series of all time. And then after two games and three quarters, our fears of an anticlimatic final series came to rest when the Heat turned it around, culminating in two classics in Games 5 and 6.
If you wanted surprises, if it wasn’t enough that the highly favored Pistons and Spurs were eliminated before the Finals or that the favored Mavericks wilted at the finish, how about the Clippers and the Cavs falling one tiny game short of making it to their conference championships.
The best may be yet to come. A peek ahead at the 2006-7 season, shows tremendous parity at the upper echelon of the league. There are easily five legitimate title contenders at the moment. The Chicago Bulls’ signing of Ben Wallace makes that club an immediate new contender and a blockbuster off-season trade of Kevin Garnett or Allen Iverson to the right team could do the same for another franchise.
I think the Mavs are for real and will continue to be in the title mix for several years. Past champions like the Bulls and Detroit’s “Bad Boys” paid their playoff dues before developing the mental toughness to take things to the final level. With a tough-minded coach like Avery Johnson, we may see Dallas do the same thing.
The Heat may have an aging roster but with a transendent player like Dwyane Wade, they will be a title threat for years to come.
Don’t count out the Spurs. Year in and out they are possibly the best team in the league. They just aren’t tough or focused enough to be a dynasty.
The Suns proved this season that they aren’t a fluke. Given the circumstances, you could almost argue they were better this season then last. Add a healthy Amare Stoudemire to the lineup and they are legitimate contenders for a ring.
Don’t forget Houston, despite their miserable season. I truly believe we will be seeing Yao Ming in the NBA Finals one day. If he and Tracy McGrady stay healthy and the Rockets find a quality point guard, a real power forward, and a clear on-court leader, they could be doing the playoff surprising, sooner then you think.
With the acquisition of Ben Wallace, the Bulls rise up alongside or possibly above the Pistons as one of the big players in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls still need to upgrade, particularly in the area of coaching but the addition of Big Ben gives them a true impact player, at least on one very important side of the court.
These playoffs were a coming-out party for LeBron James as well as for Dwyane Wade. Wade showed that there’s no one better at money time, but James also showed he’s not afraid of the big stage. Also look for him and the Cavs to continue to get better, in a hurry.
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