The NBA, and the Balance of Power…
…or lack thereof
I’ve been an NBA fan now for almost 10 years, and even though my beloved Lakers are currently suffering through their worst years, I at least got to enjoy 3 NBA Finals appearances from 2008-10, winning 2 out of 3 championships in 09-10. However, regardless of how confident I was in my team in those days, there were always a few opponents who I feared in the Western Conference.
Firstly, the previous Denver Nuggets era led by a prime Carmelo Anthony probably instilled the most trepidation. It wasn’t even that they were the most talented opponent, it was just that their playing style came across almost threatening.
After that I worried about us facing the Phoenix Suns, led by then All Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash, who at this point was a 2-time NBA MVP, and finally the Utah Jazz, led by Deron Williams. Current fans may know of Williams, who currently comes off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, if you’ve been around long enough you’ll remember “D-Will”, a since forgotten alter ego who was arguably at one point the best Point Guard in the League. Regardless of my confidence in my team, there were always a few rivals who I thought could potentially challenge us.
Now the Post-season setup of the NBA is such that one can’t just slip up in one game and their whole season’s over. In my opinion that’s what gives the NFL it’s edge come the road to the SuperBowl. You never really know who’s going to win. However, given the ‘Best of 7’ format of the NBA Playoffs, as Max Kellerman of ESPN’s First Take puts it, “the best team always wins”. In truth, this idea only works if the “best team” and “most talented team” can be mutually exclusive. The 2007 Series between the 8th seed Golden State Warriors and the 1st seed Dallas Mavericks, won by the former, is a prime example of this, and that’s a rare and extreme example. In essence, there’s always competition to be wary of before you reach the NBA Finals, the most talented team in the Conference doesn’t always prevail.
What we have seen this season is unprecedented, and has sparked an ongoing debate in the NBA community if the current balance of power is bad for the league. Each Conference, the Western and Eastern, seem to have their own ‘superpower’, who are just too superior talent-wise to lose, such that even in pre-season predictions, pundits such as Stephen A Smith were expressing their discontent, as they were merely waiting for the finals in June.
In the West, the Warriors recently became the first team in NBA History to go 12-0 in the playoffs. 3 series, 3 best of 7s, 3 4-0 victories, otherwise known as a “sweep”. Now whilst they’re not the first team to sweep their way to the NBA Finals, a feat last achieved by the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led Lakers of 2000-01, (they went 11-0, however back then the first round was a best of 5, for some reason), that season itself isn’t discussed with regard to the level of competition. The Lakers were just too good that year. However, what we’ve never seen is two teams dominating their respective Conferences to such an extent where fans have been left bored.
In the East, the Cavaliers swept the first two rounds, after which they faced the Number 1 team in the East, the Boston Celtics. Now at this point you might be thinking “hang on Timi, if the Cavs aren’t number one, then there must have must have been some competition, right?”
The Cavs tactically rested star players in key points of the regular season so that they would be well rested come the playoffs. In essence, they coasted. And were still only two games off from the Number 1 seed.
Away from home, the Cavs won the first two games by an average of 34.9 points. The second game was such a joke that they were up 50 in the 3rd quarter and played a virtual 3rd team in the 4th. They did, however, lose to last second shot in Game 3. “Oh, so now we have a good series, right?”
The Cavs were up by as many as 21, got a little too cocky, and stopped playing defence. The Boston Celtics may be a class below them, but you must respect them enough to keep up the intensity, otherwise they can easily come back, which was the case in this game. The reason why this doesn’t matter is because the loss was due to a lack of concentration, thus acting as the wakeup call they needed. Trust me, this series is over.
So now we’re going to have a Cavaliers-Warriors Finals, for the 3rd year in a row. Whilst I’m interested to see how this series goes, given the fact this is essentially like a boxing “rubber match”, as they have each beaten each other once in the previous two years, if this is the long term look for the NBA, then it’s not looking great. In future years, more teams are going to have to step up and provide competition for the Cavs and Warriors, who don’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon. A monotonous diarchy between the two will only fry out the intensity and passion that made me and many others fall in love with the league. A few interesting stories during the season, such as Russell Westbrook averaging a triple double, doesn’t compensate for serious, post-season competition, and whilst we’re all enjoying it now, another 3 years of this will get boring very quickly.
And if anyone is thinking of mentioning the Lakers and Celtics of the 80s, led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird respectively, then please refrain, as they only played each other 3 times in 10 years, and no more than 2 times in a row. Conclusion, there were at least a few other teams in the mix each year.
It hasn’t been a whole decade yet, so we can relax and enjoy this “rubber match” for now, but the NBA community is starting to get restless. Opposing teams need to hit the court now, ready for a new, a hopefully more competitive, season come October, or at least another “super-team” needs to be formed in the offseason to provide a legitimate and interesting 3rd party.
The Finals start on June 1st at Golden State. Tune in, as it should be one of the few interesting series of this NBA post-season…