Carmelo Anthony (7) of the New York Knicks drives to the basket against Paul Pierce (34) of the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
To quote Jim Mora, "Playoffs, don't talk about playoffs!"
The final day of the NBA's regular season was dramatic enough with Kobe Bryant being fined $100,000 US for yelling a homophobic slur at a referee -- before shooting out the city of Sacramento's heart with the sniper rifle he had in that Call of Duty commercial. What he shouted Tuesday night in the game against the Spurs was moronic, and while I believe it was said in the heat of the moment, he deserved the fine -- if not more. But whether or not you believe he should have been suspended, it just wasn't going to happen.
Equally disturbing Wednesday was watching what was likely the last NBA game ever played in Sacramento. And go figure, after coming back from 20 points down, the Kings get the Kobe treatment with an overtime-forcing three.
The Sacramento situation is sad. If the Brothers Maloof get the green light from the league's Board of Governors to move the Kings to Anaheim, one of the best (yet smallest) fan bases in the NBA will be left empty-handed. Arco Arena (or 'Power Balance Pavilion') was and is one of the loudest arenas in the league, full of rabid fans who made noise regardless of whether Mitch Richmond was dropping threes on a bad team or Chris Webber was kicking out to Peja Stojakovic in the Western Conference finals.
If the Kings over-saturate the L.A. area with a third NBA squad -- and a second sports team with the moniker "Kings" -- it will be the fifth team relocation (and second involving this franchise) in the David Stern era. It would also be the fourth in 10 years. Not to point the finger only at Stern, but something needs to be said about alienating markets. By giving owners like Michael Heisley, George Shinn and Clay Bennett carte blanche to move, he's done just that.
Vancouver had deeper problems (little corporate support, Stu Jackson), but look at what has happened in more traditional basketball markets. Charlotte, located in a cradle of basketball, has never embraced the Bobcats after the Shinn-Hornets fiasco. Seattleites -- once known as some of the best fans in the league -- are still feverishly brushing their teeth to get the foul taste of Bennett and the NBA out of their mouths.
In the Kings case, it's all about the Maloofs' financial troubles and the opportunity for Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli to reportedly give them a US$100 million interest-free loan to move (although I suspect if they can pay Samueli back, the team will be in Vegas as soon as you can forget the name Tim Donaghy).
It appears simple. If the NBA is willing to toss quality, above-average sized TV markets like Charlotte and Seattle aside in favour of an owner's wish, then they certainly won't care about small markets like Sac-town or Salt Lake. And that's truly brilliant in a tough U.S. economy where people have voted with their wallets on buying NBA tickets.
But, as George Costanza once said, onwards and upwards. The playoffs start Saturday.
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Memphis
After doing a good job of resting his aging team down the stretch, Gregg Popovich watched Manu Ginobili hyperextend his elbow in Wednesday's failed attempt to beat the Suns to tie Chicago for best record overall. The Grizzlies' Zach Randolph, who gets my vote as best forgotten player of the year, can create problems for San Antonio. Will the Spurs age catch up with them? Probably not yet. Go with experience.
Spurs in six
(2) L.A. Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans
The Lakers' fortnight from hell may have come to an end with news that Andrew Bynum's knee issue is just a bone bruise. While they haven't played good basketball since March, nobody is going to count on the Hornets taking advantage of that. With David West out, this overachieving squad is Chris Paul and role players. The Lakers will likely find their zone in this series, and use it as a tune-up for a run to the Finals.
Lakers in four
(3) Dallas vs. (6) Portland
This one has garnered the most talk of upset potential, mainly because of Dallas's reputation for losing in the first round. That said, the Blazers are a dangerous team with LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and a nice mix of guard play. A Portland victory wouldn't surprise me, but the Mavs looked like the best team in the West earlier this season, and Dirk Nowitzki is running low on time. Rick Carlisle may also want to consider giving Corey Brewer more playing time against the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy.
Mavericks in seven
(4) Denver vs. (5) Oklahoma City
The Nuggets are a nice story, employing the Ewing theory the last two months, going 17-7 since the Melo trade. And that included wins over good teams like the Spurs, Mavericks and Lakers. They did however lose twice to the Thunder in that span, and are 1-3 against OKC on the year. The Thunder is a team on the brink of big things -- the sort of things only a lockout or the lure of free agency from a small market can screw up -- and it's hard to see them losing this series. Given the Lakers problems and the Spurs age, they've even emerged as a trendy pick to come out of the West. Must be noted however that the Nuggets are always good at home in part due to the altitude thing.
Thunder in six
(1) Chicago vs. (8) Indiana
The hottest team going into the NBA Playoffs faces a sub-.500 team in a regional rivalry. Easy pick right? Maybe not. From the Pacers games I've seen this year, they're fun to watch. Danny Granger is a stud and Roy Hibbert (remember him, Raptors fans?) can hold his own with Joakim Noah. Sprinkle in Tyler Hansbrough's energy and a bunch of Duke Blue Devils on the bench, and can you see an 8-1 upset? No. This is Derrick Rose's series to go off in.
Bulls in five
(2) Miami vs. (7) Philadelphia
Can a group of people will a team to a huge upset? Probably not. This is a mismatch in Miami's favour. Plus they are hot and with whatever they will be trying to prove in the post-season, losing in the first round won't be an option.
Heat in four
(3) Boston vs. (6) New York
I was really hoping to see a Heat-Knicks matchup in the first round. While I wouldn't be looking up at a TV to see Jeff Van Gundy hanging off Alonzo Mourning's leg, I'd hear MSG fans give it to LeBron. Because the NBA doesn't re-seed in the playoffs, they could meet in round two. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks are hot, the Celtics not. However, some things to remember: On paper, Boston is a much better team and the Knicks cannot, under any real circumstance, play defence. That said, Melo can steal games, and hyperbole alone could inflate this to seven games.
Celtics in six
(4) Orlando vs. (5) Atlanta
This is a rematch of last year's second-round sweep by Orlando -- but now more intriguing. For a start, Mike Woodson is no longer Atlanta's coach. The Hawks went 3-1 against Orlando this year, holding the Magic to 22.6 per cent from three in four games (Orlando's season average is 36.7 per cent). What's more, Dwight Howard shot only 43 per cent against Atlanta this year, the lowest of any team. If the Hawks stick Al Horford and inexplicably, Jason Collins on D12 and allow him nothing more than a quiet double-double, can the rest of the Magic be shut down? Sure. But can you confidently bet on the Atlanta Hawks? Go with home-court edge.
Magic in seven
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