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Building the Perfect Beast / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 1, 2008

Where Symmetry Happens

When news circulated that the Rockets’ Yao Ming was going to be out for the rest of the season, I can’t deny that it made me smile a little bit. Partly it’s because the Rockets bore the daylights out of me, and because I’ve never been terribly impressed by Yao–skilled guy, sure, and his height probably makes him underrate just how good he is, but if someone like Joel Pryzbilla was 7’6, I’d probably expect those kind of numbers from him too. But mostly, it’s because with the Rockets’ inevitable exit from the West playoff race, the final piece of the puzzle was now complex for the absolute perfect playoff scenario to unfold–four series matching styles, skills and personal vendettas to make for more exciting ballin’ than catching Eddie and Celtic Pride back-to-back on TNT.Now, the Rockets haven’t quite faded post-Yao as fast as I’d hoped (thanks a lot, Dikembe), but assuming they implode sooner rather than later, here’s how the playoffs could maybe, possibly, hopefully break down (mostly obvious stuff here, but it’s been tickling me lately, so indulge me):

(1) LA Lakers vs. (8) Denver Nuggets

This is the least perfect of the match-ups, admittedly, but we’re talking about two aggressive, up-tempo teams (one admittedly far more graceful than the other) guaranteed to put points on the board. And in terms of star power, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Carmelo and AI vs. Kobe and Pau, while both teams are also predisposed towards creating unlikely single-game heroes (Jordan Farmar actually led the Lakers in scoring on Thursday, and somehow Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith have both broken 40 in individual games this season).

Even better, however, would be if the Blazers somehow managed a last-second run to the playoffs and eked out the Nuggets for the #8 spot. If tonight’s game between the two was any indication, this’d be a hell of a series, though it’d be more interesting for its contrast than the symmetry–the Lakers’ star-power and history of bad vibes vs. the Blazers’ young guns and near-communist (or rather, near-Pistons) level of community and equality. Plus, with Brandon Roy healthy and the Blazers’ Rose Garden apparently acting as Krypton for the Lakers, it might actually be a closer series than people would think.

(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Golden State Warrios

No one who would call themselves even a casual NBA fan could possibly stand to miss a second of this one. Their two and a half weeks ago was maybe the best game I saw the whole season, two teams of pure shooters and brilliant playmakers in a scintillating match of Anything-You-Can-Do-I-Can-Do-Better. Expect an average of about 360 points a game, with at least 230 of those coming on fast breaks. OK, so the Suns are working with the lethargic Shaq at center now, but the Warriors have the reanimated Chris Webber (who, with Shaq, weighs a combined 950 pounds and runs an average 27-minute mile) to cancel him out, so whatever.
Monta and Amare trading mid-range jumpers. Barbosa and Jackson dueling from the three-point line. Webber and Shaq reminiscing about the good old days while their teammates scramble for loose balls around them. Neither team might be likely to get to the finals this year (yeah yeah, fundamentals, fine), but goddamn if this series wouldn’t make anything afterwards feel like an afterthought.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks

We got a little preview of this beat-to-be Thursday night, and boy was it something. I’d consider neither of these teams to be among my favorites in the league–in fact, neither team is particularly fun to watch on their own, and the way the Spurs seem to constantly let younger, more exciting teams come within a basket or two of winning before shutting the door on them seems especially cruel. But match ’em up against each other and it all sort of makes sense. Duncan and Novitzki. Parker and Kidd. Ginobli and, uh, Stackhouse. Both teams are just quintessetially solid–neither plays too many games that leave you on the edge of your seat or wow you with their stat lines, but damn if both don’t seem to win a whole lot more than they probably should.

And that’s what we’d get here. A very solid series. No games with total scores over 200, but none with double-digit differentials, either. Plus, we wouldn’t want more than one of these teams advancing to the Semis, would we?

(4) New Orleans Hornets vs. (5) Utah Jazz

There’s some other stuff going on here. Two fluid, well-balanced teams. Two all-star power forwards in Carlos Boozer and David West. Two teams whose cities have once been home to a team called the Jazz (and as a recent Bill Simmons article astutely points out, only one for whom the moniker makes any sort of sense). But of course, this would all be pretext for the battle between rival point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul to decide once and for all which should have been taken higher in the 2005 NBA draft. Loser should be forced into early retirement. Or traded to the Bobcats.

Quick, someone hit Tracy McGrady with a chair or something.

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