Well, in a first round that was expected to be full of easy wins, only the Miami Heat are following course, and even they had trouble in game two against a banged-up Al Jefferson and Charlotte.
Indiana was supposed to roll, and even though they won game two rather easily, they lost game three and series is up in the air. The same goes for San Antonio who has fallen behind in each of the first two games of its Dallas series, which is now tied 1-1. With Oklahoma City also down 2-1 to Memphis, nothing is coming easy for any of the prohibitive favorites.
Maybe this is just a case of small sample size. After all, seven game series usually produce the best teams. The reason the NBA doesn’t play a best-of-three or even a best-of-five like they used to is to (make more money and) allow the better teams the chance to advance.
This year still feels different though and surprisingly so.
The regular season produced four overwhelming favorites: the Heat, Pacers, Spurs and Thunder. At the moment, none of the four are cruising through round one, let alone cruising through to the Finals. Could this have something to do with the dreck that wallowed at the bottom of each conference through the season? Perhaps these upper-echelon teams padded their win totals with faulty victories over tanking teams, and none of them were as good as their record would ordinarily indicate. I mentioned this point in regards to the Pacers, but it might be true for everyone. Winning four games over the likes of Utah, Philadelphia, the Lakers and Orlando will give you a 4-0 record, but it doesn’t mean you’re a great team necessarily.
And on the flip side, what do we make of a team like Houston, who managed 54 wins this season, same as Miami, and currently finds itself down 2-0 heading on the road and facing elimination? Why do the Rockets have to play Portland in round one? When will the NBA reseed all teams by record and forget about conference affiliation? Is the second round better off with either Houston or Portland going home in favor of the Wizards or Raptors?
My gut analysis after all the game ones were finished screamed small sample size. Now that two or more games have been played, I’m not so sure. Something does feel different in the NBA playoffs this season. Round one matchups are rarely entertaining, let alone exciting. Yet nearly every series is dead even so far, the lone exception being the Wizards beating up on the Bulls. I do think a change is occurring, but not the one you keep hinting at.
As an aside, I have to first point out that the NBA regular season is long, but NBA games are fast paced. You’d think this would be obvious, but its easy to forget the season began prior to last Halloween. In Major League Baseball the season is long, but games move slower so everything generally resets at the end of the regular season. A hot team sometimes remains hot, but it always feels like a fresh start as the playoffs get underway. The NBA is quite the opposite. By the time NBA teams reach the playoffs they’re worn down. This can level the field, so to speak, in round one especially. With so many great athletes in the league, this is a major factor in what we are seeing so far this postseason.
Enough of my tangent, because the top teams in the NBA playoffs appear even with the lower seeds. Win totals are definitely overvalued when assessing the strength of a team, but this year you can throw them out the window. The change that is occurring is in the middle, with the lower seeded teams who were seemingly average all season. The new dynamic for success is teaming up two or three stars with strong contributors. Phil Jackson said this a few days ago, so you know its the truth. If one of those stars is a superstar or future hall of famer, look out. What we are witnessing are many teams with a few star players and several more with multiple superstars. The NBA is full of high caliber talent and we are starting to see real competition amongst all teams now, beginning in round one.
So is this a bad thing and should the NBA re-seed all the teams, regardless of conference, after the regular season? No and no. This is awesome all around and re-seeding regardless of conference is unnecessary when the series are all competitive. If the goal is to have the best teams playing one another in the end, then let them win and advance. How is Houston instead playing the Wizards and Portland instead playing the Raptors better for the NBA? Its not. Houston playing Portland in a dramatic round one series is better for the NBA. It makes round one mean something and makes it worth watching.
Teams need to win to prove themselves. One of my favorite rap quotes goes like this: “If I ain’t gonna be part of the greatest, I gotta be the greatest myself.” Ultimately, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.