Lebron’s Decision. The Spurs’ surprising hot start. Hedo Turkoglu reuniting with Howard. Derrick Rose’s rise to prominence. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams shipping the balance of power to the east. The Celtics shipping their chances to reach the NBA Finals for Jeff Green. Blake Griffin’s well-overhyped clearing of the roof of a compact car. Bynum’s injury that ended the Laker’s season for 16 hours…
The drama and chaos of the first 82 games are finally ending. We have closed the book on the regular season and stumbled upon the early chapters of the most highly anticipated NBA playoffs in recent memory.
Fortunately, the real theatrics are only beginning.
In the midst of an era where statistics are over-analyzed by talking heads and fantasy sports junkies, the NBA playoffs thankfully still highlight what true basketball fans hold most sacred: composure, sacrifice, and character.
If your team wants a parade at home, they better be composed down the stretch of a game 6 or 7 on the road, have players willing to dedicate their entire focus in a series to defensively shut down an opponent’s most potent offensive player, and be lead by a superstar who is not afraid to take big shots in crucial situations.
Individually, this is an opportunity for a player to create his own story. Win one of these, and the shortcomings of your career will forever be vindicated. This is why Paul Pierce can get away with shooting 5-15 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and allowing his team to fail after being up by 13 in the third quarter. He has a ring from his decent 2008 performance, so no one dares question his mental toughness.
Likewise, a stellar career can be forever haunted by consistent postseason failures. Dirk Nowitzki has the touch of an All-Star shooting guard but with the body of a center, yet he will always be viewed as the guy who couldn’t will his team to victory despite being up 2-0 against the Heat in 2006.
Because our perceptions of NBA players are often correlated with success during this time of year, I will now discuss the impact of a deep postseason run on the superstars of the true playoff contenders.
This guy needs a title more than anybody else. He went from being a “global icon” to being burned in effigy in his hometown. Admittedly, a championship could never completely repair his image; however, his decision to join Miami would have definitely made more sense than originally thought: all the players that he teamed with in Cleveland have proven to be utter garbage this year, and he absolutely needed a stronger unit to win a title.
Note: Typically, Lebron finds himself at this time of year completely drained due to having JV players surrounding him throughout the regular season. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, now Lebron still has the explosiveness that he generally has at the beginning of the regular season because of his “super friends.” Expect a different kind of monster this year.
Timmy will have a chance to accomplish something few athletes have ever done: walk away with a proper good-bye. Even if he doesn’t retire following a title this year, he will forever be remembered for being that star who capitalized on his last chance for glory.
Additionally, Duncan will have spited Shaquille O’neal; Shaq is all-too-vocal on sharing the same number of titles as his fellow big-man contemporary. Duncan can firmly place himself as the best big-man in this generation with five titles.
Scoring titles, a contract extension, and overwhelming hype has following this young, immense talent. However, what playoff success has he earned? Two home wins last year because his teammate, Russell Westbrook, shined well-above expectations? Artest shut down Durant in his playoff debut last year, and if he wants any postseason credibility, Durant needs to step up to the plate and have at least one memorable experience this year.
I don’t think a title is in the cards for Durant and OKC, but nonetheless, a deep playoff run can help catapult him to being the face of the NBA in the next few years. Otherwise, an early playoff exit this year will assuredly allow Derrick Rose to individually claim that title. Speaking of which…
The NBA world is his oyster. He is viewed as the consummate leader with an easily identifiable swagger. A ring as the sole leader of his team at only 22 years of age? That is unreal. He will instantly become a household name. He will be viewed as the possible Kobe Bryant of the next era, except he will actually be liked.
But I must mention, for the fans who enjoy the agony of defeat and the resilience to fight back over time, Rose will be viewed as the guy who won without paying his dues. Nobody wins this early (except Duncan during the strike-shortened season in 1999, which is why that year is often viewed with an asterisk).
I want to say he has a shot at vindicating his career of postseason failures. I want to believe
that exceptional performances in the next two months will forever change our perception of this gentle giant. I want to think that he can finally earn what he deserves.
But let’s be honest, he’ll be knocked out either in the first or second round.
Only recently have we begun believing that Dwight actually cares about winning. His development of his offensive game, particularly his hook-shot, has led us to believe that he really is committed to playing for a championship.
Yet now is his chance to cement himself as a force for years to come. Another trip to the finals through coursing through a deep eastern conference will further augment our new belief that Dwight can be a work-horse in big games. Furthermore, it will open the argument that Dwight could be a champion with a coach that ensures he gets enough touches.
Melo needs to find some redeeming value by having a successful series against Boston. If the Knicks lose in 5 games while the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Semifinals or Finals, Melo will be perceived as the joke who made his team better by leaving.
Yet a first-round series win may continue building up the hype for the small forward and the Knicks. The team is on the brink of recapturing the attention of the city, Melo just needs some reasonable success to achieve this goal.