We’ve finally made it to the end of this 66-game rush job that is the NBA season. You know what, for bearing with often terrible, lackluster, uninspired play for most of the season, the league was actually pretty entertaining this year. The playoffs, especially in the West, look to be wide open. The East promises to have great matchups. If Sunday’s Lakers-Thunder game is any indicator, this year’s playoffs will be BIG.
But we still have a couple of games and some playoff spots to decide before the festivities begin. We here at the Mancave have talked about Chicago’s injury woes, Linsanity making way to Melosanity, the Heat’s dominance and LeBron’s hairline receding, the Lakers still being the King of the west, Blake Griffin needing to play some interior defense, and Russell Westbrook still cooking for the Thunder. But there are other teams that need some love. So our 3 point play this week is about 3 teams that are under the radar.
#1: So About That Window of Opportunity - Where did the Spurs come from? Remember when you probably last saw Spurs, they were getting it handed to them by the Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs. Yeah, don’t lie and say you watched the Spurs this year. The team that loves to lie low are back as the #1 seed, and no one seems to notice. It’s all about the Thunder (who have fallen off slightly), the Lakers (who has a softee and a knucklehead as their 2 7-footers), and the Clippers (who will go as far as Chris Paul will take them). There is no room for the boring Spurs. But now they are the supposed favorites out the west. How did this happen?
Sacre bleu, Tony Parker may be the best point guard in the league. He is averaging 18.3 points, and 7.7 assists per game, hardly MVP-type numbers but consider the Spurs. Manu Ginobili has played just over half of the games this season. Coach Popovich sat Tim Duncan one night because he was ‘old.’ Parker has had to carry the Spurs by himself for many games. And who else is on the team to help him? Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Parker may have an MVP case with how the Spurs have performed.
Coach Popovich has managed this season brilliantly. He has made Tim Duncan into a double-double machine again (15, 9). Ginobili is still a premier player despite his injuries. Guys like Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard are making contributions. He even has fat Boris Diaw running the floor! You may not like the Spurs, you may find them boring, but they still win and win a lot despite having that crippling injury called ‘old.’
#2: Speaking of Point Guards - I can’t go on without paying homage to Steve Nash. Maybe I don’t love the NBA as much as I say I do, but other than Jared Dudley, I can’t name another Phoenix Sun. And yet, tonight they can make a gigantic step into the playoffs, when they face the Utah Jazz with the 8th seed on the line (don’t worry I won’t mention the Jazz in any 3pt blog post, it’s a Mancave Rule). But the Suns shouldn’t even be in this position. But nothing is impossible on the basketball court for Nash.
Nash has led a cast of cast-offs within a game of the playoffs. Amazingly, he averages over 10 assists with their roster. Six guys average over double figures in scoring; it helps that your point guard gets you the ball where it is the most comfortable for you. Not bad for a 38-year-old playing a young man’s position.
I remember when I fumed when Nash won back-to-back MVP awards, citing conspiracy. I wanted Nash to be traded to a contender so he could win a ring and retire and coach the Canadian basketball team. Now, I just stare in awe that this guy is still going at a high level despite not having any help. Please Steve, beat the Jazz tonight so we can watch your marvelous works on the court in the postseason. Actually, I just don’t want the Jazz in the playoffs.
#3: The One-Year Away Wonder - Everyone knew that the Indiana Pacers would be a fun team to watch this season. We even knew they would make noise in the playoffs after last years series vs the Bulls. But could the Pacers help decide the Eastern Conference Finals. Right now, the Pacers are third seed, and it looks like it will stay there. If they get through the Magic (who won’t have Dwight Howard), that means they would most likely play the Heat after they dispatch the Knicks. The Pacers are 3-1 against Miami, but their last two games against the Heat were an OT loss and a 15-point win.
Now I’m not saying that the Pacers have the horses to win 4 games in a series vs the Heat. Their best player, Danny Granger, has had a down year (18.7 PPG compared to 20.5 last season and 25.8 at the end of the 2009 season). But like we have seen with the Nuggets and the Sixers, the Pacers play and win as a team. Six guys are averaging double-figures scoring. They are a rugged team on the boards as they are 3rd in the league in rebounding. All they need is one more big piece next year, and they could take that next step. But as for this year, do you think the Heat want to face this bruising team in the 2nd round when they need to get ready for the Bulls? The Bulls get a better matchup with the Celtics or Hawks while the Pacers could beat up the Heat enough to make the Eastern Conference Finals a little bit tougher for the defending Eastern champs.
But after all of this, I am still predicting a Miami Heat Championship (cross my fingers).