Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio. What do these four cities have in common?
These four cities were supposed to be watching their hometown NBA teams in the Conference Finals, according to my playoff predictions. I was 25% right, which very well could have been a complete punchout if the Mavs had faltered even a smidge more against the Blazers.
Aparently, back in April, I had this kind of misguided idea on how the playoffs would work themselves out, but then again, in my defense, this year has been pretty damn trippy. During the last week of the regular season, I would have never guessed that the 2011 playoffs would entail:
1. The Spurs, best record in the NBA, getting handled by the Grizzlies of all teams.
2. The Mavericks ending Phil Jackson’s prolific career in an embarrassing sweep.
3. The Kendrick Perkins trade have ramifications THIS severe.
4. Dwight Howard entering his contract year with an embarrassing first-round exit.
5. The City of Cleveland NOT participating in a mass suicide
I can’t recall an NBA playoff series that carried this much weight.
The NBA is on the verge of a lockout, and while I don’t think the whole season will be lost, I can see the first few weeks marred by a players strike. When we take the shift that has happened in the second half of this year’s regular season, couple that with the collapse of teams who were considered “locks” to get deep in the playoffs, and the 2011 and, especially, the 2012 free agency periods, it’s fathomable to assume the league is about to completely change.
The 2012 free agent list is comprised of a dynasty’s worth of big name players, many of which are probably looking for an escape. The idea of “loyalty” isn’t a trait of professional athletes, particularly basketball (see “LeBron’s Possible Bought Championship” in the last post), so the general consensus is that many of these guys will end up on different teams, maybe even in the opposing conference.
But it all starts this year. Since there are so many players looking to leave their current teams, the 2011 and 2012 free agents are all part of a mass free agency that I will be referring to as “The Great Exodus”.
Anyway, back to more direct matters.
I thought the Thunder had the series in the bag after that epic Game 4 thriller that knotted the series. I figured they had established some serious momentum, especially with the 99-72 blowout in Game 5. Well, as is the dramatic manner of the basketball Gods, the Grizzlies took Game 6, 95-83, setting up the ever credulous beast: Game 7.
This series, who I’m bandwagoning as probably the best series of the playoffs so far, has spawned many, many questions for me.
Q: Who in the hell is Zach Randolph?!
A: There are two Zach Randolph’s. There always have been. There is the Zach Randolph that the Blazers drafted, and the Michigan State Spartans revered. The one who crashed boards with the best of them, had a pretty decent mid-range jumper, and had a fire and a passion for the game. Then, there is Mr. Hyde, or in this instance, “Broken Hand” Randolph. He lacks motivation, seems to always be cold, and has no business even dressing out.
Apparently, the young Zach Randolph is sporting a Grizzlies uniform these days. During this Grizzlies-Thunder series, during the contests the Grizzlies won, Zach Randolph produces numbers like these:
Game 1 @OKC – 34 points, 10 rebounds
Game 3 v. OKC – 21 points, 21 rebounds
Game 6 v. OKC – 30 points, 13 rebounds
Zach Randolph is averaging 28.3 points and 14.6 boards in the Grizzlies’ wins, which are by an average of 11 points. For the whole series, he’s averaging 23.8 points and 12.7 rebounds, which are definitely good numbers for someone in the two-spot. Hell, for the season, Randolph is at a career-high 20 point, 12 rebound average.
2011’s Zach Randolph is a far-cry from the Z-Bo we have seen in New York, Portland, and Los Angeles.
Q: What are the chances the Grizzlies can take Game 7?
A: I honestly can’t say, but there are several factors working in the Grizzlies’ favor. Kevin Durant went ice cold in Game 6, managing only 11 points. He exploded out of the gate, but hit only one bucket after the first three minutes of the game. As explained above, Zach Randolph has been lights out this series, but let’s not forget Marc Gasol is also on a 16 point, 11 rebound tear for the series. The Grizzlies aren’t playing like a team that went 46-36 over the course of regular season, and head coach Lionel Hollins has been utilizing substitutions and player formations to keep Oklahoma City on their toes.
I think the most overlooked factor here is that neither of these teams are really experienced in the NBA playoff atmosphere, but have managed to knock off some fierce competition. The Grizzlies took down the dynastic Spurs in the first round, while the Thunder put away the Nuggets, who have been contenders in the last few seasons. The only players on the Grizzlies squad with some serious playoff minutes are Randolph and Shane Battier, the latter of whom is the only player on the team who made the playoffs in a Grizzlies uniform (Vancouver or Memphis). The Thunder made their team playoff debut last year, but previous to that, the franchise had only made the post-season once since 1998.
The lack of experience is what I think makes this series so interesting. The spreads are kind of a telling tale.
Game 1 – Grizzlies won – +13
Game 2 – Thunder won – +9
Game 3 – Grizzlies won – +8
Game 4 – Thunder won – +10
Game 5 – Thunder won – +27
Game 6 – Grizzlies won – +12
None of these games have really been close, especially Game 5.
It’s time for me to voice my theory. If Oklahoma City wins today, Dallas may end up walking all over them in the Western Conference Finals. If Memphis wins, they’re taking it all. Memphis was the team that had nothing to lose this year, and they destroyed the Spurs, and are in position to be the second team ever to win two playoff series’ as the 8th seed.
The NBA’s about to get really interesting. I guarantee it.