Posted: Thursday May 18, 2006 11:55AM; Updated: Thursday May 18, 2006 2:02PM
With referees cracking down on contact, slashing scorers such as Gilbert Arenas have more freedom than they've enjoyed in years.
David E. Klutho/SI
You can't blame Sterling, who has owned the Clips since '81, for being a bit disoriented. That was the franchise's first playoff game since '97 and only his 13th overall. -- Jack McCallum
3. Everybody's a fan
Game 6 of the Kings-Spurs opening-round series. Cowbell hell at Arco. Do or die for Sacramento, which trails 3-2. Reserve forward Corliss Williamson is on pins and needles ... about the end of the Wizards-Cavs game. Just before the Kings tip off, he's leaning over the scorer's table, watching a reporter's TV, explaining that he's "a big LeBron fan." Reluctantly he heads to the bench, but throughout the first quarter he glances to press row for updates. The reporter mimes Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas' hitting the game-tying 3 at the end of regulation; Williamson throws back his head in disbelief. When he finds out that Cleveland has won Game 6 in overtime to take the series, he gives a fist pump. Now he can concentrate on his team. -- Chris Ballard
No. 4: The wings take flight
Much as the NFL liberates wide receivers to make athletic plays by prohibiting defensive contact, so has the NBA made life more graceful and explosive for the likes of Arenas (34.0 ppg in the postseason), James (31.9), Vince Carter (29.7), all of whom were scoring more in the playoffs than during the regular season.
It's a business decision that makes sense when the games matter most: While scoring has risen in the NFL and baseball, point production in the NBA had been in general decline -- in recent years -- since the 1991-92 season, which, in turn, had played a major role in the public antipathy toward pro basketball.
The 19 percent gain in TV ratings for the first round of this year's playoffs had a lot to do with the freedoms afforded to the most popular stars to display their most marketable skills. But the biggest difference is that referees have reversed the traditional practice of allowing physical play to flourish in the playoffs. Instead, they're cracking down on all sorts of offenses, with league VP Stu Jackson throwing in unprecedented suspensions for flagrant fouls and other misdemeanors. -- I.T.
5. Every day is mother's day
The mom as head cheerleader is something of a tradition in the NBA. In Philadelphia it was Allen Iverson's mother, Ann, who wears jerseys that read -- what else? -- Iverson's mom. In Cleveland it's Gloria James, who sits baseline and vociferously protests any calls that go against LeBron.