A look at the final winners, losers and award-winners
Posted: Tuesday April 18, 2006 8:19PM; Updated: Thursday April 20, 2006 11:47AM
Scott Skiles, Kirk Hinrich and the rest of the Bulls are on their way to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
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With the NBA's regular season in its final throes (the real kind), here's one last look around the league.
If you want to get corny with it, the season that the Chicago Bulls are about to finish has gone a lot like one of their games. A nasty little opening, followed by a distressing second quarter, a depressing start to the third and a furious finish that usually includes the sort of play that should have commenced a lot earlier. In the end, their opponents are usually left wondering the same three things:
1. Where did that 16-point lead go? 2. How did they win without Ben Gordon scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter? Isn't that his whole thing? 3. Did you see the way Scott Skiles and Chris Duhon gazed into each other's eyes? That's not play-calling. That's something else entirely.
But here the Bulls are, in the postseason for a second consecutive year, while boasting the East's youngest playoff team. It's a team that should only get younger, too, as GM John Paxson initially perceived this as a rebuilding year. Chicago gets its own 15th pick in this June's draft, along with New York's first-round selection.
With a crunch-time lineup that often included an undersized power forward (Mike Sweetney), two small forwards (Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni) and any combination of Duhon, Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and the stylings of Jannero Pargo, Skiles was able to impose his will on the fly while making do with a roster that boasts more holes than Blackburn Lancashire.
The squad that Chicago had to chase for most of March and April, an embarrassing lot from Philadelphia, apparently wanted no part of playing in the postseason. Mo Cheeks' bunch refused to string together any group of important wins, largely because they were convinced they could out-gun opponents until the very end. Billy King's cast of overpaid role players showed no interest in doing the little things necessary to win.
Though King's crew has the league's third-highest payroll, the team limped to a 4-10 record in March. It came to a head during a pitiful showing in Orlando last Saturday night. The Sixers didn't come ready to play, giving up 37 first-quarter points to a snail-paced Magic team. Though the Sixers made a game of it, they did themselves in with too many perimeter attempts and inattention to defensive detail.
King will have to go to work this summer trying to trade away the players he once trusted to lead his team back to the Finals, though it's hard to imagine which teams will want to take on these sorts of players and these sorts of contracts. Samuel Dalembert is the most egregious example, though he'll probably be the most sought-after commodity. Teams should be warned, however. The man makes nearly $10 million a year to block shots and rebound, yet he consistently leads the NBA in goaltending infractions. He had zero blocks and eight boards against the Magic while his team was getting outrebounded by 13.
Just for the sake of conversation, here are my picks for the NBA's postseason awards.
Most Valuable Player:LeBron James, Cavaliers Try not to complicate your life with this one, OK? The NBA leaves the point and purpose of this award deliberately vague in order to inspire breathless arguments about the relative merits behind the MVP status of several players. It gets the cable guys screaming, renders the barrooms busy with saucy talk and leaves the e-mail inboxes of writers from Walla Walla all the way to Kalamazoo bursting with hate mail.
So if you want to tell me that Steve Nash is your MVP, fine. Dwyane Wade? Sounds about right. Dirk Nowitzki? Wholly deserving. Shawn Marion? An understandable pick. Kobe Bryant? As good a candidate as I can think of. Elton Brand? Wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Kevin Garnett? Good on ya. Chauncey Billups? Hard to argue with that. If you want to tell me Valerie Simpson is the one, I'm cool with that, too. Mainly because Solid was such an awesome song.
By my estimation, LeBron was the best player in the NBA this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Wallace, Pistons Detroit's rather mediocre defense was pointedly overlooked for a large portion of the season while the Pistons dashed out to the league's best record. Because Detroit always played solid defense in nationally televised showdowns, few noticed that midway through the season's third month the Pistons were the 15th-best team in defensive efficiency. Thanks to Big Ben's ornery ways, however, they've picked it up since then, vaulting to fifth. The surge was led by a player who somehow manages to contest every shot while collecting every loose ball.
The rest: Tim Duncan didn't have his best year, while guys like Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby just didn't bring it long enough. Earl Watson's too short; Bruce Bowen's wing exploits pale in comparison to the importance of interior D; and Andrei Kirilenko's Jazz were too poor a defensive outfit for me to put him ahead of Wallace.