What would be the juiciest matchups in '08 playoffs?
Posted: Thursday April 10, 2008 4:36PM; Updated: Thursday April 10, 2008 6:15PM
In a matter of days, the season will be over, the standings will be set and the definite first-round (and possible later-round) NBA playoff matchups, intriguing as we likely will find them anyway, will be fixed. From that point on, the postseason becomes a gigantic combination lock, with tumblers having to fall into place just right if we're going to get the clashes we might find most competitive, compelling or even just entertaining.
Right now, though, we're not bound by seedings. Consider this playoffs unbound, a chance to cherry-pick the draws as if some Higher Power Himself was a hoops fan, clamoring for the best possible clashes. (Nice vertical, by the way, H.P.H.)
Never mind which round. Forget the constraints of conference. We asked a handful of NBA people (players, coaches, scouts, ex-players, ex-coaches) to momentarily put aside their current affiliations and to suggest a seven-game series they would like to see, maybe even pay to see. Because at the point the wallets actually open, you know for certain that their curiosity is piqued.
Some of these are our ideas, too, for the ultimate in NBA dream postseason showdowns. Here are a baker's dozen of them:
Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The granddaddy of them all, offering a little bit of everything. Tradition. Star power. New faces in familiar jerseys. Genuine dislike on the court spanning generations. And the NBA bean counters' seal of approval for what it could mean to recently dismal Finals TV ratings.
"It would renew the old rivalry,'' said longtime NBA executive Wayne Embry, now working for Toronto. Embry had a ringside seat for that rivalry, playing with the Cincinnati Royals for most of the 1960s before joining Bill Russell and the Celtics for two seasons. "Both of those teams made significant moves to get to where they've gotten. You know there would be a tremendous amount of interest in it from the fans.''
San Antonio Spurs vs. Boston Celtics
In at least one individual matchup, this would be like the epilogue of a classic 007 movie, Auric Goldfinger confronting James Bond one last time. We'll let you assign the roles, but we're talking about Kevin Garnett vs. Tim Duncan, who butted heads twice in first-round playoff series out West while matching up about 40 times in regular-season contests. Getting seven in a row between them in two weeks' time would be for-the-ages.
"You have two great players, playing the same position, but their styles are very different,'' longtime NBA marksman Trent Tucker, more recently a broadcaster for the Big Ten Network, said. "Duncan's more of a half-court player who will bang some and do more of his scoring down low, while KG will try to take him outside with turnaround shots and fadeaways.''
And that's just the start. "Then you've got Paul Pierce as a huge X factor for his team at the offensive end,'' Tucker said, "and it would be interesting to see how Bruce Bowen would match up with him in seven games. There's Ray Allen on one side and Tony Parker and [Manu] Ginobili on the other ... really, you've got two teams that can play both ways [transition and half court].''
Hornets guard Chris Paul, after his team's victory in Minneapolis on Wednesday, said: "That would be a crazy seven-game series to see. Both of them are so solid defensively.
"But I don't want to see it this year. 'Hypothetically speaking,' yeah. But they can do that during the summer some time.''
Some guys, you can see, were better than others at momentarily putting aside their current affiliations.
Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons
Even without alignment limitations, this was a popular choice. The East's reigning power (five consecutive appearances in the conference finals) vs. its team of right now. And Celtics-Pistons, thanks to Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Robert Parish, Bill Laimbeer and all the rest, has nearly as much vivid history as Celtics-Lakers.
"People have taken Detroit a little lightly this year,'' former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey said, "but they have the experience of being there and a veteran group. Rasheed Wallace probably is as serious as he's been in a long time. With that whole group of players and coaches, they're at a point where it's almost now or never.
"Boston has got experienced players, but the one thing they don't have is deep playoff experience. None of those three guys [Garnett, Pierce, Allen] has played in a Finals.''
For Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who was 8 years old the last time Bird and Thomas faced each other in the playoffs, recent history is more important than "ancient'' in this one.
"Paul Pierce went through some struggling years, rebuilding. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, obviously, they've got a lot of hungry All-Stars on that team trying to get over the hump," Chandler said. "Then you've got a team like Detroit that is poised and experienced and has been there time after time. I think they want to knock [Boston] off. And the key thing is, they match up so perfectly at every position.''
Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio Spurs
For sheer business reasons, the NBA might want to avoid this one; the 2005 Finals between Detroit and San Antonio sent Nielsen numbers plummeting to near-record lows. But there are diehards who wouldn't miss a second of the 336 minutes, spread across seven regulation games, between these veteran-heavy and postseason-tested teams. If nothing else, it would give Wallace a do-over for when he left Robert Horry open for that overtime three-pointer in Game 5.
"I'm an old-fashioned, traditional type of person,'' Hornets forward David West said. "So I'd like Pistons and Spurs. I like the fact that they play the game the right way. There's not a whole lot of flashy lights with either team. They just go out and get the job done. Now, NBA marketing people wouldn't like that. But I'm a basketball fan."
New Orleans Hornets vs. Houston Rockets
Few mention either of these clubs as Finals favorites, but they authored two refreshing stories this season. The Hornets set a franchise record for victories, chasing the West's No. 1 seed almost out of nowhere. And Houston ran off 22 straight victories, a dozen of them after Yao Ming went down with what so many assumed would be a season-snuffing injury for the center and his team. And we haven't even mentioned the clubs' best players yet.
"Here is this young team emerging with a great player like Chris Paul, entering the playoffs for the first time as a contender,'' Tucker said. "Then you have T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] in Houston, a veteran but still a player who never has won a playoff series.''