A SIDE FROM the
Cavaliers' predictable Game 7 collapse on Sunday, which spelled an end to the
playoff miracles of LeBron James, the 2005-06 postseason has so far fulfilled
the NBA marketing mavens' grandest fantasies. At week's end an NBA-record nine
games had gone into overtime, eight had been decided by one point, and dramatic
shots had become an almost nightly occurrence. Not to mention these other
?A terrific first
round (only the Dallas Mavericks and the Detroit Pistons came through with
ease) was followed by an even more scintillating second. The Miami Heat,
perhaps the most maligned quarterfinalist, was the only team to close out its
series in fewer than seven games, turning back the New Jersey Nets in five.
?The Los Angeles
Clippers, a perennial equivalent to an NCAA 11th seed, supplied the George
Mason Factor by extending the Phoenix Suns to seven games. The Clips have a
talented nucleus that even parsimonious owner Donald Sterling will want to keep
together (provided it doesn't cost too much).
?In addition to
Detroit versus the new James Gang, compelling new rivalries emerged. The Suns
and the Lakers went at each other like barroom brawlers in the first round,
assuring that the chief individual combatants, Phoenix's Raja Bell and L.A.'s
Kobe Bryant, each will be greeted with maximum antipathy in the other's gym.
(Well, Kobe is accustomed to that.)
Also in the West,
the Mavericks-Spurs rivalry officially became Texas-sized long before Dallas
held off San Antonio 119-111 in Monday night's Game 7 in Alamo Town. Leave it
to Mavs owner Mark Cuban to get a bit carried away-"This is a series that
will be talked about like the Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the '80s," he
crowed-but he was spot-on in pointing out, "The NBA desperately needs
rivalries. It's what feeds the game." Cuban stoked the fires of this one,
calling San Antonio "a dump" and offering a bizarre conspiracy theory
to justify why his guy, Jason Terry, punched their guy, Michael Finley, in the
family jewels during a Game 5 scrum, earning Terry a Game 6 suspension.
The series, which
included two overtimes and five games decided by five points or fewer, even had
a little bit of ... David Hasselhoff? Yes, Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki confessed
that to ease tension at the free throw line, he sometimes hums Hasselhoff's
immortal Looking for Freedom, a hit in Germany when Nowitzki was a youth. Let's
be grateful it wasn't Wayne Newton's Danke Schoen.
?An enticing brand
of small ball became the rage, raising the level of unpredictability in many
games. "When in trouble, go small," says Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni,
"and when in big trouble, go smaller."
D'Antoni did just
that by frequently bringing 6'3" Leandro Barbosa off the bench to join
fellow guards Bell and Steve Nash against the bigger Clippers. The new rules
that limit hand checking on the perimeter have made it possible for smaller,
quicker players to move around more freely, as well as negated the strength of
big men when they're forced into pick-and-roll switches.
The Mavericks, by
using two point guards (the 6'2" Terry and 6'3" Devin Harris) along
with swingmen like Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse and Marquis Daniels, forced
the Spurs to downsize their rotation. Centers Nazr Mohammed and Rasho
Nesterovic played only a combined 198 minutes in seven games (a plus on the
aesthetic side, incidentally), and even 6'10" Robert Horry, Big Shot Rob in
playoffs past, spent extensive time on the bench, feeling, as he put it,
"like a damn dinosaur." Said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich before
Game 6, "I'd rather play big, but this is a way of life, and we'll live
Alas, the Spurs'
hopes for a repeat would die by it on Monday night. Still, for all of that, the
last four teams standing include one chalk pick from the preseason ( Detroit)
and the biggest of the big men ( Miami's Shaquille O'Neal). But now that Cuban
has an extra two weeks in the spotlight, May Madness is sure to extend into