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Can't remember the good old days, when the NBA postseason was the domain of Magic, Larry and Michael? (In other words, when it was really, really fun?) Then heed this advice: Go west, young fan. ¶ This year the Western Conference playoffs comprise eight 50-win teams, the best (the defending champion Lakers) and the worst (the playoff debutant Thunder) separated by a mere seven games in the standings. The average difference between the 1 and 8 seeds in the past 20 nonstrike seasons: 19.6 games. Fans have seen frenetic offensive displays, moments of individual brilliance and sublime play from unexpected sources. ¶ And it's been happening on a daily basis.
On the Fast Track
by LEE JENKINS
If you want to talk about the triangle offense, go see Tex Winter. For the full-court press, it's Rick Pitino. Paul Westhead's subject is scoring—feverish and unmitigated scoring—the likes of which are rarely seen in the NBA and almost never in the playoffs, where hand checks and half-court sets rule.
In the West, though, the shackles are off. As Westhead watches the Suns put up 66 points in the first half of Game 3 in Portland, he clearly feels a kinship. "They are doing it differently," he says. "But they are in my world."
He is sitting in his office at the University of Oregon, television on, ballpoint pen and eight pieces of blank paper by his side. He can see a play on the screen and re-create it on the page almost in real time. Phoenix point guard Steve Nash and small forward Grant Hill cross paths in the middle of a fast break, freeing Hill for an open 10-foot jumper. "That's a drag play," Westhead says, scribbling two intersecting lines. "It's like a pick-and-roll on the move."
Nash corrals a loose ball and races downcourt, finding Jason Richardson in the corner for a three. "Two guard runs down the right side and spots up," Westhead says, scrawling two parallel lines. "Steve knows he is going to be there."
Suns big man Amar'e Stoudemire grabs a rebound and flings an overhead pass to Nash at half-court, where he throws a lob to Richardson. "Running teams need that outlet pass," Westhead says, drawing a dotted line. "Without it they cut their point guard in half."
At 71, Westhead has coached in the NBA, ABA and WNBA; in Japan and Puerto Rico; men's college basketball and now women's, at Oregon. He instructs the Ducks to shoot in five seconds or less ("Preferably less") and tells them, "If you get to the end of the shot clock, just hand the ball to the other team, because you've already suffered the ultimate embarrassment."