The NBA playoffs are opening this weekend. Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop blog joined Bill Littlefield to discuss some of the 16 teams vying for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
BL: Oklahoma City lost to Miami in the Finals last year. If they manage to take that next step this postseason, who will appreciate that more, the fans of Oklahoma City, or the NBA?
HA: I was asking people: If you can have your choice, if the same two teams as last year or any other combination … and people seemed to think they want the same matchup, that’s the most likely thing. And it is good for the NBA, in that these are two team-centric, star-led, mid-sized markets. There’s a lot to like here. But it’s not the Lakers and Celtics in terms of ratings cache.
BL: “Team-centric” and “star-led,” what a remarkable combination.
HA: This is the new trend in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, these are players who just want to win. When I started covering the NBA, you know, it was all about get the highest points per game total and have the nicest car and the fanciest jewelry and furs and everything. That’s not the story. This recession-era NBA, these guys are trying to do it the right way.
BL: The defending champion Miami Heat went 66 and 16, which was the best record in the regular season. At one point they won 27 in a row. Few teams have had a better regular season. But how significant is the best regular season record and the streak once the post-season begins?HA: It’s not a very good predictor. You need to win over 55 games to really be a contender and as you get further over there, they don’t matter much in terms of historical precedent in terms of, you know, winning a title. But the reason that it matters is because the Heat have been so good, not just in the record but also in how they beat you. They have three famous stars—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh—but now they also have three-point shooters, this is the key, and there’s still not a good way to stop it.
BL: One would assume they’ll have an easy time with the eighth-seeded Bucks, but Milwaukee has played the Heat pretty tightly recently. Will the Bucks pose early round problems for the South Beach LeBrons?
The Bucks have possibly the best interior defender in the NBA in Larry Sanders, who’s had an amazing season. So it won’t be a cakewalk, but [the Bucks aren't] the team that’s going to knock off the Heat.
BL: This is the Nets’ first postseason representing Brooklyn. I don’t know how well they’re going to do in the playoffs, but I do know that Nets forward Jerry Stackhouse wears number 42. So that has to be a good omen, right?
HA: I actually picked the Bulls. I mean the Bulls are horribly undermanned playing the Nets, but I think the Nets committed too much money to players who aren’t that good, and they had an up-and-down season for a team with such a high payroll. For some reason I just don’t feel the magic is there. It hinges on Deron Williams, the Nets’ point guard, who at times in his career has been a candidate to be the best point guard in the NBA, but was mediocre for much of the season but has come on stronger lately. I just have a feeling whether it’s in the first round or the second round, the Nets are due to disappoint.
BL: Give me someone who could surprise everyone in the playoffs.
HA: The Knicks are one. The Warriors have Stephen Curry, who is a candidate to be the best shooter in NBA history. Those teams, they could literally rip off four wins anytime if they hit a whole bunch of threes, so that’s worth worrying about. But in the big picture, I really think the only contenders this year are the Spurs, the Thunder, and the Heat, and so whoever makes it to the finals against the Heat will make a very exciting series out of it, but without injury I think the Heat are on rails to the NBA finals.
BL: There are new flopping rules for the NBA playoffs. Give me a candidate for somebody to flop five times, get caught each time, and get suspended during the postseason.
HA: Chris Paul will flop five times, I can guarantee that, but they haven’t really been nailing superstars for this. The league office has total discretion. They watch the video on their schedule after the games and enforce it as often as they want to, and it just seems like they haven’t wanted to very much, and if that’s the case the rule’s pretty gutless.
BL: This week the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers became the only two NBA teams ever to play an 81-game season. I wonder what people are going to make of that in an asterisk sort of way?
HA: This is going to be an interesting note forever and a way by which the events of the Boston Marathon this week will be remembered by NBA historians or anyone who follows the league because, you know, that Indiana-Boston game that was supposed to take place on Tuesday never happened. And I can’t recall anything like this ever happening where there’s just this lost game as it were. And there wasn’t a need for the playoff seeding so much to make it up and the schedule was too tight so they are going to go without it, but I sort of like the idea of just letting the game go in honor of a horrible day.