Saturday, April 17, 2010

The NBA Playoffs are here!

Everybody loves March Madness. The excitement created by the one-and-done format is nearly impossible to match and most basketball fans like the college game more than the NBA game.

The common complaints I hear are that players don't play defense in the NBA, the refs don't call travels, superstars get all the calls and the college game is more representative of basketball in its purist sense. But once you can look past all that, which is tough for some, you realize what there is to appreciate about the NBA.

The talent level is out of this world. There are over 300 Division I college basketball teams and just 30 in the NBA. The draft is just two rounds long, meaning each year only 60 players enter the league, discluding rookie free agents. That's one player for every five college teams! Take the best player off one of every five teams and he is the only NBA-caliber player there. Not to mention that he might not even make it in the league.

There's a reason competitive college games are played in the 50s and NBA scoring reaches 100 consistently: It's virtually impossible to play defense on these guys. How many players and teams were able to defend John Wall or Evan Turner this season? Very few if any, because they have NBA talent. Players who can be defended don't make it in the league and if they do, it's because they do the little things like rebound, defend and hustle.

Now, back to my excitement over the start of the playoffs. The majority of NBA Playoff games are closely contested and include, to whatever extent it's possible, tough defense. That's why as much as I love watching Steve Nash and the Suns this season, that up-tempo game won't succeed in the playoffs if they can't defend in the half-court set.

People love March Madness because of the upsets and the buzzer beaters and, while the NBA features less upsets in a seven-game series format, there are plenty of games that come down to the final minutes and even the final possession. So what's there to complain about?

I love watching playoff basketball and that will never change. The talent level of players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dwayne Wade to name a few is simply amazing. The things these players do to will their teams to victory really is something to watch. It's just a shame that more people don't appreciate the NBA game for what it is.

It may not be the most fundamental game of basketball and the focus is more weighted towards one-on-one isolation over ball movement and finding the open man, but I've seen plenty of NBA players make the extra pass when they're open to somebody who is even more open; it's not all individualistic.

When you're name is Kobe or LeBron and you can get any shot you want and make it a high-percentage look, why wouldn't you? While James knows he can get his shot whenever he wants, he also understands the importance of keeping his teammates active in the game; those assist numbers are near 9 per game for a reason.

I will be enjoying as much of the NBA Playoffs as I can, despite the fact the Knicks have gone from yearly participant to cellar-dwelling joke. And anyone who truly loves the game of basketball should too. If nothing else, you'll be able to appreciate the level of talent on display.

And for the record, my pick is Lakers over Cavs in 7 and LeBron books it for the Big Apple after the season. A man can dream, can't he?

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