Let's fast forward to the end of the season, shall we? Unlike the MLB and the NFL, let's face the hard reality of this game. If there was ever parity, no one alive can remember it. For those that can, they'd simply tell you to flip a coin between Russell's Celtics and the various greats that have strolled through Hollywood. Their marked footsteps are golden clad jersey's hanging from the rafters. The NBA is the sport of the Dynasty. Ironically enough, this years winner will not fit the mold of any of its forefathers. But as history has shown, it's impossible to re-arrange the alignment of the stars.
30 teams. 6 contenders.
1) The New York Knicks: Like LA, like OKC, the planets revolve around one solitary, fiery, explosive entity...Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony. He has officially obtained the team identity he's always wanted - him as the Alpha, surrounded by defenders and role players. The Knicks go as far as Mr. Melo can take them. With the departure of Jeremy Lin, all is well in the world for Anthony as his Knicks have played themselves into title contender conversation. His play has been MVP worthy. The jury is still out on whether he can not only keep it up for 82 games, but more importantly, can he raise his level of play if and when they lock horns with the world champion and reigning MVP? History hasn't been kind to him in the playoffs.
2. The Memphis Grizzlies: The most dangerous and slept on team of 2011 remains such in 2013. One WCF appearance and upset over the great San Antonio Spurs two years ago has made them legitimate. Legitimate enough to win the coveted Larry O'Brien? That's up for debate. In a superstar league, a team devoid of one, must play 2004 Detroit Pistons-like basketball to knock off goliaths. You are hardpressed to find a team similar to that. This team, as versatile as they are with scorers and defenders, doesn't have enough to WIN a title...yet.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: In Laker land, the nightmares of many is indeed a horrific reality. The Clippers are arguably the best team in the NBA. And the Lakers stand a chance of not even making the playoffs. Just typing that is bizarre in itself. The best point guard in the world (Chris Paul) is driving a 700 horsepower Maserati thru LA traffic with supreme confidence and aplomb. The game looks easy and the Clippers are playing streetball with arguably the best 6th man in the game channeling Nick Van Exel in Jamal Crawford. With Deandre Jordan developing his offensive game, Blake being Blake, Chauncey Billups yet to return and Mr. Intangible Grant Hill set to return this week, they will only get better. The WCF is realistic for them. But will Scott Brooks and/or Popovich out-coach Vinny Del Negro once the pace slows down in the playoffs?
4. San Antonio Spurs: The New England Patriots of the NBA. They are always in the conversation and for all the right reasons. A great point guard, a hall of fame coach, arguably the greatest power forward of all-time, and the perfect role players for the perfect system. And then, the achillles heel. They are old, they are old, they are old. At least 2/3 of their core is. Popovich sending home his players on long road trips works during the regular season. During the playoffs, it's not an option. Once OKC tied the series 2-2 after dropping the first two games in San Antonio, everyone saw the writing on the wall. The young will win. And the old will sit with their dignity.
Miami vs. OKC. Part 2
The best from each coast will lock horns in a 7-game battle for all the world to fawn over. This will be better than the first for all the obvious reasons; the revenge of a battle tested opponent, the reluctance of a champion to be unseated. 2011 proved to be the rite of passage for Miami to ascend. History may repeat itself in turn for Kevin Durant and company. My prediction...
Miami in 7.