Saturday, February 16, 2008
Alright, so it's not technically mid-season, but the All-Star Break always feels like the end of something and the beginning of something else, so it's hard to resist the temptation to break out some sort of "shape of things to come" post that will certainly be rife with inaccuracies, from both a factual and a speculative standpoint. I'm not one for predictions, but it's worth dwelling on the fact that this is shaping up to be one of the closest MVP races in recent memory. I can think of at least five guys right now who are in prime position to make a late-season run towards the award: those names would be, in no particular order: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Chris Paul. Alright, I guess I put them in alphabetical order.
Nash is admittedly the least likely of these candidates, partly because he's already won the award twice and partly because he's not as deserving as the other four, but he's having one of his best seasons from a statistical standpoint and if the Shaq trade ends up paying big dividends for the Suns, you'll surely see a lot of praise hurled Nash's way between now and the end of April. Paul is an interesting one: when you look at the year he's had and the stunning success of the Hornets (best record in the vaunted Western Conference), he surely belongs in the conversation. Still, the voters' maddening aversion to rewarding youth (see James, LeBron) will probably stand in the way of Paul taking home the hardware.
That leaves Kobe, KG and LeBron as the remaining triumvirate, and I'm pretty certain it'll come down to one of the three. Kobe might honestly be the front-runner at this point, particularly if the Lakers continue to shred things up in the wake of the Gasol trade. LeBron is so mindblowingly good it's almost shameful that he might have to wait another year for one of these awards, but I almost feel like he's destined for a Scorsese/Academy Awards situation, where his greatness is so taken for granted that people keep forgetting to formally recognize it. Cleveland's general mediocrity--they've been better recently, but it won't last--will probably also manage to detract from the mindblowing 30-8-7 he'll average for the year. KG is the sentimental favorite: a few weeks ago this award was all but his, and given how much the media loves him coupled with the stunning turnaround he's orchestrated in Boston (to considerable fanfare, which is also important), if he bounces back from the injury sooner rather than later he's right back in this thing. Still, with the Celtics' consistent dominance no longer news, and with Kobe's new supporting cast and LeBron's knack for otherworldly performance, it feels like it's between employees #23 and #24 this year, which is probably sort of fitting.
As for the actual teams (which, I suppose, is why they play the games), well, things are interesting. Barring some catastrophic injury, I feel like we should just pencil in the C's and Pistons for the Eastern Conference Finals now; I just don't really see anyone else hanging with those two teams in a seven-game series. As mentioned above, Cleveland's played better recently, and as last year showed, never underestimate LeBron, but I think that lesson has been sufficiently learned and I don't think Cleveland's got the talent to hang with these Celtics or a Detroit team that's still humiliated from last year. Orlando's good but not yet good enough. I see an epic Celtics-Pistons series, and, dare I say it, I see the C's winning in 7.
The West is way crazier; the way I see it, there's at least six or seven teams that could conceivably make it out of the Western Conference come playoff time. Make no mistake, the Western Conference playoffs will be the most exciting thing on television this May; I'm already excited. I honestly have no idea who will make it out, and don't even want to predict; there's been so much shakeup over the past few weeks, and it's impossible to know what teams will look like two months from now. An Eastern Conference optimist might be tempted to point out that the prospect of WC teams beating up on each other for weeks leading up to the Finals might give the EC champ a chance to steal away the last series, but that's the argument we hear every single year before said WC champ strolls in and calmly eviscerates their callow Eastern opponent in all its alleged spryness. That said, as it stands right now, both Boston and Detroit are playing better basketball than any Eastern Conference team in years, so anything can happen.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my final earthshaking insight, arrived at through five paragraphs of deep reflection and introspection: Anything. Can. Happen.