Monday, October 29, 2012

Heat vs. Lakers in the NBA Finals? Boring.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 9:29 AM

“Miami Heat hosts Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of 2013 NBA Finals”

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Predictability stinks. Predictability is like the common cold of sports. It happens far too frequently, and there’s no known cure.

Predictability is why fans of 29 major-league baseball teams root so hard against the New York Yankees, a given variable in the sport’s playoff structure for almost 20 years, a team with 16 more championships than the second-most successful franchise.

Predictability is why college football fans not wearing crimson have come to revile Nick Saban’s Alabama juggernaut. The Tide will win the 2012 national championship. Due respect to the Ducks of Oregon and the Wildcats of Kansas State (Kansas State?!). You’re playing for second.

The NBA, sadly, is growing too predictable for its own good. In 2007, after 21 years without a title, the Boston Celtics (basketball’s Yankees) added All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to a roster desperately in need of a talent infusion. In June 2008, the Celtics won their 17th NBA championship.

The Miami Heat followed the Celtics’ example and stretched the standard for super-team construction in 2010 by adding Chris Bosh and the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James, to a club already featuring Dwyane Wade. In 2012, the Heat manhandled the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

[You like unpredictable? Hang on to memories of the 2010-11 NBA season. Derrick Rose — merely 22 years old — interrupted James’s stranglehold on the MVP trophy, the Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, and the perennial bridesmaid Dallas Mavericks beat Miami — that very super team — in the Finals.]

Now we have the 2012-13 season, which opens Tuesday night with three games, featuring (predictably) the Celtics, Heat, and Lakers. In answer to the Heat’s roster inflation, the Los Angeles Lakers (basketball’s Crimson Tide) added a pair of All-NBA veterans in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Howard and Nash — the faces, respectively, of the Orlando and Phoenix franchises — merely supplement a team still centered around five-time champion Kobe Bryant. Here we go, formula firmly in place.

Now, don’t confuse predictable with familiar. Television ratings soar when Tiger Woods is in contention on the weekend. He’s the face of golf, the most important brand the sport can claim this side of Amen Corner at Augusta. But golf fans now recognize Woods can be held off on Sunday. They watch with rooting interest (for or against Woods), but with genuine doubt about the outcome.

When the Grizzlies open their 12th Memphis season Wednesday night in Los Angeles (against the Clippers), they’ll do so with one of the most familiar starting fives in the NBA. This will be the fourth season the Griz backbone is comprised of the same foursome: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, and Mike Conley. Compare this with those champion Mavericks of two seasons ago: only two starters remain in Dallas.

Can the familiar Grizzlies help prevent the oh-so-predictable NBA season I fear from unfolding? You get the sense this is the season for that Familiar Foursome to do what it’s destined to do. If that’s to be a good-not-great team, win another playoff series, and bow out with shoulders up, so be it. Maybe this group of Grizzlies is destined to disappoint. After the exhilarating tease of 2011 — one game shy of the Western Conference finals — they’ll be unable to take that fabled “next step.”

My sense is that the 2012-13 Grizzlies are precisely what the NBA needs, at least that segment of an enormous following not so devoted to super teams. The Lakers — on paper, predictably — stand atop the West at the season’s dawn. The defending West champs took a step back by trading James Harden to Houston. Dallas is on the way down and the Spurs . . . surely Tim Duncan will start feeling his age. Right?

Back to that common cold analogy. If the NBA induces the sniffles — maybe a scratch in the throat — while the Heat and Lakers march toward June, consider our Memphis Grizzlies the chicken soup. Tonic for the malaise of predictability.

“Miami Heat Hosts Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of 2013 NBA Finals”

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