Monday, April 30, 2018

How to Enjoy the Griz-less NBA Playoffs

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2018 at 10:58 AM

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What’s a grit-and-grinder to do during the NBA playoffs without any Beale Street Blue? For the first time in eight years, Memphis basketball fans have been forced to watch the NBA’s best determine a champion without the Grizzlies in the mix. Fret not. Below are five ways to spark your rooting interest (or the precise opposite).

• Bad Guys Lose, Too
The Grizzlies have reached the playoffs 10 times and have been eliminated by a total of six franchises: the Spurs, Suns, Mavericks, Thunder, Clippers, and Warriors. Among this sinister six, only the Warriors are left for Griz fans to stomach as things get real in May. Find vicarious thrill, Memphis fans, in knowing the Spurs fan base — one that has cheered the elimination of the Grizzlies four times — has as much chance at a 2018 championship as those of us married to a 22-60 club. And let’s be honest: Any NBA postseason without the Clippers is better than one with L.A.’s second sons.

• Real Rivalry Renewed
Expansion and relocation have diluted NBA rivalries, but aside from Celtics-Lakers, there’s none better than Boston-Philly, a pair of original franchises now meeting in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In 1967, the 76ers ended the longest run of championships in the history of American pro sports when they beat the Boston Celtics to prevent a ninth consecutive championship for Bill Russell and friends. (The Celtics recovered and won the title the next two years.) The Celts and Sixers met in the Eastern finals four times over a six-year period (1980-85) when Larry Bird and Julius Erving were the two best forwards on the planet. The latest confrontation will miss Celtic stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but feature two of the most dynamic young stars in the sport: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. And those Grizzlies fans who got on board this winter’s tank ride can consider Philly the poster franchise for such big-picture tactics. Between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons, the Sixers won 19, 18, and 10 games for the right to grab their prize tandem.

• LeBron
We’ve reached the stage of LeBron James’s brilliant career where it’s impossible to turn away from his exploits. (Think Michael Jordan over the course of his second three-peat with the Bulls, now 20 years ago.) James’s Cavaliers are really the second playoff team that will feel the impact of Irving’s absence, the star guard having forced the trade that sent him from Cleveland to Boston last summer. Kevin Love has been a reasonable running mate, but these Cavs feel more like the faceless bunch James put on his back and carried to the Finals in 2007. Among the four teams left in the Eastern Conference, the three-time defending champs are actually the underdogs. For James to reach an eighth straight Finals, he’ll have to lead upsets — no home court advantage — over top-seeded Toronto and the winner of the Boston-Philly series. And if he does, that sculpture of James on the NBA’s Rushmore will gain a layer around the jaw line.

• The Villainy!
The Houston Rockets — owners of the NBA’s best record this season (65-17) — have the best backcourt in the game: Chris Paul and the league’s scoring champ, James Harden. They are also about as unlikable a duo as you’ll find. Paul, let’s be real, is a Clipper in Rockets clothing, best appreciated with a Tony Allen sneaker near his kisser. Harden’s greatest skill with the ball is drawing fouls. He shot 727 free throws in 72 games this season, almost 100 more than the second-most prolific foul “victim.” It’s like cheering the playground whiner (you remember him). The Rockets are the most likely team to topple the Warriors in the Western Conference. They’re also perhaps the only team fans would prefer Golden State backhand into the offseason.

• Oh, Canada
No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup in 25 years. With that the case, the Toronto Raptors aim to flip the North American sports script and take the Larry O’Brien Trophy north of the border. If you can’t find another team worth your support through May and June, the Eastern Conference’s top seed will do. And hey, four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry was once a Grizzly.

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