Wild Western Conference Is David Stern's NBA Playoff Nightmare
David Stern and the NBA may not want you to see what happens next.
Well, that's not entirely true...they want you to see what happens next, and that's part of the problem.
Now that we're in the heart of the conference semifinals, it's become more apparent than ever that the West is an absolute mess—in a good way. Sort of.
Anything can happen in the Western Conference. And when I say "anything," I mean absolutely anything. This is the same conference that saw a stacked team like the Los Angeles Lakers nearly miss the playoffs, a conference where a Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks didn't make the postseason, and a conference where the eighth-place team (Houston Rockets) won 45 games.
Since the playoffs began, nothing has changed.
Not only did the first round see two upsets (Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies) but it saw an unbridled Rockets convocation push a 3-0 deficit to a Game 6. It was maddening...and awesome.
Injuries to Kobe Bryant, David Lee, Danilo Gallinari, Jeremy Lin, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are not amusing by any means, but these physical afflictions have created an equilibrium that even the Western Conference couldn't see coming.
And where has it left us? Staring the down the barrel of the most unlikely of Western Conference Finals matchups between the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors.
Said matchup isn't etched in stone by any means—nothing in the West ever is. But it's a possibility. The Grizzlies have the Westbrook-less (and might as well be Ibaka-less) Oklahoma City Thunder on the ropes, while the Warriors continue to toy with the emotions of the Gregg Popovich-led San Antonio Spurs.
Like I said, utter chaos.
If you were to tell me you initially forecasted a postseason bracket that had the Grizzlies and Warriors squaring off in the Western Conference Finals, I wouldn't believe you (the burning pants would give you away). Had you told me two months or even a month ago that you could see this happening, I would have thought you deluded.
Yet here it is, a legitimate possibility.
Not that I nor you should have anything against either team. The Grizzlies are so unbelievable on the defensive end that I'm not entirely sure how teams score on them at all. They have defensive rotations and the concept of "helping the helper" down to a science.
The Warriors are equally as captivating on the offensive end. Stephen Curry only needs one of his ankles to catch fire, and Mark Jackson has managed to motivate a very young team to accomplish feats that were thought to be beyond its abilities.
Which the NBA has to love...but could secretly hate.
Of all the possible Western Conference Finals matchups, this one could stand to hurt them most from a marketing and financial standpoint.
Had only one of them made it, no big deal. But both? Uh-oh.
The other half could have been a Lakers team immersed in controversy and big names. Or the Rockets with a bearded wonder (James Harden) and the global-phenom-turned-normal Jeremy Lin. Or a Clippers faction that hails from Lob City with Chris Paul from Blake Griffin.
Or a Denver Nuggets contingent that was so dominant at home, you actually thought they housed a superstar. Or a Spurs aggregate brimming with future Hall of Famers that is, in fact, the furthest thing from boring. Or a Thunder coterie led by a not-so-nice-but-really-super-nice Kevin Durant.
But the Warriors? And the Grizzlies?
John Madden-style (who is, of course, known for saying the same thing over and over and over again), I've got nothing against either franchise. I want to see them play each other. I even predicted it (at the beginning of Round 2).
From a national interest standpoint, though, the NBA could face some obstacles.
There won't be a Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard or Chris Paul or Tony Parker (you get the point) to market around.
There will be Stephen Curry and the Defensive Player of the Year (who apparently wasn't worthy of a first-team All-Defense selection) in Marc Gasol. There will be an All-Star in Zach Randolph and a coach that won't quit in Mark Jackson. There will be the best backcourt in NBA history (according to Jackson) against the most stifling defense in the West.
Am I saying that this is the Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks of conference finals matchups? Of course not (thank God). But you've got to look at it from where Stern and his band of minions are sitting.
Which Western Conference Finals matchup would be the most difficult for the NBA to market?
With no irrefutable Hall of Fame-bound perennial All-Stars or top markets in the mix, this particular combination becomes an experiment in which Stern may not want to partake. Can two smaller-market organizations hold the attention of a global audience?
I want to say yes. I really do. Partly because I want to be right, but mostly because this matchup would be so entertaining.
Neither the Grizzlies nor Warriors come from the biggest of locales. They're not even buried in a rich postseason history. But they have two of the most loyal fanbases in the league and present an interesting dynamic.
We don't know, but we just may find out. Which (potentially) scares the hell out of David Stern.
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