Reasons to Root for Each Team Left in NBA Playoffs
J. Meric/Getty Images
With only four teams remaining in the NBA playoffs, most fanbases across the country are already looking forward to next season. That being said, the two conference finals being contested currently are producing high-quality basketball games.
Even if your favorite team is already on summer vacation, there are a plethora of reasons to cheer for the remaining squads.
While each team still in contention is different, they all have a few things in common. They are all competent on the defensive end and are composed of mature players who understand how to fit into their teams' systems.
At this point of the postseason, mental mistakes can be the difference between a win and a loss. That was the case at the end of overtime between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when Paul George overplayed LeBron James, allowing the MVP to take an uncontested layup that won the game.
With stars such as James, George, Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol all vying for the championship, the final weeks of the season promise to be exciting.
Each team has compelling reasons as to why people should jump on the bandwagon as playoff action gets even more intense and dramatic.
Miami Heat: Excellence
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The Miami Heat were without question the league's most-disliked team after LeBron James made his decision to take his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010.
At the time, the thought of James joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the Big Three was blasphemous. Legends of the past such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did not join forces with other stars in free agency, as they all chose to stay loyal to the big-market teams that drafted them.
While that may have been true then, today's NBA is far different from the one that existed in the 1980s and '90s. There are simply too many superstars and talented teams to win a title single-handedly, although the icons of yesteryear didn't do it alone either.
Johnson, Bird and Jordan each had the pleasure of playing with other Hall of Famers during their various title runs. That luxury is something James never enjoyed in Cleveland, as the only other star he played with was an over-the-hill Shaquille O'Neal in 2009-10.
Since the inception of Miami's Big Three era, the Heat have reached the NBA Finals twice and hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy after the 2012 postseason. The victory did some good in changing how the public viewed them in some cases, but they are still a far way off from becoming America's team.
So why root for the Heat?
The answer is simple. Rooting for the Heat is synonymous with cheering for excellence at this point.
Miami linked together 27 straight wins this season, which was the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. During the winning streak, the Heat displayed a level of supremacy the league hasn't seen in years.
According to NBAUniverse.com, the 66-16 record compiled by the Heat this season is tied for the 11th-best mark in league history. In fact, Miami's record was coincidentally the same as the 2009 edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This brings us to the next point: LeBron James is an extraordinary basketball player.
James was so good this season that he compiled the seventh-best PER in league history, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The only players to post a higher PER are Wilt Chamberlain (three times) and Michael Jordan (twice), with James' 2008-09 season accounting for the other spot in the top seven.
Even though the Heat are not beloved, it's difficult to argue that this season's team is not one of the best to be assembled over the past decade.
San Antonio Spurs: Legends at Stake
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
The San Antonio Spurs benefited from Russell Westbrook's injury more than any other team, as the Oklahoma City Thunder proved to be far less dangerous without their star point guard.
The Thunder, who knocked the Spurs out in the Western Conference Finals during the 2012 postseason, are sitting on their couches at home watching the games just like the rest of us.
The injury to Westbrook created a magnificent opportunity for the Spurs' legendary foursome of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and head coach Gregg Popovich to win another ring.
In order to reach the NBA Finals, San Antonio has to win one more game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
An elimination at the hands of the Grizzlies would represent the second straight postseason in which the Spurs failed to represent the conference in the NBA Finals after being up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals.
Is that something the basketball community wants added to one of the NBA's most consistent and successful stories ever?
Also, rooting against the Spurs means hoping that Duncan loses.
Considering Duncan's squeaky-clean history and the way he is revered as both a person and player, it is almost sacrilegious to cheer against him.
Duncan is the big man who keeps the Spurs' wheels moving, even if he just wrapped up the 16th regular season of his illustrious career.
The numbers Duncan posted this season per 36 minutes are nearly identical to what he posted back in 2003-04, according to Basketball-Reference.com, which is simply ridiculous.
How has Duncan managed to remain productive?
It's a multi-faceted answer, with the coaching of Popovich and the technical soundness of Duncan's game being the two primary reasons.
Duncan has not averaged more than 35 minutes per game over the course of a regular season since 2003-04, a change that Popovich deemed necessary in order to prolong his superstar's career.
Another aspect of the Spurs that makes them likable is the job GM R.C. Buford and the rest of their front office have done over the years.
Simply put, San Antonio's decision-makers know what it takes to win and what players will adequately fit into Popovich's system and locker room culture, as demonstrated by the development of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green.
The Spurs' front office has been able to find value where others can't on a consistent basis, and sometimes it's nice to root for the best in the business.
Indiana Pacers: Blue Collar
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
This Indiana Pacers team is an embodiment of hard workers everywhere, as they never take a possession off on the defensive end of the court. Indiana's voracious stoppers finished second in scoring defense during the regular season and are their calling card.
Paul George has emerged as a superstar since the beginning of the postseason, as he has been the best player on a formidable Pacers team. So far in the playoffs, the Fresno State product is averaging 19.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists while playing 41.7 minutes per game.
The ascension of George has been meteoric, and he certainly deserved the Most Improved Player of the Year Award given to him this season.
Few things could make George's third season more impressive, but knocking LeBron James and the Miami Heat out of the playoffs would overshadow everything he has done thus far.
Although he's already on his way, a triumph over the Heat would make George a household name.
Wouldn't it be better to jump on the Paul George bandwagon before that upswing?
On another note, the Pacers depend heavily on their starting five and would benefit greatly from having a deeper bench. According to HoopStats.com, Indiana's starters averaged 33 minutes per game, which was the fifth-highest average among all teams.
Throughout the postseason, only three of the Pacers' reserves have averaged more than 10 minutes per game, which speaks to the intense workload being given to their starters.
Indiana's starting five leave everything they have on the court each time out; that much cannot be disputed. Their grit and tough play is easy to root for, as Indy will never lose a game due to being outhustled.
Even though the Pacers' starters have gone through a grinding season, there hasn't been a lapse in their effort up to this point. After dropping a heartbreaking Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, Indiana bounced back to win Game 2.
That type of resiliency is admirable, which makes the Pacers an easy team to root for.
Memphis Grizzlies: True (Efficient) Grit
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Memphis Grizzlies front office is not scared of making big moves, as evidenced by their decision to move Rudy Gay prior to the trading deadline.
When the Grizzlies hired John Hollinger to be their vice president of basketball operations, the writing was on the wall. Hollinger, known for creating the PER stat, emphasizes studying statistics and numbers when evaluating both teams and players.
While the Grizzlies could have taken the safe approach and held on to Gay until after the season, the front office decided not to postpone the inevitable and pulled the trigger.
At the time, it appeared that trading Gay would limit the Grizzlies' offensive production. The University of Connecticut product was capable of creating his own shot, which was important for the Grizzlies' offensive game plan.
Gay had the ability to get Memphis out of trouble late in the shot clock, but he hurt them in various other ways.
According to 82Games.com, the Grizzlies' numbers are better with Tayshaun Prince starting at small forward rather than Gay. Memphis is better with Prince in terms of effective shooting percentage, effective shooting percentage allowed to opponents and in the winning percentage for the unit based on wins versus losses.
Basically, the Grizzlies are better on both ends of the court without Gay, as his absence made the offense more efficient and balanced.
The Grizzlies have made bold moves over the past year and are better off for it. If Memphis is able to make it to the NBA Finals, its decision to buck conventional wisdom may catch on across the entire league.
For that reason alone, rooting for the Grizzlies is worth it. While the NBA is still unpredictable, the current CBA has changed the way in which teams are able to build a roster.
In the current tax-heavy system, teams from smaller markets have no choice but to take risks while being innovative. That's exactly what Memphis tried to do. Let's hope it works.