Let's be realistic here. The league is not sending out memos to the referees to advance Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. After the betting scandals the league has faced, there is going to be no legitimate conspiracy this season.
With that in mind, let's be perfectly honest with ourselves once again. The NBA promotes its stars harder than any other American sport. In the last decade, it has catered to the league's top players and transformed the rules to promote scoring, which ultimately produces revenue.
To the league's credit, it allowed zone defenses after watching its stars get hammered by international teams. The NBA game had focused so much on pampering to its stars that the United States was unable to compete with international rules in effect.
However, the NBA is still a business. Any productive business looks at the bottom line. There's no doubt who the NBA and everyone else wants to see in the finals. The revenue from a lengthy L.A. vs. Cleveland series to any other scenario would be millions of dollars in the can.
NBA officials are well-aware of who pays their checks. They are also aware of everything mentioned above.
This is what you can look to see in the next two weeks:
Referees will be afraid to make calls against LeBron and Kobe down the stretch. The league will back any call in their favor. A bad call that possibly eliminates Cleveland or L.A. would be career suicide.
A good call that eliminates either team won't be much better.
I'm not suggesting the league would fire an official, but this is a mistake no NBA referee will be willing to make.
The sixth foul called on Dwight Howard in game one of Magic/Cavs series will be made every time. Howard probably has had a play like that called on him all year. The league needs Howard during the season and early in the playoffs, but June is for LeBron and Kobe.
June is when the money is made, and the NBA is still a business. The league wants to give the people what the people want to see. Any good business delivers what they advertise.
Whether you agree or disagree, you can bet the finals will feature Kobe and LeBron.