6/01/09 NBA Tracker: Mikey's Finals Edition

michael wongCorrespondent IJune 1, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 30:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a play against the Orlando Magic in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 30, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I know my fans and my regular readers know that I am not the 'biggest' fan or analyst of NBA basketball.

Normally, I don't even watch NCAA basketball, except for during March Madness when one of my teams from the ACC-conference are playing in it.

So in review, I don't really watch basketball in any form except for when they get to the games that count. That means the playoffs.

Now recently (as recently as last season when the Boston Celtics made their surprise run to an NBA Championship), my close friend J. Stark started bringing up the NBA playoffs every single day at the bar where I work.

I wasn't really as interested last season as I was this season, for reasons that hit close to home. As I typed up some new articles about my beloved Baltimore Ravens, I had the Denver and Cleveland games on my television screen with the volume turned down so it wouldn't distract me from my work.

Yes, that means that I have been paying attention this season. No, this doesn't mean that I will be turning my attention away from the NFL.

The reasons for my suddenly-renewed interest in the NBA are sometimes as strange and confusing to me as they will be to you. I've always liked the play of Kobe Bryant and unlike most of the rest of America, I know how to separate between Kobe the player and Kobe the person.

The other players that I have immense respect for and have loved watching over the years—albeit sometimes as ESPN Sportscenter highlights—are Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards.

I absolutely love hearing good news on how Carmelo and the Nuggets are doing for this simple reason. Carmelo Anthony is one of Baltimore's favorite sons. He was born and raised in the MD-area and has never done anything to deserve less.

I found myself pleasantly surprised when I found myself cheering and watching the USA-basketball team win Olympic gold.

Gilbert Arenas is a star on a team that frequently provides little or no help to him. Just his playing in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitian area provides me a lot of game highlights, even if I do not normally like Washington-area teams.

I don't like the Nationals. I don't like the Capitals (maybe a little) and I absolutely hate the Washington Redskins (99 percent of the time). I don't really like the Wizards all that much but find myself rooting for them and Arenas just because they are so often the underdogs, fighting and clawing their way (somehow) into the playoffs.

As for LeBron James, it's very hard not to like him for one or more reasons. He has a great media personality, he's explosive and dynamic and seems to almost always play at a level that elevates everyone around him.

So now that I've given you guys some background information, here's my updated opinions about the past couple weeks of the NBA-Playoffs:


1. The ratings and interest in the NBA Finals are not going to be what they could have been if it had been between the Cavaliers and Lakers instead of the Magic and Lakers.

This does not mean I think the Cavaliers deserved to get to the NBA Finals. It just means that just about everyone was looking forward to the two best teams in the NBA regular season and their two MVPs battling it out for the NBA championship.

2. I was as upset at the catastrophic meltdown of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference championship as I was at the sportsmanship of LeBron after his loss in the Eastern Conference championship.

What happened? Did the pressure of his birthday combined with the bad calls in Game 5 finally get to Anthony and Billups? What happened to the Denver defense? I understand that it was difficult to pick between doubling Kobe and playing man-to-man but come on! That's what you get paid for, coach!

As for LeBron's actions after his team lost to the Magic in Game 6, I know how you feel, man. I understand that it's tough for you to deal with this when you had such high expectations for your team this season. You're still the face of the NBA and need to act like it.

Suck it up, apologize to Dwight Howard and the rest of the Orlando Magic and let bygones be bygones.

3. The Lakers played their best game in the '09 NBA playoffs during Game 6 of the Western Conference championships.

Kobe, Odom, Gasol and even the bench players really came through and shined during their Game 6 victory over the Nuggets. When given the opportunity at an open look, which was often during this game, just about every Laker who attempted a shot made it.

This is one of those rare games where an entire team plays up to their full potential—seldom seen in any professional sport. If they can play even close to this during the NBA Finals, they will win.

4. The Magic will be a tough team to beat for the Lakers given their physical play and their defensive prowess, led by reigning defensive player of the year Dwight Howard.

They didn't stifle the Cavalier's offense, but then again it's hard for any team to stifle the play of LeBron James, the reigning MVP. They did what they needed to though, and jumped on a 3-1 advantage to somehow clinch the Eastern Conference championship and a slot in the NBA Finals.

I am disappointed though in the Cavs for losing even when they played so dominant in the first two rounds. No one, not J nor me, thought they would lose to the Magic.

5. Denver and Cleveland will be better teams next season.

Perhaps they cruised through the first couple rounds of the playoffs too easily this season. We all saw the Lakers lose to the Celtics in six games last year, even though they had smashed everyone else on route to the title game.

I'm not saying that we will definitely see both teams in the conference finals again next season. After the debacle in Orlando, we don't even know if LeBron is even coming back to Cleveland next year.

I personally think that LeBron will not find another team where he has the opportunity to star as much as he does with the Cavaliers. What I am saying though is that if Anthony and Billups use this loss correctly, it will make them better next season.

The same goes for LeBron, Z and the rest of the Cavaliers. This is a very young team, for the most part, and will still have many years to win a championship or two or three.

Don't let the pressure and the taste of defeat in the conference finals dictate how you are perceived throughout the league. With all that talent and dominating skill, don't become the NBA's version of NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens.

PREDICTIONS: Los Angeles Lakers over the Orlando Magic in seven games.