NBA 2011: Season Awards and Play-off Previews
I don't get this. I really don't.
At the onset of the play-offs last year, there were a few clear-cut favorites to win the whole nine yards.
Cleveland (foolishness in retrospect) had a chance, the Lakers were in it to win it and Boston was praying for a healthy Kevin Garnett and Ubuntu while most of us had written them off. Phoenix never stood a chance to win and yet they demolished the patriarchal Spurs and came within an Artest tip-in (yes, THAT RON ARTEST!!) of reaching the NBA Finals.
And like any other NBA year, the Lakers won it all in a scruffy and brutal Game 7 against Boston. Good for the NBA? Good for me? Maybe. But I want to see someone different now and I might just get my wish because this year who knows? I mean really, who in the world can look me straight in the eye and tell me that no team in the league can beat his over 7 games.
Bollocks, I tell you! If i start making picks for the play-offs that just kicked off in the Land of the Michael I might as well just dress up as a clown. It's just far far easier to do.
How can I pick against the Lakers? Bynum or no Bynum they've got an infuriated Kobe Bryant looking to draw level with His Airness with a 6th ring! Bryant ended the season in style, closing out the soulless Kings who were facing the heart-breaking prospect of relocation. And then to top it all off, the latent poet in the Black Mamba promptly surfaced, eloquently blurted out a two worded slur at referee Bernie Williams that rhymed with "Ducking Maggot", and got himself fined 0.4% of his hefty salary. Kobe Bryant, Check!
Who will win the East?
His other Royal Majesty, the glorious decision maker who single-handedly rejuvenated interest in the NBA this season has more than just one point to prove. For the last two years, LeBron James led the mostly-irrelevant Cleveland Cavaliers to the upper echelon of the regular season, shouldering an unbearable load and willing his team to 66 and 61 wins respectively. The story then unravels like this:
James leaves Cavs. Gilbert curses James. Cavs win 19 games. That's impact for you. The impact of one player on an entire team. Win Share statistics don't mean a thing here. LeBron James was worth over 40 wins to the Cavaliers. Period.
But this isn't a preview of the play-offs. The Spurs if healthy, look extremely dangerous while Boston looks to shift a couple of gears after their perhaps championship-ending mid-season trade that let go of the ubiquitous inside presence of Kendrick Perkins.
And then there's the 'winningest' team in the league where league MVP Derrick Rose, along with the defensive brilliance of Tom Thibodeau galvanized the entire city of Chicago and made them believe that there's a sniff in the air of a Jordan-like renaissance on its way.
See, I told you! You just can't tell. And this is when I conveniently left out the ageing, yet solid Mavericks and the youthful Thunder.
Who will win the West?
As the Pacers try and spring a surprise at the United Center (I'm told with 2 minutes left, Zeus descended from Olympus, entered Derrick Rose's body and proceeded to do the following - drive through a packed lane for an "and-one", make a money-ball floater in the lane and then dish out to a wide open Kyle Korver for the silky three. He then made two free throws, gave the cake to Noah to put the icing on with two blocks and trudged back to Olympus). Anyway, here's my edition of some awards that the NBA officially fails to award each year, and some that they do:
The Michael Jordan Award for the Best Player in the League
Not necessarily the best player on the best team. Not necessarily the player with the greatest impact on his team. Nope. This one is pure, plain and simpler than Vince Carter's baldness. It's the best player in the league irrespective of his team's performance, and this year's winner is LeBron James.
On a team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the vilified superstar shot 51% from the field and averaged 7.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists! Argue with that because I'm not. LeBron may be a choker, LeBron may be an egomaniac and LeBron may be Benedict Arnold but LeBron is the league's best player and it's not even close!
The Dwight Howard Defensive Player of the Year Award
As the award suggests, the winner has to resemble the defensive prowess of Dwight Howard who is a beastly-blocker and glass-grabber among others. It's easy, the person who resembles Howard the most is...well...Dwight Howard and the award goes to him with a post-script guaranteeing a few more for the years to come
The Where's-My-Cigar Red Auerbach Award
Phil Jackson is 11 going on 12 but there was a dignified flamboyance in the Red Auerbach legend that names the award in his honor. Poppovich embraced offence in an ageing Spurs trio, limited Duncan's minutes and still managed 61 wins. George Karl battled cancer, saw out the Carmelo tantrum and made Denver seem like a better team without him. Doug Collins took a 76'ers team full of bits and pieces, started out 3-13 and ended 41-41.
But Tom Thibodeau instilled an invaluable defensive mindset in the Chicago Bulls, gave Derrick Rose the reins to the Chicago stallion and ignored the absence of Boozer and Noah to give the Bulls the best record in the league. Light up Tom! No one is taking this one away from you.
The 2004-05 Run-n-Gun Award for the Most Exciting Team to Watch
Named after a Steve Nash outfit that won 62 games without defence simply by taking shots within seven seconds of possession, this award is anything but a gimme. I loved watching the Bulls, the Heat and the Thunder among others. Westbrook blossomed into an elite triple-double threat of a point guard and Durant ended up with a scoring title while Serge Ibaka swatted flies at the rim and James Harden played third banana to near perfection.
But in a season of crests and troughs with numbing disappointment and exhilarating triumphs, the Miami Heat edge out the rest of the league. Simply put, I always felt a subconscious shiver of excitement when Wade and James clicked in tandem and that's why they win this one.
The I-Make-Stars-Out-Of-Unknown-Players Award
After Suns management literally tore the team to shreds by shipping Stoudemire off to the Big Apple, replacing him with Hakim Warrick and then delusionally thinking that Vince Carter was still capable of leaping over Frederick Weis, I wouldn't have thought it poor of Steve Nash to mentally throw in the towel at such idiocy. Instead, the diminutive Canadian almost shot the hallowed 50-40-90 for the umpteenth time and made Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat seem like potent threats. If that's not reason enough, I don't know what is. There's no defence in the Nash lexicon but the two-time MVP continues to command the floor with the wisdom and craft of a seasoned general.
The Get-That-****-Outta-Here Award for Ball Swatting
While Dwight Howard may be a beast at the rim, JaVale McGee gave the John Wall wizards something to cheer about as he churned out block after block with an unparalleled ferocity. Any time you do this to Wade and Bosh you've got my vote. Oh, and he might have deserved the dunk contest too! McGee has the arms of an albatross and an innate will to reject. As Wall develops and the Wizards learn the art of cohesion, look for triple-dunker JaVale to be a Sportscenter regular.
The Unstoppable-Force-Of-Nature Award
Make no mistake about it, LeBron James used to own this award and it's not like he did anything to lose it. But this season saw the rise of two extremely opposite contenders who just disregarded everything with disdain as they attempted to put ball in basket.
Blake Griffin, one year wiser for breaking his kneecap, treated the NBA to highlights reminiscent of the explosiveness of a young Shawn Kemp. From jumping over cars, to assembling an inspiring montage of pupil-widening highlights, Griffin brought sexy back to basketball and compiled a rookie season worthy of remembrance for years to come.
Derrick Rose, one of the new wave of extraordinarily talented point guards in the NBA has the build of a miniature bulldozer. This season, he garnered all that promise and expectation and channelled it into an MVP-calibre body of work which propelled him into NBA elite. When Rose decided to get to the rim, he went. And he scored. And nobody could stop him.
It's a good time for Number One draft picks. The wise Tim Duncan, a resurgent Elton Brand, superstars James and Howard and now Rose and Griffin. The award is shared between these two developed yet still developing talents with incomprehensible ceilings. I want to give it to Rose but I can't ignore Griffin. It's the same for Griffin. And so I revel in the joy of taking the easy way out and not making a decision.
Of course there are more awards. The usual ones which have Derrick Rose as MVP, Dwight Howard as DPOY, Thibodeau as COY, Griffin as ROY, Kevin Love as MIP and Lamar Odom at 6th Man. But those are the boring ones and so it's best not to give them much attention.
In the meantime, let the play-offs begin! Oh wait, they already have...
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