The Western Conference Finals are underway and the Spurs are ahead 2 games to 0, coasting through the first game, winning by 22 points.
And thanks in part to the Pacers and Knicks trying their hardest not to win and a scheduling snafu the Spurs and Grizzlies have played their first 2 games, while the Heat and Pacers have yet to lace up their sneakers and hide their retreating hairlines from their advancing foreheads.
Before I get too ahead of myself and talk about the Conference Finals thus far, and the games remaining, I want to reflect on the last round (just a little bit, because for the most part it was dreadful).
For the first time in three years Kevin Durant is starting to understand why LeBron James did what he did by going to Miami, aligning himself with his best friend Dwayne Wade and All-Star big man Chris Bosh and forming the Super Friends featuring Flat Top Norris Cole and the Horse-tronaut Shane Battier.
Kevin Durant looked around his team and realized that everyone comparing Serge Ibaka to Chris Bosh clearly had no idea what they were talking about. Everyone that said Kevin Martin would be an excellent scoring option clearly was still living in 2008. Everyone that said Russell Westbrook was holding both Durant and the Thunder back from greatness clearly is nothing more than an asshat.
Durant looks at his coach and sees a man void of innovation, a man who continues to play Kendrick Perkins even though every metric, advanced and otherwise, would tell you to bench him and to do it permanently. He sees a secondary scoring option in Martin who can’t rebound, doesn’t play defense and manages a measly 14 points a game. He sees a big man in Ibaka who relies far too much on his athleticism and is void of any semblance of fundamentals or basketball IQ.
What Durant doesn’t see is his uber-athletic point guard Russell Westbrook to take some of the scoring load off Durant’s shoulders. A man so polarizing, with his Dr. Seuss-esq t-shirts and his sans lenses, massive framed, hipster glasses that the media tends to forget just how valuable he is on the court and focuses only on the one or two knucklehead moves Westbrook makes in each game. What he doesn’t see is the faux-hawk sporting, running beard James Harden who averaged almost 17 points a game as the third scoring option, and a career high 25.9 points per game as the first scoring option in Rockets Red.
Durant in one 5-game span has done his best decepticon impression and transformed from the quiet, humble superstar who not only says all the right things but does all the right things, into Skip Bayless’s latest target of disappointment. Durant now is the one who isn’t clutch, he’s overrated, and he can’t do it by himself. A man who clutched himself into America’s hearts last year by dominating the 4th quarter and winning 4 in a row against the romping Spurs. “As is his way, Durant lifts OKC to a new level of success” was the headline to an article written by Sekou Smith on NBA.com after the Thunder vanquished the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals last year. No such praise exists this year. Durant, a man who announced his extension with the Thunder quietly on twitter on the same day that LeBron hosted the infamous “Decision,” now is the brunt of the same absurd “analysis” that LeBron was the victim of, during his last days as a Cavalier.
Now though, at this very moment as the Spurs stampede the Grizzlies and the Heat scorch the entirety of the Eastern Conference, Durant is the reason OKC’s season ended unceremoniously and with a whimper. It wasn’t the fault of a GM who didn’t have the patience to negotiate a reasonable contract with a young, rising star. It wasn’t the fault of a supporting cast who threw up all over themselves the moment Westbrook’s knee gave out. It wasn’t the fault of a head coach who wouldn’t know an adjustment if it wore a low cut top and open toed espadrilles and introduced itself while holding a glass of 18 year old Dewar’s and platter of thick cut bacon.
Durant’s contract will expire in 2015, and I expect one of the following two things to happen before then. 1. Durant will get Scott Brooks fired, as many superstars have done throughout the history of sports, and the GM will do everything he can to bring in a viable scoring option for fear of losing his job too; 2. Durant will start his own super team, preferably with the Lakers.
Okay, now back to the Conference Finals.
The Spurs/Grizzlies series has, for the most part, conducted itself the way you should have expected. The Spurs is up 2-0 going to Memphis and will most likely come back to San Antonio 2-2. The series has been an exhibition in tough, sound, fundamental basketball. Boring to the average viewer? Probably, but an excellent display of basketball, tickling the hairs on the chiny-chin-chins of basketball fans; Heat fans should have a healthy fear of the Grizzlies.
The Heat’s biggest strength is the ability to limit their turnovers, force their opponents into turnovers and score on those forced turnovers. Memphis has been just as successful in limiting their turnovers and forcing their opponents into turnovers this season. The Heat has turned the ball over 13.3 times per game this season, Memphis has turned it over 13.2 times per game. The Heat has forced 14.7 turnovers per game and Memphis has forced 14.7 turnovers per game. Moreover, Memphis’ strength is their low post offense and defense, which is the closest thing to a weakness that the Heat has.
The Spurs on the other hand is too old, too slow and turn the ball over too often, without turning the ball over often enough. They are still an excellent basketball team, but cannot keep up with the pace that the Heat set during games and I don’t think the Spurs defense is imposing enough to deter the Heat from executing their game plan.
You might have noticed and that in the previous few paragraphs I made no mention of the Pacers, yep. What am I supposed to say? That Baby Dragon Paul George will give the Heat trouble? Or that Roy Hibbert is going to be a dominant force down low? Well he isn’t and he isn’t. Are the Pacers better than they were last year? Yes. Are they good enough to beat a domineering Miami Heat team that is laying waste to all these supposed “tough” teams that try to “beat up” LeBron James? No.
The Pacers turn the ball over more than 14 times per game, falling directly into the Heat’s trap. The Pacers will out rebound the Heat, so what? Everyone out rebounds the Heat and it’s had no impact on any of the games. Indiana cannot score with the Heat, and they can’t shoot with the Heat. Miami is averaging 98.6 points per game on 49.1% shooting and 34% from beyond the 3-point line in the playoffs. Indiana is averaging 92.0 points per game on 42% shooting and 30.8% from beyond the 3-point line.
So here’s what I’m predicting, the Grizzlies will win in 7 games, and the Heat will advance in 5. Then I will have the dirty pants throughout the finals because the Grizzlies scare the crap out of me.