Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fiammetta: The NBA Finals are already must-watch TV

As the doom and gloom clouds gather over the National Basketball Association – yes, it’s likely lockout-bound, as well – there still remains reason for optimism.

In fact, there’s more than one.

With free agency trending more and more toward superstar conglomeration – ? la LeBron James and the Miami Heat – the NBA has entered arguably its most riveting period in history since the 1980s. Free agency figures to be a contentious and polarizing issue in the ensuing labor talks, but make no mistake – this NBA season has been remarkable.


The playoffs began Saturday, and if the first weekend was any indication at all of the type of postseason play the Association has in store, then one thing was made abundantly clear: You absolutely need to watch the NBA Playoffs.

The top point guards are the best since…

Saturday, the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose scored 39 points. He was 10-for-23 from the field, 19-for-21 from the free-throw line and also pulled down six rebounds, contributed six assists and blocked three shots.

Simply put, he blew everyone’s mind. Monday night, he did it again. Rose scored 36 points and recorded eight rebounds and six assists while shooting 11-for-25 from the field and 12-13 from the free throw line as Chicago extended its lead over Indiana to 2-0.

Sunday, Chris Paul scored 33 points. New Orleans’ point guard also contributed 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals. He was 11-for-18 from the field and 9-for-12 from the line. Conspirators said Paul’s performance was a blatant “I’m still here!” exclamation reminding everyone lost in the Rose hysteria that at the beginning of the season it was Paul who looked like the Most Valuable Player candidate. Hornets fans said Paul is just the better point guard. Most rational people just said the two of them played as top-tier point guards do.

Regardless, a very significant statement was made this weekend. It wasn’t that Paul is better than Rose, or that Rose is better than Paul. Rather, it was that with these two point guards at the top of their game, they’re guiding the NBA through a paradigm-shifting postseason.

Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Baron Davis (on a good night) and of course Steve Nash have shown for the past few years the talent level of point guards in this league is absolutely ridiculous. Yet, the NBA has remained a “big man’s game” in the heads of most basketball scholars.

One game won’t change that, but the performances by Rose and Paul weren’t just single games. They were indications of how good these players have become and how good they can be at the top of their games. For instance, Rose was a .332 3-point shooter this year. For his career, he’s shot .309 from behind the arc. Saturday, he was 0-for-9.

The Rose-Paul tandem (or Paul-Rose, in the spirit of maintaining diplomacy) is on the verge of being the best since Magic Johnson-John Stockton, and no matter how bold that might seem, it’s time to start welcoming the idea.

Memphis has arrived…

L.A. and Boston are still in fine shape after their opening games, but they were both clearly exposed. The Lakers were shocked (at home, no less) by the Paul-led Hornets Sunday, 109-100. Boston, as expected, showed its age that night against New York but pulled out an 87-85 win at TD Garden. The Celtics only led for 60 seconds in the second half and needed a stunning 3-pointer from Ray Allen with 12 seconds remaining to take Game 1.

Also on Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies upset the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the San Antonio Spurs. The 101-98 victory was exceptional for a variety of reasons – Zach Randolph scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to justify his newly earned contract extension, reportedly for four years and $66 million, while Marc Gasol dominated Tim Duncan and the Spurs’ big men with 24 points and nine rebounds.

Yet, none of them top the fact that the win was Memphis’ first playoff victory – ever. The Lakers, despite their struggles, very well could go on to win the series. Heck, they could sweep the next four. But now, after their surprise opener and perhaps shedding their “cheap” label with the Randolph extension, the Grizzlies have emerged as a viable threat in the West. Mike Conley (13.7 points, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game) has finally emerged as the point guard Memphis thought it drafted three years ago, while O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier and Sam Young provide valuable depth. When star forward Rudy Gay returns from injury, the Grizzlies will boast a deep, balanced squad that can contend in the West for much of the decade.

…To challenge Oklahoma City for supremacy of the young guns

As they emerge in the West, the Grizzlies could stand to follow the model set forth by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Essentially the darlings of professional sports, the Thunder is in the process of building a powerhouse around Kevin Durant (league-high 27.7 points with 6.8 rebounds per game) and Russell Westbrook (21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game).

OKC general manager Sam Presti and head coach Scott Brooks have brought Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka along to flank the two stars, and the results have been mind-blowingly impressive. After acquiring Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics before February’s trade deadline, the Thunder added another big man to pair with Ibaka and give OKC one of the most athletic frontcourts in the league.

The Thunder began the playoffs with a 107-103 win over the Denver Nuggets. Durant scored 41 points on 13-for-22 shooting (12-for-15 from the foul line) and recorded nine rebounds, while Westbrook contributed 31 points and added seven assists and six rebounds. In beating Denver, Oklahoma City took another step toward what very quickly is becoming more and more inevitable – contending in the NBA Finals.

Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What did you enjoy from the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.

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