Before the season, it was a foregone conclusion. Miami. Boston. One of those two teams was going to play the L.A. Lakers in the Finals for the right to David Stern’s heart. The talk wouldn’t die, and never did throughout much of this season as the Heat and Celtics rolled and even as the Lakers stumbled.
But going into last night’s matchup between the Lakers and the Heat – two teams perhaps going in opposite directions – it’s interesting to step back and look forward at the same time.
There are eight teams with legitimate aspirations to make the NBA Finals this season: Boston, Miami, Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Basketball fans should be happy with any combination of those teams playing in June, except for maybe Miami and L.A. That would turn into more of a circus rather than a basketball series (give that potential series another year before it happens). But for the sake of arguments, here are the five best potential Finals matchups at this time:
You have to start here. Have to. No other potential series holds the weight of this one. No other series hold the same angst among fan bases. No other series will bring the same intrigue, excitement and tough, playoff basketball as this one. It’s the perfect combatants: the old guard, the geezers looking for one final ring-around-the-rosy as they try to halt the progress of one of the game’s greatest players in his quest to leave his mark as perhaps the best ever.
With the loss of Kendrick Perkins, this series will take on a decidedly different feel than the last two times these teams have met in the Finals. No longer will Boston be the bully. The Lakers would dominate inside. But with the addition of Jeff Green, the perennially awesome Paul Pierce and the biomechanical Ray Allen, the Celtics hold the edge on the perimeter. These two franchises need to settle the score, one more epic series to decide who wins this generation’s battle in the never-ending basketball war between Los Angeles and Boston. Tied at one a piece, the historical repercussions of this tilt would be unbelievable.
For once, LeBron James wouldn’t be the lone player facing questions about his killer instinct and toughness. Dirk Nowitzki suffers from the same issues. Not only would this series be a remake of the 2006 Finals that saw Dallas completely blow away a championship ring, but it would almost force one of these two players to step up and snatch those unfavorable accusations from out of the public air.
Imagine the storylines with the Heat and the Mavs squaring off for a title shot. The majority of basketball fans don’t want to admit that either one of these teams could win a championship. But obviously in this situation, someone would have to win. Perhaps they would just keeping playing and playing, going five, six, seven overtimes with no one able to put the stranglehold on.
More seriously, this series would feature matchups galore. There’s Nowitzki against Chris Bosh, two of the most talented seven-footers in the game and Dwyane Wade against the entire Dallas organization, with many still fuming from time to time over “foul gate.” And of course, LeBron against, well, everybody.
A few months back, I had a conversation with the legendary Celtics historian Bob Ryan about the playoffs. This was without a doubt, the series he wanted to see above any other. If you are a basketball purist like Ryan is, a hoop historian, why not? Even as the Spurs have changed their formula from defense and Tim Duncan to three-pointers and speed and quickness, their core is exactly the same as it has always been.
Plus, for so long Kevin Garnett and Duncan were considered the two best power forwards in the game. Duncan was always held to a higher standard because his teams won. But you could’ve argued KG was the better individual player at certain points throughout their careers. While neither player is anywhere close to their peak anymore, it would be incredible to see the two of them matchup for the first time in the playoffs since 2001. Think about that number; that was over a decade ago. It would be a shame if two of the greatest power forwards ever went head-to-head just twice in the playoffs during their careers.
Dwight Howard going up against his future employers. Just playing, Orlando. But the storylines surrounding this series would be wild. Not only the “Where is Dwight going to be in two years?” but, it would also be a chance for the Magic, and most importantly for Howard, to showcase how far they’ve grown in the last two years. When these teams met in the 2009 NBA Finals, Orlando was inexperienced and just giddy to be in this environment. For Kobe and the Lakers, it was basically a must-win series. Bryant couldn’t afford another chink in his armor. And that’s the way the series played out – the Lakers coming up with the big plays in Games 2 and 4 to turn the tide of the series as Orlando did just the opposite to lose it.
Could the Lakers size once again slow down Howard as they did in that series? It would be very fun to watch.
Are there any two coaches in the league more similar than Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich? Are there any two superstars more mirroring than Duncan and Derrick Rose? Two cities and two teams that are used to, and love, hard, gritty and unselfish basketball would have a lot of fun with this series. Normally, that would result in boredom for much of the basketball fan base. But when you have Rose, excitement is always right around the corner. And San Antonio is no longer a slow, plodding team. Sometimes when watching them, you have to wonder whether Popovich is actually just a disguised Mike D’Antoni. Could they do it against the Bulls, possibly the best defense in the league? That would be more than enough to keep people engaged.
Plus, we know it’s been said before, but this might be the last chance for the Spurs to add one more title with this group. An end to one dynasty and perhaps the start of another would all be on the line here.
What do you think? What NBA Finals matchup are you hoping for?
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