With the NBA playoffs starting today, here is my official wishlist.
The NBA playoffs kick off Saturday. For the first time in years, the Eastern Conference playoffs aren’t just LeBron’s warm-up for the Finals – in fact, LeBron isn’t even in the playoffs.
Instead, we have compelling storylines in the East for the first time in years. The top 4 of that conference is a gauntlet. The Western Conference is stacked 1-8, per usual, but there’s more parity this time around.
I’m not going to go so far as to wish for any one team to win or lose – that seems like it’s breaking some kind of journalistic rule, and we’re all about professionalism here at Quibbl. But there are some things I’m hoping for. Here’s my wishlist.
1.) That the up-and-comers are legit.
There’s this notion in the NBA that teams have to lose in the playoffs before they really accomplish anything. They have to get their feet in the water one year, get hammered, then come back older and wiser.
There are several exciting teams in both conferences that are very young. The Denver Nuggets are the obvious example – they’re the second seed this year, and by that token should be favored to have a great playoff run. But the fact that this core is entering the playoffs for the first time is scaring some people away.
Some people also lack confidence in Nikola Jokic. It’s not about anything tangible, really – he had a dominant season and will earn some MVP votes. But he’s a 7-foot point center who earned the nickname “His Groundness.” That’s not the prototypical guy you’d expect to dominate in the postseason. There’s a sense among some fans that he might be solvable.
The Bucks aren’t a perfect match for this category – they were in the playoffs last year with largely the same core. But thanks to coach Budenholzer, this is essentially an entirely different team. And like with Denver, folks are worried this team is solvable despite their regular season dominance. Giannis still can’t shoot, and elite defenses with dialed-in scouting reports might flummox him.
The defense is also slightly suspect. The Bucks employ an unusual scheme that gives up a lot of threes, but they’re the above-the-break variety (the lower efficiency ones Milwaukee wants to give up). Milwaukee’s defensive rating is proof that it works. Will it work against a Boston Celtics team stacked with shooters and led by Brad Stevens, a skilled tactician?
I’m not saying I want these teams to make the Finals and play each other, or that I want them to have an effortless road. It’d just be a bummer if it turned out they weren’t ready for the moment.
2. That the Raptors don’t crumble again
For years, the Raptors have been a different team in the playoffs. It started back in 2015 when the Wizards swept them in a 5-4 upset. Then they let a Bucks team that was way too young scare them in 2016 before failing against LeBron in the 2nd round. 2017 brought another too-close series to the Wizards before getting swept by LeBron.
Last year was supposed to be the year. They legitimately seemed like the best in the East, and the King looked vulnerable on a drama-filled, defensively-inept squad. Analysts said, “this is finally going to be different.”
And then LeBron took out his broom again.
This team is totally different than last year’s. We said that last year, but it really is a different core. DeMar DeRozan was a huge reason why they faltered for years, and he’s been replaced with a guy in Kawhi who has looked like a clutch-shooting death-machine in the playoffs when healthy. He has an NBA Finals MVP award on his resume, for crying out loud. Marc Gasol theoretically raises their ceiling exponentially with his experience and IQ. Nick Nurse is not Dwayne Casey. Things should be different.
But there’s some creeping sense that maybe it’ll be the same old news. It shouldn’t be – it’s a different team with a fundamentally different DNA, and LeBron James will be watching from LA with a margarita in hand. If they crumble again you’d have to think it’s just something wrong with the water in Toronto.
The general Raptors populace knows enough to not be worried, but some are thinking of past defeats this weekend. Enthusiastically trusting and being let down repeatedly leaves a wound.
3.) That we don’t talk about the referees at all.
A couple weeks ago, the Warriors played the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game that really didn’t matter. But both teams seemed like they wanted it, and the final seconds were wild. The Timberwolves ultimately won, and the Warriors had two big referee “gaffes” to point to.
- Durant caught the ball with about 5 seconds left, was immediately fouled, but still shot it and hit it. The shot would have tied the game, and a free throw might have won it. But the referees called it a foul on the floor – shot voided.
- Kevin Durant got called for holding Karl-Anthony Towns on an inbound pass. The free throws won Minnesota the game
We hate to see referees over-interfere in games, and react with outrage when bad calls decide games instead of the players.
Here’s the thing, though – they were absolutely correct calls. Keita Bates-Diop fouled Durant almost immediately on the catch, and pulled his hands away from Durant emphatically as Durant shot to make it clear there was no contact.
Meanwhile, Durant absolutely held Towns. He grabbed Towns with both hands and prevented him from getting to the pass, which is very clearly against the rules. There are a lot of tough calls in the NBA, but that wasn’t one of them. It was clearcut, and Durant protesting it made no sense.
Every year there’s a handful of close games that would have gone the other way had the calls been different. It’ll happen this year. Fans will be furious. Players will make angry comments about the referees. And I get it – emotions are high. But it’s still unbecoming.
My wish is that 1.) fans have the maturity to realize that referees miss calls both ways and leave their conspiracy theories at the door; and 2.) players stop complaining about every call they don’t get (especially, for the love of whatever deity you choose, the calls that they clearly didn’t deserve). With some players, it feels like they’d need to beat a guy with a chair before they accept a call against themselves. Just accept the call and get back on the court.
End rant. As I hit the publish button, the very first game of the playoffs is about to start. It’s finally here, everyone. Go hole yourself up with whatever screen you’re watching on and whatever snacks you need to get through the next 9 hours without moving. The playoffs are back.