An NBA Playoffs For The Ages

LeBron James sticking a dagger in the heart of the Magic last night

LeBron James sticking a dagger in the heart of the Magic last night

If you haven’t been watching the NBA playoffs so far, you’ve been missing out.

The NBA has come a long way from when I first started watching sports.  Once upon a time, the league was irrelevant enough that the deciding game of the NBA Finals was shown on national television — on tape delay!  If you can’t imagine a sporting event with that much importance being relegated to the local news announcer saying, “If you’re planning to watch the game following this broadcast, then turn your eyes away from the screen now …”, then believe me when I say that was life in the NBA in the late 1970’s, pre-Jordan/Bird/Magic.

Now, every game of the playoffs is televised live, with in-depth (and some not-so-in-depth) analysis to follow.  And in 2009, there’s been more to talk about than in any post-season of recent memory.

We’ve already seen a number of classic series so far, and we’re not even to the NBA Finals yet.  We had the Boston-Chicago match-up, which was arguably the greatest opening round series in the history of the playoffs, if not one of the greatest playoffs series ever period.  There was high drama in the Dallas-Denver match-up in the 2nd round, the seven-game classic between the tottering defending champ Celtics and Orlando, and the surprisingly close near-upset between the Rockets and the Lakers.

And now, we’ve already seen four games in the Conference Finals that have all been thrillers.  There’s not a lot separating these four teams right now, and as a fan without a biased rooting interest (since my Bulls and my father’s Celtics are both now gone) it looks like any of these teams could eventually be hoisting the trophy above their heads by the time these playoffs are over.  In addition, there’s compelling stories all around:  Kobe’s quest to finally win a title out of the shadow of Shaq, and Phil Jackson’s quest to pass Red Aurebach for the number of all-time championships won; there’s Orlando looking for its first title, and Dwight Howard’s attempts to emerge as one of the elite players in the NBA; and there’s Denver looking for its first championship, as Carmelo Anthony takes his game to another level along side his underrated teammate Chauncey Billips.  What’s not to like here?

Oh, yeah — there’s this other fellow you may have heard of still playing by the name of LeBron James.  As it turns out, he’s pretty good too.  All season long, the NBA’s MVP has been taking his game to unheard of levels, and his effort in last night’s Game Two against the Magic was his latest display of refusing to let his team lose.  The three-pointer he hit with time expiring to give the Cavs a miracle win — after the game (and series) had seemed lost — will be the stuff of legend in Cleveland, especially if the Cavs end up winning it all.  As a Bulls fan, it reminded me of  a play known simply as “The Shot”, Michael Jordan’s game-winner over Craig Ehlo some two decades ago against these same Cavaliers — now, the fans in Cleveland have finally felt what it’s like to have that type of ending from the winning side.

I’m not sure if there are any adjectives left to describe James, who has lived up to every bit of hyped that was heaped upon his shoulders when he entered the league.  In my eyes, he’s the best player in the league, hands down, he’s the best player I’ve seen play since Jordan (and yes, he’s better than Kobe ever was), and he’s got a chance to cement himself as one of the greatest players of all-time — and what better place to do so than in one of the most thrilling, wild, and exciting playoffs of recent memory?

Trust me when I say, if you’re not watching the NBA Playoffs now, you’re missing out.  The good news is, though, we’ve still got a lot of it left to go — so you’ve still got time.

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