With the San Antonio Spurs taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals after their vicious 112-77 annihilation of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2, the most scintillating and thrilling early rounds of the playoffs in recent memory are moving towards what could be a colossal confrontation in the 2014 NBA Finals.
A few weeks ago, we asserted that San Antonio was the best and most exciting team in the league. Some scoffed at that initially, but they’re beginning to come around, especially with how they’ve made Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, one of the league’s most dynamic and explosive young combos, look more like Lenny and Squiggy than the second-coming of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp lately, after having previously folded a young and talented Portland Trail Blazers team like a piece of cheap lawn furniture in the second round.
Without Serge Ibaka’s otherworldly shot-blocking and shot-altering acumen, OKC is missing his elite defensive presence worse than Lil' Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A. miss Biggie right about now.
It’s tough to see the Thunder at such a disadvantage on this big stage, but even if Ibaka was at full strength, they’d still be hard pressed to solve this Spurs puzzle, which is about as complicated as understanding the laws of thermodynamics. In Chinese!
After yesterday’s victory, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became the all-time winningest trio in NBA playoff history, ahead of the great ‘80s conglomerates of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Cooper, Magic, Kareem and Byron Scott, and Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
The Spurs are chasing their fifth title of the Tim Duncan era, while the Miami Heat are trying to accomplish something unprecedented in the modern era. Since the NBA and ABA merged, only the Magic Johnson-Lakers and the Larry Bird-Celtics of the 1980’s have made four consecutive appearances in the finals, but neither of them pulled off a three-peat in the middle of it.
If Miami can dispatch the pesky Pacers, we’ll have a rematch of last year’s delicious Finals match-up. With the Heat down 3-2 in that series, LeBron James delivered 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the classic Game 6, 103-100 overtime victory that is one of the greatest Finals games ever played.
Remember, less than 30 seconds left, when those true Miami fans were hastily heading for the exits, and the champagne was being wheeled into the visiting Spurs locker room?
Remember San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s uncharacteristic brain flatulence, when he kept Tim Duncan, who had 30 points and 17 rebounds, on the bench while the Heat corralled two offensive boards and converted them into the back-shivering three’s from LeBron and Ray Allen that sent the game into overtime?
Remember Chris Bosh’s blocked shots in the extra period that sent the series to its decisive Game 7?
Well, if you recall the drama and pageantry of last year’s matchup, you’re hoping to see it again, as LeBron and Tim Duncan, who have each beaten one another once in the Finals, look to have a deciding rubber match this year.
It’s been a great season and wonderful playoffs thus far. And with the NBA in the midst of its Final Four, now is the perfect time to hand out the hardware. I never understood crowning a league MVP and distributing other awards during the regular season. That’s like eating a meal that hasn’t been fully cooked.
With that being said, here are my choices for the league 2014 honors:
ALL NBA 1st TEAM
Point Guard – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Shooting Guard – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Small Forward – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Power Forward – LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Center – Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats
ALL NBA 2nd TEAM
Point Guard – Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Shooting Guard – James Harden, Houston Rockets
Small Forward – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Power Forward – Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Center – Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
ALL NBA 3rd TEAM
Point Guard – Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Shooting Guard – Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
Small Forward – Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Power Forward – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Center – DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The Ubiquity of LeBron
I know that some people went nuts, like Annie Wilkes, saying, "Sorry dude, this is all wrong, you'll have to do it over again," before later screaming, “HE DIDN'T GET OUT OF THE COCK-A-DOODIE CAR!!!” when they read that LeBron was my first team All-NBA Point Guard.
But hear me out. Was Magic Johnson the best point guard ever? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way)
Well, LeBron, if he solely played the point for the duration of his career, would actually be considered better. We can argue about this at another time. You can hate me now, and call me whatever you want. But this isn’t even debatable. As Fidel Castro once said, “History will absolve me.”
Just be patient. If you don’t see it now, you will one day. Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steph Curry and Damian Lillard are phenomenal. But none of them can facilitate and elevate the play of their teammates like LeBron. With his size, velcro defense and strength, he's simply on another level.
As a shooting guard, there is no one better in the league today. He can drive to the rim, score every way imaginable, and lock down anybody at the position on the defensive end.
In terms of being a small forward, it’s a position that is defined by versatility. Find me a better, more versatile player that can take the toughest defensive assignment and eradicate the opponent’s best weapon, splash from deep, slash, score in the mid-range, rebound, pass and compute his taxes with an abacus, all at the same time.
In the Heat’s small-ball offense, LeBron plays every position on the floor, which includes center and power forward. With his combination of size, strength and skills, he is able to give any and every big man some serious work down low and be a problem on both ends of the floor.
Best Moment – Kevin Durant’s MVP Acceptance Speech
No dunk, buzzer-beater or incredible individual performance topped KD’s speech when he accepted the MVP award. There hasn’t been a better speech since Jesus told the Apostles, “Let’s win one for The Gipper.” And when he talked about Mama Durant’s love, encouragement and sacrifice, if your eyes didn’t well up like they did when Cornbread got killed, I have to question whether you have a soul or not.
Most Improved Player – Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
If you think that Durant is the sole heir-apparent to LeBron as the soon-to-be best player in the league, you obviously didn’t watch much of Anthony Davis this year. This cat is more destructive on both ends of the court than a secretly-taped Donald Sterling lover’s quarrel.
Coach of the Year – Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Have you been watching the Spurs during the playoffs? Any debate about who else deserved this award this year was left about as hollow as Reebok’s Dan and Dave advertising campaign for the 1992 summer Olympics when Dan failed to qualify. San Antonio accentuated their dominating season by stomping a mud hole in Oklahoma City’s behind during the opening games of the conference finals. This one was more of a landslide than the Seahawks snuffing the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Rookie of the Year –Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
This year’s rookie crop was terrible – as bad as, if not worse than, LL Cool J’s “Authentic” album. Michael Carter-Williams led all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals, Victor Oladipo was the best defender and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke were bright spots in the Jazz and Knicks’ wretched seasons. But Plumlee deserves the award because when Brook Lopez was lost for the season due to a broken foot, and when Kevin Garnett’s game appeared on milk cartons for long stretches under the heading “Missing”, Plumlee became a valuable contributor for the playoff-bound Nets.
Defensive Player of the Year – Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Joakim Noah, Patrick Beverly, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala were all considered, but if you’ve seen the difference with OKC on the defensive end now that Ibaka is injured, you can see that the Thunder without his shot-blocking and defensive presence is like Tatoo without Mr. Rourke.
Sixth Man of the Year – Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
I was leaning towards the Clippers Jamal Crawford, who averaged a mind-boggling 18.6 points per game off the bench this year, but Manu, which translates into “Good Gawd’a’Mighty!!!” in Spanish, is the best player and leader of a bench mob in San Antonio that has been utterly dominant. Don’t look at numbers right here. Just watch when Manu unleashes his fury. When he’s at his dashing, shooting, passing, defending and kamikaze best, there is no better player in the league that any team can bring off the bench.
Most Valuable Player – Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
I love Kevin Durant and am happy that he was given the league’s MVP award this year. He’s a great person and exemplifies the best of what the game of basketball is about. But this MVP award takes into account the regular season and the playoffs. I struggled with awarding this to Parker over LeBron, but Parker has been consistently cookin’ ‘em up like Big Mama on Thanksgiving during these playoffs. The Spurs are the best team in the NBA, Tony Parker is their best and most valuable player, hence, he gets this year’s MVP nod in my book.
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