I've always said that it would be impossible to convince me that an NBA regular season could be interesting, and now I know it, because we've just had the wild and wooliest NBA regular season in history, and it just looked like jockeying for playoff seeds to me.
But these playoffs: OK, yeah. Game on.
All eight playoff teams in the Western Conference won at least 50 games and none of them won as many as 58. Seven games separate the 1-seed Los Angeles Lakers and the No. 8 Denver Nuggets, but better than that, only two games separate the Lakers, with 57 wins, and the 6-seed, the Phoenix Suns, with 55.
And better still: While all eight Western teams have better records, against stiffer competition, than the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, the 45-win Cleveland Cavaliers, the two best teams in the league by record are in the East. The Boston Celtics, a team this column confidently asserted last fall would not sustain its strong start, finished at 66-16. The Detroit Pistons won 59.
And they didn't just do it by beating up on the weaker East. Both the Celts and the Pistons had better winning percentages against Western Conference foes than they did within their own conference. Boston went 25-5 against the West, Detroit 22-8.
The playoffs start Saturday. The East matchups are the Atlanta Hawks at Boston, the Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit, the Toronto Raptors at the Orlando Magic in the 3-vs.-6 series and the Washington Wizards at the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 4-vs.-5.
The Western Conference teams sorted themselves out on the last night of the regular schedule Wednesday. The San Antonio Spurs got the No. 3 seed by blowing out the Utah Jazz, who will open on the road as the 4-seed at the No. 5 Houston Rockets, who pounded the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Suns finished their season by beating the Portland Trail Blazers in a game that ended up being meaningless. The Suns were going to end up No. 6 either way.
The Dallas Mavericks could have given themselves a chance to avenge their 8-over-1 upset loss to the Golden State Warriors last year, in a way, by losing their last game. That would have made them the 8-seed and offered them the opportunity to upset the No. 1 Lakers. But they looked pretty happy about beating the New Orleans Hornets and clinching the 7-seed and an opening-round date with the very same team. The Hornets are No. 2.
The Nuggets beat the Memphis Grizzlies, but they'll settle for the 8-seed and a date with the Lakers, the hottest team in the league.
So the first round will be Denver at Los Angeles, Dallas at New Orleans, Phoenix at San Antonio and Utah at Houston.
NBA fans are still toweling themselves off after that season climax and good for them. I'll admit the intensity down the stretch was better than the three-quarter speed that usually passes for NBA regular-season action. All it means is that the NBA really knows how to set a schedule. The NBA playoff season is about as long as the college football regular season. That's plenty long, and it should be exciting. We'll look at the matchups on Friday.
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So long, Isiah [PERMALINK]
Isiah Thomas coached what was surely his last game with the New York Knicks Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis. It was, as you might expect, a loss. The Knicks finished with a 23-59 record, precisely the mark they posted two years ago, the year before Thomas, then just the general manager, became coach too.
Back then, I wrote, "The good news for you Knicks fans out there is that as bad as the 2005-'06 season was -- the last one that was worse was 1963-'64 -- you'll soon look back fondly on it.
That's probably not true, though in 2006 Thomas and the Knicks franchise hadn't been smacked down in the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit. But I think Knicks fans are busy fondly remembering last year's 33-win extravaganza, which was highlighted by that Knicks-Denver Nuggets fight at Madison Square Garden.
Boy, those were the days. Thirty-three wins!
I'm sad to see Isiah go -- nothing's official, but the writing's on the wall, in big block letters that say something about not letting the door hit you in the backside, Mr. Thomas. I'm working on a theory that it's good for the country when one of the storied sports teams of New York is being run by a true incompetent.
It gives New Yorkers common cause and lets the rest of us pity them, which I think is healthy. It makes life a bit more palatable in, well, let's just say your drab little town, if you can shake your head at New Yorkers and tsk, "The poor dears."
It's the end of an era, but cheer up, rest of us. We'll always have Jerome James' $30 million contract.
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