Basketball season – at least the NBA version – begins for me this weekend.
As I tell anyone who wants to know, I pay little to no attention to the NBA’s regular season. And I would like for someone – anyone – to tell me what I missed.
But the playoffs? Now that’s excitement.
I’m interested in every first-round series in both the Eastern and Western conferences, for varying reasons. I can’t wait for Saturday, when four series begins (the other four start Sunday).
I always pick a couple of off-the-wall teams to follow in the playoffs, hoping that eventually the Miami Heat win a third straight championship. I’m a Heat guy and a LeBron lover. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I always welcome LeBron back with open arms. And we’ve been on good terms for a while now after his ESPN debacle a few years ago.
My two quirky teams this year are the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors, both in the Eastern Conference.
Washington and Toronto are not the first two teams you think of when you think about NBA success stories.
The Wizards were 117-377 from 2008-09 through 2012-13, but this season improved 15 games to 44-38 under second-year coach Randy Wittman.
I’m looking forward to seeing the young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal go up against the Chicago Bulls in the first round. It’s one of the best young guard tandems in the league.
Washington hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004-05, and before that it was 1981-82. The Wizards have been a forgotten franchise, revived to life by Wittman and some deft draft picks.
Wall averages 19.8 points and 8.8 assists per game; Beal averages 17.1 points. Center Marcin Gortat (you know him, right?) averages 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds. I’m interested in this team, though I haven’t seen them play a second this season.
Ditto for Toronto, which made a 14-game jump this season from last to 48-34 and earned the No. 3 seed in the East. The Raptors will take on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. I’m a little bit of a Nets guy, but I’m pulling for Toronto in this series.
The Raptors, like Washington, have an exciting backcourt duo in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who combine to average 40.6 points, 11.4 assists and nine rebounds per game.
The Western Conference playoffs are loaded with Dallas, the No. 8 seed, sporting a 49-33 record. Poor Phoenix couldn’t even get into the playoffs despite a 48-34 mark.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round series against Golden State is can’t miss television. First, the two teams hate one another. Second, the Clippers are being picked by many experts to win the NBA championship, kind of like many were picking Denver to make a run at least to the Finals last season.
But Golden State beat the Nuggets in six games in a first-round series.
The Portland-Houston series, a battle of 4 vs 5, might be the best first-round series of all.
I’m telling you, they’re all interesting. There’s something to watch in all eight first-round matchups.
How will Indiana (which meets Atlanta) and Miami (which faces Charlotte) play? Both teams have had a difficult time of it down the stretch of the regular season and the Heat, the one team I do pay some attention to during the regular season, has looked beaten up and exhausted.
Those pesky Memphis Grizzlies are back to battle Oklahoma City in the first round. That’s hardly a pushover for the Thunder.
And what about these potential conference-semifinal clashes: Indiana vs. Chicago/Washington; Miami vs. Toronto/Brooklyn; San Antonio vs. Portland/Houston; Oklahoma City vs. LAC/Golden State.
Good stuff and worth waiting for. The playoffs are finally here.