Since the schedules came out for the National Basketball Association Playoffs a week ago, many claim that these playoffs will potentially be the best ever. Right now, it is living up to its potential.
Throughout last week, we saw the Los Angeles Lakers dismantle the Denver Nuggets three games in a row. The San Antonio Spurs have a 3-1 lead on the Phoenix Suns, Lebron’s Cavaliers have been embarrassed by the Wizards in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia 76ers have an astonishing 2-1 series lead over the Detroit Pistons. The eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks even defeated the top seeded Boston Celtics in game three. There has never been so much attention on the first round of the playoffs as far as I can remember.
As a Lakers fan, I have an obvious bias. But the Lakers’ dominance of the eighth seeded Nuggets, who would be a top five seed in the Eastern Conference, only proves that they deserve being in the top seed and further solidifies Kobe Bryant’s campaign for the Most Valuable Player award.
Lebron James, Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul, all candidates for MVP, are all having an incredible season and are the center of their teams’ successes.
James has been putting up impressive numbers all season, but the lackluster performance of his team on Saturday is unacceptable in the playoffs. He had a good game statistically, but his teammates could not rally around their leader. It is difficult to ignore James’s single-handed effort in leading the Cavs to the NBA finals last season, but he led them to a fourth-place finish in the measly Eastern Conference.
Garnett and the Celtics did end with the best record in the NBA (66-16), but he has a star-studded supporting cast. He and fellow All-Stars Chris Paul and Ray Allen were forces in the Eastern Conference and it is hard to give most of the credit to Garnett.
Chris wPaul is the only player legitimate enough to be considered as the MVP versus Bryant. He has been the cornerstone behind the elevation of the New Orleans Hornets. Behind Paul’s 21.1 points and 11.6 assists per game, the Hornets finished second to the Lakers in the Western Conference. Paul was fortunate enough to have a good supporting cast in David West, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler all season.
With such a close race this year, no can argue with awarding the MVP to the best player on the team that wins the Western Conference. By this logic, which I agree with, Bryant deserves the trophy.
Though it does make sense to award the player who leads his team in arguably the toughest conference in history, there are more reasons that further support this.
While Paul has played most of the season with the same core of teammates, Bryant has gone without Andrew Bynum for much of the season, and only had Pau Gasol toward the end. The addition of Pau catalyzed a powerhouse. Keep in mind, he has done all this and he still needs surgery on his pinky on his shooting hand. He averaged 28.3 points per game and led the Lakers in assists per game with 5.4. His whopping 49 points and 10 assists performance on Friday embodied the kind of season he has had. He has led his team in points while getting everyone involved and making everyone around him better.
Aside from the numbers, he is a coach on the floor. He brought the team in-sync along with Phil Jackson and his triangle offense. He led by example, as a shutdown defender and offensive beast. He knows how to play through adversity as he did during the rape allegations last season, and through the trade rumors backlash this season.
Now that I have gotten my argument for Bryant off my chest I can continue to discuss the playoffs. Get excited. In the western conference semifinals, it looks like the Lakers are going to play the Jazz and the Spurs will take on the Hornets. These games are not final, however, considering that the first and eighth seeds are only separated by seven wins, the series can go either way (the difference between the first and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference is 29 games).
In the east, the Hawks and the 76ers upset the top-seeded Celtics and the second-seeded Pistons. The Cavs and Wizards series is close despite the 3-1 series led by the Cavs. The Wizards embarrassed Lebron and co. in game three. They are fully capable of winning the series. In the Orlando Magic-Toronto Raptors series, we are witnessing the continuous rise of Dwight Howard. He is a fiend on the court. I do not think the world fully comprehends his prowess.
Everything is going well for the NBA right now. It has cleaned up its image and is entering one of the most exciting seasons of its history. The possibility of a Lakers-Celtics final would be the greatest match up they could ask for. They are two history-rich franchises, with a historical rivalry. The reincarnation of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry would bring together the new and the old. As long as the Celtics are in the final, any team that comes out of the Western Conference alive will provide an incredible NBA finals.
Sit back, and enjoy the ride. You do not want to miss it.
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