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April 19, 2008

Suns vs. Spurs - Early Battle for My Playoff Affections

With the demise of the Bulls this season, I have once again become a basketball orphan for these 2008 NBA Playoffs. Unfortunately, since the Jordan years, this is all too familiar a feeling for me, the last few years notwithstanding - 2 first round losses and a second round defeat don't exactly make a champion, as we found this year.

So which team will I be rooting for through this second season? As is the case when the Cubs, Sox, and Bears fail to make the playoffs, determining my temporary favorite is a lesson in process of elimination...

Tackling the Eastern Conference first is the easy task. Considering I'd like to enjoy these playoffs for more than a round or two, many teams are quickly removed from the list. Philadelphia and Atlanta, congratulations on returning to the playoffs but we all know this is where the story ends. Toronto? Orlando? Solid players on both teams (and bonus points for the Magic with two Illini) but I just can't bring myself to cheer for either. If I'm going to bandwagon for a couple months, it's at least going to be for a team with some sort of history beyond a four-game sweep in the '95 Finals.

The rest of the conference doesn't sit much better, not because of lack of talent, but because of historical rivalries with the Bulls that I just cannot move beyond. Detroit? Uh, no. Cleveland? LeBron and his traveling band of pseudo-NBA players don't get my vote. (Side note: Why is it so hard to find players to complement LeBron? Is it the GM's fault or does LeBron just not make his teammates better?) Boston? Let's just say there is some residual bitterness after seeing Kevin Garnett end up in Celtic green instead of Bull red. Finally, Washington? Well, they don't have the talent to win, and their uniforms are beyond ugly, but they fight hard and the longer Gilbert Arenas is around, the more chance of something truly insane happening, so let's keep them on the list for now...

Now this is where it starts to become complicated... the Western Conference. Essentially every team in the conference has at least an outside chance of the championship, so my main criteria for choosing a team doesn't eliminate anybody here. Moving on to just gut feel, Denver... I will always be grateful to Carmelo for winning me money when he was at Syracuse, but with the DUI, and the complete utter lack of defensive commitment, they aren't the choice. Houston? Make it out of the first round for once and we'll talk. Dallas? I still believe the Mavericks were screwed over in the series against Miami, and it would be nice to see David Stern hand the trophy to Mark Cuban, but there isn't a single player on the team I feel a connection to. New Orleans? How can Deron Williams claim the title of best young point guard in the league if Chris Paul succeeds this post season? So they're out. Speaking of Deron Williams, Utah is on the list, but essentially for that reason, and that reason alone... Los Angeles has been a great story, but if the Kevin Garnett thing still bothers me, just imagine the Kobe Bryant AND Pau Gasol situation.

So to recap... of the sixteen teams, twelve have already been eliminated either for lack of talent, lack of history, lack of connection, or sheer contempt towards the team. The Washington Wizards are on the list solely for the possibility (probability?) for Arenas insanity. The Utah Jazz are on the list solely for Deron Williams. And of course, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs...

The fundamental game of the Spurs vs. the high-octane game of the Suns. Both teams are solid. Both teams are full of stars. Both teams find me subconsciously rooting for them. And of course, they go up against each other in the first round.

Behind Steve Nash, the Suns brought "exciting" back to the NBA. Steve Kerr made the gutsy call of trading for Shaq, and it seems to be working. Amare Stoudemire has taken off since Shawn Marion left. Throw in Grant Hill and the rest of the bench... If there's a team, and a player, that deserves a championship, it's Phoenix and Nash.

In San Antonio, they haven't been flashy, but they just win. I've respected them for years for the way they play (except for maybe Bruce Bowen). Tim Duncan has accomplished much in his career... except for back-to-back titles. And the longer Tony Parker is around, the more of Eva Longoria we are likely to see. If there's an NBA franchise that demonstrates how to operate better than the Spurs, I have yet to see it.

And again, one of these teams will be cleaning out their lockers in a week or so.

It's been billed as one of the greatest first round matchups ever, and it's unfortunate that it happens this early, but at least this will thin out my rooting interests. Whoever wins this series will undoubtedly get my support for the remainder of the post season. Judging from my reactions during Game 1, the Suns seems to have my edge right now...

But considering we are now in the second OT in Game 1, I can't go wrong rooting for both and enjoy seeing this sensational series go to seven.