Playoff Thoughts

1.    L.A. Land:    The Lakers impressively dispatched the Spurs to make their first NBA Finals since they lost to the Pistons in 2003-04.  It’s hard to figure why the Lakers were able to excel this entire series, winning easily in two games and erasing big Spurs leads in the other games.  In the end, the Spurs had no answer for Kobe Bryant and couldn’t muster enough points to stave off the inevitable Laker runs. 

Going forward, no matter who wins in the East, we will have a historical rematch in the NBA Finals with the Celtics (a Lakers Finals nemeisis in the 1960s and the 1980s) or the Pistons (the Laker rival in the late 1980s and again back in 2003-04).  This got me wondering, what are the the most frequent NBA Finals match ups?  We know that teams generally have extended runs, so we’ve seen plenty of rematches but here is the current list recurring Finalists: 

-Boston and the Lakers have met 10 times.  Boston is 8-2 in that time, 1-2 against the the Magic Lakers and a nice 7-0 against the West/Baylor teams. 

-No one can match the Boston v. L.A..  The next most frequent match up is tie between Lakers and the Sixers (L.A. won three of four of these Finals) and Boston versus the St. Louis Hawks.  The Celts bat the Hawks four times in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the Hawks handed Bill Russell his only Finals’ loss (he missed the end of the series with a broken hand).

-The Lakers also are involved in the next two most frequent series: Lakers versus Knicks and the Lakers versus Pistons.  The Lakers lost two out of three in each case.  The showdowns with the Knicks all came in the Walt Frazier Era (they met three times in four years) while the Lakers split titles with the Pistons in 1987-88 and 1988-89 before losing again 2003-04.

-Finally, the Bulls and Jazz played back-to-back series in 1996-97 and 1997-98, which all remember for Michael Jordan winning both times in dramatic fashion.  The Rockets and Celtics actually met twice in the Finals in the 1980s and both the times the Rockets upset favored teams to make the Finals before losing to the Bird Celtics.  In 1977-78 and 1978-79, the Sonics and Bullets also split back-to-back Finals. 

2.    Flopping Fines & Other Stuff:      The NBA competition committee came out of its meeting today reviewing issues.  The committee came up with the following decisions for public consumption: 

-Fines for flopping:  The most discussed new rule was the NBA’s intention to fine players for “excessive flopping.”  Specifically, Stu Jackson told ESPN that: “What was clearly expressed to the committee is that we would begin imposing fines next season for the most egregious type of flops. When players are taking a dive, for lack of a better term.”  No system is in place so it’s not clear what the fines would entail and whether there would be warnings.  Still, if a player is flopping it shouldn’t be too hard for the refs to adjust their calls accordingly.  I don’t necessarily have sympathy for the excessive floppers but I don’t perceive this as a problem that makes the game unwatchable or that the refs routinely screw up.

Hack-A-Shaq:  The Hack-A-Shaq ploy, on the other hand, is real problem.  The ability to intentionally foul a player off the ball is silly and unwatchable.  Stu Jackson said that the NBA wouldn’t change the rule at this point because “[t]here was a feeling that by changing the rule you would be essentially rewarding a player for a lack of skill by allowing him to stay in the game.”  On some levels, this explanation makes sense but it isn’t a satisfactory explanation to me.  The goal of a rule change isn’t necessarily to “reward” anyone.  Rather, the question is whether the rule change or the status quo makes an more entertaining game.  Watching the Hack-A-Shaq in the playoffs against Shaq, as well as against others during the season like Josh Boone and Ben Wallace, is extremely boring and absolutely kills the flow of the game.  Moreover, what basis is there for forbidding this tactic in the final two minutes of a quarter but not the rest of the game?  The rule should be the same all game, if a player has the ball you can foul him, if not, you can’t.  I don’t think this is a huge problem either but this is a much more pressing problem from a viewer’s perspective than flopping.

Replay:  Why not?  The notion of expanding replay to address clock malfunctions and to determine conclusively if a shooter was passed the three-point line both make sense.  If you have the technology and it can be implemented smoothly, there is no reason no to get it right.

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