Something’s missing from the NBA Playoffs

I have always been a pretty big fan of the game of basketball. College basketball has always been my favorite form of the game, with the NBA as a close second.

Not this year, though.

This year, the NBA Playoffs have yet to cross my radar screen of caring. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but the NBA seems to be lacking something that it had in years past. There seems to be a certain luster missing from the league, and I can’t help but wonder if the heyday of the NBA might be long gone.

In previous years, there has always been some kind of compelling rivalry like the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics or even the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. What rivalry is there this year? I’m having trouble getting excited about any Eastern Conference rivalries, if there are any. I guess the New York Knicks vs. the New Jersey Nets is sort of compelling, but it’s a first-round matchup and most people around here care more about the next fireside than they do about some stupid East Coast rivalry.

After all, we’re talking about a conference that has, within the last two years, had a coaching change on every team except one. The funny thing is that most of the same coaches are still coaching in the Eastern Conference- they’re all just coaching new teams. How dumb is that?

I’ve heard several people say that this could be the year for the hapless Eastern Conference, and that a team like the Indiana Pacers could win it all. The argument is that Indiana was 20-8 against Western Conference opponents during the regular season, and they boasted the league’s best regular-season record.

My response is that nobody cares. Just because a mid-grade team in the East has a chance of winning the title certainly doesn’t re-stimulate the passion for the NBA for anyone but the folks in Indiana.

The fact that the East sucks is a detriment to the league and it ultimately cheapens the value of the playoffs, but a contender from the East is not enough to make the league exciting again. Oh yeah, there’s not a chance in hell of any Eastern Conference JVers winning the NBA title, especially not the Pacers.

The Western Conference, while significantly more talented than the East, is also lacking meaningful rivalries. Are we supposed to get excited about Yao vs. Shaq or Duncan vs. Shaq? These are unquestionably great players, but they haven’t developed the sort of hatred for each other that would create the atmosphere for a great seven-game series.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the first round of the playoffs has been altered to fit the best-of seven format. This means that a first-round series can take up to 18 days.

If I could have it my way, the entire NBA playoffs wouldn’t take much longer than 18 days, but now we have to wait three weeks for the Lakers to dispatch of the Houston Rockets before we even get a taste of the second round-boring!

I have often wondered if the seven-game format might work better if it was only used for the conference championships and the NBA finals. At least those games hold some inherent drama, regardless of how lame the NBA is becoming.

I have to admit that part of my negativity is spawned by fact that the Utah Jazz are not in the playoffs. I am just as big of a Jazz hack as the next guy, and without them in the playoffs, it’s hard to care.

It’s especially hard when we have become, as a state, so accustomed to making the playoffs. You might have laughed when I mentioned the Jazz and the Bulls as one of the great rivalries that made the NBA into something special. It’s funny because most people around the country would argue that the playoffs of the late ’90s were great because of the presence of Michael Jordan and what he was accomplishing, not because of some rivalry with the Jazz.

But if you have lived in Utah for more than a few years, you know how awesome that time was for this community. It was a great rivalry, and while Stockton and Malone never delivered (pun intended), it would be hard to ever care as much about the NBA playoffs as I did back then.

Yes, something is missing from the playoffs this year-maybe it’s just the Jazz.

[email protected]