tom jones' two cents
After tonight's Game 7 between the Celtics and 76ers (8, Ch. 28), the NBA playoffs will be half over and the conference finals will be set. The Boston-Philadelphia winner takes on the Heat in the East, while the Thunder and Spurs meet in the West. Here's what we've learned so far in this postseason:
1. LeBron James and the Heat deserve our respect
There are those who would love to see LeBron James and the Heat fail. But if you were to throw out that one ill-advised week when he made his "Decision" to join the Heat and then had that goofy dance party with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (a week he has since apologized for), how could you not like James? He plays the game right, he works hard, respects his team and his opponents, says the right things and, by all accounts, handles himself well off the court. And isn't it admirable that his top priority last year was to go to a team that had the best chance to win a title? He and Wade showed guts and determination to get past the Pacers without Bosh.
2. Kobe Bryant's Lakers are nearing the end
In fact, they might have already arrived there. Kobe Bryant is only 33 and remains a star player. He still is capable of scoring 40 on any given night, just not every night. He just wrapped up his — read this closely — 16th season. Add 220 playoff games and that's like tacking on 2½ seasons. Bryant is four years removed from his only MVP award, and the Lakers are 5-11 in their past 16 playoffs games. The Lakers could improve by making a few moves, such as acquiring Steve Nash, but in order to become a title contender again, they have to make a big splash by getting the Magic's Dwight Howard. Otherwise, Bryant's career likely will end with five NBA titles.
3. The Spurs are ageless
Forget the Patriots. Forget the Red Wings. Forget the Yankees. The Spurs might be the best team in North American sports over the past 13 years. Since 1999, the Spurs have made the playoffs every season and are now going for their fifth title. And this stat is amazing: The Spurs have won 26 of their past 35 playoff series, winning 112 of 180 postseason games. That includes an 8-0 record this postseason thanks to sweeps of the Jazz and the up-and-coming Clippers. Tim Duncan just turned 36, but you can't tell. He's averaging 17.6 points and nine rebounds a game. Ageless.
4. We should all feel sorry for Seattle
Don't you feel just awful for the hoops fans living in Seattle? The Sonics broke into the league in 1967 and won an NBA title in 1979, but they didn't win another. The team then moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and here it is, just four victories from the Finals. Seattle fans can only watch from afar as three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, above, has developed into one of the league's best players and, along with teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, seems poised to win a title eventually, maybe even this season.
5. The Magic is a mess
Without Dwight Howard, the Magic was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. With Dwight Howard (if you catch my drift), the Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy, while GM Otis Smith left the organization. The Magic had the league's fourth-best record since Van Gundy became coach in 2007, but because Howard pouted, Van Gundy was fired. And the idiotic thing is, Howard, above, still might whine his way out of O-town. Forget calling Glenn Davis "Big Baby," that should be Howard's nickname. Time to let go of this big baby and start over from scratch.