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The 30, Week 7: East Coast Bias

The NBA’s Award-Winning Playoffs

Scoring is down and the games are ugly, but that isn't stopping the Sports Guy from handing out a few honors

Ragged! Gimpy! Tempestuous! Hard-fought! Creatively confusing! Strangely compelling! No, I’m not talking about television’s upfront week — I actually mean the NBA playoffs, another event that makes you squint in confusion and say things like, “Wait, they’re kidding, right?” In 54 playoffs games this spring, only once have both teams topped 100 points: Game 2 of the Lakers-Nuggets series, which the Lakers won 104-100. Not exactly a barn burner. Check out the league’s playoff averages for points per game in the past decade.

2003: 96.0
2004: 88.0
2005: 97.1
2006: 97.8
2007: 94.2
2008: 94.9
2009: 96.7
2010: 97.5
2011: 94.0
2012: 90.5

Yeah, you’re reading that correctly — it’s the lowest-scoring postseason since 2004, you know, the spring that caused the NBA to change the freaking rules to encourage more offense. Originally, I blamed the condensed season for the offensive malaise, believing some sordid combination of injuries, banged-up bodies and better defense had slowed everything down. But the league averages for possessions per 48 minutes say otherwise: For instance, 2006’s playoff teams (89.2 possessions per 48 minutes) outscored 2012’s playoff teams (88.6 possessions per 48 minutes) by 7.3 points per team. The overwhelming evidence confirms what you’ve been thinking these past three weeks. Scoring is down because 2012’s playoff teams aren’t as good at scoring. (Good lord, I just turned into Joe Theismann again. Hold on, I have to take a pill.) But check out these numbers.

2004: 88.0 PPG, 42.1% FG, 32.4% 3FG
2009: 96.7 PPG, 45.1% FG, 35.7% 3FG
2010: 97.5 PPG, 45.3% FG, 34.9% 3FG.
2011: 94.0 PPG, 43.9% FG, 34.1% 3FG
2012: 90.5 PPG, 42.9% FG, 32.8% 3FG

Yeeeeeesh. That slide started last spring, invalidating the “condensed schedule” argument and opening the door for the dreaded “maybe defenses are becoming a little too good” argument. Last time (post-2004), the fixes were relatively easy: They catered to perimeter players by cracking down on hand-checks (opening up the slash-and-kick game), and they sped up the game (just a little) by shortening the 10-second rule and restarting shot clocks at 14 after violations. This time around? I don’t know what you’d change short of adding power plays. You heard me — power plays! If you earn a technical or commit a “Flagrant 1,” you have to sit at the scorer’s table for 75 seconds while your team plays shorthanded. If you commit a “Flagrant 2,” your team has to play shorthanded for three minutes. If two opponents get double technicals, both teams play four-on-four for 60 seconds.

(Thinking.)

You’re right, that’s ridiculous. Please, everyone, start making more shots. There’s a reason nobody wants to watch 79-76 games … it’s called the WNBA.


Thank God for the Spurs, an offensive powerhouse that has single-handedly saved the playoffs from turning into a rockfight. They’re headed for a second sweep while pacing the league in points per game (103.7), shooting (49.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (42.7 percent). It’s the best version of international basketball we’ve ever seen — the Spurs might as well be Argentina or Spain, only with superior players. Everything revolves around their slash-and-kick guys (Parker and Ginobili), their 3-point shooters (too many to count) and their versatile big men (Duncan, Diaw and Splitter, all of whom know where to go and what to do). And unlike Nash’s high-scoring Suns teams from back in the day, San Antonio can also rebound and protect the rim, which makes them our single most dangerous playoff favorite since the 2001 Lakers. They aren’t just beating teams, they’re eviscerating them.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about “Footnote Titles” — when opposing fans pick apart a team’s title by saying, “Yeah, but … ” and point to an especially fortunate break that helped them win. If the Spurs keep playing this well, they’re going to single-handedly wipe away every 2012 footnote (and there were many). Sometimes in sports, you just have to shrug your shoulders, nod your head and give someone an appreciative golf clap. We might be headed there with the 2012 Spurs, who have been quietly closing in on “Best Team of the Duncan/Popovich era” status for about 10 weeks now.

Even if Miami–Oklahoma City is the Pipe Dream Finals (just from an entertainment standpoint), no pure basketball fan would refuse a Celtics-Spurs matchup: an old-school battle featuring seven Hall of Famers, two elite coaches, and two proud teams that love playing together, and even better, know how to play together? Putting Duncan vs. Garnett, Rondo vs. Parker, Popovich vs. Doc, the 1997 lottery and every other subplot aside for a second, when you remember what decade we’re in — here’s a reminder, in case you forgot — the familiarity of that Finals matchup would make it more special than anything.

The Garnett/Doc/Pierce/Rondo/Allen Celtics have been together for five years; the Duncan/Popovich/Ginobili/Parker Spurs have been together twice as long. When basketball is humming the right way, it’s not about throwing an All-Star team together — it’s about familiarity, about knowing your teammates almost as well as you know yourself. Boston fans adore this particular Celtics team because we know them. We know when Pierce or Rondo is feeling it, when it’s clicking for Garnett, when we’re going to run that sneaky play for a 3 with Ray coming off a double screen … it’s gotten to the point that when Rondo drives into the paint and pulls over Garnett’s defender, we start reacting to the alley-oop lob to Garnett even before Rondo releases it. I’m sure Spurs fans know exactly what I mean. When the nucleus of a good team knows itself to the point that it permeates to the fans, that’s when you’ve really accomplished something. It’s what the Spurs and Celtics managed to build, it’s what Oklahoma City has been trying to build … and as the Heat is learning, it’s something that can’t be thrown into a microwave and cooked like a frozen burrito.

It’s also our best hope for these playoffs. Scoring might be down, but I still have high hopes for the last two rounds, if only because three of our contenders (the Spurs, Celtics and Zombie Sonics) know exactly who they are, and our fourth contender (Miami) has no freaking idea whatsoever. It’s compelling. Ugly at times, but compelling. As for everything we’ve seen so far, I thought we’d hand out some postseason awards.

The John Travolta/Kelly Preston Award for “Rockiest Marriage That Seems Destined for Divorce”

To Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra, the latter of whom attempted to shrug off Wade’s Game 3 hissy fit by playing the “it’s basketball, you get mad at each other sometimes” card. Normally I’d agree with this — teammates yell at each other on basketball courts all the time, whether it’s a pickup game, an AAU game, an NBA game or whatever. You let off some steam, then it’s over. But this one felt different for a couple of reasons. First, people have been speculating about a Wade/Spoelstra rift since February; everyone thinks Spo is gone if they lose, for a variety of reasons — most notably, the fact that he changes his playing rotations the same way a hockey coach changes up lines from game to game (the no. 3 NBA coaching no-no behind “don’t sleep with one of your players’ girlfriends or mistresses” and “don’t throw a player under the bus to the media”). Having Wade flip out in such a pivotal game didn’t help.

Second, if I’m a Miami fan, here’s what would really worry me: Did you see how quickly Juwan Howard and Udonis Haslem reacted to what was happening as Wade started to F-bomb Spo? Normally when you see something like that, there’s a two-second delay when you think, Wait, is this really happening? And then you move. But Howard was moving even as Wade was starting to heat up, and by the time he was in full f-bomb mode, Howard and Haslem had already moved between Wade and Spo. You move that quickly if you’re thinking, Oh shit, it’s happening again, I have to stop this now.

And third, this Miami team has been something of a mess for two months. How many times did we watch them quit in nationally televised games as talking heads made excuses for them? They have no identity. They have no idea who their best eight players are. Last night, in Chris Bosh’s absence, Dexter Pittman started for them. Dexter Pittman?????? Ever since the 2010-11 season started, they’ve been a three-man team with genuine instability at the center, wing, point guard, backup big man and backup wing spots and that’s never really changed. Only the excuses keep changing. And on top of everything else, they relied on their top three to dangerous degrees — minutes, scoring loads, usage rates, crunch-time plays, you name it — in a league where anyone can go down at any time.

So you can’t tell me Wade’s Game 3 meltdown didn’t mean anything. It went beyond the one incident — he played with the weight of the world on his shoulders, someone who was deeply concerned about his team’s fate, someone who didn’t trust anyone except for his superstar teammate, someone who couldn’t get into the flow and then panicked because he knew that if he couldn’t get going, his team was screwed. It was the single weirdest moment of the playoffs, and it’s paved the way for our single most compelling game: Sunday at Indiana, which could end up being the equivalent of bouncers flicking the lights of the Heat Welcome Party and telling everyone to go home.

Meanwhile …

The Kcirtap Gniwe Award for “Most Improbable Reversal of the Ewing Theory”

To Chris Bosh, who’s currently making everyone say, “Wow, I can’t believe how much Miami misses Chris Bosh!” Who knew??? If Miami blows this Pacers series, do we say it happened because of the Gniwe Theory or just rename it the Bosh Theory?

The Kate Hudson/Wilmer Valderrama “There’s a Reason We’ve Dated So Much” Award

To Ramon Sessions, the darling of Lakers fans heading into the postseason … only now, he might as well be holding a “THERE’S A REASON I’VE PLAYED FOR FOUR TEAMS IN FIVE YEARS” sign. At least they can replace him with one of their two no. 1 picks this summ— whoops, my bad.

The LaBradford Smith Award for “Worst Trash-Talking”

To Atlanta owner John Michael Gearon Jr. for pissing off Kevin Garnett before Game 6 of their series with those “KG is old and dirty” comments. It’s always fun when someone who …

(A) Was once part of a “Big 3″ that included Stephon Marbury and Wally Szezcerbiak;

(B) Was drafted four spots behind Joe Smith;

(C) Passed the 50,000-minute mark (regular season plus playoffs) in Round 1; and

(D) Is playing his 17TH NBA SEASON (!!!!!)

… takes offense because someone called him old, but hey, if that’s what it takes to eke out some old-school 28-14’s, world-class interior defense and generally spectacular play out of KG, we’ll take it. In fact, I’d like to point out how old KG is. Feel free to run this quote on your newspaper, blog, podcast, radio show, Tumblr, Twitter feed, Facebook page, CB feed or however else you communicate to other human beings.

“It’s just too bad that Kevin Garnett is so old.”
— Bill Simmons

The Community Award for “Best Resilience in the Ongoing Face of Cancellation”

To Andre Iguodala, who surged ahead of Danny Granger, Rudy Gay and Luol Deng in the “Small Forward You’d Love Having on Your Team, Just Not for $15 Million a Year” rankings by making the second round for — wait a second, Andre Iguodala made the second round? What the hell just happened? Iggy made my single favorite play of Round 1: going coast-to-coast after Omer Asik gakked his clinching free throws in Game 6, passing up the Get Me On SportsCenter Playbook (dribble to the 3-point line, pull up and launch an inexplicable 3), going hard to the rim, drawing the foul and draining both freebies to clinch the series for Philly. Throw in a stellar two-way performance all spring and Iggy probably knocked himself out of the offseason trade rumor circuit for at least eight days.

(While we’re here, let’s give at least somel kudos to Granger — even if he’s shot the ball poorly in the playoffs and done nothing to shed the “You’re not winning anything if Danny Granger is your go-to guy” label, he’s done an effective impersonation of a loose cannon in the Miami series. I loved how he went out of his way to mix it up with LeBron these last two games; Granger and David West clearly believe they’re the toughest people in this series and carry themselves that way, even if that’s not necessarily true.)

The Kris Jenner Award for “Best Impersonation of an Overbearing Momager During the Playoffs”

Normally you’d just pencil in Ray Allen’s mother here, but no! Here comes Pam McGee charging down the stretch! AND SHE TAKES THE LEAD! AND SHE’S GONNA WIN IT!!!!!!! I’m actually going through Pam McGee withdrawal in Round 2 — couldn’t we make her a sideline reporter or something? She always seemed like she was one bad call on McGee away from charging onto the court, grabbing one of the referees by their earlobe and making them apologize to her son as JaVale says, “No, Momma, no!”

The Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract Award for “Most Times Per Minute That Someone’s Name Is About to Be Ejaculated by ESPN.com’s Trade Machine”

To Rudy Gay, who spent Round 1 being defended by Caron Butler (playing with a broken hand), Randy Foye (six inches shorter than Gay) and Nick Young (who spent the last 25 years carefully constructing his life so the word “defense” was never involved) and submitted these numbers: 19.0 PPG, 42.1% FG, 21.1% 3FG, 5.7 FTA, 15.2 PER … and in the fourth quarter of Game 7, had more turnovers (one) than made field goals (zero) as the Clippers pulled away in Memphis.

So what happens now? The Grizzlies are sitting at $62 million in 2013, and that’s not counting O.J. Mayo (a restricted free agent). Should they dump Gay’s contract to a young team with cap space (Toronto, Cleveland, Portland, New Orleans, etc.) for a 2012 lottery pick? Could they flip him to Minnesota for Derrick Williams? What if they flipped him for Tyreke Evans (who makes one-third as much money)? Am I overrating his value? Should they keep him and let Mayo leave? And how much easier would this decision be had the Grizzlies picked James Harden instead of Hasheem Thabeet? That reminds me …

The Sam Jones/Manu Ginobili/Dennis Johnson/Walt Frazier Award for “Best Job Lurking in the Weeds and Raising Your Game When It Matters Most”

To James Harden, who gave us the most important moment of Round 1: Game 4 in Dallas, when Harden drove the dying Mavs to the veterinarian’s office and put them down himself. Oklahoma City’s ceiling before that game: “If Westbrook and Durant aren’t making jumpers, there’s no Plan B.” Oklahoma City’s ceiling after that game: “Actually, there is a Plan B — they can just turn things over to Harden, let him create for everyone else and keep going to the rim.”

Oh, and just in case you worried that performance was a fluke, Harden repeated it against the Lakers in Game 2. That spawned an “Is Harden an original prototype?” e-mail thread with me and two die-hard NBA buddies — we finally decided that he has a chance (repeat: a chance) to become Ginobili 2.0, an even more athletic/durable/potent lefty two-guard who gets better when it matters. It’s in play.

(I will now go into my archives and destroy every snarky sentence I ever wrote about OKC taking Harden over Stephen Curry.)

The Ari After Medellín Award for “Most Panicked Performance by an Agent After a Colossal Stink Bomb”

With all due respect to Ramon Sessions’s agent (Jared Karnes), I’m giving this one to Steve Novak’s agent (the likable Mark Bartelstein), who probably had the following conversation with Steve right after the Miami series.

“Steve, what the hell happened?”

“I don’t know, they stayed home on me — they wouldn’t let me shoot.”

“I mean … you realize we just flushed $16 million down the toilet, right?”

“Can’t we just call Billy King and pretend I was hurt during the series?”

“Good point! I’ll call him right now.”

(On the flip side … )

The Robert Downey Jr’s Agent After The Avengers Opened Award for “Most Times Someone Screamed Ka-Ching in a 72-Hour Span”

To David Falk, the agent of Roy Hibbert … a restricted free agent who might be looking at a Marc Gasol–like payday if he keeps dominating this Miami series like he dominated Game 3 (19 points, 18 rebounds, five blocks). Are you emotionally prepared to live in a world in which Roy Hibbert makes $15 million a year? Me neither.

The Bizarro Isiah Thomas Award for “Best Performance by an NBA Legend After His Playing Career Ended”

Do you realize that the Legend is the first human being to win a Rookie of the Year award, MVP award, “Coach of the Year” award and “Executive of the Year” award? Let’s see THAT happen again! LONG LIVE THE LEGEND!!!!!

The Another 48 Hrs. Award for “Worst Title Defense”

Two schools of thought: (a) the only thing that matters is winning a title, and (b) part of winning a title is defending that title. I believe the latter, which is why I remain lukewarm on the ’83 Sixers as an All-Time Greatest Team (they got bounced the following year in a humiliating Round 1 loss to New Jersey), and why I love the ’86 Celtics so much (they were banged up the following spring and could have rolled over, but they didn’t). Dallas’s willingness to toss away their title defense for cap space (and the “chance” at Dwight Howard and Deron Williams) always seemed a little too clever, as well as a massive underestimation of everything Chandler did on and off the court.1

What rarely gets mentioned here: Had they convinced Chandler to take a little less to stay, they could have pursued Deron Williams this summer (with Dirk and Chandler as the bait) and maybe even used Chandler as trade bait for a sign-and-trade for Howard (either in February or this summer, which wouldn’t have been any more callous than how they treated Chandler, anyway). And they could have actually defended their title.

Here’s where a Mavs fan might say, “I don’t care, we won the title.” Yeah, but you also won the “One of the Worst Title Defenses Ever” title. In the Shot Clock Era, only two defending champs missed the playoffs: the ’99 Bulls (no MJ or Pippen) and ’70 Celtics (no Russell or Sam Jones), but since both teams were rebuilding, you can’t totally blame them. Four other defending champs were bounced in Round 1: the 1981 Lakers (lost a best-of-three miniseries to Moses Malone’s Rockets), 1984 Sixers (lost a five-gamer to Micheal Ray’s Nets), 2007 Heat (swept by Chicago) and 2012 Mavs (swept by Oklahoma City). That’s a short list. The Mavs outsmarted themselves; heck, they couldn’t even complain about Lamar Odom as he stole money from them for four straight months, because Odom’s agent (Jeff Schwartz) represents Williams as well.

And by the way … why are we so convinced that NBA free agents are so desperate to play in Dallas again? Because they want to play with Nowitzki … who’s about to turn 34 and cross the 45,000-minute career barrier? Because they want to play for Cuban … who didn’t take care of Nash in 2004 or Chandler in 2011 when both guys wanted to stay? You don’t think players around the league noticed how Cuban handled Chandler’s situation? Even if we’ve learned not to count out Cubes (especially when things look bleak), I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t grab a do-over for the last 11 months.

The MJ’s Hitler ‘Stache Award for “Funniest Ongoing Moment in the Same Commercial They Keep Showing During the Playoffs”

You know that iPhone commercial with Sam Jackson in which he keeps asking Siri questions? After a Phoenix reader named Patrick e-mailed three weeks ago, “Does anyone else keep waiting for Samuel Jackson to ask Siri, ‘What does Marcellus Wallace look like? WHAT DOES MARCELLUS WALLACE LOOK LIKE???'” … I can’t help it, I laugh every time. Can’t they film a second commercial with Jackson and Travolta dressed like Jules and Vincent and asking Siri for directions?

Vincent: “Siri — take me to the closest sauna.”

Jules: “Why the (bleep) do you want to go to a (bleeping) sauna, Vincent?”

Vincent: “You don’t have to come, Jules.”

Jules: “I just think it’s weird, that’s all.”

Vincent: “It’s weird to sit in a sauna and sweat out toxins.”

Jules: “No — that part isn’t that weird, but we both know that’s why you aren’t going to a (bleeping) sauna!!!!!!”

Vincent: “Settle down, Jules! I don’t like what you’re implying here.”

Jules: “No, I’m not gonna settle down! This sauna thing creeps me out, Vincent!”

Vincent: “You’re working my last nerve, Jules … “

The Scott Layden Award for “Shakiest Slew of Fringe Signings That May Have Inadvertently Crippled a Championship Contender Before It Won Anything”

Hey, Pat Riley … if you had to do it over again, would you give Haslem, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers a combined $20 million this season?

The Herm Edwards “We Can Build On This!” Award for “Things You Can’t Actually Build On, Even If You Say You Can Build On Them”

To the precocious Jazz, who unexpectedly barged into the playoffs before getting trounced by the Spurs to the degree that Al Jefferson said that he didn’t know if anyone was beating San Antonio this spring … only they hadn’t played Game 4 yet. Whoops. By making the playoffs, they also had to give a lottery-protected pick in a deep draft to Minnesota as part of the Jefferson trade from years back. Yes, I’m fighting off the urge to make the “anytime you can give up the 18th pick to get swept by an average of 16 points per game, you have to do it” joke.

(The good news for Jazz fans: David Kahn is making that pick.)

The John Stockton Award for “Dirtiest Star Who for Whatever Reason Isn’t Actually Considered Dirty”

I love how Wade plays — he’s a throwback to those halcyon days when NBA players acted like men, delivered hard fouls, stink-eyed opponents, tossed an occasional message elbow, flipped out in huddles and relied on the mental side as much as the physical side. You can’t be against flopping and half-assed flagrant foul calls while also being anti-Wade. Then again, as Vegas reader Robert Anderson explains: “Wade DISLOCATES Rondo’s elbow. Wade BREAKS Kobes nose. Wade BODY-BLOCK TACKLES Collison. Forget Metta World Peace, the biggest threat to player safety (and biggest NBA brat) is D Wade!!!” I wouldn’t go THAT far … but he’s one more “frustrated clothesline of someone” into becoming a borderline villain. At the very least, everyone in Indiana thinks Dwyane is a dcik. (Waiting.) Sorry, I had to.

Here were the other villains of the 2012 playoffs so far: the fire extinguisher that assaulted Amar’e; Derrick Rose’s ACL; the ABC producer who didn’t cut away from Baron Davis’s knee in time (giving us five extra seconds to look at Baron’s obliterated kneecap, which almost looked like it had five knuckles covering it; Shaq; Shaq again; my positive Clippers column last week (which somehow injured both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that same night and ruined the Clippers’ season); the Clippers’ stupefying comeback in Game 1 of the Grizzlies series (which, tragically, displaced one of my favorite Celtics victories ever to become the greatest playoff comeback ever); Mike Woodson’s perfectly groomed circle beard (which makes all the other circle beards feel inadequate); referee Marc Davis (who’s heard more anguished “DONAGHY!!!!!!!!” screams from fans this postseason than every other official combined); Joakim Noah’s ankle sprain; and especially Carlos Boozer (a much-needed scapegoat for traumatized Bulls fans after his 1-for-11 stink bomb in Game 6).

The “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!!!!!” Award for “Most Shameless Promotion of a New TV Show That’s Destined to Fail”

Do I even need to say the name of the show? Here’s a hint: It rhymes with “Jerk It.”

The Brian’s Song Award for “Sports Moment That Should Have Always Been Accompanied by Really Sad Piano Music”

To every shot of Derrick Rose sitting in his luxury suite during the last few games of the Philly-Chicago series.2 You know what I realized somewhere between the 79th and 103rd time? Isn’t Rose the best basketball player who ever blew out his ACL? Considering no MVP winner ever tore an ACL the following year — or at any point in their prime, as far as I can tell — your default answer here might be “yes.”

Digging deeper, the biggest NBA knee injuries ever were probably Elgin Baylor (Game 1, 1965 playoffs, was never really the same), Amar’e Stoudemire (the microfracture surgery that knocked him out for the 2005-06 season), Gus Johnson (ask your dad or granddad about him), Tim Hardaway (a terrifying offensive talent who was never totally the same after tearing his ACL before the 1993-94 season, when he would have played with C-Webb, Mully and Spree on a team that won 50 games without him), Rick Barry (during his ABA days), Billy Cunningham (abruptly ended his career), Danny Manning (derailed his career before it ever really got going), Ron Harper (young Ron was better than anyone remembers now), Wilt Chamberlain (ruptured his patellar tendon 12 games into the 1969-70 season and was never totally the same), Mark Price (his career was heading in a Stocktonish direction before he blew out his ACL in his fifth season), Greg Oden (whose career never got going, obviously), Bernard King (coming off a transcendent ’84 playoffs and averaging 33 a game) and probably two more that I can’t remember.

I don’t know if there’s any way to answer this (but that’s never stopped me before). For me, Baylor’s injury ranks first, just because of his pedigree (seven seasons, seven straight first-team All-NBAs when he went down) and its effect on the title picture (the Lakers made the Finals in ’65, ’66, ’68, ’69 and ’70 AFTER Elgin’s knee injury, and no, he was never quite the same). After that, it’s Rose and Bernard in some order — you’d give Rose the edge because the 2012 Bulls were much more of a contender than the 1985 Knicks, but shit, Bernard was ripping through the league when he went down. Try to look at his March box scores without grunting out loud. Begrudgingly, I’m putting Rose second and Bernard third. But I had to think about it. Either way, this is depressing. Let’s move on.

The John Carter Award for “Moment When You Realized Everything Needed to Be Blown Up”

To Oklahoma City possibly sweeping the Lakers … which, of course, will lead to the inevitable Bynum trade (for a one-year Dwight Howard rental) and the inevitable Gasol trade (for multiple pieces), as well as Mike Brown’s inevitable firing, Phil Jackson’s inevitable return, and everything else that will probably work out in their favor because this is what happens historically for the Lakers. God, I hate the Lakers.

The Lena Dunham Award for “Finest Performance in the Face of the Backlash to the Backlash of the Backlash’s Backlash”

To LeBron James, who’s the best player in the league, hands down, only we’re never going to fully appreciate him for everything he does (and that’s a damned shame) … but man, there’s never been a better player who disappears more noticeably down the stretch or seems happier NOT to touch the ball on massive possessions. Then again, his crunch-time numbers are better than you think, and when you throw in his two-way intensity and his minutes load, what LeBron James does from night to night is incredible and you’d have to be an idiot not to appreciate it … but on the flip side, if he’d ever learned a real low-post game, maybe Miami wouldn’t miss Chris Bosh this much, and if he had looked for a more complete team two years ago instead of aligning with two other All-Stars, maybe he wouldn’t be playing so many minutes and doing so many things to cover up so many players … and that’s fine, but he’s this generation’s best talent and WE NEED TO START FULLY APPRECIATING LEBRON JAMES FOR EVERYTHING HE DOES AND STOP PICKING HIM APART (!!!!!!!) … and (my head hurts).3

The Tim Tebow’s Playoff Game-Winning 80-Yard TD Award for “Most Hard-Core Recent Evidence That the Mayans May Have Been Right About 2012″

As Kentucky reader Jonathan B. points out, “If the Heat blow this Indiana series, on May 30th, Cleveland has a 13.8% chance of fulfilling Dan Gilbert’s prophecy of winning a title before LeBron does.”

The John Bender Award for “Best Unfinished Story That’s Probably Even Better If You Don’t Know How It Finishes”

The funniest moment of the playoffs: when Barkley joked about an injured Caron Butler getting dressed so quickly during a Memphis-Clippers game that he took a “Cliff Robinson Shower,” then Kenny and Shaq laughing knowingly, like they knew exactly what he meant … you know, like Cliff Robinson’s showers were infamous within NBA circles. Did all three play with Cliff before? Were Cliff’s showers so legendary within NBA circles that it didn’t matter if you played with him or not? Did he shower and get dressed without drying off? Did Cliff have terrible B.O. — in other words, he didn’t shower, and that was the joke? And which Cliff Robinson were they discussing here? Was it 1980s Cliff Robinson (Cliff 1.0) or 1990s Cliff Robinson (Cliff 2.0)?

Because my life revolves around wasting time to figuring out ultimately meaningless answers, I scurried over to basketball-reference.com to see if Cliff 1.0 and/or Cliff 2.0 had been a teammate of Chuck, Kenny and/or Shaq. Only Chuck played with Cliff 1.0 (in Philly from 1985 to 1989), so that’s probably who he meant … but if that’s the case, then why did Shaq laugh so knowingly, when Cliff 1.0 retired in 1992, the year before Shaq entered the league? I thought about calling TNT and asking Barkley directly, then I realized something. It’s more fun NOT knowing. The Cliff Robinson shower can be whatever you want it to be. So here’s how I’m choosing to interpret it: Cliff 1.0 never showered and stunk like holy hell, to the point that name-dropping him 20 years after he retired would still get a laugh.

The Diane Lane Award for “Most Uncanny Ability to Totally Defy One’s Age”

We’re splitting this award between Garnett and Duncan, both of whom are playing better than they ever have in years — repeat, YEARS — and reinvented their careers and teams in the process. In my 2011 NBA Playoff Preview I wrote, “Here’s the reality: The Spurs were always Tim Duncan’s team. Once he stopped being the best player in every playoff series, they stopped winning titles.” Suddenly, they’re looking like Duncan’s team again, and just like Duncan, they haven’t looked this good in five years. You could say the same for Garnett: The ceiling of the best possible Celtics performance is the highest it’s been since January 2009, and only because of the way he’s playing on both ends.

Coming off a brutally condensed regular season that was supposed to wear out the older players, does this make any sense whatsoever? NO!!!!!!!!!! It doesn’t even begin to make sense!!!! In February, I saw both play in person and had the same thought for each: “Damn, it’s a little tough seeing them playing on one leg like this.” Now they’re flying around like it’s 2003 again? Do you want to make the “Did they charter a plane to Germany over the All-Star break?” joke, or should I take it?

(Let’s just end this column before I jinx this whole thing.)

Filed Under: NBA, Sports

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Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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