Hate the Playoffs, Love the Game?

God created the world in six days, so why does it take eight weeks to pick an NBA champion: A City Pages dialogue

 

4. How long has it been since Shaq put up one of those 40-point shock-and-awe performances? We can all call him "the most dominant player in the game," like he were some Amazonian blond lady in PVC clothing who fulfills adult fantasies by the hour. Hey, he's 340 pounds and he wants to be a cop when he grows up. (Maybe I was on to something there with that costume-and-handcuff theme.) But it's starting to seem like a fantasy to me that Shaq is going come alive on offense during these playoffs. After the first half of Game One, Shaq has planted himself for interminable stretches on the left post--as if he were doing an impersonation of a Redwood tree in a stiff breeze. (His hands sure look like wood on the foul line; I like his chances better from half court at this juncture.) To tell you the truth, it wouldn't surprise me too much if some L.A. environmentalist who calls herself "Beautiful Oasis" tried to set up a platform on top of his shoulders, and then started camping out there.

Which is to say that Shaq is starting to look to me like the monument we all wish could be preserved forever, but who is fated to be cut down. For this is the fate of all things mighty and glorious.

--Michael Tortorello, 3:39 p.m. Tuesday, April 20

 

Where Is the Evidence That the Regular Season Doesn't Mean Anything And That Teams Somehow Bide Their Time Until the Playoffs?

 

Steve, what were the friends who mocked you for watching the NBA in January doing instead--catching football's Pro Bowl down in Hawaii? Watching The Apprentice, Extreme Makeover, or the bully-boy pontifications on Fox News? Coming out of Menard's with materials to rehab their basement? Reading War and Peace? Well more (or less) power to all those sorry bastards. Hope they had as much fun as I did watching the Wolves go 12-3 this January, led by the glorious exploits of NBA Player of the Month Kevin Garnett, who I would watch play pick-up ball for peanuts on a playground in August if he was willing to showcase his entire range of skills.

Where is the evidence that the regular season doesn't mean anything and that teams somehow bide their time until the playoffs? There are fewer upsets in the NBA playoff series than in any other team sport. Of the ten playoffs games in the books thus far this season, the higher-seeded team has yet to be beaten. If anything, an argument can be made that the rigors of the regular season produce a select group of teams of such obvious quality that many of the first-round matchups are predictable warmups for the big guns.

Tell me Steve, because you're a baseball fan--why do we have to wait 162 games, twice the amount of an NBA season, to find out the Yankees will be one of eight teams left for the postseason? At least Payton and Malone have to forego millions in salary for the Lakers to stockpile its daunting talent base.

Which brings me to Michael's entertaining screed, his transparent bid to wrest the moniker of the Big Aristotle from Shaq. I've seen seven of the eight quarters of the Lakers-Rockets series (thank god the million-watt doppler didn't show an untidy gust of wind in Pine City, prompting the weather masturbators to pre-empt coverage), and I think L.A.'s only problem is getting the Spurs in the second round. You're right about Payton; he's a 35-year old mitten who should be shifted over to Cuttino Mobley, because Little Stevie Francis (who I bet does a mean rendition of "Uptight") wouldn't be getting no triple-double with Kobe on him. And I can't say that I disagree with you about your distaste for Malone, that semi-ridin', Rogaine-shillin' he-man who ran at the sight of Magic Johnson's blood. But at least Malone understands what he signed on for, which was to be a high-profile pooper-scooper in the Kobe-Shaq circus.

And you may be right about Kobe, with that Iverson-Malkovich conspiracy theory. Hoops freak that I am, I liken it more to a higher-stakes version of the Marbury snit, whereupon Stephon thought he should be bigger than KG and took him enormous gifted game and even more enormous ego elsewhere to prove it. Now he's being quoted as saying Flip Saunders was the best coach he ever had and, following checkered stops in Jersey and Phoenix, is being mocked by his boys from Coney Island as the Knicks gets schooled in the playoffs.

But you're wrong about Shaq, Michael. The guy is still the most dominant player in the NBA, the one everyone fruitlessly schemes to contain, the one who is so incredibly powerful and quick for his size that it is nearly impossible to figure out whether he is charging or being fouled on more than a dozen plays every game. Whether he puts up 40-point shock-and-awes or not, he is the focal point. He is the Wilt Chamberlain of our era.

And Tim Duncan (another guy I know you dislike, Michael, you hopeless misanthrope) may be this era's Bill Russell. That's what makes the inevitable second-round Spurs-Lakers matchup so enticing and--are you listening, Steve?--so tough to predict. The Spurs are all about fundamental, maniacal, team defense. The Lakers, this year, anyway, are all about magical individual performers who may not equal the sum of their parts. I honestly don't know who will prevail--if you put a gun to my head right now, I'd say the Spurs in six. But I do know there hasn't been a more compelling second-round playoff pairing in any team sport in the last five years.

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