Though the Eastern Conference was nip and tuck all season because of the parity, the playoff matchups were less-than-intriguing.
The West, however, was a different animal.
Not as strong top to bottom as it had been in the past, the Golden State Warriors had an entertaining path:
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10. Officiating overhaul
The officiating has been brutal, but got better. Those last two-minute reports for games when the margin is five points or less aren’t new. The blown calls, however, have been more high profile.
The Spurs couldn’t catch a break in their series with the Thunder, though blaming their six-game defeat on refs is a reach and inaccurate. The better team did win. The process, however, needs to be revamped.
Pulling Scott Foster out of the rotation for Game 7 of Warriors-Thunder was a good start though an explanation from the league about that elephant in the room would've been nice.
9. Not worth the money
DeMar DeRozan is not a max talent though he’ll still get max money because the market will dictate salaries. It’s basic math: Twenty-plus teams with the salary cap room to make a max offer with less than five genuinely max players available.
While DeRozan is an All-Star talent, he’s a low-efficiency shooter who dribbles out the shot clock and devours the basketball.
He’s a good fantasy pickup when just points matter but if basketball was just about shooting J.R. Smith would be LeBron James. DeRozan was terrible on the road vs. the Cavs before his team was eliminated. He was terrible overall in the postseason, shooting less than 40% from the field and just 15.4% from three. The highest he’s ever shot in the three playoff appearances? Exactly 40%.
8. Winning the 2013 NBA Draft
Thunder center Steven Adams could prove to be the most impactful player taken in the 2013 draft.
C.J. McCollum will have plenty to stay about that, too, but Adams does it without having to stuff a stat sheet. It’s his defense and ability to switch out onto smaller players. Adams averaged 10.1 points on 61.3% shooting and 9.5 rebounds in these playoffs.
His strength is his intangibles such as toughness and hustle and not needing the ball to impact the outcome of a game. Pretty good for a No. 12 pick. Adams had a minus-33 plus/minus for the Warriors series which proves how stupid and irrelevant that statistic truly is.
7. Father Time still undefeated
Tim Duncan finally is old. It has taken five years of me predicting this for it to finally hold true. In 10 playoff games, he didn’t score in double digits until the Game 6 elimination vs. the Thunder. He had double-digit rebounds just once.
According to a person close to Duncan to CSNmidatlantic.com, the 40-year-old still hasn’t made his decision on retiring but it’s time.
6. Superstar split-up?
I’m not sure Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work together.
Both are All-Stars. Both are great individual talents. Both will end up with their names in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But with a bunch of new teammates and even a new coach and new schemes, the results remained the same. They wilted down the stretch in each of their last two losses to Golden State to lose a 3-1 series lead.
5. Defense wins championships
The Cavs might’ve started the postseason 10-0, but that’s fool’s gold until Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving can prove they can defend.
Offense comes much easier for bad defensive players when they can take half of the game off, and Golden State will go after the weak link until it snaps. If (when?) Cleveland has to play from a deficit, we’ll finally see what they’re actually made of because the jury is still out. Golden State will bring out their best -- or worst. Their track record suggests the latter.
4. Playing the "What if?" game
Let’s stop the “if LeBron had Kyrie and Love” they would’ve won the title last year unless someone wants to play the “What if” game with the Miami Heat.
With a healthy Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh, would Cleveland be home watching the NBA Finals?
Like the R.E.M. song said, “Everybody hurts … sometime.” Excuses for everyone or no one. I prefer no one, and that includes Golden State when Curry’s knee ligament sprain was an issue raised when they were losing to the Thunder but never mentioned when they won.
3. Hitting the jackpot
Joe Johnson is the luckiest man in the NBA.
While he’s at home, in Miami, watching with the rest of us, he has cashed about $173 million in salary since 2005, gotten out of the cesspool that became the Brooklyn Nets and landed in South Beach with a good playoff team.
And unlike DeRozan or Durant or Westbrook, Johnson won’t get blamed one lick for losing the series to Toronto in which he made just three three-pointers in seven games. He's truly undefeated and if he has taken an "L" in life, please tell me when did that happen. His agent should have a shrine built in his honor on the Johnson family grounds.
A very likable guy is Johnson, by the way. And great work if you can find it.
2. Return of the 'Mack?
Bismack Biyombo has said publicly that he’ll take a “hometown discount” to stay with the Raptors who’d have to use their salary cap space to retain him (don’t own his Bird rights).
He’ll opt out of a deal that pays him just $3 million next season and could earn in the neighborhood of $15 million-plus based on his playoff performance, CSNmidatlantic.com was told by a Western Conference GM. That’s noble of Biyombo, especially if he truly loves Toronto. Who doesn’t? But that means his agent takes a discount on his commission, too. He might not be as happy pending on how much less Biyombo takes.
1. There is no "I(so)" in T-E-A-M
Isolation basketball doesn't win championships.
Teams can play man-to-man and zone defense on the best players and effectively take him — or them — away by forcing the worse offensive players to make shots.
That’s where Portland unraveled vs. Golden State, San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City, and its why Golden State almost unraveled vs. Oklahoma City.
It also was a large part of the season Oklahoma City blew its lead.