Both the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are a game away from meeting in the NBA Finals. The last time these teams met were 5 years ago. That was the only year they’ve ever been into the Finals. A rematch, as some would put it. But some prefer another angle of looking at the current conference finals of both East and the West.
Experience prevailing over youthfulness.
The teams the Mavs and Heat are playing–the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls–have the youngest roster among the up and coming teams from both sides of the NBA world. The Bulls have the second-year Derrick Rose, this year’s MVP, while the Thunder have the 22-year old Kevin Durant, the youngest ever to be hailed NBA scoring champion. They are both surrounded by the youngest line-up of starters, benchmen and other role players. They’re mentored by two of the newest coaches to break into the scene–Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks–who were also the last two recipients of the Coach of the Year Award.
All good on paper, a lot would say. But not good enough to challenge their more experienced opponents.
The disparity is most evident during crunch time, when the pressure is high and the stakes are higher. This is where the younger teams scramble for clues on how to solve the heat of the dying minutes of the game. On the other hand, the Mavs and Heat have the pains and stripes of defeats past to help them draw strength and wisdom down the line. That they have both prevailed three games to one against their youth-laden opponents have served proof for their ability to rise to the occasion.
But, in the words of Derrick Rose, the series is far from over.
Chicago and Oklahoma still has three more games to tackle straight if they want to win. Otherwise, they’re gone for the summer.
Youth vs. Experience.
Which one will it be?
As of this writing, the Chicago Bulls have drawn first blood with a 103-82 rout of the Miami Heat, while the OKC Thunder just barged into the Western Conference Finals for a duel against the Dallas Mavericks.
Interesting, to say the least.
The Mavs earned their way to the Western finals with a sweep of the defending champs LA Lakers, while the Thunder were pushed to the limit by the Grizzlies with a win-or-die Game 7. The match-up could go either way, actually. Either the long layoff hurts Dallas, or the fatigue Oklahoma. A win by Dallas can ultimately vindicate them after years of disappointment in the playoffs, or a loss will only frustrate them even more. As for Oklahoma, reaching this far is already a franchise achievement even if they eventually fall to Dallas, but nothing short of a ticket to the finals is all Kevin Durant and the rest of the gang are aiming for.
A totally different story plot has taken on a life of its own in the East. The Chicago franchise had a shot at landing Dwyane Wade before the season, but when Wade opted to stay, LeBron pulled off his decision to move to South Beach, and, with Chris Bosh joining the fray, a new big three was born. Fittingly, they dismantled the paradigm big three of the Boston Celtics in five games. The Heat are now a round away from going back to the finals after five years.
If OKC and Chicago prevails in the conference finals, we’re looking at a square-off between two teams with the youngest line-up. A Dallas-Miami rematch will also be an interesting square-off to look forward to.
Things are just beginning to heat up in the NBA.
It took 65 games for the Chicago Bulls to land themselves this season in the number one spot in the Eastern conference standings.
Looking at it another way, it took 14 years for the franchise to be back on top again.
The last time the Bulls was team number one in the East was in 1997. Unless you were born in 1999, or you’ve been living under a rock all this time, you should know who were their star players back then–Jordan, Pippen, Rodman. Equally a common knowledge about the Bulls was who their mentor was, Phil Jackson. The three players have long since retired–two having been inducted to the Hall of Fame–and the coach is penning strategies for the LA Lakers. Let’s not make footnotes out of Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, Toni Kukoc, and Ron Harper–they, too, composed the other roster of the Bulls’ raging frontmen.
And then the hiatus.
Year in and year out the Bulls seesawed with their seasons as playoff contenders and pretenders. They’ve experimented their chances to strike gold under various coaches, but none prevailed as much as Jackson did, or at least one-sixth of his championship mettle as a Bulls coach. There wasn’t much to do really with a team whose roster was anything but definitive. Surviving the season to make it to the playoffs was just enough consolation by the end of summer for the players to take the off-season in high spirits. It didn’t matter if the exit was a first-round or a second round loss–just to spend a few more weeks post-season was reason for fun.
And then came Derrick Rose.
The best pick since Elt… err… Michael Jordan, Rose proved that he was more than the hype surrounding him. He dropped hammers, dimes, and everything point guard-ish. He did it with such flare and ferociousness, he moved from franchise player to product endorser. What’s even notable in his rise was that it didn’t get out of the team context. The coaches who mentored him, and the one currently doing so, Tom Thibodeau, has done a lot to keep his horns in their proper places–a rampaging bull that had unique calm and humanness in him.
Talk about the worth of a man: he himself discredited the Bulls rise to his own doing. Get him a pulpit and he will preach about their team effort. You cannot get the guy admit to his own brilliance. The proverbial “I’m just doing my job” is an expected response when asked what he’s contributed so far.
This, and so many other considerations and factors, have brought the Bulls on top. The regular season is just about to wrap up. They have clinched a playoff berth. They’re being touted to give all other Eastern contenders a run for their money.
Whatever the outcome might be by the end of the season, one thing is for sure. The Bulls have raged, and may well continue to do so.
In the words of Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, there’s a new sheriff.
Derrick Rose scored a career-high 42 points to lead the Chicago Bulls past the San Antonio Spurs, 109-99 in the first of two final games of the season just before All-Star break at LA(the Dallas-Phoenix game continues to ensue as of this writing).
The Bulls avenged a defeat handed them by San Antonio last November 17, a 103-94 loss that did not include a healthy Carlos Boozer on the roster. This time, Boozer gave a 15-point contribution to the cause, the only other double-digit scorer aside from Rose and Luol Deng. From the side of the Spurs, Tony Parker scored 26 and Manu Ginobili with 16. The Spurs, despite the high scoring output of most of their players, were sorely out-rebounded by Chicago, 41-29. The Bulls were also more accurate with their field goals and free throws compared to the Spurs, who will close out their annual Rodeo Road Trip with a 6-3 win-loss card.
The win further certified Rose’s run for an MVP award, just a year after he won Rookie of the Year honors. Rose is appearing in his first All-Star game as a starter for the East, alongside Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire. Meanwhile for the Spurs, Tim Duncan and Ginobili will wear the West jerseys as reserves.
The Spurs are now 46-10, while the Bulls have a 38-16 record. The Spurs are still the only team on the 40-win mark, and are leading all teams in the league by at least 6 games.
What has unfolded over the weekend at the NBA Playoffs has pushed me to look back at our fearless forecasts and see which of them still holds.
Lakers vs. Thunder [prediction: Lakers in 5]
This one’s not anymore true, as the Thunder has pushed it so far to a six-game duel. If LA takes the next two games, then the other half of our forecast holds.
Jazz vs. Nuggets [prediction: Nuggets in 6]
Not anymore, it ain’t six games. The undermanned Jazz is in command at 3-1. Denver will have to push for the ultimate jugular by winning the last three games. And if they don’t, our prediction’s busted for this match altogether.
Suns vs. Blazers [prediction: Portland in 7]
With the series tied at 2 games apiece, the only way this prediction fails is if Phoenix aces their next two assignments–assignments that Brandon Roy could foil. His return mixes up all factors into the playoffs, and our forecast might just come through.
Spurs vs. Mavs [prediction: Mavs in 6]
This is the only prediction that I am utterly glad and delighted to be wrong. I’m a big Spurs fan, but at first I really thought the Mavs would be tougher this time around, especially if you look at how last year’s playoff match between them ended. But things have turned out entirely different than our forecasts. Definitely, it won’t be just six games anymore, as the Spurs are ahead 3-1. Dallas will have to win the next three straight games, or their off-season summer officially starts.
Cavaliers vs. Bulls [prediction: Cavaliers in 5]
One more win by the Cavs and our prediction will fully come true. Derrick Rose better pull out his best tricks up from his sleeves, or else their journey ends on the road at Cleveland.
Celtics vs. Heat [prediction: Celtics in 6]
Since they have gone 3-0 already, even before D-Wade took over earlier in their game four atrocity and winning one for the Heat, the Boston Celtics are coming back home for a chance to go for the kill. Unless Miami robs one on the road, the series will end at five games in Boston, for Boston.
Hawks vs. Bucks [prediction: Hawks in 4]
Well, there’ll be no sweep victory for the Hawks in this first round obstacle, as the Bucks bounce back to stay alive in the series. The Hawks are still favored to win this round, but not without facing the fear of the deer.
Magic vs. Bobcats [prediction: Magic in 5]
Definitely, after going up 3-0, Magic will win this series, as no team has bounced back from a 0-3 deficit to win the series. But they will have to fight some more to prove that they did not just fluked their way to the playoffs. One game will at least give them a playoff win, and prove our prediction true.
Since our predictions are two-part (who wins, and in how many games), we’re quite sure that Orlando and Boston are going into the next round. One more set of duels and we’ll get to see how our forecasts went for the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs.