As an amateur basketball writer extraordinaire, I of course have a lot of close friends and sources inside the NBA. So from time to time, I get flooded with emails from some elite names in the industry who want to get the inside scoop on all the current hot topics in the league. Welcome to Jeff’s NBA Mailbag (Playoff Edition).
Q: How can the NBA make the opening Eastern Conference Playoffs series watchable for fans?
(Adam, New York City)
JB: Listen, I’m a red-blooded American who loves watching the NBA just like the rest of you. But the Eastern Conference is just dreadful this year, and unsurprisingly I’m not really looking forward to watching these opening round series. Just thinking about a few of the matchups is making my stomach start to turn; for God’s sake Tyler Hansbrough started a playoff game yesterday for the fourth-seeded Toronto Raptors. Yes, this Tyler Hansbrough…
Who would have thought Hawks-Nets wouldn’t be must see TV? Or that an Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics team wouldn’t be enough to entice some fans to watch playoff basketball? Crazy, right?
But lucky for the NBA, I’ve got a few suggestions that would really spice up this opening round and make every game a must watch:
1. Half-court shots are five points
C’mon, this would be great. Teams would never be out of the game, because you can erase a double-digit deficit in two shots. We might even start seeing teams field half-court specialists, and these guys would undoubtedly be whiter than J.J. Redick and Matt Bonner combined.
2. Call your own fouls
Just like your neighborhood pick-up game, boys. This would speed up the game, and take away all those terrible judgment calls the refs are always forced to make in critical moments.
3. No out of bounds
Besides the fact that players don’t have to worry about tip-toeing the sidelines and baselines anymore, this rule is more for who gains possession when the ball does go out. Whomever gets to the ball first, their team gets the possession. Players going into the crowd to get the ball back from that errant pass would become a regularity. Worst case scenario, we have another Malice at the Palace. Best case scenario, we see some intense races through obstacles in the arena by a couple players going for the ball:
4. Two balls in play
This is pretty outrageous, I agree. But we’d probably see a lot of scoring close to, or over, 200 points a game. The games would be incredibly frenetic, and TV crews would have a hard time with the broadcast. However, as fans we’d probably get to see a lot of fast breaks and weird plays. One team could have both balls and are trying to score simultaneously, or both team could each have a ball and are going in opposite directions and players would have to choose to play offense or defense. Just a lot of possibilities here and potential for some highlight material. I know I’d tune in for two and half hours to see that.
5. OT is 2 vs. 2
If for some reason with all these new rules games still go to overtime, it’ll be decided by a 2-on-2 matchup up to five points counting by ones. Teams will put their two best players out there to see who comes away with the W. I’m down to watch John Wall and Bradley Beal take on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, or Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler take on Giannis and Khris Middleton.
Adam Silver, I’m giving you my full permission to steal these ideas and use them for the playoffs this year; you won’t be hearing from my attorney if all of a sudden you implement these new rules.
(Scotty, Oklahoma City)
JB: I’m really excited that we finally get to see Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in a playoff series, even though they’re basically the walking dead going against Golden State. But at the same time, I’m really bummed we don’t get to see the mad man Russell Westbrook go to work. This question is incredibly tough and I don’t think I have a straight answer. But I’ll give it a try anyway.
Watching Anthony Davis and watching Russell Westbrook are just two different experiences, when you break it down. Watching Davis is like drinking a fine wine or aged single malt whiskey; it’s all about appreciating all the individual flavors and the aromas and not just about the drink. Davis is so skilled and so talented and does so many unique things on the court you can’t help but take in and savor what you are watching.
Conversely, watching Russell Westbrook is like taking 10 shots of Jack Daniels and then washing it down with a couple Four Loko’s. Everything is fast, full of energy, and stuff gets really crazy when Russ is being Russ:
These guys are two of the top five players in the league, and ideally we’d want to see them both in the playoffs. However, if you put a gun to my head, I’m going to pick AD because we’ve yet to see him in an actual pressure-filled playoff series.
Q: Who ya got making it to the Finals?
(Mike B, Atlanta)
JB: So here’s a true story. In December I made a wager with a friend who shall remain nameless, saying the Finals matchup this year would be Hawks vs. Grizzlies. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have made that bet. Also because making an NBA Finals wager in December wasn’t the most prudent idea.
However, I still think it’s possible that we could see a Hawks/Grizz Finals matchup, although I’m not going to put my hand to the Bible and say they definitively will. As boring and unoriginal as this pick is, I’m choosing the Cavs and Warriors:
Unless the Spurs are absolutely for real again, I think the Warriors will likely be moving on. Yes, Charles Barkley, a jump-shooting team is going to make the Finals. A jump-shooting team that’s also No. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency. I also believe that it’s almost a certainty that LeBron and the Cavs will take down the East as well. The Hawks are a nice story, but as I continue to imagine a Hawks/Cavs series over and over in my head, I just can’t pick against LeBron and Kyrie. It may still go to seven games, but the Hawks don’t have enough fire power, and their defense and team-oriented style of play can only carry them so far in a matchup that features the best player on the planet. Also, LeBron is just too battle-tested, and the Hawks really do have limited playoff experience.
And by the way, I got Cavs over Warriors in seven.
Q: Which opening round series are you looking forward to watching the most?
JB: Without a doubt it’s Clippers/Spurs. Fueled by a ton of star power and great individual matchups between CP3 and Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin. Also Kawhi, lots and lots of Kawhi. We can already hear the sighs and whining coming from the Clippers locker room about the Spurs being a six seed and the preemptive wining about future non-foul calls. The Clippers are so unlovable and I dislike them so intensely that I’ll watch every minute of this series so I can root against them with extreme fervor.
Also, this is kind of being downplayed, but this might be the Clippers’ last chance at making a Finals run. DeAndre Jordan isn’t a given to stay in LA, Chris Paul ain’t getting any younger and the Clippers don’t have a draft pick until about 2027. Meanwhile, the Spurs are league-best at playing possum and then making us all look foolish when they hit their stride come playoff time. And I really like watching the uncomfortable tension during Popovich sideline interviews:
Q: Are you predicting any upsets in round one?
Memphis Grizzlies (5) over Portland Trail Blazers (4) in six games.
(Interesting subplot to MEM-POR: LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol are impending unrestricted free agents; does whomever of the two loses in the first round become more likely to leave this offseason?)
San Antonio Spurs (6) over Los Angeles Clipper (3) in seven games.
None. Going chalk.