Another season is in the books, and the playoffs are a tip off away. Like any season, 2013-14 was defined by good and bad play and terrible refereeing. Though the high points were high, the low points were myriad, which means its probably as good a time as any to try and answer that famous question brought up by Laker legend and NBA logo model Jerry West during an appearance on ESPN's Scott Van Pelt show: Does the NBA suck?
With the exceptions of Miami, Indiana, and Chicago, the Eastern Conference is a boneyard of talent, populated by once-great geriatrics like Paul Pierce and (at just 31) Amar'e Stoudemire, solid role players in starring roles (think: Al Horford), and low-ceiling lottery picks (John Wall). And have you seen the Knicks? As part-time Detroit Piston and full-time zombie Kyle Singler would say: "Grp."
But what about the Western Conference? It has pummeled the East at a historic pace and, over the past ten years, its in-conference competitiveness has remained relatively stable, with a difference of about seven games between a five-seed and the bubble team that doesn't get in. The problem isn't a lack of competition, the problem is that the competition isn't as good as it used to be.
So maybe West is right. Maybe the NBA has a serious deficit in overall ability. And maybe the problem is that these 20-year-olds just aren't ready and the defense is shoddy and the league doesn't let anyone play physical anymore. Here's the thing: Who cares? This year's NBA has more dynamic teams than any season in recent history. The brick-and-mortar dullness of the Malone-Stockton-era Jazz is nowhere to be found and young guns like Steph Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin have all somehow – almost impossibly – gotten a lot better. With a few knotty exceptions, their teams have improved with them and adopted a bit of show-time boldness. There's always a chance that fans will see something that inspires awe and that is the best reason to watch sports in the first place.
Here are six more reasons to watch the playoffs. It's about to get wild.
Gregg Popovich Is Succinct
The numbers speak for themselves: a record 17 straight playoff appearances, four championships, a third highest all-time winning percentage of .675. But Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is more than a 65-year-old success story. Watching him stalk the sidelines is to see a tragic figure, a fatally determined cross between General Patton, Richard Nixon, and Knute Rockne. There's that woefully pitted face, the bulbous gangster nose, and his trademark scowl, like a Rottweiler bearing its teeth behind a chain-link fence. He's always been an entertaining, if guarded, personality. But over the past few years he's become an oracle of gruff brevity – Mitch Hedberg in in a game-day suit. The NBA requires coaches to give sideline interviews. If it didn't, Popovich definitely wouldn't talk. As it stands, he's created an artform out of blunt responses.
A sampling of his interviews (reproduced here in their entirety):
Interviewer: Your thoughts on the third quarter...
Popovich: We're behind.
Interviewer: Four for 22 shooting for you guys so far on offense. What’s the problem?
Popovich: Didn't go in the hole.
and in a particularly voluble mood...
Interviewer: Pop, seven for 28. Not much to like about that, I guess.
Popovich: You know, you're an incisive man. That's exactly right.
Interviewer: Pop, what’s the key to your team when you’re playing without Tim Duncan?
Popovich: There's no key. We just do the same stuff.
So when the buzzer sounds, hold off on the bathroom break. You won't have to wait long.
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