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.
James Harden Is a Bad Actor
A few years ago, in typically self-aggrandizing mode, the NBA announced a crackdown on flopping. This year just five fines were given out, each for a couch-change $5,000. Officials still consistently give floppers the call, effectively ensuring that flopping will continue to be the weapon of choice among the league's soft-bellied reprobates. With a refereeing core that – apparently as a matter of practice – get nearly every out-of-bounds call wrong, foul calling restraint is a bridge too far. The winner standing astride this pile of nonsense? Houston's James Harden (who, incidentally, has stopped playing defense altogether). Harden did come away with one fine, which isn't bad weighed against the hundred-plus calls that went his way. Watching him is like watching Buster Keaton, but significantly less funny. Harden’s pratfalls are worth four to six points a game; his defense, a solid negative ten.
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