By Lorenzo Tanos
No defensive intensity. No heart. An abundance of potential draft busts, including the first-overall selection. A lot of teams allegedly "tanking", or deliberately racking up losses in an effort to boost the chances of a high lottery pick, preferably the top pick. That was the NBA season in a nutshell, though the NHL season was much better and that fuels some very exciting New York Rangers playoff predictions. In terms of numbers, only 13 teams being able to hold their opponents down to less than a hundred points per game.
No, 2013-14 was not a very memorable regular season for this writer, and I would even make a case for 2013-14 being the worst NBA season since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 where on-court rust and a tighter schedule both played a bigger part than tough defense and slow game pace in driving scores down. Fortunately, the NBA Playoffs have done a good job in stepping up the action, proving that 2013-14 may not be that much of a wash after all, as far as NBA season go.
For one, we've seen the Oklahoma City Thunder emerge victorious in a tough seven-game series versus the Memphis Grizzlies where franchise player Kevin Durant was slagged by the hometown press as "Mr. Unreliable." Yes, it was definitely unfair to criticize Durant after his particular bad Game 4, where he scored just 15 on 5-for-21 shooting, and went just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Take note that he was covered by Tony Allen, who remains one of the NBA's top stoppers. And everyone has their off-nights every once in a while, regardless if they're among the NBA's finest, or sitting on the deep end of the bench chewing on a towel. Durant's Game 7 performance last night (33 points, 8 rebounds, 12/18 FG) shut up – and should not have surprised – his critics, and the Thunder are shaping up as definite favorites against the Portland Trail Blazers in their upcoming second-round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Speaking of the Blazers, they were part of another reason why this postseason has been making up for the dicey regular season. Damian Lillard's wide-open, buzzer-beating three gave the fifth-seeded Blazers a 4-2 series win over the Houston Rockets, while spawning a variety of memes as the second-year point guard gave us an instant classic of a last-second shot. And while the outcome of the San Antonio Spurs-Dallas Mavericks series is still up in the air as of this writing, it would certainly be interesting if the underdog Mavs pull a fast one over the tried-and-tested Spurs and become one of a handful of eighth seeds to make it to the second round of the Playoffs. Oh, and Vince Carter's own buzzer-beater to win Game 3 of the series also deserves a lot of mention as a memorable moment of the 2014 Playoffs.
The Eastern playoff series have also given NBA fans a lot to talk about, what with the sixth-seeded Washington Wizards surprising the scrappy Chicago Bulls and winning their series in just five games. Yes, I had expected the Bulls to continue rallying together and make it at least to the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Wizards' first-round win wasn't that shocking in retrospect. After all, John Wall and Bradley Beal make up one of the NBA's best young backcourts, while Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat were both resurgent this past season. Of course, the Wizards will be up against the Miami Heat in the second round and may find their behinds handed to them once that series is over, but they deserve credit for their first-round run and may just be one quality frontcourt player away from graduating from dark horse status and becoming true contenders.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers did provide some memorable moments as well, but not for the right reasons. The recent practice scuffle between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner has underscored the team's tense locker room mood, and it goes without saying that the Pacers would have finished off the Atlanta Hawks in less than seven games had they not been so distracted. With all those issues on the Pacers' mind, that makes them candidates to get upset by the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series, or to get embarrassed by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, assuming the Heat beat the Wizards and the Pacers also make it to the final two in the East.
All told, it's been one helluva ride in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and here's hoping things remain as exciting as they are in the weeks to come.