Friday, May 16, 2014

How 'Bout That NBA "Parity"?

When the NBA playoffs started, there was a sense that the road to the championship was wide open, with five or six teams feeling like they had a real shot to least make the Finals. A frantic first weekend of Round 1 -- which was filled with road wins and fantastic finishes -- only reinforced the idea that the NBA was moving toward a system of greater parity.

Now? It's the eve of the conference finals and those possible Round 1 "upsets" seem like a distant memory. In both conferences, the top two seeds will clash for a chance to make the Finals. And in both conferences, we'll be watching matchups that many people correctly predicted way back in October. Did we really need each team to play 90 games in order to figure out that the Heat and Pacers were the class of the East?

At the same time, isn't it great that the NBA cream almost always rises to the top? As exciting as it was to watch five series go the distance in the opening round, the best teams made it to the Final Four. Unlike the other three major American sports, pro basketball has a postseason that always rewards its most-talented, well-run franchises. Home-court advantage and the seven-game series usually ensure that the best squads move forward.

Look familiar? (Photo via projectspurs.com)
The preeminence of talent over other factors makes for great rivalries. The Lakers-Celtics, Pistons-Celtics, and Pistons-Bulls series of the '80s and '90s didn't happen repeatedly because of some sort of happy coincidence.

Unless something crazy happens, in a few weeks we'll be watching a rematch of either the 2012 Finals (Heat-Thunder) or the 2013 edition (Heat-Spurs). I don't know about you, but an encore to last year's insane Finals sounds pretty damn enticing. As a consolation prize, a duel between this generation's top two players seems okay, too.

Look, this league will always belong to the three or four best players in the world, with the occasional 2004 Pistons-type anomaly.* And nobody should complain about that. Just like Bird, Magic, Isiah, and Jordan always competed deep into the playoffs, LeBron, Durant, and Duncan always stick around after everyone else has been sent packing. And I wouldn't trade that awesome fact for any amount of "exciting" parity.

*No, this year's perplexing Pacers aren't one of those anomalies.


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