The second round continues with another new matchup tonight. It's certainly one few would have anticipated.
Because we feel that no one understands the NBA more like the way we wish we understood the NBA than the gang at Free Darko, we've asked them to write up previews of every playoff series throughout the postseason. It will help us understand what's at stake in each series, what matters, what it means for the individuals involved, their fanbases and their history. And there will also be funny, bizarre, non-linear photographs.
After the jump, our final conference semifinal preview, the series between the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors. It's certainly an odd second round matchup; it's amazing that one of these teams is going to be on series away from the Finals. And it's certainly inspiring to see the Warriors so close here, even if the two teams seem dramatically different than one another. If you want to hop in with your predictions in the comments, please do. Because we type about sports, and people expect it, our prediction is Jazz in 7.
And now, Dr. Lawyer IndianChief , from Free Darko, after the jump. Enjoy.
The Golden State Warriors or Utah Jazz are going to the Western Conference Finals. I give up trying to figure out anything anymore, and so I am not picking a team in this series. Neither of the Jazz or the Warriors had won a first round series for years, and both teams are supported by giddily hungry fanbases. The Jazz have defied logic, defeating Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and, in doing so, eradicating the two-star philosophy, a hallmark of championship basketball for the past 10 years. The Warriors, on the other hand, have transcended basketball all together to become an underdog rogue ideology, a universal symbol for optimism driven by impulse. If all goes as planned, this series will be a seven-day game of Risk played between Andrei Kirilenko and Andris Biedrins, with Jerry Sloan and Don Nelson standing watch as personified remnants of NBA basketball during the Cold War.
The most intriguing encounter of this series is between the two stalwart coaches, Sloan and Nellie. Plenty of electronic ink has been devoted to Don Nelson's smallball genius over the past week, but equally masterful during this season has been Sloan, the real coach of the year (with all due respect to my boy, Sam Mitchell). Sloan, to an even greater degree than Pat Riley or Phil Jackson, is the only remaining coach who can justifiably give one of those "F*ck all you guys — I've forgotten more basketball than you'll ever know" press conferences. His demeanor is Lou Piniella and Bill Parcells minus the pomp. He is the most respected man in the league. And despite his elder status, he can innovate with the best of them.
For all the press that Golden State has received for their multi-guard attack, Sloan has done the same thing — but with forwards. Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur and even Paul Milsap are interchangeable swords. Just like Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, and Matt Barnes are equally useful hand grenades for the Warriors. THE POSITIONAL REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED, WITH PAM OLIVER ASKING PEOPLE IF THEY CAN SUSTAIN THAT MOMENTUM GOING INTO THE SECOND HALF.
Which brings me to my next point. Since Golden State defeated the Mavericks, we're supposed to have fully embraced them as the encapsulation of true human potential: They embody style, they brought the joy back to the NBA and they taught us the true meaning of Christmas. I'm on board with that, but I refused to posit the Jazz as some makeshift foil, Aryan-centric, basic and defensive-minded. The Jazz possess style as well, though of a subtler form. Whereas the Warriors emit warmth and color, the Jazz players convey a chilly nihilism — an indifferent isolation in which one draws the conclusion: I have no one else to live for except me. This series will not be a battle of style versus the absence of style, but rather two specific brands of anarchic panache.
On the purely basketball side of things, we are treated to a clash between the relentless Baron Davis, Pecos Bill in sneakers, versus the greenhorn, Deron "Double Tuff" Williams. As these playoffs have single-handedly reaffirmed the point guard as the league's marquee position, I expect this battle to be nothing less than spectacular. The concept of "matchup" exists nowhere else in this series. I no longer have any idea who plays what position on either of these teams. Positional pandemonium also reflects the fact that neither of these teams possesses a focal point. Baron Davis at best occupies this role for the Warriors, but even he admitted deferring to S-Jax and J-Rich at times during last series. On "Pardon the Interruption" last week, Michael Wilbon asked Davis whether he thought it was bad for the NBA for teams like the Warriors to advance. "Teams like the Warriors" referred to "teams lacking a defining superstar" and was positioned in opposition to teams such as Dallas that possesses a definitive "The Guy" in Dirk Nowitzki.
The answer to Wilbon's question is meaningless. The Warriors, and the Jazz as well, may in fact be proof that a League of Stars is dead, and rather, this league is one in which star-status is not promised, but instead sits at halfcourt there for the taking, for whoever has the guts and know-how to kidnap it for a season (Mehmet Okur) or for a postseason (Matt Barnes). Allen Iverson was recently cast out as a footnote, Dirk Nowitzki as a pariah. T-Mac is an apparition, and D-Wade and Shaq are all but forgotten. Kevin Garnett watches from his couch, as do Paul Pierce, Elton Brand and Ray Allen. The Warriors and Jazz represent something more meaningful than star status. They are the active pursuit of greatness. Children gather around the TV, these are your true American idols.