So the Final Four of the NBA Playoffs are on and four intriguing storylines coming up:
- LeBron James and the Cavaliers, playing on a seemingly mystical higher plane, coming off two sweeps heading into the Eastern Conference finals with hardly a significant challenge;
- Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, myth of invincibility shattered after being taken to the limit by a scrappy and undermanned Houston Rockets team, troubled by not being able to focus consistently on winning;
- Dwight Howard and the Magic, finally validated by beating a battered Boston Celtics that was running on fumes, after struggling to turn in clutch performances in games they should have won outright;
- Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on the Nuggets, surprising everyone with their moxie, athleticism, and team togetherness after being written off in the preseason and the Allen Iverson departure.
I'll go out on a limb and root for the Nuggets on this one, even though I traditionally don't support Western Conference teams. Since the Celts are out there's no way I will root for the Magic (who could have been embarrassed big-time had they lost to the Celtics) or feel good about LeBron. Yeah, the kid is phenomenal but give me some time to warm up to him. After all, it took me ten years to like Michael Jordan. (I was secretly rooting for Barkley and the Suns to knock the Bulls off in '93.)
Well, there's Kobe. As much respect I can give to the man, who at this stage of his career is the best basketball player in the NBA (counting team and individual achievements), I just never liked him. Anyhow, it's not really his fault, I would have supported any egotistical bastard like him if he played on my team. Since he plays for the Lakers, I can afford to hate him a little bit more.
So I pick the guys who were ruled out to make the postseason after dumping Marcus Camby and sticking with Iverson. Thank God they threw AI out of town, and probably couldn't wait to scrape his tire-tracks on that team. Chauncey Billups has been a blessing, but after watching this team several times it's obvious that the play of their underachievers Nene, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith has been their meal ticket to success.
Their odds aren't so good, judging by stats and head-to-head match-ups, but with the Lakers showing some wobble in the Rockets series, they still have a puncher's chance to take the series. From there, who knows?