By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Mar 17 2009 6:50PM
Dealing with uncertainties is one of those necessary evils that we endure. Will I still have my job next month? Did I do well on my LSATs? Is Dad gonna be OK?
When we apply the unknown to sports, though, we suddenly love it. It's the third week of March, which means that the great unknown of the NCAA Tournament is working the country into a barely controlled delirium. But while the college game takes center stage, the pros are entering the stretch run of their regular season with plenty of questions that, at least for me, go unanswered.
If I can't get a handle on someone or something, I like to refer to them as mysteries, enigmas or suspects. Each has its own distinction. An "enigma" puzzles me; I use "mystery" if I have no confident idea of an outcome; and if something is "suspect" then suspicion is involved. For instance: For the life of me, I can't figure out why Akon and T-Pain are platinum-selling recording artists, but I do know there is some valid formula to the hits they make ... enigmas. Will Jay Electronica's debut be the new millennium Illmatic? Now that's a mystery. On the other hand, Dr. Dre's Detox and D'Angelo's James River may very well drop this year, but both release dates are as suspect as the 20 that preceded them. See the difference?
I figured that I'm not the only dude unsure about some players and teams leading up to the Playoffs, so I organized a few unknowns into an Enigmas, Mysteries and Suspects list for your consideration:
Player, Ron Artest -- Artest is your classic wild card, so we know that he will have some type of impact. My hunch is that he will win games for the Rockets in the Playoffs, who, in some great irony, will probably get out of the first round without T-Mac. When Mac went down, the first thought that popped in my head was, "This might be good for the squad, since, at this point, Artest can probably do Mac better than Mac can do Mac." I've seen Ron-Ron routinely dribble balls off his shins, his jumper is ugly, he's never been athletic and that's even more of the case these days. But, somehow, he remains one of the six or seven best all around players in the game. I don't how it'll happen, but Artest will be heard from this Spring.
Team, Orlando Magic -- A center with no real post game, two long-range bombers and no muscle at the forward spots, a new point guard, marginal wing players, an offense that seems to solely consist of drive-'n-kicks, a coach that looks like The Dude That Played Mario in Super Mario Bros ... but, for some reason, I think this team is for real. Still trying to figure it out. Let me get back to you in April.
Player, Brandon Roy -- Until Roy actually plays some postseason minutes, has to claw his team back into a game with eight minutes left in the fourth, has to shrug off encroaching self-doubt in front of some nuts in Salt Lake City with the Blazers down 2-1 in the series; until he meets the kind of obstacles that grow more daunting in the Playoffs, I can only make educated guesses. I believe the young dude is one of the five best pressure-scorers in the League and it'll translate when it counts this Spring. But who really knows? We shall see...
Team, Miami Heat -- Isn't it at least plausible that Dwyane Wade could single-handedly beat any team in a seven-game series? Yeah, I mean any team. I wouldn't put it past him, and that remains the most compelling unknown in the East. The last time someone was on an offensively dominating and impactful tear of this grandeur, Kobe almost upset the contending (and 54-win) Suns in the first round of the 2006 Playoffs.
Player, Joe Johnson -- I love Joe, love his skill set, love his demeanor, love a lot about him. Something is rubbing me wrong these days, though. Forgetting his terrible January, where he averaged fewer than 18 points on 37.1 percent shooting, Joe just doesn't seem like he's ready for that "best player on a team that advances" set. I know what you're thinking: "Did you see him drop 30-plus on the Hornets, Jazz and Blazers recently?" I did. But I also witnessed his largely inconsequential performances in road losses to the Jazz and Blazers last month. I'm also a little miffed that Joe hasn't been a little more forceful and influential with repairing the Josh Smith-Mike Woodson rift. Soon I will be revealing my updated and very short list of Real Franchise Players. Think Joe makes the cut?
Team, Los Angeles Lakers -- The Lake Show is supposed to roll right through a bunch of 50-win teams, right? Like, L.A. is UConn and the West is the Trenton region of the NCAA women's tournament. Word? That's how things are gonna go down, even though every team in the league has a real chance to Beat L.A. when the Lakers go on their "we refuse to defend" binges? Seems like the consensus is that L.A. won't get tested until they meet an East squad in June. I don't know about that ...
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites your feedback at email@example.com.
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