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#IMHO: The Postseason, Game of Thrones, plus final shots

by Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2019 8:57 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO


Welcome to Zombieland, that period of the year where the NBA Playoffs are in full swing and the NBA junkies among us are walking around like zombies as we try to balance a regular work life with staying up well past our bed times to watch games. Not to mention tacking on that hour at the end to catch “Inside the NBA,” which remains essential viewing for any NBA fan.

The good news is that there haven’t been many postseason series this year that have demanded our full attention. At this point as I write to you, the Nuggets and Spurs are still trading haymakers, and the Warriors have their hands full with the Clippers. But other than that, every other first-round series settled. So my question to you is, do we need to do something about the current playoff format? The Pacers and Pistons each limped into the postseason and got got. Would mixing up the matchups so that the NBA’s best 16 teams qualify give us a more compelling experience? Or should tradition (and geography) matter?

Giannis Antetokounmpo guards Blake Griffin

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2019 9:42 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Here’s the thing, Lang, the 16-best NBA teams did actually make the playoffs this season. Unlike most years, there was no outlier in the West – an above-.500 team that typically gets left out while a below-.500 squad makes it in the East. So, even if the format was tweaked, we’d still end up with that dud of a first-round series in which the Bucks completely destroyed the Pistons. We also would have still gotten the Raptors against the Magic.

So, the system got the best teams in. The unfortunate part, though, was that two of those teams in the East – the Pistons and Pacers – were simply not healthy and were overmatched by the Bucks and the Celtics. Other than that, I think the first round has been more compelling than some give it credit for being. The drama in the Sixers-Nets series, where Brooklyn’s GM tried to enter the ref’s locker room and the owner was fined $35K for tweets detrimental to the league, was intriguing. The Westbrook-Lillard competitive beef took us back to the glory days of sheer disdain among stars from the 1980s and 1990s. The Spurs-Nuggets series has featured wild momentum swings, technical fouls and temper tantrums. And then there's Pat Beverley. I’m loving it.

Yet, all that said, reports show that TV ratings are down as much as 26 percent for the NBA playoffs so far, and there’s no LeBron James to carry national attention on the court. Lang, is this a blip on the radar or a legit concern as the postseason pushes along? Have we been conditioned now to be more focused on off-court issues, coaching searches and Game of Thrones/Zones (of which I’ve never seen a single episode) more than the actual NBA game?

Kevin Durant featured in Game of Zones

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 9:37 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I’m not really concerned with the ratings, only because from what I understand, those are television ratings, and these days the NBA is consumed in so many different ways. I find myself watching games on my phone, on my laptop, through my Roku… pretty much every way except through cable television. I’d guess consumption through those alternate avenues is through the roof, if we compare those ratings to past years, or at least as long as they’ve tracked those viewers. Not having LeBron in the postseason hurts, for sure, but as the bad teams get eliminated and we start to see more compelling matchups, I’m sure viewership via traditional means will get a bump.

(And Ser Michael, I’m gonna fly right by your shocking admission that you’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones. It must take a will stronger than Valeryian steel to be able to proudly walk around knowing you’re missing out on one of the few cultural phenomena uniting folks right now. I didn’t watch the few first seasons, but after my son was born and I had late-night duty, I started binging through shows until I caught up. Now I can’t miss a minute. And I’m going to miss it dearly once it’s over. There’s so much good content out there these days, that when something comes along that’s truly great, it makes it even better.)

(Also, a pro tip: When you do eventually start watching GOT, watch it with the subtitles on, which makes it much easier to track all the characters and sprawling storylines.)

But back to watching postseason games: I think last night Damian Lillard made a failsafe case for not missing a game in the postseason. Lillard’s entire performance was incredible, putting 50 on the Thunder in an elimination game, but his game-winner, series-ender, from darn near halfcourt, was one of the most incredible shots I’ve ever seen. Which got me thinking about incredible shots: What was the most amazing shot you’ve ever seen. Not just in person, but even live on TV. As a tiny kid I hazily recall seeing Lo Charles grab a rebound and get a dunk to win a title for NC State, and I was there (you probably were also, come to think of it) in Miami in 2013 when Ray Allen hit that impossible 3 to push Game 6 to overtime. But that degree of difficulty on Lillard’s jumper is pretty hard to top.

Damian Lilliard

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 12:21 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Lang, while I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and also admit that I’ve never seen an episode of Breaking Bad, The Office or Star Wars, to name a few. I do love TV dramas and, once hooked, I can binge with the best of them. Homeland, Billions and Sons of Anarchy are among ones I’ve slipped into a binge coma to consume recently.

Back to basketball, as you mentioned. Dame’s shot was simply ridiculous because of the degree of difficulty, the stakes, the drama that led to it and for the way he dismissed Russell Westbrook and OKC as if he were dropping a diss track on some mixtape. Westbrook, for all the good he does in other areas, comes across as a bully at the point guard position – both from a physical sense and a mental aspect. And Dame not only stood up to him in ways few other point guards tend to do, but he destroyed him in both the individual and team battles. Good for Portland. They’ve endured a lot the past few seasons, but Dame has stabilized that franchise through it all.

They’re the Cinderella team of the postseason, unless the Clippers rally for an epic upset of Golden State. The only other shots that reach that magnitude to me are Jordan’s series-ending jumper over Craig Ehlo and Cleveland in Game 5 of the 1989 playoffs, and Jordan’s championship-sealing crossover (and push-off) of Byron Russell to beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

So we’ll wrap up on this: There’s still a bit more business to take care of in the West, but the semifinals in the East are set. It’s Milwaukee-Boston and Toronto-Philly. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those teams emerged as the conference’s rep in the NBA Finals. But it’s second-round prediction time. I’ve got the Celtics over the Bucks in 6 and the Raptors over the Sixers in 7. Lang, who ya got?

Dwayne Wade shakes hands with Dirk Nowitzki following the 2006 NBA Finals

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2019 8:25 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO


First of all, it’s fun to live in a world with an Eastern Conference where there isn’t just one team on top with a bunch of randos fighting to get past that one team. (With that one team on top having LeBron on it.) Instead it feels like there is genuinely a couple of teams that could come out of the Eastern Conference.

That Bucks/Celtics matchup should be a ton of fun. For NBA coaching junkies, this series should provide plenty of matchup questions and lineup tweaks from two coaches regarded as among the best in the biz. Who guards Giannis? Who can stop Kyrie? Can Boston get consistent production out of Hayward or Tatum or Horford? Does Bledsoe burst out? My head is saying choose Boston, but I think this Milwaukee team feels like they’ve got some magic about them, so I’ll say Bucks in seven.

On the other side of the bracket, it’s been interesting to watch Marc Gasol do his thing in Toronto, where he’s asked to shoulder less of a burden than he was here in Memphis, and he’s able to pace himself a bit more. I think the key against the Sixers is going to be Kyle Lowry – for all their talent and gifts, Philly still doesn’t have a point guard who can defend other point guards. Ben Simmons is a great player, but until the Sixers get a size-appropriate backcourt player, I think they’re at a disadvantage. Unless they can suit up Khal Drogo or maybe JJ Redick rides in on one of Khaleesi’s dragons.

So I’ll say Raptors in 6.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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