The first round of the NBA playoffs had Jalen Rose contemplating one thing: How could we change it?
“I wonder what it’d look like if the first round went back to best-of-five because [six] of the eight series won’t go six games,” said Rose, an ESPN analyst. “It also has me thinking what a 1-16 seeding would look like if we combined the conferences.”
With the exception of Damian Lillard’s 37-footer that ended the Blazers’ series against the Thunder — which happened after 1 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday morning — and a pair of head-scratching Warriors performances, there has been a lack of compelling moments from the NBA’s second season. Viewership reflects that — as does a lack of LeBron James, with playoff ratings down across the board.
“There is a void,” Rose said of James and his Lakers not playing. “It’s almost like you walk out the door to get in the car and ‘Where are my keys?’ You have to go back in the house to get them.
“He’s a notable, iconic, philanthropic leader. To not have him in these game it’s going to affect some people’s interest who are casual fans.”
However, James’ departure from the Eastern Conference, where his teams had advanced to eight straight NBA Finals, has allowed for an intriguing four-team race to see who will replace him.
The stakes are high as teams tried to pounce on the opening with risky signings and trades.
“Each one of those teams has aspirations to not only make it to the conference finals without LeBron James, but to reach the NBA Finals,” Rose said. “Toronto went out and got Kawhi [Leonard] knowing he can walk, Boston has Kyrie [Irving] that could possibly walk, Philly acquired [Jimmy] Butler and Tobias [Harris] and they could walk. This has set up a level of excitement and intrigue because whoever loses in this round is going to look at their season as a disappointment.”
That includes the Bucks and MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had an NBA-best 60 wins in the regular season and obliterated the Pistons in the first round. They will try to avenge last season’s loss to the Celtics, who were without Irving and Gordon Hayward at this time a year ago. It took Boston a full season and many an Irving controversy to get here, but the Celtics now appear to be playing their best basketball of the season.
And then there are the Warriors and the Rockets. The two title favorites before the season started will have their Western Conference rematch — assuming Golden State can dispatch the pesky Clippers this weekend — a round earlier this season. It brings the potential of being the last run for this version of Golden State with Kevin Durant, who has led them to the past two titles, possibly leaving in free agency (Knicks fans may have heard about this).
“The Warriors and the Rockets had a seven-game series in Houston last year and the Rockets missed 27 straight 3s in Game 7 and still had a chance to win,” Rose said.
“They could have won last year. To watch those teams go at it will be great theater. I am so enthused to watch these second-round games.”