On rebound, NBA can't control boreds


The two-time defending champs, the Detroit Pistons, after a tough time, will beat the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls will do a good deed by putting the Philadelphia 76ers out of their misery. Yawn.

The Portland Trail Blazers will finally get tired of knocking John Stockton to the floor and beat the Utah Jazz while the Los Angeles Lakers are outlasting the Golden State Warriors. Ho-hum.

Sometime, before the month is out, the Blazers and Bulls will literally hammer their way into the NBA final, alias Summer Slam. Z-z-z-z-zzzz.

Come June and entering the NBA's eighth month of play, tens, perhaps even hundreds, will take note. Not if you believe everything you read in the newspapers.

Every late spring it happens. Men, women and children take to their computers and word processors and wax celestial. "March Madness is hype," warns one author, "the NBA playoffs are the art of basketball." Oh!

Another laments that his life is a shambles because he's up every night watching doubleheaders into the wee hours for fear of missing a single play.

There was a time, another pro fanatic insists, when first-round playoff matchups were a snooze, blowouts. But, golly-gee, look this year: The Celtics had to go five games before getting rid of the Indiana Pacers. The Pistons and Blazers were taken the distance, too.

There are still blowouts -- the Knicks, Bucks and Rockets, for instance -- but they can happen to anyone, right?

And, yikes, what athletes we're dealing with here.

Isiah Thomas has a bad wrist, but he comes through for 26 points in the crucial fifth and deciding game. Didn't his Detroit team win that one by about three dozen points or so?

Then there's Larry Bird. To hear some tell it, the man is absolutely paralyzed from the neck down until you put a basketball in his hand. Somehow, he will hoist up 32 points.

If Charles Barkley was just another guy going to work on the assembly line every morning, he'd certainly be on 100 percent disability by now, his right knee's so bad. Still, these lads and countless others press on with their miracles daily.

And Michael Jordan. The heck with President Bush's thyroid problem, what is it with the tendinitis in Michael's knee? The world awaits the next bulletin.

It almost goes without saying, no matter what happens in the conference finals and the showdown, it will be no less than stupendous because all that has gone before it was so great, great, great. After all, these are the ultimate players.

It's hard to believe these practitioners of the "art of basketball" turned out so well considering the time they wasted in college, where, the pro fan insists, such an inferior brand of ball is foisted on the public.

One recent diatribe suggested that all that team vs. team business from grade school up ever did is stifle creativity. The game, he insisted, basically comes down to one-on-one.

It's hard to imagine anyone, thinking back to the heyday of the Bill Russell-Bob Cousy Celtic teams, or the perimeter game the Knicks featured 20 years ago, or the Lakers with Magic Johnson conducting, arriving at such a conclusion. Especially when teams boasting dominant centers named David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon already have been excused for the summer.

Aficionados of the fidgeting pivot foot, the carry dribble and the free-for-all action under the backboards like to make sport of the NBA regular season, pointing out it's strictly for practice. The playoffs, on the other hand, are heavenly because defense is now for real. And the officiating, well, let's just say a wee bit more contact is allowed.

Meanwhile, remembering back to when the colleges were deciding their championship, some would have us believe that Duke simply turned out to be the best of 64 pickup teams. Conveniently forgotten is it beat what many of these same experts classified as a made-to-order NBA squad, UNLV.

Of course, pro basketball is the creme de la creme, players with unmatched talent who, when inspired, provide virtuoso performances on cue.

For many, though, the virtuosity too often is front and center and, along the way, the team struggle is lost and it almost becomes a different game.

Pro watchers, glory in your passion for May Mania and June Jubilation, but kindly spare us the homily about how all other athletic endeavors pale by comparison. We've seen Manute Bol play.

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