On the NBA playoffs

The Baltimore Sun

Granted, sports are supposed to represent the ultimate meritocracy - may the best team win and all - but if the NBA Western Conference finals wind up being the Utah Jazz against the New Orleans Hornets, the TV ratings will be so puny you'll be able to count viewers by a show of hands.

Both teams have had nice seasons and have outstanding players, but let's face it, these are teams with identity problems. Neither franchise even had the simple creativity to change its nickname when it relocated. The only story line will be how one team comes from a city famous for great music and free-flowing booze and the other, well, isn't.

Quick, other than the Hornets' Chris Paul, name a player from either team. Maybe, you picked up on the cute twist that a guy named Boozer (Carlos) and another named Brewer (Ronnie) play for the Jazz, but you'd have to be a real fan.

But here we are in mid-May, and basketball fans are faced with just such a prospect because Utah and New Orleans are each tied in their respective conference semifinals (2-2) against the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively.

In contrast, consider a possible Los Angles-San Antonio series.

The Lakers have the league's Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant, now an almost sympathetic character playing gamely with a bad back, and the Zen master, coach Phil Jackson, noodling strategy on the bench.

The defending champion Spurs have the original Big Three - Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker - and an uncanny ability to adapt to virtually any opponent.

There's even more star power in the stands. When the series is in Los Angeles, at courtside, there's the dark menace of Jack Nicholson and the cool of Ice Cube. In San Antonio, it's the sizzle and glamour of Mrs. Tony Parker - Eva Longoria.

Now think one more step ahead, to the NBA Finals. Assuming the Boston Celtics prevail in the Eastern Conference (and yes, there are still three other teams who figure into the equation, but let's just assume), there's a potential throwback matchup of Lakers-Celtics, or a possible three-on-three duel pitting the Spurs' trio against Boston's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

So as the two Western semifinals, Jazz-Lakers and Hornets-Spurs, come down to a best-of-three, let's just say this: May the best teams win - just as long as they're not boring.


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