With summer upon us, you'll notice a new features progression here at Blazer's Edge. Every morning a features writer (sometimes including me) will bring you a full-length article. Every weekday afternoon we'll run the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. Instead of covering 3-4 questions in one post these afternoon editions will deal with a single question but they'll run 4-5 times a week. I hope you enjoy them! Don't forget to send your Portland Trail Blazers-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's question comes from an old friend of the site.
Do you stop watching basketball once the Blazers are out of it? If not, what is your self talk about this Finals matchup?
Tom! Hearing from you is like being on "This Is Your Life"...a welcome voice from the past. I still remember that first-ever Blazer's Edge get-together when you came in from Hawaii and brought Macadamia nuts. Good times. Goooood times.
I don't stop watching basketball entirely after the Blazers get eliminated but I revel in the privilege of being able to observe more casually. I keep up on the games, watch as many as I can, but I don't build my world around them the way I have to from Portland's first pre-season game to the final-final horn. It's freeing to be able to watch games as a spectator.
Oddly enough, after the Blazers say goodbye for the year I tend to notice my media colleagues--or at least the blogosphere dwellers among the media--as much as I notice the games themselves. It's funny how 2.5 hours of play can morph into 48 hours of intricate discussion among dozens of media observers. Experiencing this had led me to a couple conclusions.
1. Nobody can possibly pick up the nuances of a given team viewing games in spectator fashion, i.e. catching a few games here and there. The playoffs present many cliffs to jump off of and we're far too willing to leap off like lemmings as we try to draw conclusions. ("Golden State is finished! The Thunder have their number! Russell Westbrook is the GOAT! No wait, he's a goat. I was mostly right, I just hit caps lock by mistake! Go Warriors!")
2. There's just too much talk, period. I can only follow so many people on Twitter because I'm old, cranky, and busy and can't keep up with everything that scrolls through my feed as it is, let alone if I were following ten times the number of people. But even with my relatively limited exposure, it's easy to follow down 600 blind canyons after any given piece of stimulus. I'm astonished by how many things people find important! I'm pretty well versed in Trail Blazers lore because that's a narrow subject and it's easy to dive deep within those boundaries. But I don't get how so...many...things can carry so much weight. I imagine people with bleary eyes and shaky fingers watching their 48th replay of the second-round because this might be the one that reveals The Thing That Has Never Been Revealed Before. Sometimes I want to say, "There is no answer! Go ride a bike!" I admire the passion; I cringe at the overload.
That's a roundabout way of saying that I'm loathe to come up with a firm answer to your question, Tom. The guys at GoldenStateofMind and FeartheSword who have watched every game for their respective teams are far better resources than I for Finals analysis. I actually enjoy not being a resource! But keeping faith with the question as asked, here are some scattered impressions:
1. LeBron James not dominating the series so far is a mark of how much the league has changed. It used to be that the team fielding the best player rode a clockwork-steady advantage to victory. Several folks will scream, "But Stephen Curry is the best player!" Curry has performed better this year but Curry's success is also team-based...meaning that if LeBron and Steph played one-on-one, LeBron would win. Once upon a time individual star talent was a fairly reliable indicator of the series outcome. Now it's more about setting screens, getting your main guy open, and having enough players around him to force the defense to play honest. LeBron can still go 1-on-3 and manufacture points. That doesn't matter as much.
(That said, the worse you think the Cavaliers fit together as a unit the more you should marvel that James has gotten them to the Finals...as he's done with pretty much every team he's ever been on.)
2. My gosh, how the tides of momentum shift! I just cited Warriors-Thunder, but remember two weeks ago when the Cavaliers had "found themselves" and were ready to dominate? Now they're down 0-2 and everybody's writing them off. They might win a pair at home this week and popular opinion will be heading back the other way again. The back and forth action is exciting. We shouldn't be so quick to find the answers to who's going to win the series. Revel in the process.
3. This is real, Big Boy Basketball. I loved watching talent and resolve mix for Oklahoma City and Toronto in the Conference Finals, and they lost their series. Meanwhile Golden State is awesome and Cleveland isn't far behind. The regular season and early playoff rounds are like panning for gold through a sieve. It takes a while to get the sand out but the remnants stand out as excellent.
4. This also points out how far the Blazers have yet to go. On paper the second round is halfway to the trophy. The first half of that run is a light-to-moderate jog through 65-degree weather. The second half is straight uphill in 100-degree heat with rabid wildebeests nipping at your heels.
5. Offense is awesome but defense sets teams apart. Every team will have off shooting nights. Whether you approach those games with confidence or crumble underneath the weight of panic is determined by how well you stop the opponent. "Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 20 points on 8-27 shooting? Well you guys didn't break 90 so it's all good."
6. Completely uneducated guess, but Kevin Durant doesn't sound like a guy who's on the move. Plenty of GM's might be standing at the door with wilting bouquets of flowers this summer.
7. If you're a high-production power forward and someone asks you if you want to play on the same team as LeBron James, just say no.
Thanks for the question, Tom! Stay tuned, there's more to come! Send yours in to email@example.com and we'll have a great summer discussing them.