Tuesday, June 06, 2006

NBA's Finals Feature Teams Who Actually Belong

The NBA Finals will feature two teams who are making their maiden voyages in the championship series, and if you think that's a ho-hum fact, you have to go all the way back to 1975 -- Golden State vs. Washington -- to find the last time that's happened.

It's okay by me if the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks slug it out for Larry O'Brien's trophy. Everyone has my permission.

In fact, if you can see past your "Why aren't the Pistons here?" anger for a moment, you'll see that this Finals has the makings of being a doozy.

You have, on the one side, two superstars in Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. And, for Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard and a cast of several who don't rely on just one person, most of the time.

You have Alonzo Mourning, playing for his first championship deep into his 30's. Wade, who's trying to capture the first of what will probably be a handful of rings.

The Mavericks have the, ahem, maverick owner Mark Cuban. The Heat has the venerable coach Pat Riley -- the East's Phil Jackson.

Dallas likes to put up points. Miami likes to deny that.

Some team is going to emerge as a first-time NBA champion, and that's not a bad thing every now and again. Thirty-one years is long enough to wait for such an occurrence, I believe.

And this isn't some freak matchup, like in the NHL. These aren't two teams -- the Heat and the Mavs -- who would only have been picked by one in a thousand people. These are two of the top five teams in the league, and they will play for the championship, as they should. Neither of them lucked into this position due to a white hot journeyman or goofy bounces of the ball -- like in hockey.

By the way -- getting off subject here -- wasn't it delicious to watch the Edmonton Oilers, who've worn Cinderella's slipper long enough already, cough up the puck and have it end up in their net with 31 seconds left in last night's Game 1 of the Finals?

It's about time something bad happened to the Oilers in the playoffs. And, they lost their goalie to injury. The only thing that can make this a happier Finals, besides the Hurricanes winning of course (at least they had a top five league record this season), would be if Fernando Pisani went scoreless and had his bell rung a couple of times, to boot. He's another who's milked this Cinderella stuff ad nauseum.

No, this is the NBA, where teams who appear in the Finals actually belong. Where the leading scorers are guys who should be leading scorers. Where playing at home matters. Where flukes and lucky bounces and unconscious fourth-stringers are prohibited.

It's a real championship, so sit back and enjoy it.

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