In about a day and a half, the NBA's 2011-12 regular season ends, and for a lot of us it doesn't come a moment too soon. The lockout made it so that the "2011" part of the season's tag comes off as somewhat laughable, the league didn't begin play until December 25th, and the greedy and cynical (like we wouldn't notice, NBA?) lumping of 66 games in a space where 50 or so games should have gone has resulted in a forgettable, frustrating year. Once this weekend hits, though, and 14 teams disappear? And teams get actual practice time, and proper space off between games? Things should perk up. Right?
We're hoping so. Someone like Miami's Mike Miller is hoping so. Miller, who has had a terrible go of things health-wise since signing with the Heat during the summer of 2010, was recently the subject of a Miami Herald piece that pointed to his late-season return from injury, lauding his "versatility," "increased playing time," and the hope that Miller "might finally be close to becoming that guy." "That guy," apparently, being someone who puts the Heat over the top, as they attempt to win the team's first title with LeBron James in charge.
The problem is that, even with the relative health and increased playing time, Miller has been pretty terrible in the month of April — shooting 32 percent and registering nearly as many turnovers as assists as he continues to try and act like a mini-LeBron of sorts. Miller is shooting 39 percent from long range during the season's final month (19-48), but even that solid mark is a step down from his season-long pace of 45 percent from behind the arc. Even as a rebirth, Miller's return is as frustrating as yesterday is. And on Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears and Greg Anthony wondered aloud if the Heat had enough to pull out a title. Watch the video:
As we prepare for the postseason, going endlessly over old columns and box scores, looking for regular season clues that help aid us in determining who is going to do what with certain matchups, I almost feel like assuring anyone attempting this sort of approach that this is a complete and utter waste of time.
Before last year's lockout ended, quite a few of us turned to the 1998 lockout for clues as to who was going to do what during this year's regular season. Would the older teams, full of smarts and patience and guile, do well with the truncated season? Or was this a younger man's game? It turns out that a combination of luck and who-the-hell-knows? made the biggest difference. Talent, shockingly, also had a lot to do with things.
Paying attention to the 1999 playoffs, though, is worth our time.
The Knicks, perhaps the regular season's biggest disappointment, made the Finals. Along the way, they toppled three of the postseason's biggest disappointments in the top-seeded Miami Heat, the better-than-they-played Atlanta Hawks, and a preseason championship favorite in the Indiana Pacers. The San Antonio Spurs won it all, after toppling a Portland Trail Blazers team that came out of nowhere to act as a potential championship favorite, a team that (before losing to San Antonio) downed a Utah Jazz team that most penciled in as the team to beat in 1999.
Nothing, not even seeds, mattered. And this was under the old format, with a five-game opening round, and a postseason that began on May 8th, finishing around the same time this year's postseason will end. This year's playoffs? They tip off on April 28th, ending less than two months later. There will be more time to rest. The first round could take two weeks. Teams will get a chance to catch their breath.
Hell, we'll get a chance to catch our breath.
Trend all you want. Look at April splits, pay attention to who did what with a zone in a matchup on a Wednesday from the third week in January, and understand that talent will usually out. In the long run, it probably won't matter. The playoff participants you see suiting up on Wednesday and Thursday evening will look absolutely nothing like the ones you'll see take to the court on May 6th. More than any other year — even the 1999 lockout year — the playoffs will be an entirely different ballgame.
Thank goodness for that.