Who To Root For?
by Joel Caris
I've lived most of my life in the Portland, Oregon area, either actually living in the city as I do now or living in Vancouver, Washington, which is essentially a suburb of Portland, right across the Columbia River, at the southern border of Washington. (Feel free to read that as "not in Canada" because it's not in Canada. It's in Washington. Take a minute to absorb that. Thanks.)
Anyway, due to this geographical situation, I've been a Blazers fan for as long as I can remember. They're my team, and they're my only team. I remember the glory days of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, James Kersey. I remember the heartbreak of being beaten by Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I remember the epic collapse against the Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. And then, of course, there's been the rebuilding of the last few years. As such, the Blazers didn't make the playoffs this year.
That's an interesting situation to be in as a fan. I love the Blazers and I love basketball and I love the NBA playoffs. But the Blazers aren't in the playoffs. If they were, I would automatically be rooting for them, but since they're not, I need a new team to root for. And I do need a team to root for because it's no fun watching the games otherwise. If you're not invested in the outcome in some way, the joy just isn't there.
So who to root for when your team isn't there? It's an important and tricky question. Luckily, I have a few back up teams that I like to root for when my preferred team isn't available. Phoenix and Dallas are the two major teams I side with and I like San Antonio, as well. So far, Dallas is out, in a spectacular collapse of a fashion. That leaves a fantastic San Antonio vs. Phoenix second round series. I've liked Phoenix for a few years now and would love to see Nash, Stoudemire, Marion, Bell and the crew win a title. Therefore, I find myself rooting for them.
In a way, it can be exhilarating to root for a new team. You get to leave behind all the baggage, the uncertainty, and the emotional investment of your regular team and take up a new and exciting one, all while having a potential loss effect you less. If the Suns lose their series against the Spurs, I'll be sad, but I won't be devastated. If it was the Blazers, on the other hand, it would be much harder. I still think about that 2000 loss to the Lakers at times.
Thankfully, rooting for the Suns means paying close attention to what is shaping up to be an amazing series. As of this writing, the series is tied 2-2, with the Suns having just pulled off an awesome win on Monday night, closing out the game with a 12-1 lead. It was a little brutal watching the game while rooting for the Suns. Through the second half of the third quarter and through most of the fourth, I kept waiting for the Suns to pull themselves together and make a run to get the score tied or to take the lead. They kept cutting the lead down to seven or eight, then blowing a shot while the Spurs would turn around and score, jacking the lead back up to ten points or more. About ten times, I gave up on the game, which was pretty much giving up on the series. If the Suns went down 3-1 against the Spurs, I didn't see them coming back.
Unfortunately, the final moments of the game brought a nasty hip-check of Steve Nash by Robert Horry that sent Nash flying into the scorer's table. It was a dirty move, no doubt, and it ultimately proved to be beneficial to the Spurs. While the foul very possibly did seal the game for the Suns, it also managed to get Stoudemire and Diaw suspended for game five because they jumped up from the bench after the foul. They moved toward Nash but didn't even come close to joining the fray as Bell got into Horry's face and Nash jumped up to do the same. They weren't going to fight, they just had the understandable reaction of moving toward their teammate after he took a hard, nasty, dirty foul. The league has a hard and fast rule about leaving the bench, though, so the two are suspended for a game.
Horry is suspended for two, but the Spurs still got the better end of this deal, by far. And they got it with a dirty foul.
Couple that foul with Bruce Bowen's magical flying limbs, and I have to say I'm souring on the Spurs a bit. Looking at the situation, you really have to wonder why Horry would have committed the foul he did unless he specifically was hoping to injure Nash or maybe get a player or two suspended for coming up off the bench. I think it's likely and that's a shitty way to go about trying to win a playoff series.
Luckily, this series isn't over. Yes, the Suns will have a hell of a time winning game five without Stoudemire or Diaw, but they still could. And if they do lose, I think they go back to San Antonio and take game six. I'm thinking Stoudemire, in particular, will come out with fire in his eyes for that game, and I imagine Nash is going to be right behind him. I still peg this as a seven game series.
And a great one at that, even if it does have its dirty moments.
Second Round Predictions
So I haven't actually had a column up since the second round started, but I did make predictions in the comments of my last Lucky Bounce column. Let's take a quick look at how I'm doing with them.
I called the Suns/Spurs series for the Suns, in seven games, and I said it would be fantastic. So far, so good. This series is damn compelling, for the reasons I wrote above as well as so many others. And I absolutely think this goes seven games and I'm still putting my money on the Suns. Certainly, I can hope.
I said Chicago in six games. I wrote "Write it down." I hope no one did, because the prediction is already dead. If the Bulls are to win this series, they're going to have to do it in seven. They'll also have to do it by coming back from being down 3-0, which is something that doesn't happen too often (and by that, I mean it never has happened.) On the other hand, the Bulls have won the last two games and could tie up the series with a win on Thursday. Honestly, though, I think Detroit will close it out on Thursday. I wish that wasn't the case, but I'd be shocked to see the Bulls come back and win this series.
I called Golden State over Utah in six games. Whoops. Utah won in five. I blew that one.
Finally, I tentatively called Cleveland over the Nets in seven. I wrote, "Considering the way they coasted through the first round, I have no idea why I'm picking Cleveland, but I'm going to do it." Well, I'm glad I did, because it looks good for Cleveland to win this series. They're up 3-1 as of this writing and could have the series won by the time you read this on Thursday. And, frankly, Cleveland has been decent. On the other hand, they also look like they could very well lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, so we'll see how much they can continue to pull it together. Anyway, looking at the series so far, I think I called the winner but I suspect it will take just six games rather than seven.
One Last Hope
God, don't let the finals be Detroit against San Antonio. Please, give me Cleveland and Phoenix. Please.