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DeFranks: Playoffs bring excitement and meaning to NBA

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And finally, the games mean something.

With a multitude of postseason-changing injuries, crazy finishes and senseless ejections, the NBA playoffs have begun – and with a bang.

The NBA’s regular season, to me and to a lot of people around the nation, is meaningless. You already know who will be in the playoffs (or at least be a big factor in them) before the season even begins. Prior to this year, you looked at the Heat, the Bulls, the Thunder, the Lakers, the Spurs and the Mavericks to be championship contenders. And guess what? They all made the playoffs.

To those teams, the season was a mere formality (other than the risk of injury during a compacted and tight 66-game schedule). They knew what they had. They knew who they had to beat. No win meant much. No loss meant much (unless you work for ESPN and need to fill 12 hours of SportsCenter with a Panic Meter).

The Heat knew they needed to prove they could win a title. The Thunder needed to show that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could be a dynamic duo. The Bulls needed to prove Derrick Rose could carry the team by himself.

None of those goals could be accomplished in the regular season. Now, they must all step up and shine in the NBA’s second and most important season. But now nothing is like it was before.

Chicago’s title dreams all but went out the window when Rose jumped, passed and collapsed in writhing pain, clutching his left knee that now had a torn ACL. Now, the deep and unheralded Chicago supporting cast will have to pick up the slack left by last year’s most valuable player.

The Bulls may very well streak past the struggling Sixers but could struggle in the next round against either the Hawks or the Celtics.

The regular season – and the home-court advantage it secured – mean nothing for the Bulls.

For the aging Celtics, their blistering second half came as a surprise to everyone, except Boston. But now, age could be catching up with the original Big Three in the playoffs. Ray Allen, the best three-point shooter in the league, is out with an injury while immaturity bothers young point guard Rajon Rondo.

Because of an argument and altercation with a referee during Boston’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Rondo has been suspended for a game. By the time he gets back into the lineup, the Celtics may have to win four out of five games to advance. What seemed like a potential championship sleeper is now reeling after just one postseason game.

The regular season – and Boston’s two late wins over Miami – mean nothing for the Celtics.

While injuries have derailed Eastern Conference contenders, furious finishes have given a couple Western Conference teams new life.

Kevin Durant’s game-winner in the opener against Dallas lifted Oklahoma City to a win, avoiding an upset bid from the defending champions. While a loss in Game 1 would not have been catastrophic for the young and athletic Thunder, a win for the Mavericks could have given an experienced and savvy veteran-laden squad more confidence.

In Memphis, meanwhile, the Clippers – led by Chris Paul’s brilliance and unlikely hero Nick Young – rallied from a 27-point deficit to top the Grizzlies in a Game 1 thriller. Last year, it was the Grizzlies who shocked everyone and beat the top-seeded Spurs in the first round. This year, they were the ones stunned by a result.

So I know only a few games have been played so far. But these games are the reason the NBA exists.

You can now start watching the NBA. These games actually matter.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu
 The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.