With the New York Knicks officially eliminated from playoff contention, the eight Eastern Conference playoff-bound teams are decided. All NBA fans’ eyes have shifted to the Western Conference, where two teams — the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns — are caught in a vicious brawl for the final playoff spot. It’s only fitting that the penultimate game of the season is against between these formidable foes.
The NBA is rife with intriguing storylines. Once again, the San Antonio Spurs have answered the criticisms of relying on their Paleolithic era veterans Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan — 36 and 37 years old respectively— by attaining the best record in the NBA. In the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls have moved into the third seed in the absence of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, witnessing the elevated play of Chi-town hero Joakim Noah and formerly hopeless point guard DJ Augustin. On top of all of this, this will be the first postseason in NBA history without any of the three most famous NBA franchises: the Celtics, Lakers and Knicks.
It’s been a wild season, and its playing out has reminded us that NBA basketball is as much about surprise, resurrection, and conquering adversity as it is about alley-oops, crossovers and corner 3s.
No one knows this better than the Phoenix Suns. In the face of a near consensus that they would be a bottom three team in the league, they’ve exceeded any expectations by proving they belong in the top third. We certainly don’t have the best talent or the record, but I wouldn’t rather have the Suns any other way. They exude an uncompromising confidence when they are consistently outmatched in size and talent. There’s something dramatic and fulfilling watching a team of rejects showing the teams who offloaded them that they were worth something.
Fans of frontrunners like the Clippers, Heat or Pacers may look at a team clawing for playoff life and scoff. These are wonderful teams but are they playing beyond what anyone expected? Are they making do with a team of limited ability? Watching Chris Paul throw a perfect lob to the hyper-athletic Blake Griffin could never get me out of my seat as easily as a Gerald Green to Miles Plumlee alley-oop. The Pacers have the second-best record in the East, but if some asked me if I would rather be a fan of them, I would probably laugh in their face. Admiring the players on my team means more to me than any record.
Eric Bledsoe made the move from Los Angeles to Phoenix this summer to escape the shadow of seven time All-Star Chris Paul, and take the leap from acclaimed back-up guard to a starting member of one of the best backcourts in the Association.
Goran Dragic forms the other half of this terrifying tandem dubbed “Dragonblade”.
Once crowned the “worst player in the league” by NBA analyst John Hollinger, the Slovenian lefty has become one of the best guard in the league, posting All-Star stats despite his snub from the competition. Pundits aren’t so harsh these days. Grantland’s Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose have him on their All NBA ballots.
Unwanted by the Indiana Pacers, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee came to Planet Orange via the brilliant Luis Scola trade. Once considered an undisciplined journeyman, Green has emerged as a frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year. Plumlee, an oft-criticized second-year player out of Duke, has played an integral part in using his seven foot body to provide desperately needed size, solid defense, and dunks straight out of Space Jam.
28-year-old PJ Tucker’s career has been spent throughout Europe trying to find a home for his defensive prowess. He found it here in the Valley.
Markieff and Marcus Morris, the only identical twins in the league, have made themselves invaluable to the team through their different skill sets and understanding of one another after difficult rookie seasons.
It’s a special feeling to look at group of players step on the court, and love every single one of them for their stories, improvement, and effort. Playoffs or not, this team of misfits is one for the ages.
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