- - Monday, May 22, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Do you know what’s been more entertaining than the NBA playoffs this season?

Folks complaining that the NBA playoffs have lacked entertainment this season.

There are too many blowouts, they gripe. The series have been boring, they whine. No one can beat Cleveland or Golden State, they moan.

The last grievance has tremendous comedic value. A third consecutive NBA Finals matchup between the Cavaliers and Warriors was practically preordained entering the season. Virtually everyone predicted that those teams would represent their respective conferences again, giving us an unprecedented Finals trilogy.

We knew this was coming, knew the teams arguably have six Top 20-players, knew LeBron James and Kevin Durant are on missions.

So why all the carping?

Granted, these playoffs have an “Are we there, yet?” feel, like a long road trip with your kids in the backseat. The question is raised after every non-competitive series, as the destination gets closer yet the wait seems longer. With neither Cleveland nor Golden State interested in a rest stop – instead, speeding past mile markers in record fashion – a lengthy gap between the conference finals and championship round appeared inevitable.

Thank goodness for the Boston Celtics’ resolve after Game 2, a 44-point bludgeoning that was worse than it sounds. By bouncing back for a win in Cleveland, shocking the world without their star player, the Celtics forced a Game 5 and shaved at least two days off the expected downtime before the Finals begin on June 1.

Boston avoided a sweep but the big picture remains unchanged.

James will reach the last round for the seventh consecutive season. The Warriors will advance for the third year in a row. And both will be among preseason favorites to get there again next season.

What’s the issue? The nation would rather have Boston-San Antonio or Washington-Houston playing for the title? Hardly.

“Is it a problem?” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said earlier this month about a potential Cavs-Warriors III. “I don’t think so. I think a lot of people wanted to see Boston and the Lakers back in the day. I think nowadays, a lot of people want to see Golden State-Cavs. And it’s not a problem. It’s two of the teams playing some of the best basketball right now.

So, two of the teams that have been in back-to-back Finals – so why not?” Lue said. “Why not want to see it again?” I don’t see why it would be a problem. I think last year had some of the best ratings in NBA history.”

Such dominance isn’t unusual in NBA history, which reveals only 18 teams have won championships. Sure, Bill Russell’s Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years from 1957 to 1969. But we can look at other super teams without digging up grainy black-and-white highlights.

Magic Johnson’s Lakers reached the Finals in nine of 12 seasons from 1980 to 1991, winning five times. During that stretch, Larry Bird’s Celtics advanced to the championship round in four consecutive seasons, facing the Lakers in three of them.

Michael Jordan’s Bulls won six straight NBA titles – three before and three after Jordan’s two-year hiatus. Barring significant injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, we have every reason to believe Chicago would’ve captured eight in a row.

You say competition along the way was better back then, creating less sense of inevitability? Memories must be fading with age. In 1991 and 1996, Chicago entered the Finals with one loss. The Bulls lost two postseason games in 1993 and 1997 en route to the last round.

Bemoaning the absence of legitimate contenders to the Cavs and Warriors detracts from the superlative basketball they play. Being great shouldn’t trigger hate. But we’ve grown to take James’ brilliance for granted, just like we’ve pooh-poohed a team that won 73 games before adding Durant.

Besides, it’s hard to argue that Washington fans didn’t enjoy the postseason. The Wizards were a perfect 6-0 at home and came within a game of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, where I believe they would’ve been a tougher out for Cleveland.

The city of Houston was treated to a resurgent team that was the West’s No. 3 seed. The Rockets ran out of gas in the conference semifinals and James Harden disappeared in the end, but there’s no shame in losing to San Antonio, who put a big-time scare in Golden State for three quarters before Kawhi Leonard got hurt.

Ultimately, the playoffs’ first three rounds have been the equivalent of regular-season action. Everyone knows that real, meaningful basketball begins in the postseason with 16 teams. Likewise, the NBA Finals this year is where the real, meaningful matchup begins, with room for two teams only.

It might take longer to arrive than desired. You might be underwhelmed at points along the way. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a trip to Cavs-Warriors III.

You just have to keep imagining the fun once we get there.

• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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