Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Playoff Formats Have Been Unkind to Orlando

Do you remember back in high school or college how there would at least come one time (or multiple in my case) in your educational life where over half your final exams would be piled up together to occur on one day? I should be intelligent enough and have studied enough to score well on those exams, but life would be WAY easier if I could spread these tests out.

Grantland kind of brought up this point to me today. The best team is expected to do well and ultimately succeed in a 2-3-2 Finals format, but it’s counter-intuitive from the 2-2-1-1-1 they dealt with in the previous 3 rounds. Well I was doing just fine having tests not bunched together. Why now? Well money and time is the answer in both cases.

In the NBA’s case, it’s once again revealing how archaic the 2-3-2 truly is. The format has been in use since 1985. Fans, the media, and basketball personalities have long bitched, moaned, and pleaded for the 2-3-2 to vanish. It was convenient for travel reasons, but in a much more technologically advanced era, why continue settling with this unfair format? 

The 2-3-2 format really made life extra tough on Stan Van Gundy’s squad in 2009. Lose both road games in L.A. and they were basically screwed in having a chance to win. Orlando should have had Game 2. Damn it, Courtney. The pressure mounted to win an unlikely three consecutive contests. The Magic held serve in Game 3 only to have Derek Fisher take advantage of Jameer Nelson (who shouldn't have even been playing in hindsight) to steal Game 4 and basically the series. Orlando folded in the fifth and final game as Magic fans were forced to view L.A. celebrating on that Amway Arena parquet floor. Not fun. Otis Smith would dump Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee to acquire Vince Carter, and the hustle element of that special group of men would leave with them. We're on the rebuild towards greatness again. 

Another nightmare situation the Orlando franchise faced that came to fruition was in 2003 when the league changed, from a 5-game first round format, to seven games. Lucky for Detroit. After Game 4 it should have been Orlando pondering about going up against their next opponent, either the Philadelphia Sixers or New Orleans Hornets (East team back then). The conference was so weak in that period of time, who knows how far that Magic team goes in the playoffs if they would've dispatched Detroit. I would love to hear Jacque Vaughn's player take on that postseason. What would have been an epic 8th seed upset of a #1 just a year before ends up becoming a tale of 3-1 ‘what if’ stories that would add to Tracy McGrady’s playoff curse legacy and set the stage for the ‘03-‘04 tumult and Doc Rivers’ firing. It’s okay, I too keep blaming it all on Juwan Howard.

Hell, you can even make a case for the '95 Finals crew. Yeah, Brian Hill's squad got swept and it revealed the lack of mental toughness of a relatively young roster. However, what if Orlando dealt with a 2-2-1-1-1 in their minds despite dropping Game 1 in a crushing manner? Even after falling both times at home, the Magic should have won Game 3 and all but give up in Game 4 because they knew in their minds they would have had to steal Game 5 again in Houston. Orlando gets swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1996 by the amazing Bulls, Shaq leaves, and the Magic's promising future disintegrates in a snap. 

Looking at that Grantland piece again, it’ll be hilarious if the Spurs knocking off the Heat in 5 games (please make this happen) is the tipping point that has David Stern and Adam Silver make sweeping changes and going to a 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format. It'll also be fitting if the first time Tracy McGrady progresses from a 1st round playoff series that he ends up being an NBA champion. Gregg Popovich would truly be a magician in my book. 

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