Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bumps in the Road

By Jonathan Lowe

Life doesn't have an overall smooth ... well ... lifespan. Turbulence has a way of popping into our stratospheres and making our lives more challenging. Some might define it as a chance to step back and assess the path one has chosen to take. Some might define it a mere speed bump that must be navigated to find success. Even others might define it an opportunity to build character. But one thing, positive or negative, everybody would agree upon is that turbulence happens.

Turbulence, when it comes to basketball, can appear in the form of an up-and-comer.

The Chicago Bulls haven't returned to the peak of their glory days, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were basically running roughshod over the rest of the Association. However, the organization has re-established itself as a perennial postseason participant and highly-ranked title contender. The presences of Joakim Noah (NBA Defensive Player of the Year), Carlos Boozer, and Kirk Hinrich continue to provide stability. But without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng on the roster, the team continue to lack the offensive firepower they need to coincide with their defensive tenacity.

Enter the team's first-round opponent, the Washington Wizards. While Washington does boast postseason experience in the form of Nene, Trevor Ariza, and Andre Miller, the team ultimately relies on two Playoff newbies in their starting backcourt. Bradley Beal and John Wall were the top two scorers in the series (a combined 38.6 ppg) and averaged 11 assists between them, exposing the Bulls' deficiencies and ultimately ending the Windy City bunch's season on Tuesday night.

Turbulence, when it comes to basketball, can appear in the form of a mind-numbing collapse.

As we all know, the Indiana Pacers were one game away from reaching the NBA Finals last season. As we all know, they had the best record halfway through the recently completed regular campaign (33-8). As we all know, the team was extraordinarily average from the All-Star Break forward (16-14). And, as we can all find out, the Pacers have had their historical troubles with Atlanta (entering this series, the Pacers had lost 16 of their last 19 trips to A-Town). But I don't know if many would have expected these Pacers to struggle so much with a Hawks team that finished the regular season under .500.

If the East's top seed can't figure out a way to get this series back to Indianapolis for a Game 7, they will be only the third team (and first one-seed) to lose a playoff series to an opponent with a losing regular-season record since the NBA first allowed 16 teams to make the postseason in 1984 (the other two both lost to the 1985-1986 Seattle SuperSonics).

Turbulence, when it comes to basketball, can appear in the form of a bad matchup.

In 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals. To get there, though, they had to survive a brutal seven-game series against Memphis. In 2013, a damaged Thunder team (sans the services of Russell Westbrook) succumbed to the punishing nature of the same Grizzlies franchise. Now, for the third time in four postseasons, the Thunder must get through their I-40 rivals to keep the championship dreams going.

After Tuesday's deflating Game 5 loss (in an NBA single series-record fourth consecutive overtime finish), Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and the rest of the OKC unit will have to find some way to make this a perimeter-based series. That won't be easy, given the strength of Memphis' inside attack is just the type of kryptonite that tends to derail heavily jump-shooting teams.

Finally, turbulence, when it comes to basketball, can appear in the form of the man upstairs. No, literally, the actual guy upstairs. The "nicest office in the building, if not the office fifty stories up in the tower across the street" type of guy.

The last few days of turbulence facing the entire league, and completely surrounding one single entity inside that brotherhood, have overshadowed the previous examples that were mentioned on the court. The recent comments by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling appeared to have had an effect on the group of players he continues to pay (remember, he is still the owner of the franchise at this point). The Clippers never found their way in Sunday's blowout loss to Golden State.

However, after newly-minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave his assessment on Tuesday afternoon (issuing Sterling a lifetime ban from the NBA, a maximum fine of $2.5 million, and the notice that he could be ousted from his position of power), nearly everybody seemed to let out a sigh of relief. The Clippers themselves looked all the better for it, regaining the edge in their contentious series with the Warriors. However, this issue may be long from settled. And while Sterling's presence won't be seen in the building, it'll surely be felt around the Staples Center as long as his name has not been officially removed as majority owner. We'll find out how much of a distraction this mess continues to be if (and as) the Clippers advance through the postseason.

In basketball, as in life, the next bout of turbulence could be upon you without any forewarning. Sometimes it challenges our day. Sometimes, it's the next decade. But the bumpy ride won't last forever. It's how you respond to it that sets you up for the smooth sailing ahead.

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