Despite the fact that there’s rarely consensus on this site, I don’t think I’d get much argument if I called this Pistons season the most frustrating of any in their five-year stretch of missing the playoffs. They entered the season with some a vague expectation of “make the playoffs,” and even with the imbalanced roster, that shouldn’t have been out of the question considering the fact that the season was over before it started for several East teams, who were clearly playing for next season.
If you stayed engaged with the team throughout the entire season, it was a chore. When the season ended, I can obviously relate to the need to get away from basketball. The Red Wings are in the NHL Playoffs and the Tigers should be good this season, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I also hope the lack of success of the Pistons doesn’t sour you on this year’s NBA Playoffs. They should be amazingly competitive and, after years of watching a wretched product locally, we could all use a reminder of what good basketball looks like. Our ongoing series looking back at the 2004 title team should partially provide that, but for a more modern palate cleanser, here are a few reasons you should care about each series as the playoffs start today.
Raptors vs. Nets
Game 1: 12:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Nets: Because the only person who dislikes Lawrence Frank more than Pistons fans is Jason Kidd. It has been since January since the fake Lawrence Frank has filed any of his reports. I wonder if that is still going on? Also, from a basketball standpoint, Paul Pierce has sneakily played his way into another three or four year deal if he wants it. He’s been really good this season as the Nets have figured things out since a bad start.
Why you should care about the Raptors: You can watch and imagine what an Andre Drummond-Jonas Valanciunas frontcourt would’ve looked like if the Raptors had made the logical pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. But hey, Terrence Ross has worked out pretty well for a fun, up-and-coming team. Also, pay attention to Amir Johnson. Whenever I write about giving Johnson away as a major Dumars mistake, I get all kinds of, “pssshhh he’s just a role player/backup/shutup your stupid face about Joe Dumars” comments. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Johnson in a while, watch him in this season. He’s a lockdown post defender, possibly the best screen setter in the NBA, a rim protector, an elite finisher and dude is even knocking down open threes now.
Pacers vs. Hawks
Game 1: 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Pacers: Although they’ve struggled down the stretch, the Pacers stylistically are similar to the tough, physical, defensive-minded Pistons teams that fans loved so much. More related to the Pistons, keep an eye on Lance Stephenson, a restricted free agent wing who could potentially be a Pistons target in the offseason.
Why you should care about the Hawks: Well, you can thank them for playing well enough to not be a threat to get worse than the Pistons. Also, you can watch Paul Millsap, a much more productive free agent forward who became an All-Star this season and was a fraction of what Josh Smith cost.
Bulls vs. Wizards
Game 1: 7 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Bulls: They might be the toughest team in the league, and each year, despite catastrophic injuries, they keep plugging in random scrap heap bargains who produce. Last season, it was Nate Robinson. This season, it is D.J. Augustin who has become a competent starting point guard somehow. Also, last week when it snowed in the Midwest, we were ALL Joakim Noah.
Why you should care about the Wizards: If you like dynamic young guards, John Wall is as fun as it gets. He’s one of a handful of young potential stars in the playoffs this year who has a chance to plug his name into the conversation about elite NBA players if he has some strong performances for the Wizards. Also, expect the Wizards to possibly have interest in Greg Monroe, who played at Georgetown, in the offseason.
Heat vs. Bobcats
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC
Why you should care about the Heat: Well … not to be captain obvious, but they are going for a third straight championship this season. They should also make the Eastern Conference Finals for a fourth straight season, getting close to the Pistons’ streak of six straight. Also, it will be interesting to see if LeBron has mastered the Jordan art of resting just enough in the regular season to unveil something new for the playoffs.
Why you should care about the Bobcats: You shouldn’t, since they are still technically a threat to take the Pistons’ lottery pick this season. And next season, the Bobcats technically won’t even exist.
Spurs vs. Mavericks
Game 1: 1 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Spurs: They’ve always been kind of kindred spirits with the Pistons, despite the obvious rivalry and heartbreaking loss in the 2005 NBA Finals. They’re still arguably the best team in the NBA, and this might be their last chance at a title with this Tim Duncan-led core.
Why you should care about the Mavs: Speaking of nearing the end, we likely won’t have many more opportunities to see Dirk Nowitzki in a playoff series. I don’t think the Mavs are good enough to beat San Antonio, but I’m hoping for a few iconic Dirk performances.
Rockets vs. Blazers
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Rockets: Well, if you weren’t a fan of the Dwyane Wade-Shaquille O’Neal team that beat the Pistons in 2006 en route to a championship, you probably won’t enjoy this Rockets team. James Harden is essentially their version of Wade, barreling into traffic in search of contact and getting to the line. If you’re rooting for the opposing team, that style is frustrating, but the Rockets have some key elements that can lead to playoff success — Harden’s ability to get his own shot/draw contact, Dwight Howard’s rim protecting presence and a lot of shooters who create space for everyone.
Why you should care about the Blazers: Portland is young, fun and offense-happy. Those attributes probably won’t lead to a long playoff run, but this series should be high-scoring and fun to watch. Also, what I mentioned about John Wall above goes for Damian Lillard here too — he’s another young point guard who could put his name in the convo of up-and-coming stars in the league with some strong playoff performances.
Clippers vs. Warriors
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC
Why you should care about the Clippers: Because Blake Griffin has gotten really, really good. The knock on Griffin for much of his career was that his game was predicated solely on his athleticism, and that assessment has stuck from critics who haven’t watched him enough the last two seasons. He’s developed an all-around game, and a playoff run by the Clippers could cement him in his rightful place among the absolute best players in the league. Oh, and that Chris Paul-Steph Curry point guard matchup shouldn’t be too bad either.
Why you should care about the Warriors: Michigan State fans, remember prior to Draymond Green’s breakout as a do-it-all force for Michigan State how he was a super-competent, selfless role player who didn’t have great numbers all the time but was a key rotation player? And non-Michigan State fans, remember how Green was a super irritating nuisance who wouldn’t stop running his mouth throughout the game? Well, he’s become all of those things for the Warriors, and with their frontcourt banged up, Green could be in line for a lot of playing time.
Thunder vs. Grizzlies
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Thunder: Remember when Rasheed Wallace used to goaltend/block shots whenever an opponent would shoot during a deadball or after a whistle? It was awesome, right? Well, Russell Westbrook has taken that art to new, incredible levels.
Why you should care about the Grizzlies: The GRINDHOUSE is my favorite NBA arena — it’s loud, wrestling-friendly and teams hate playing there. I love the toughness the Grizzlies play with. I don’t think they can beat the Thunder in a series, but their last several playoff runs have proven one thing — they are absolutely going to beat up their opponent, win or lose. I guarantee Oklahoma City wasn’t happy about this draw in round one. Even if they win, it’s going to make their title quest tougher.