If current trends hold we are looking at a Western Conference Finals series between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers. While this is nobody’s idea of a sexy matchup—the two franchises have zero championships and 43 fans between them—it does offer some excellent style contrasts, a couple decent storylines, and a look at a couple of the sport’s premiere veterans, facing off with a shot at a title on the line. On the one side you have Chris Paul—
OK, so maybe you do not in fact have Chris Paul. Shams Charania says Paul’s status for the Western Conference Finals is “up in the air,” and that the duration of his COVID-19 lockdown could hinge on his vaccination status, which presently is unknown. Without knowing his vaccination status, it wouldn’t be all that fair to rip him a new one over possible exposure to the coronavirus. What’s perfectly fair is to throw your hands up and say “sheesh” when you learn that the most important player on a conference finalist is unavailable indefinitely. I am doing that right now. Sheesh!
Can I interest you in one lightly used Cameron Payne? Seems I cannot. But at least on the other side, in this increasingly likely seeming Clippers-Suns series, you would still have the unstoppable Kawhi Leonard, at the absolute peak of his pow—
Ah ha. So you also do not have Kawhi Leonard. Great. How about those Utah Jazz!
It would be nice to have an NBA playoffs where any contender is healthy and whole. Only the Bucks seem relatively intact, if you can consider a team hollowed out by pure fraudulence “whole” in any meaningful sense. The Nets are getting dragged along on a gurney by a hellbent Kevin Durant, which is awesome and inspiring but probably not sustainable, and Durant’s own limbs have a way of kerploding at inopportune times. Joel Embiid just had the worst game of his life while limping around on a bum knee. Mike Conley still hasn’t touched the floor in the second round, and the Jazz have not offered any indication of when he might be available. Trae Young spent his few breaks Monday night with his shoulder wrapped in an ice bag the size of a conjoined twin. The most anticipated part of any given game, right now, is the announcement of which star players have been glued together in time to give it a go. Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Joel Embiid are five of the six or seven best and most interesting players left in the whole damn tournament. The whole thing is starting to give off an unpleasant odor of illegitimacy.
It will never be possible to say for sure that the rushed and condensed timeline of this season has caused this dearth of healthy bodies in the final stretch, but it sure seems that way. At this rate the NBA Finals will be settled by a staring contest between Joe Ingles and Pat Connaughton. Fun!