Why The 2-3-2 Format Doesn’t Work

For a guy who has spent the past 25 years overseeing the development of the NBA into the major money-making entity that it is today, you’d think David Stern would be inclined to embrace progressive change. But ask him about the NBA Finals’ 2-3-2 format, and he ultimately harkens back to complaints from legendary Celtics head coach Red Auerbach about how play quality declines late in play-off series as jet lag and travel-related fatigue sets in.

These would be legitimate, viable concerns were they not about a quarter century out of date, made at a time when air travel was far from luxurious for tall, long-legged individuals and basketball players, in general, were not offered the cushy star treatment they currently enjoy. In addition to enjoying favorable treatment, today’s star player is better conditioned and is accustomed to an 82-game regular season grind across 30 NBA cities with numerous games occurring in back-to-back situations.

All this to say that “travel fatigue” no longer holds up as an adequate explanation for an archaic play-off format that seems to have no redeeming element beyond saving teams a few bucks in travel costs.

As the team with a better regular season record in a given play-off series (as the Lakers are in these NBA Finals), you have earned the added benefit of an additional home game and to be on your own turf should a decisive Game 7 be required. It seems like an unfair advantage, however, to award that team with the final two games in a series. As it stands, even if the Celtics were to claim their two remaining games at home, they would still have to win one of two games in L.A.

Compare that to the more traditional 2-2-1-1-1 set-up, whereby the Celtics – in keeping with the hypothetical scenario from the previous paragraph – would be heading home from L.A. up 3-2 instead of bidding farewell to the TD Garden. Meanwhile, if the Lakers can build on their 2-1 series lead over the next two games, they either win the series outright or head home with two opportunities to clinch the title.

In the World Series and Stanley Cup Finals, each team is afforded at least one potential series-deciding home game in the event of a seven-game series. In any potential Game 6, the team without home court advantage (in this case, the Celtics) hosts either with their backs against the wall or with a chance to clinch. In Game 7, the team with home court advantage would be guaranteed to host with the series knotted up at three games apiece. Now, in the NBA Finals, unless the Lakers triumph in Game 4, any series-deciding game will take place at the Staples Center.

It may seem a bit overblown to critique the distribution of home games over the course of a seven-game series when, regardless of who plays where in which game, there will still be four home games allocated for one team and three for the other. But even if you are to accept that the order of the games doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things, it still seems strikingly illogical to not have consistency across the entire postseason.

Yes, the 2-3-2 format is exclusive property of the Finals and does not apply to any other play-off round leading up to it. When Los Angeles secured their spot in the Finals at the conclusion of their six-game Western Conference Final against the Suns, they did so in front of a hostile Phoenix crowd, a factor they won’t have to worry about once Game 6 of the Finals rolls around.

It simply defies logic to maintain a certain format through three rounds of play, only to abandon it once the ultimate, deciding series takes place.

So maybe none of it really matters. After all, through three Finals games so far, the road team has taken two. It certainly shouldn’t be the first item on Stern’s to-do list moving forward (I’ll save my officiating rant for another day).

But, there is something inherently unfair, outdated and inconsistent about the 2-3-2 format and it’s time to move on.

Marshall, Lillard Have Questions To Answer

Kendall Marshall and Damian Lillard are both point guard, but that’s where the similarities end.

Marshall is the steady floor general – a pass-first playmaker who had more assists (9.8) than points (8.1) per game last season as the creator for the talent-laden North Carolina Tar Heels.

Lillard is tougher to get a grasp on, based on his do-it-all career as the first (and, really, only) scoring option as a member of the mid-major Weber State Wildcats. What we do know is that he is a fast-rising competitor with an NBA-ready shot who is coming off a four-year college career.

Awkward as comparisons between the two very different players may be, they are inherently necessary for lottery teams who may be in need of point guard help, such as the Toronto Raptors.

Executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski, the designated team voice after draft workouts on Tuesday involving the two prospects, stopped short of drawing any comparisons, but highlighted their inherent differences in describing Marshall and Lillard individually.

“[Marshall's] basketball IQ is very, very good and he sees the floor well,” says Stefanski of the North Carolina product.

On Lillard, the former Nets’ and Sixers’ GM focused on an entirely different set of qualities.

“He’s a tough kid – he competes,” says Stefanski. “He comes from a smaller school than these other guys and I think that’s part of his competition and his willingness to work hard.”

That’s not to say that Marshall isn’t tough, nor does it suggest that Lillard isn’t a smart basketball player. It does, however, speak to the difficulties of the whole draft process, particularly when agents typically don’t allow for one-on-one workouts between similarly-projected players.

For example, Marshall appeared in an afternoon session against lower-rated prospects like Devoe Joseph, while Lillard’s workout saw him fly solo.

While they didn’t go up against one another on Tuesday (in a literal sense, anyway), they are both battling heavy scrutiny over perceived areas of weakness through the draft workout process.

For Marshall, the Toronto stop marked his first workout coming off a wrist injury that was actually revealed to be an elbow injury.

“I fractured my elbow as well,” acknowledges Marshall. “The doctors never looked at it until about three weeks ago, so it was a late development. I wish I could’ve started my rehab earlier, but thankfully it’s not something that would’ve took surgery, so it’s just a matter of time.”

The 20-year-old isn’t in denial about the effects of the injury, but he is encouraged by its early progress and believes that he should be ready to go sooner rather than later.

“It felt pretty good,” replies Marshall when asked about the arm after Tuesday’s workout. “Obviously there’s still some soreness, some pain, but I’m able to get through it. My conditioning isn’t where I want it to be, but it’s still at a good level so I’m excited about moving forward from here.”

For Lillard, it’s a question of competition – specifically how the level of competition he faced at Weber State will translate in the pros. The Wildcats, after all, went 14-2 in the notoriously weak Big Sky Conference last season before dropping the Conference championship 85-66 to Montana. Although, to be fair, the loss can’t be blamed on the 22-year-old, who tallied 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the game.

While Marshall played with three other potential lottery picks (Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller), Lillard feels that he was able to develop a multifaceted game by being a do-it-all player. He does, however, acknowledge that it’ll be nice to take a slightly scaled back role on a more balanced NBA club.

“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Lillard admits,” not having a huge responsibility and having to carry a team. I can show off other parts of my game.”

With no point guard expected to go in the top five and only two likely to be lottery picks come June 28, the ‘one’ isn’t exactly a strong position heading into the deep 2012 draft. No wonder, then, that the two top players at the position both face significant unresolved questions.

How Marshall and Lillard answer those questions will speak volumes of their maturity and preparation as NBA players.

Why I’m Cheering For Miami

If you’re looking for insightful projections into just what will happen once the NBA Finals kick off in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, you can find the two cents of many Hoops Addict correspondents here. This piece comes less from the perspective of an NBA analyst and more from a fan of the game, as well as its narrative.

The fundamental storyline of these Finals leans heavily in favor of the Thunder. Among the leading men of the two clubs, Miami’s LeBron James is the hated villain for a generation of fans unwilling to forget his painfully misguided “Decision”, while OKC’s Kevin Durant is the anti-LeBron – a down-to-Earth superstar that quietly re-upped with the franchise that drafted him while James and co. were doing this.

There are, however, two main issues with this overly simplistic outline of what will be a multi-layered series. Not only is it an outdated take that fails to account for James’ recent growth as both a player and a person (as well as the exceptionally unique pressure he faces), but it fails to acknowledge the rest of what are two diverse, varied rosters of interesting players.

But first, a few words on James. Much has changed since he turned the better part of the country against him and the Heat by taking his talents to South Beach. His tone-deaf demonstrations of self praise and premature celebration have been replaced by a hoodie-wearing symbol of support for Trayvon Martin in precisely the type of socially conscious display that superstars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have been famously loathe to engage in.

On the basketball side of things, he has been lauded as a great teammate who is leading by example in both selflessness and worth ethic. While LeBron critics may choose to focus in on his disappearing act during the 2010-11 postseason, his 2011-12 playoff stat line currently reads 30.8/9.6/5.1.

At the same time, while the public perception of the 27-year-old may not have changed much, there might be at least a partially enhanced understanding of just what it’s like to be in his shoes. A Newsday story from last week features the now-famous words of teammate Shane Battier explaining what life is like for LBJ:

“He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.”

James’ team-first approach may have been helped along by his inherently likable supporting cast. Dwyane Wade has officially ceded top dog duty his younger and more physically imposing teammate, but he retains far-reaching popularity that has pretty well remained untainted by anti-Heat backlash.

Chris Bosh, on the other hand, was maligned as the undeserving member of the “Big 3″ before finding success this season by growing comfortable in his third-option role and even serving as an emotional rallying point in his Conference Finals return.

Outside of the three dominant personalities of the Heat, several character guys round out a roster of players who seem to genuinely enjoy each other. Battier has lost a step, but continues to be a valuable glue guy and reigns as a much-respected veteran in the locker room. Ronny Turiaf and Juwan Howard aren’t getting consistent minutes, but they both offer visible support from the bench.

Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller have all learned how to best complement their superstar teammates while not being afraid to get their own looks (Chalmers, in particular, has no problem taking open shots in clutch situations).

No disrespect to the equally (if not more) likable Thunder, but this is LeBron’s time. Lost in the digital, 24-hour news cycle age is the pure simplicity of watching the greats win. Durant (and, to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook) may well be among those greats, but he’s also just 23 with plenty of prime years ahead of him. With James turning 28 later this year, he is firmly within what should be his prime.

When he earns himself an NBA championship ring (even if he doesn’t win six, or seven, or eight…), we will have all been witnesses.