Sunday, December 25, 2005

THE GLORY OF NAME AND NOT GLORY OF GAME

Professional sports are both competition and entertainment, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the NBA. And in terms of entertainment it is a one-man show. Every time you look on TV, it's not Houston and L.A., it's T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] and Kobe against each other. It is a bleak picture of style versus substance. The Lakers and the Heat don't deserve to be the marquee game, but still this weekend Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers will see the rivals Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and Pat Riley and Phil Jackson pitting. Even the fashion-conscious Riley, who returned seven games ago as celebrity coach of the Heat, can see the contradiction at work. The contradiction is that if the game is based on the two best teams, the two finalists, the world champions and Detroit Pistons, they should be in the marquee game. But the sidebar charisma of the Heat and Lakers rise above the purity of the game. No wonder, the Spurs-Pistons finals in June were the second-lowest rated in a quarter century, which was more of a reminder that the two best teams in the league are used for motivation only when convenient. Saunders has made Detroit the sixth-highest-scoring team in the league (99.8), and the defense is sixth best in points allowed (91.3). Point guard Chauncey Billups will probably go to the All-Star Game for the first time, and Richard Hamilton is scoring a career-best 21.9 points a game. The Heat has not come close to peak form, with injuries to O'Neal and Jason Williams disturbing the flow. On the heels of Bryant's the Lakers come in with the better record (by a half-game) at 15-11. The annual grudge match between Bryant and O'Neal, whom the Lakers traded in favor of keeping Bryant, is behind the times. The real subplot is being getting cooked on the sidelines with coaches chasing one final chance at a ring. The Heat has won five of seven under Riley, while the Lakers have won 9 of their last 11. The two have been rivals since their playing days.

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