Single page view By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Yes, I can see it happening.

I can envision the NBA completing its most compelling and promising playoffs since Michael, Magic, Larry, Isiah, Charles, Hakeem, David and Karl all shared the same stage … and then following it up with a momentum-killing, prolonged work stoppage.

Not only can I see it happening, I strongly suspect that it will. And not because I think either side of the labor dispute is particularly stupid. On the contrary, I think both sides have a sense of where the NBA can go in the next decade and justifiably want to protect their interests.

Yes, I can see it. I can envision Detroit and Miami and San Antonio and Phoenix putting on the best conference finals series we've seen in years. I can see a basketball cultural clash that pits West vs. East, finesse vs. force, up-tempo vs. half-court, suburbs vs. city, and I can see it driving barbershop conversations for the next month.

All the aspects that made last year's Los Angeles-Detroit finals interesting could truly be on even more prominent display during the next four or five weeks. In the East, as long as the Pistons handle their business against my Jamaal Tinsley-held-hostage Pacers, Detroit and Miami will wage a brutal half-court war. The Wallace brothers – Ben and Rasheed – will battle Shaq and 'Zo. The winning team will score 85 points, Shaq and Ben will have to be separated once a game and Tayshaun Prince will wind up defending Dwyane Wade.

If you like defense, hard fouls, tattoos and half-court sets, you'll love the Eastern Conference finals.

If you don't, you can tune in to the action out West, where the Spurs and the Suns should decide things on the other side of the bracket. They're both one victory from advancing to the Finals right now, and they're both capable of scoring 35 points in a quarter. The Suns and the Spurs, of course, both have a strong international influence. Canada's Steve Nash is the league's MVP. His triple-double Wednesday night against the Mavericks pretty much justified once and for all his selection as the game's top player. Nash keys Phoenix's fast-paced attack.

France's Tony Parker and Argentina's Manu Ginobili support Tim Duncan, who grew up in the Virgin Islands. The Spurs don't play at as quick a pace as Phoenix does, but they move and share the ball just as efficiently.

The contrast in styles between East and West will be as easy for basketball viewers to digest as the contrast in on-court demeanor between Duncan and Rasheed. Oh, you won't have much trouble choosing sides in this year's NBA Finals. Things could really get simple if David Stern gets to live out his fantasy and watch Nash's Suns take on Shaq's Heat.

The NBA Finals could turn into a professional reenactment of the 1979 NCAA Finals, when Larry Bird starred as David and Magic Johnson played the role of Goliath.

What I'm suggesting is that we're sitting at the threshold of an NBA rebirth. The league is poised to blast off again and become as important as it was when Larry and Magic gave pro basketball a cultural significance more dramatic than even Jordan could add. No question, Jordan drove ratings. But Magic and Larry drove conversations, in much the same way that Shaq and Nash have during the last two weeks.



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