So, it’s been a while.
EnergySolutions Arena is strangely dark, again, in early May.
The Jazz, who traditionally punctuated so many of their seasons with some kind of playoff appearance, have gone without now since 2012. While reflections of that last postseason experience aren’t exactly fond for anyone in Utah — the Jazz were swept by San Antonio in the first round — it’s easy to watch what’s going on at present and feel a little empty.
Not that getting bounced from the playoffs for three consecutive years by the Lakers before missing out entirely in 2011 was a laugh a minute, and not that the Jazz should abandon their rebuilding plan for mere short-term pleasure, but the early stages of the 2014 playoffs have been a rocket to ride for the teams and fans involved, and even for those simply looking in, those who have little rooting interest one way or the other. Anybody around here watching this stuff?
It’s been a cool deal, even lived vicariously.
The Heat are the only team that smoothed through the first round, with the Wizards making their way in five games over the Bulls. Every other series has been marked by welts and bruises and surprises and disappointments and real-life drama and heavy melodrama and clutch shots and brutal misses and sprains and ’bows to the head. It’s been a glorious thing, a whole lot more than a sorry episode of “As the Racist Turns.”
Consider the Western Conference alone. Nothing’s coming easy. Everything is difficult. The worst teams are working it hard. The best teams look like they’ve lost a pie fight.
The Spurs could have been eliminated already by the Mavs had the ball bounced just a little differently. Instead, those teams are in a Texas-sized dust-busting brawl that has San Antonio up 3-2 heading into Dallas for Game 6 — and Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t even done his normal damage yet.
Memphis and OKC are staging a fight too good to end in regulation. Four of the series’ first five games went to overtime and have included made last-second shots and made last-second shots waved off. The Thunder were a lot of guessers’ pick to make it to the NBA Finals, but Kevin Durant has been dogged throughout, getting his points, but often laboring en route. The Grizz and Thunder, fittingly enough, are now tied, heading toward a Game 7.
Houston avoided elimination by beating Portland on the Rockets’ home floor — their first win at Toyota Center thus far — taking their series to 3-2 on Wednesday night. Mostly, this struggle has featured the playoff emergence of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. According to NBA.com, Lillard is the first player since Tim Hardaway in 1991 to record at least 125 points and 35 assists in his first five career playoff games. The former Weber State guard is pretty good. And wonder of wonders, James Harden was actually spotted playing a small bit of defense, for just a minute, in the Game 5 save.
While clouded by the ignorant mess that is Donald Sterling, the Clippers-Warriors series has been watched by darn near everybody in the country. Ratings have blown through the roof since Sterling’s comments were made known, and although the basketball played here hasn’t quite matched the controversy and commotion, what’s happened on the floor has been a lot of fun. Anyone who can’t enjoy Chris Paul handling the ball, Blake Griffin dunking the ball, DeAndre Jordan blocking the ball and Steph Curry shooting the ball probably made a wrong turn off his or her regular talk-show-watching circuit, anyhow. On the other hand, if Oprah buys the Clips …
Even back East, there’s been much to see, with Brooklyn and Toronto putting on a competitive show, their series standing at 3-2, Raptors, and the Pacers attempting to break out of their death march against the Hawks. In Game 5, Atlanta went up by 30 points before Indiana pieced together a tepid comeback that ultimately failed. On Thursday night, the Pacers went on a 16-4 run at the end to steam past the Hawks, sending that series to a Game 7. Indiana’s struggles have become one of the more curious happenings in recent NBA history, and if the Pacers get eliminated, that curiosity will be joined by a rarity — a No. 1 seed being knocked out by an 8.
Point is, even if the Jazz aren’t involved in these playoffs, the wicked competition is definitely a gas to watch. This early postseason may have been the best in recent memory, the best in the past 15 or 20 years, all the way back to the time when John Stockton and Karl Malone were leading the Jazz into true contention.
The games have been great.
Between now and the draft, check them out.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.