We've all been here before.
Remember? Just a couple months ago? The NCAA?
The best tournament ever. We saw games, and things happen inside of games, that we acted like we'd never seen before. One shining moment after another after another. It all led up to the last four squads, the end all to be all of ball. It was supposed to be the prelude to the greatest Final Four ever.
Then what happened?
It all fell apart like ?uestlove was the executive producer. Two 15-point blowouts, one 16-point finale. Nothing close. Nothing close to worth remembering. Nothing close to classic.
But here we are. Fifty-two days later. Same situation, same saga, same scenario whole different game of ball. We've just experienced the best first two rounds of playoff basketball in NBA history -- a 2006 Jerry West logo'd version of 2006's Bracketology. The nine overtime games so far are already an NBA record, and three of the four conference semis going to Game 7 is a "we know drama" record.
Now let's see if the hype has a sequel.
The mission. The vision. The character. The focus. The execution. The depth. The deaths. The grief. The belief. The nonbelievers. The critics. The haters. The ankle sprains. The broken nose. The broken wrist. The broken hearts. The Witness. The witnesses. The fouls. The missed calls. The composure. The loss of it. The pressure. The pleasure. The passion. The stops. The unstoppables. The punches. The grabs. The clotheslines. The ejections. The suspensions. The letdowns. The down 3-1's. The comebacks. The never coming back. The Van Exel. The Big Shot Rob. The Mike D's. The No. 19's. The marquee. The marquees. The Matrix. The MVP. The German. The Owner. The Afro. The Prince. The Guaran-Sheeds. The Coach. The Diesel.
The Pistons. The Heat. The Suns. The Mavericks.
The best four teams in the League, I believe. Alive. Still. Standing.
The future? Now.
On one hand, everyone saw this coming. On the other, none of us saw it, because none of us were paying close enough attention. These teams faced each other in the playoffs last year. But one matchup opened this season on warning.
The Pistons and the Heat were destined to meet. From the day training camps opened, this series was on the radar of every bball fan and hoopologist. James Brown in the background. The big payback for a Game 7 loss last year when the excuse for Detroit's win was Shaq and D-Wade's injuries. It's the cheater's proof series, the one that might take eight games to decide.
It's the series in which we'll see if the Pistons are the same team as last year, or if they've changed under Flip Saunders. It's the series in which we'll see if the Heat are the same team as last year, or if they've changed under Pat Riley.
Will a healthy Shaq and Wade make the difference? Or will the coaches? Because even though coaches don't get on the floor and ball, in this series the coaching matchup will be just as important as any player on the floor. This is when the Riley factor might pay off. This is when the sabotage of Van Gundy's job gets justified.
This is when Joe Dumars realizes the true value of Larry Brown.
Suns vs. Mavs was not supposed to happen again this year at least not in the conference finals. But as great as the Texas series was, this one might be better. Or work out better. Or be more exciting.
Or maybe not.
But the fact remains that, besides the chance for six or seven triple-figure five-quarter games (remember, the Suns and Mavs faced each other in their regular-season opener -- 111-108 Dallas in double-OT), this series will produce the subplot of Nash once being the Mavs' ruler. And the fact that they've gotten better since he left is deeper than anything the Michael Finley situation brought to the series everyone said should have been the West finals.
It's the league's most resilient team against the team that has the strongest will to win. So who wins?
The team with the point guard with the numbers 1 and 3 on his jersey.
"It doesn't come down to the plays [in the playoffs], it comes down to the effort."
-- Reggie Miller
They say never underestimate the heart of a champion. But what about the resiliency of an ex-champion? Or the hunger of a wannabe champion? Or the determination of a "prove all y'all wrong" champion?
What about when there are no incumbent champs left, and the former champs are on a mission to prove that last year was the fluke, not the year before? What if the most dominant player alive left a dynasty to come to the team he now plays for to prove one point and one point only, and this might be his last legit chance to do it? What about a team that has a player so dominant that his team only loses when he plays bad, and only he can make himself play bad, not defenses? What if the only team whose coach publicly discussed his "vision" is on a "mission" to make that vision come true, and there is no team left deep enough to stop him?
What if the Mavs go up two games again? What if the Pistons go up two and decide they like it better when they play from behind again? What if PHX and MIA are hell-bent to not make the same mistakes they made this time last year against these same teams?
What if both series go seven?
I got Stephen A. $$$ that both series do. It'll only be fitting. The hype needs a sequel.
Because to all of you "I hate, never watch, despise, prey and pray for the downfall of the players and the play of the NBA," all of you faux, fake, phony, f.o.s. back-stabbing, turncoat, Omarosa in your DNA fans, all of you writers, reporters, columnists, broadcasters, radio show hosts, so-called sports journalists, media pundits and conspiracy theorists, all of you who think the game is too black, too foreign, too slow, too ghetto, too playground, too undisciplined, too defensive-oriented, tarnished, boring and fixed: We've been waiting for this moment.
Waiting for years for this moment of clarity via parity. This moment when the game of professional basketball finally gets past MJ not playing, this moment when the NBA finally gets past the day AI began playing. This moment of proof this moment of truth.
Four teams, four futures.
Let's just hope that the professional version of the Final Four doesn't turn out like the nonprofessional one that followed the madness of March.
Let's hope this one returns the proof that, in the game of basketball, three letters are better than four.
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.