The Least of our concerns

Updated: April 15, 2004, 8:25 PM ET
By Peter May | Special to ESPN.com

It's a tough call. Which do you prefer: Cutting a check to Uncle Sam or trying to figure out a way to stomach the Eastern Conference playoffs?

I can only imagine what the NBA's TV guys are doing now that the pairings are out and the suspense is over. They must be wondering if there's some loophole in the TV contracts that allows them not to have to televise any series that doesn't have Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter or the rowdy Atlanta Hawks' fans. Or one that prohibits them from televising any series that has Tim Floyd or Lenny Wilkens.

Is there a public access station somewhere that might bid on Boston-Indiana? Or Miami-New Orleans? It's a tough call. But, as Jim O'Brien liked to say, "It is what it is."

And what it is, hoopheads, is uninspiring. At least for now. There's certainly the possibility for intrigue and mayhem in the next round and the round after that. But, right now, we have four playoff series starting up this weekend in the East and one of them, maybe, measures as compelling drama. But the problem with the New York-New Jersey matchup is that no one on the West side of the Hudson really cares about the Nets and no one on the East side of the Hudson honestly thinks the Knicks are any good anyway.

Generally at this time of year, you want to see the stars. You should see the stars; their teams are usually in the playoffs. McGrady led the league in scoring and nearly single-handedly carried the Magic to a first-round upset of the Pistons last season. He's a spectator this time around. So, too, is the seat-filling Iverson, whose team imploded while he sat out games that had some of his teammates wondering just how much The Answer really wants to stick around Philadelphia.

The Raptors didn't make it last year, either, but Carter is an annual fan favorite (as we see in the All-Star balloting) who is capable of putting on a show. Those three -- Olympic qualifying team teammates last summer -- are arguably the three most dynamic players in the conference -- and they're on the outside looking in.

What do we have instead? We have the Metro New York championship and three series with the following tease: Where's the remote?

It's too bad, because the Western Conference playoffs -- where men are men -- all look to be pretty exciting. The No. 8 seed in the West, the Nuggets, has a rookie who has more star power than just about anyone in the East. You have some very intriguing matchups, starting with the newly crowned regular-season champion Timberwolves against those darlings from Denver.

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce is one of the few All-Stars in the East who made the playoffs.
Most of the big names in the West are playing, not watching. Shaq, Kobe, Tim Duncan, KG, C-Webb, Peja, 'Melo, Dirk, and Yao are all in the playoffs. (Apologies to whomever I may have left out.) Who's a big name who's not playing? Andrei Kirilenko, maybe? Zach Randolph? Elton Brand? You get the picture? If you want to see the stars and the compelling games, go West, young man.

But back to our favorite target, the East. Yes, Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis are around, although probably not for more than 10 days. You'll have to get used to seeing a lot of Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Jason Kidd if you're going to try to do the Job thing and stick with the East throughout.

Let's look at the first-round matchups and see if the blood rises.

  • No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 8 Boston. This was a 3-6 matchup last year and the Pacers' pathetic play eventually sealed Isiah Thomas' doom. Indy also lost Brad Miller and still never lost a step (sorry, but Scot Pollard just hasn't done it.) The Pacers remember the humiliation of losing to a team that basically did little else but shoot threes. OK, does that do it for you? Didn't think so. The Celtics, by the way, go into this series with the worst home record of a playoff team since the league went to an 82-game schedule in 1967.

  • No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 New York. Again, outside of a 50-mile radius of New York, who really cares about this one? The Nets stumbled into the playoffs -- stumbled pretty badly -- but still are the No. 2 seed and should take care of the Knicks. Isiah rebuilt the Knicks with the specific purpose of getting to the playoffs and, on paper, he has a decent team. But no one seriously thinks this team has any chance of making a big run; there have been too many questionable losses and the Knicks need Allan Houston in a big way. This would be a fun series if either team were playing with any kind of flair or verve.

  • No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Milwaukee. The Pistons are the hottest team in the conference -- and stultifying to watch. They don't just defend. They swarm. Even the Bad Boys under Chuck Daly scored regularly in triple figures. These guys won't hit triple figures -- total -- until the second quarter of the second game. But they win. So get used to them. And get used to it. The Bucks slid all the way to No. 6 by losing their last three, including a home loss on Wednesday to Toronto. (What were they thinking?) Yup, they're ready for the Pistons. The only way this series has any redeeming value is if the Pistons do the right thing and sweep.

  • No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 New Orleans. Tim Floyd is fending off another rebellion as he goes into the postseason for the first time. The Hornets always seem to look to be better than they actually are. For them to finish at .500 is almost criminal -- and to think they won 45 games last year and Paul Silas got fired for that. New Orleans is in trouble, especially if Jamal Mashburn can't go. They're in trouble even if Mashburn can go. As for the Heat, they're everyone's favorite to be the team no one wants to play because they're playing pretty good (17-4 over the last 21.) But, really, outside of the locales involved -- and south Florida isn't exactly hoop heaven -- who has any passing interest in this one?

    So, there you have it. A playoffs without stars. A playoff without points (or, at least, not a lot of them.) You want action, adventure, and marquee names? Stick with the West. Then again, that's where the action has been for the last six years and it doesn't look like anything is going to change in the next two months.

    Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

    Peter May

    Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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