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The NBA: Where the Playoffs make me sad happens

Yes, I know we have not been writing much since the Rockets were unceremoniously dumped by the evil Utah Jazz. I can only hope that you all understand why... for the 2007/2008 NBA regular season was the most entertaining and fun-filled season in almost 20 years.

In fact, I think I enjoyed this year even more than 1994 and 1995 (because the playoffs were far more entertaining than the regular season then). This year we had a 22 game winning streak, Kobe's march to the MVP, the rise of CP3 and Dwight Howard, the re-birth of the Boston Celtics with KG and Ray Allen, a dunk contest that didn't suck, and so many other awesome storylines - specifically the greatest Western Conference battle of all-time.

.......... then the playoffs started.

And everything went to hell.

I'm not even talking about just the Rockets anymore. With so much anticipation for the playoffs following the regular season, I'm not sure the NBA higher-ups could have screwed the pooch anymore than they did.

I tried to watch every single playoff game this year. And for the first month or so I was successful in reaching my goal. I even watched the awful Raptors/Magic series. And the overrated LeBron/Wizards contests. To be blunt - it's all been disappointing.

We knew the best teams in the NBA were probably the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Pistons. So it was not a surprise that these were the teams that comprised the NBA's own "Final Four". What bothered me is how we got there. And as lame and cliche as it is to blame referees for how the games turn out - this year there is no avoiding it.

Last year had the stink of the Suns/Spurs suspensions and the Tim Donaghy scandal. The year before we had to deal with the NBA handing the Miami Heat gift-foul after gift-foul. To the extent that I went from being a Dwyane Wade fan to finding him incredibly annoying. The running joke for more than a year was that even mentioning Wade's name drew a foul and two free throws. The 2006 NBA Finals were that much of a sham.

Which made me naively believe that the 2008 NBA Finals would somehow be different. I mean, come on, it's the Lakers! And the Celtics! The glory days are back! Kobe... KG... Gasol... Pierce... PJ v. Doc! What could possibly go wrong? In a word: everything.

Now, full disclaimer -- I am not a Lakers fan. Nor am I a Celtics fan.
I am a big fan of both Kobe and KG.

But the referees are absolutely killing my ability to watch the NBA right now. I don't care that the Lakers are down 2-0. I do care how/why they are down 2-0 and why instead of continuing to watch the game on Sunday I decided to switch to watching Rounders. I think I made the right choice. There is no way possible that Leon Powe should ever shoot more free throws by himself than an entire team should. Ever. I don't care if you try to rationalize it as a statistical anomaly or a fluke or some other creative excuse. It should not happen.

Now, here are three immutable rules about the NBA:
1. Stars do and should get more foul calls than the average player.
2. The refs should never decide the game by calling fouls with time running out (i.e., the Fisher/Barry play in the Spurs series comes to mind)
3. The home team will always shoot more free throws in a playoff game.

And I'm okay with these rules. If applied consistently.

Now, I watched the first 15-20 minutes of Game 2 in absolute horror. If the Lakers were a jump-shooting team that never took the ball to the basket and settled for 3s every other time on offense, I could understand why they only shot 10 free throws for the entire game. That would make sense. Yet Kobe, Gasol and Odom did nothing but take the ball to the basket and try to make layups. With someone in green draped all over their arms/shoulders/back. Result? No foul... and an inevitable missed layup. On the flip side, every time a Celtic would throw his hands up in the air (aka, "pulling an Iverson"), the referees took the bait and blew the whistle. Kobe, Odom and the snowboarding Euro guy all had 2 fouls each seemingly before the first TV timeout. And....... goodbye TV audience when Kobe isn't playing. Way to think it through, NBA.

Meanwhile, the running joke has been that no matter what happens, David Stern will assign Bennett Salvatore to ref Game 3 in L.A., presumably to make sure the Lakers win and we have a 6-7 game series. I mean, haha, that's funny right... no way David Stern would ever be that obvious in his attempts to "fix" the Finals like that...

and then...

I see the announcement of today's officials.

Not only do we get Bennett Salvatore. We also get Joey Crawford.

David Stern isn't even trying to be subtle anymore.

And I'm no longer going to be subtle when I announce here that I won't even bother watching the Finals until we get to Game 5 now. If Kobe shoots less than 15 FTs tonight, I'll be stunned. Lakers should win by 15 or so... easily. And that's a shame.