As a die-hard basketball fan, I want to be excited for the NBA playoffs. But a fatalistic dread is creeping in, a feeling that has become familiar since the summer of 2016. Beyond watching our hometown teams lift the Larry O’Brien trophy, all that fans really want to see is legitimate competition: the thrill of a tightly contested postseason. We want to watch a player experience the unbridled joy of finally climbing the mountaintop and conquering his demons.
I always picture Kobe Bryant leaping onto the Staples Center scorers’ table in 2010 as confetti rained down. Even in this excruciatingly painful moment in my formative years as a Celtics fan, I couldn’t help but respect Kobe’s accomplishment. His career had come full circle: from the out-of-his-element teenager who shot three straight airballs in the final minute of a 1997 playoff game, to the growing superstar who launched a dynasty alongside Shaq, to the inveterate gunner who nearly forced his way out of Los Angeles, Calif., and finally to the battle-tested champion who stood roaring above the delirious crowd.
This desire to see adversity rewarded with glory is what universally infuriated fans about Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State. It cheapened the accomplishments that we all knew would follow. The season had not even begun, and no mountains remained for this Warriors team to summit. In one fell swoop, they destroyed their greatest in-conference rival and bolstered their own ranks to an almost absurd extent. A 73-win team had added the second-best player in the league. I swore I’d never watch basketball again.
Of course, I was back by opening night, watching the Warriors get walloped by the Kawhi-era Spurs. Perhaps the addition of a ball-dominant offensive piece to a well-oiled machine would backfire? This type of false hope has flickered throughout the past few years, as Golden State has piled up two titles with relative ease. The Rockets challenged them last spring prior to Chris Paul’s hamstring injury, but I can’t help but think that Golden State would have won the series regardless. They outscored Houston by a combined 59 points over the second halves of Game 6 and 7. The Warriors grow complacent and toy with opponents — they possess an entirely different gear, and they know it.
I’m trying to maintain some optimism for this year’s playoffs, as the Dubs appear less dominant and face some intriguing challengers. The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors both fit the statistical profile of true championship contenders, boasting top-five offensive and defensive ratings. FiveThirtyEight provides a calculation of each team’s chances of bringing home the championship, based on regular season performance and “playoff adjustment.” The Bucks and Raptors own 13% and 16% chances, respectively. The Warriors’ chances? They stand at 60%.
I think I’ve reached the end of my capacity for hope. I’ve stopped buying into the Warriors’ regular season struggles and internal squabbles. Maybe Durant or Klay Thompson will depart this offseason. Maybe a new superteam will form. Maybe Steph Curry’s new contacts will magically turn him into Ben Simmons from the 3-point line. At this point, I’m still waiting on hypotheticals to restore order and excitement to the game I love.