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Yes, the conference finals speak to me. What exactly do they say? Well, that depends on how loudly my 8-month-old is helping me yell for the Magic and (Lord help me, gulp and gasp) the Thuggets.Sometimes it’s discernible, sometimes, well, it just ain’t.

They speak to me about offense.

They speak to me about defense.

They even speak to me about how the Grizzlies might one day achieve such a lofty height of NBA achievement…and I pray that they’re speaking to Chris Wallace too, since it’s all got to do with team building/construction/maintenance.

So let’s just lay outfive things that the conference finals (and the playoffs in general) have woven into my brainscape over the last few weeks.

1-superstars cannot do it by themselves. Yes, they’re certainly the first things on the shopping list-but they’re by no means the only thing. I’d even put forth that they’re not as much the reason that their teams get as far as they do as is thought by some.Sure, there’s no doubt that players like 23/24 are anchors and leaders and alpha dogs and various other cliches-but even though there’s no question that Kobe and Lebron are incredible motivators by word and deed (and maybe an occasional elbow in practice), the overall level of consistent talent and energy on both sides of the ball will rule the day-there’s only so far along that a megastar can mentally drag the rest of a team.

2-Speaking of both sides of the ball, I’ll boldly lay out that the old “defense wins championships” platitude has faded for me a bit this postseason-evidenced to some degree by the fact that the key plays have been scores (which could, I suppose, be defined as a “lack of a stop”), not stops. Figuring out a way to score (like, say, putting the Cavaliers into a defensive panic over the course of three games, making them at least partially abandon schemes that were monstrously effective over the regular season) has been paramount-just ask the Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Heat, etc. Sure, defense is what makes it hard to score-but the balance is a bit tipped to offense.

3-The much-vaunted smallball is effective only in small doses-example: Cleveland gets KILLED while playing three PG’s in game four of the current series. Example: Dallas not faring so well playing Terry/Kidd/Berea… Size rules. Always has, always will. Orlando plays nice tall guys, LA plays three seven-footers (on rare occasion all at once, no less). Portland has ONE effective inside guy (and his name rhymes with “vanilla”, by the way). Houston plays about 457 six-foot-seven PF’s. Miami is sorely lacking in the middle. Size matters in the NBA.

4-Free throws are SO important. Good Lord, free throws. In game five last night, the Not-So-Magic went a decidedly unMagical 11-22 from the line, if memory serves. And even if it doesn’t, there have still been a million bricks thrown from fifteen free feet. From Lebron, Dwight (no shock there), Shard, the litany continues. The most basic practice item, it could be said, has changed the landscape of the playoffs. Hey, it’s as important an aspect of the game as any other-whatever changes the outcome, changes it.

5-Dovetails a bit with #1 above. There is a reason that Marv is drooling over Michael “chronic fouler and not just against Lebron” Pietrus and Rafer Alston, and why everyone is freaking over the Birdman of Bogota, Ariza, etc…this is when the Dahntays and the Birdmanset. al. finally get the mention and exposure on a national levelthey’ve deserved since Halloween, and I’m glad forthem.I’m a typical NBA full-on junkie who gets really tired of seeing the same names on the front pages of the biggest websites in an attempt to appeal to the casual fan-I’d love it if there were more time and energy devoted to the guys who do what they do VERY well…that just don’t necessarily hock the energy-drink-of-the-week or the shoe of the week, and miss out on attracting the attention of the average Joe or Josephine sports nut.

It all rolls into one….always pining for “that one guy” is not the way to get it done….raising the overall talent level is how it’s done. And about a million other things, but talent is the seed from which the tree of NBA success grows, young grasshopper. Balanced talent at a number of positions and disciplines…not one-man wrecking crews.

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