WE DEDICATE THE start of the NBA playoffs to the fabulous, fallen Kobe Bryant, whose bend-but-don't-break body finally collapsed during his 48-minutes-or-bust attempt to carry the Lakers on his creaky back to the postseason.
Over the second half of the regular season - particularly over the final couple of weeks, when he adopted his I-won't-be-ordered-off-the-court-unless-you-get-a-court-order stance - Kobe transformed himself from Mamba to Moses. Somehow, after 40 games of wandering the desert, Kobe led the Lakers out of playoff exile - I believe he, too, parted the Red Sea, or at least Salt Lake - and led his people to the promised land.
Of course, Kobe, like Moses, didn't make it there.
(FYI: Moses rented a suburban duplex with a tomato garden and a nice view of the promised land before he passed away. Similarly, Kobe has a cable package that includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and NBA TV to allow him to gaze upon the promised land from his Newport Beach, Calif., home.)
Anyway, for the second straight year I am picking the Thunder to win the NBA title; as longtime savvy readers know, that likely means I will be wrong for the second straight year. Meanwhile, here are some other random yet potentially perceptive Couch Slouch thoughts on the NBA postseason:
I am again taking a stand against the Heat. Sure, they won 27 in a row, but they play in Division II. Sure, LeBron James is the best, but Oscar Robertson once was the best and he only won one NBA title. Sure, I like Ray Allen, but I liked him more in "He Got Game." And don't get me started again on Shane Battier - if the NBA eliminated the 3-point shot and the block-charge call, he'd be selling vacuum cleaners out of the back of a van off Interstate 95 in Brunswick, Ga.
Yes, I am backing the Thunder, but I have one concern. I am reminded of the old line: The only man to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points a game was Dean Smith. Well, the only NBA player who can hold Kevin Durant to under 30 points a game is Russell Westbrook. Of course, Westbrook is dynamic and at times unstoppable, but can you imagine how many points Durant might average if his teammate wasn't such a ball-hogging, shoot-first point guard?
It's time to celebrate the Spurs' ageless Tim Duncan, whose work spans two centuries and four NBA titles. In his 16th NBA season, Duncan turns 37 this week, with remarkable career numbers: 20.2 points a game, 11.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocked shots; a two-time MVP and 14-time all-star. Plus he's 50.7 percent from the field - of course, if the backboard weren't there, he would've shot more than 10,000 air balls in his career.
There are three reasons I root against the Knicks. Actually, there are 53 reasons, but space limits me to Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Spike Lee. Melo - pronounced "ME-First" - would shoot a 26-footer over a double-team with 12 seconds left in a 20-point game if it meant the scoring title. Smith had a fabulous season, but he's still just a preening "Look, Ma, No Hands!!!" type of performer. And Spike - the anti-Jack Nicholson - remains the most prominent, obnoxious, showboating celebrity Narcissists Anonymous front-row fan in America.
Speaking of New York, there's one reason I'd consider rooting for the Knicks if they had a playoff series against the crosstown Nets: Jay-Z.
As a courtesy, we again present the starting lineup for the Pacers, who have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference: Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, David West. Nobody on the team averages more than 17 points a game, nobody on the team can get a good table at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis.
Here's the stat of the year, courtesy of ABC: Dwight Howard missed more free throws this season (366) than Lakers teammate Steve Nash has missed in his 17-year NBA career (322). Howard: 355 for 721 this season, 49.2 percent; Nash: 3,038 for 3,360 from 1996-97 through 2012-13, 90.4 percent.
Let me tell you one thing about the Warriors' Stephen Curry: If he were on Mars and got a clean look, he could swish a jump shot to a basket on Earth.
I want the Clippers to win it all, but ... Any time I walk into an auto dealership, I half-expect to see Vinny Del Negro on the showroom floor, ready to sell me a car.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Tiger Woods got penalized after a viewer complained from home. Can I call holding penalties on the Ravens when the Steelers play in Baltimore next season? (Mark Cohen; Gibsonia, Pa.)
A. You are prescient - the NFL announced Friday 1-800-MIKE-PEREIRA will operate beginning with the 2013 season.
Q. Is it possible for an athlete, like Pete Weber, to test positive for elevated levels of testosterone without even using performance-enhancing drugs? (Anthony Pasceri; Tonawanda, N.Y.)
Q. Does Mike D'Antoni need an intervention? He left the tranquility of the Phoenix Suns for the dysfunctional Knicks, then the drama queens of the Lakers. Who will he coach next, the Kardashians? (Kevin O'Dell; Ballston Spa, N.Y.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!