NBA Playoffs 2014: The Struggles of the First Round

What an incredible start we’ve experienced to the 2014 NBA Playoffs – five Game 7’s already?

Some would say it’s unbelievable.  Some would say miracles still happen.  But even more would say what a struggle it’s been.  Aren’t the favored teams supposed to waltz through the first round?  We’ve seen teams struggle and many of those were unexpected struggles, which is a lot like life in this world.  Let’s take a look at the struggles we’ve seen in the playoffs and then consider the struggles we face in life.

BASKETBALL – The Struggle

Most of us assumed that the NBA’s elite would advance through the first round of the playoffs – which they did, but only the Miami Heat had an easy time. As for the rest, it was simply a struggle:

San Antonio had the best record and seemed to have kept their aging veterans well-rested down the stretch, but needed all seven games to beat Dallas.  Sometimes, playing against a close rival, a team that knows you so well like the Mavericks know the Spurs, can push you to your limits!

Indiana had the best record in the East, but has gone 23-20 since trading Danny Granger.  The Pacers unexpectedly struggled with an Atlanta team that finished below .500 on the season.  What should have been a sweep on paper, turned into a seven game nightmare!

While the NBA was naming Kevin Durant the league MVP, his hometown newspaper was calling him Mr. Unreliable as his team trailed Memphis 3-2.  In the end, Durant and the Thunder overcame some of their worst shooting EVER, to beat the Griz in seven.

Toronto had one of their best seasons ever, but struggled in their physical match-up with the Brooklyn Nets, a team that spent a boatload of money on experienced and physical players.  After seven games, the Raptors lost in a struggle in which they had the misfortune of playing against experience.  Bad timing for Toronto!

The Clippers had as much adversity as any team in the first round as they dealt with the prolific shooting of the Splash Brothers from Golden State, but also the circus created by owner Donald Sterling.  Again, after all the progress they made under Doc Rivers, this was so supposed to be a year they walked into history.

Even the 4-5 match-ups were struggles.  Chicago and Houston had the home-court advantage, but neither was playing at the level of their opponents.  Chicago just didn’t have enough offense to handle the Wizards and the Rockets had a tough time matching the intensity and the emotion of Portland.

A lot of struggles! Rivers claims the adversity for the Clips was good, but that’s easy to say after you just won, right?  I think the Heat are perfectly fine with not having the adversity and having a chance to rest up a bit.

LIFE – We all have them!

It would seem that the Miami Heat don’t have many struggles.  They won the last two titles.  They won their first round series.  They seem to be healthy and everyone is making lots of cash.  But I feel confident saying they probably have had some struggles. We all do.  My wife reminded me when I brought the subject up with her – we certainly have had some struggles.  She mentioned hearing about a new book by ABC Everbody's Got SomethingGood Morning America’s Robin Roberts called Everybody’s Got Something.  I met Robin at a Women’s Final Four back when she was working for ESPN.  After riding elevators with her a few times, I remember thinking what a happy, charismatic, and classy lady she was. And, she is – especially in light of her struggles to beat cancer.  I’m anxious to read her book – I’ll admit, she had me with the title.  We all have something.  We all have challenges.  We each have a story. Struggles may come out of the blue or they may be a product of our own mistakes.  They can simply result from bad timing or they can be long in the making, but whatever the case, we ALL have them.

FAITH – Joy in Struggles?

As a coach, you probably expect me to suggest how necessary struggles are in shaping players and building teams.  I get it.  It’s extremely important and it’s one of the reasons I coach, but honestly, I get tired of struggles.  Every season has new ones.  As a Christian, I also understand the value of struggles.  They’re a non-stop reminder of how desperately we need a loving Savior.  I also realize many of our struggles are a direct result of living in a fallen world.  Sin has caused that and the struggles that come from my own failings and mistakes are inevitable.  But when I’m honest, I’m tired of the struggles and I know I’m not alone.  I can pick up the Bible and read the complaints and frustrations of Israelite leaders, prophets, and followers of Jesus and like most of them, I’m tired of the struggles.  And, I find myself more and more complaining to God about those struggles.  I want Him to take care of the struggles and my impatient soul struggles with the well-known advice from James:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

This is my challenge – count it all joy?  Really?  Here’s where I’m trying to grow in wisdom.  I would rather have life be as comfortable as the Miami Heat in the first round, but I also know that God works through and in every one of my struggles.  I don’t always know how, and looking back, I don’t always know why.  But as I grow in wisdom, I also find inspiration in Paul’s words:

We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Let’s see how the remaining teams, including the Heat, deal with whatever struggles they have yet to face!