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Old 10-15-10, 05:59 PM
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Celtics, Heat top the must-see list

Celtics, Heat top the must-see list
Simmons By Bill Simmons

My Clippers season tickets just arrived in the mail. It's Year 7 for your friend Simmons. I always made fun of the saps who kept sending the Clippers money, claimed that "I just want to see the other teams," then secretly pined for a good Clippers team so the tickets would be a good investment. Now? I guess I am one of those saps.

Normally when you spend seven years with something -- anything -- your memory gravitates towards the more fun moments (even if there weren't that many). With the Clippers? You think of the bad stuff. Like the 58 times they lost at the buzzer because Corey Maggette or Marko Jaric forced a terrible shot in traffic. Like the time Latrell Sprewell F-bombed a woman behind Minnesota's basket, then the F-bomb resonated through the half-empty stands like a bomb explosion. Like Mike Dunleavy dusting off an ice-cold Steve Novak to spread the floor on the final possession of a game, followed by Novak hurriedly stretching as all the people in my section shook their heads in disgust. Like the five pathetic lottery seasons in which they were finished by February and I couldn't even give my seats away.

Actually, why did I renew my tickets again?


(Scratching my head.)

Oh, yeah! Blake Griffin!

Call me a sucker, call me a fool. I don't care. Griffin cannot be hyped enough. He's already one of the best five power forwards in the league. (I have him behind Dirk, Bosh and Gasol and tied with an aging Duncan.) He would have been the third-best player on Team USA in August had the Americans included him. He's already (A) the best finisher of any big guy in the league, (B) the second-best rebounder in the league behind Dwight Howard, and (C) someone who flies around so recklessly that you constantly worry he might break his leg, his back, his neck … there's just nobody else like him right now. You can't keep your eyes off him.

Vegas lists him at 2-1 for rookie of the year, which would be the decade's single biggest gambling bargain if, you know, Blake Griffin didn't play for the most cursed franchise in the league. In a perfect world, he'll stay healthy, crash the boards with Chris Kaman, master the high screen with Eric Gordon (who had a breakout summer for Team USA) and lead the Clippers to an improbable playoff spot. Everything hinges on Baron Davis, the overpaid local star who feeds off the crowd and the situation. Here are the three Baron recipes:

"Bad crowd" + "hopeless situation" = "Baron checks out."
Stops driving to the basket, launches bad 3s, lets petty agendas determine his play. I will forgive him at some point for occasionally freezing out Gordon last season -- a gifted offensive player, someone who always plays hard, and someone who played one-on-one defense against Kobe better than anyone I saw all season except for "Trick Or Treat" Tony Allen. By the way, "Checks Out" Baron launched 296 3s last year and missed 73 percent of them. Indefensible.

"Good crowd" + "hopeless situation" = "Baron might show up."
His two best games of last year? Home wins during sellouts against the Celtics (24 points, 13 assists, game-winning shot) and Lakers (25 points, 10 assists). Not a coincidence. This is why I thought New York should have pursued Baron this past summer: He feeds off the crowd. Watch the highlights from those two glorious Golden State years, specifically the home playoff games against Dallas and Utah in 2007. Just watch the iconic Kirilenko dunk. This isn't someone meant to play in half-filled arenas for people half-heartedly looking through their BlackBerrys.

"Good crowd" + "good situation" = "Baron will show up."
And he will. So that's the hope: good crowd, good situation. The past three seasons were miserable, personified by the time last winter when I asked my daughter to come with me and she responded, "I don't want to go; it makes me sad." I don't think she'll be sad this season.

The tickets arrived this week. I share them with my friend Tollin, a Philly fan who goes for the other teams (like me, and like half the people who own Clippers tickets). Usually we e-mail each other "Games That I Want To See" and "Games That I Know I Can't Go To" lists. That got me thinking … what if you ranked every team from No. 1 to No. 30 simply by the question, "How much do I want to see that team in person this season?"

One disclaimer: I am not a discerning audience. There will almost always be a reason I'd want to see an NBA team once. This year, there were four "I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO GO TO THAT GAME!" teams and two "I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO GO TO THAT GAME" teams. Everyone else fell in between. Without further ado, this year's Season Ticket Rankings.


12. Dallas
Love watching Dirk in person. He always brings it. As a whole, the Mavs leave me lukewarm: Of their best eight guys, you'd rather have the 2006 versions of seven of them (including Dirk). That's never good. But I would still pay to see No. 41. And yes, he's two more high-caliber offensive seasons away from moving into the Barkley-Malone discussion. A 2007 MVP award. One Finals trip. Nine All-Star teams. Four first-team All-NBAs, three seconds, two thirds. A three-year peak of 26-9-4 (51%-89%-41%). Ten straight 22-8 seasons. In 103 playoff games: 26-11, 46 FG%, 88 FT%. Ten straight 50-win seasons (including three of 60-plus). It's starting to add up, right?

13. Utah
We're about five weeks from NBA GMs anonymously complaining to writers about the Al Jefferson hijacking. I can't wait.

(On a personal note, I loved Big Al on the Celtics, rooted for him in Minnesota, felt like a proud dad when his career was taking off in January '08, agonized for him when he blew out his knee that same month, then felt terrible last season as he struggled through one of the worst situations in recent memory. Seeing Jefferson get a chance to rejuvenate his career with a top-four point guard and a top-four coach -- on a good team, in a city that gives a crap -- is one of my five favorite things about this upcoming season. So there.)

14. San Antonio
Duncan's last quality year before he starts fading. I always loved seeing him in person: such a good teammate, so selfless, so fundamentally sound, so brilliant in the low post, so good at effortless bank shots nobody else can make … I mean, anyone who called Duncan "boring" never went to a Spurs game. One other thing: I'm expecting a randomly fantastic season from Manu Ginobili. He's never really had a career year; 2008 (31 mpg, 19.1 ppg, 40 3P%) was the closest. Total fantasy sleeper. He'll go five rounds later than he should.

(My buddy House's take: "I prefer Utah/San Antonio ahead of the rookie group. Those two teams are so well-coached and execute so relentlessly, it always feels like I'm watching a clinic. They routinely put teams with flaws, like the Wiz, in the Fundamentals Torture Chamber and play offense/defense with hired-killer efficiency; I enjoy watching that in person." Fair enough. I rate the First Impression Game higher than most.)

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