A longsuffering fan base is going to experience an NBA title. The Phoenix Suns have won the Western Conference title and will take on Milwaukee, which finished off Atlanta on Saturday night in the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee won a title in 1971; the Suns have never clutched the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.
These playoffs will be remembered for the new blood pulling into championship lane, but the "what if" crowd already is throwing asterisks because of the record number of injuries suffered by All-Stars that have affected the tournament.
Beginning with Jamal Murray's torn ACL in April, which hampered Denver's title hopes, 10 All-Stars have missed at least one postseason game.
How would the Nuggets have fared with Murray?
Would the Lakers be in the finals if Anthony Davis hadn't suffered a pulled groin?
The Brooklyn Nets lost James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (ankle) during the postseason. What if Kevin Durant would have had at least one of them healthy?
What if Paul George's red-hot Western Conference finals included his partner, the great Kawhi Leonard?
There were 72 days between the end of the bubble games in October and the start of the 2020-21 season when there's normally a four-month layoff. Some point to the short offseason followed by a condensed 72-game schedule for the increase in injuries, a group that includes LeBron James.
But former Gophers and NBA guard and KFAN host Trent Tucker believes the schedule has had little to do with the breakdowns.
"When you look at them, ankle injuries, knee injuries, guys getting tangled up," Tucker said. "Trae Young was a freak accident. He steps on an official's foot. Kawhi comes down the floor, he bumps someone and all of a sudden he lands the wrong way. And for some of the teams who went to the bubble, they had four, five months off."
We are in the "Load Management" era of the NBA where players are held out of lineups at various points during the season to keep them fresh. So how does that square with when a player who was given games off during the regular season still breaks down? It's hard to protect Irving from rolling his ankle the way he did in the postseason. And Davis seems to be always banged up, no matter how much rest he gets.
In the end, good teams overcome injuries. The Suns won the first two games of the Western Conference finals with Chris Paul in COVID protocol while the Clippers failed to capitalize. The Eastern finals were determined by how the Hawks played without Trae Young and the Bucks played without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This postseason has been the Survivor Games. But no asterisk necessary.
Shame on the NFL
How is Dan Snyder allowed to still own the Washington Football Team?
He had settle a $1.6 million sexual harassment claim with a former female employer. He's allowed a toxic culture to run rampant throughout his organization, with female employees walking on eggshells and not having their complaints of sexual harassment heard or acted upon.
The topper came in 2013, when Washington cheerleaders went on a trip to Costa Rica, had their passports confiscated by club officials, had to pose topless for a photoshoot and then were ordered to accompany high rollers to an evening outing, making them feel like escorts.
The NFL just concluded an investigation that verified a lot of the above and decided to fine Washington $10 million. Snyder steps away for a few months while his WIFE takes over day-to-day affairs.
Change starts at the top. Snyder learns nothing from taking a time out for a few months. Shame on the NFL.
Following Donaldson's lead
Josh Donaldson just might be what baseball needs.
The outspoken third baseman is on a crusade about pitchers using illegal substances to help them increase the spin rate, and thus the movement, of their pitches. He claims he has tracked about 150 pitchers who have improved their spin rates since 2017.
Donaldson indicated Gerrit Cole was guilty, forcing the Yankees ace to dance around the question. Donaldson upset Lucas Giolito by yelling that his ball is no longer sticky during a game against the White Sox on Tuesday.
But the numbers are in following two weeks of cracking down. The league batting average increased from .239 in May to .246 in June. Some will point to warmer weather as one reason, but Statcast showed that average spin rates are down from May.
What's surprising here is that more hitters aren't following Donaldson — as if he needs any help.
Here comes Boston
The Red Sox reached the halfway point 51-31. They have All-Stars in Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Their bullpen has been very effective. And they will get Chris Sale off the injured list during the second half. They are going to the postseason.
As much fun as we have had watching our Packers friends fret over the Aaron Rodgers situation, it's time for us to expect No. 12 to play in Green Bay this season. He might sit out most of camp to make his bosses squirm, but Rodgers will remain in the NFC North.
The 3-2 Pitch: Three observationsand two predictions from La Velle E. Neal III every Sunday.