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Round Two: Suspended Admiration

In a few hours, we’ll finally have our answer: will the Spurs get their shot at revenge against the Memphis Grizzlies, or will they play their first-ever playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers? Neither matchup promises to evoke my fan-hatred the way a Lakers series would. When the Grizzlies aren’t playing the Spurs, I often find myself rooting for them. Though they may be deficient in any number of ways, the Grizzlies are seldom out of a game. They fight for forty-eight minutes (most of the time, anyway), and it’s hard not to appreciate that. Resilience is a terrific asset for a sports team. On the other hand, I’m fairly neutral on the Clippers. They are my favorite Los Angeles sports team, for whatever that’s worth, Blake Griffin highlights are fun to watch, and the Mo Williams/Caron Butler duo is one that I like. But the head of that particular snake is one of my favorite-ever practitioners of my favorite game.

I yield to no one in my appreciation for Chris Paul. He plays the position of point guard nearly perfectly. I’ve never seen another player who could throw the alley-oop pass from virtually any spot on the floor. A lot of players can make that pass under the right conditions: set up around the 15-18 foot area against a defender playing off you, wait for a high-jumping teammate to get free on a back pick, throw the ball up near the rim and BAM! Two points, crowd goes nuts, Sportscenter highlight, the whole nine yards.

Chris Paul can do that. But Paul can also throw that same pass off the dribble, weaving through the paint, with a defender right on him. And he was doing this long before his 2011 arrival in Lob City. He seems to know exactly when to pass, when to shoot, when to push the ball, and when to bleed the clock. Chris Paul can break a defense down and finish at the rim or knock down the outside shot. He’s about as good as a steals man gets – his 2.4 SPG career mark would be good for third all-time if he had played enough seasons yet to qualify. The 2008 series between the Spurs and the Hornets was absolutely terrifying knowing that Paul could basically do whatever he wanted once he got a screen. To this day, I’m still wondering how we won that series.

If the Clippers prevail, then it’s time for the Spurs to tangle once again with the other Wake Forest great. And at that point, my admiration for CP3 will disappear. Well, mostly. I mean, I’m sure I’m still going to shake my head in disbelief at least a few times per game, but I will not root for him when he has the ball. If the Grizzlies move on, there’s no more enjoying their spirit and pluck. It then becomes all about watching them hang their heads in despair as often as possible.

You gotta love sports. No other entertainment vehicle taxes one’s loyalties like this. You like Stephen King and John Grisham? No problem: just read one man’s book, then the other one. TV watcher? With DVR and DVD sets and on-line episodes, you never have to choose one show over the other. Music? If you’re like me and you’re a fan of Winger, Tony Clifton, or Shonen Knife, you’ve got any number of ways to enjoy all of it.

Suspended animation is a staple of science fiction (although it’s happening in real life, too). But in sports, we have suspended admiration: players or teams we usually enjoy are relegated to enemy status whenever they square off against our favorite team. So for the next four to seven games, I will hate the Memphis Grizzlies. Or I must loathe Chris Paul.