With the first round of the playoffs underway, the most noticeable difference in the games has been the addition of nearly full crowds. According to the latest SB Nation Reacts survey, more than 50 percent of fans around the country said the inclusion of fans has significantly improved the viewing experience, while only 16 percent said it hasn’t improved the experience at all.
The re-addition of crowds at basketball games has been a nice sight to see and hear during the playoffs so far. Watching the game is one thing, but another element of sports is the crowd getting into it. Great sports moments are often accompanied by the roar of the home crowd or the quiet stunned silence if a miracle shot is made by the away team. It has been over a year since we’ve had full crowds at NBA games, but slowly the crowd capacities are increasing.
After watching basketballl for the last handful of months in a quiet arena, it was great to see a stadium come alive with the fans like they did at Madison Square Garden this past weekend. Hopefully the Bulls can make the playoffs next season and the United Center can turn into the Madhouse on Madison again.
Having fans in attendance provides at least the semblance of a home-court advantage. However, not even half of Bulls fans believe Chicago would have finished the regular season with a better record had fans been in attendance all season long.
The lack of crowds wasn’t the exact reason why Chicago finished at 31-41 this season. Yes it may have given them a spark in some home games, but they actually weren’t too bad on the road (16-20) and perhaps could have been worse away from the UC if there were fans in the stands all season.
Another reason for them finishing 11th other than some rough play near the end of the season, along with absences to key players, was their record against Western Conference teams. The Bulls were .500 against Eastern Conference teams but were 10-20 against teams from the West. This is another area of improvement that Chicago needs if it wants to make the playoffs next season. They have to beat good teams, regardless of what conference they are from. You can’t expect to make it to the postseason by just beating up on the bad teams.
Bulls fans were in attendance near the end of the season but obviously not at full capacity. Like I said earlier, hopefully there can be more fans safely in attendance at UC soon.
With the rest of fans around the country watching at home, there is no shortage of great opening-round series to enjoy. 30 percent of fans around the country believe the Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers series is the best of the group. The New York Knicks’ series against the Atlanta Hawks is the next most popular choice, with 21 percent of the vote.
Personally, I agree in that I think both of the series that were first and second in the poll are the most interesting in terms of the matchups and talent level. But I would say the Knicks and Hawks is the most entertaining. I’m worried about Phoenix now that Chris Paul doesn’t look so healthy with his shoulder. He is what makes the Suns go and with him not at 100 percent, all of the offensive responsibility falls on Devin Booker. With a Lakers defense that is treacherous to score against when they are locked in, this may be a short series if Phoenix doesn’t win Game 4 on the road.
Meanwhile, Atlanta and New York look evenly matched. They played two close thrillers in Games 1 and 2. Plus there are multiple storylines in this series to watch for. Trae Young took on the role of villain against the MSG crowd and former Bulls turned back the clock with their play in Game 2, and now we head to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 with the series tied at 1. I expect this series to go seven games. If each of the remaining five games are the same as the first two, we are in for a real treat.
Similarly, 26 percent of fans believe the Suns best display the characteristics of a successful team. Phoenix has taken the leap this season and it’s mainly due to the play of Paul and Booker. Getting Paul was one of the biggest moves any NBA team could have made this offseason. It instantly raised Phoenix’s floor as a team and watching them, it’s apparent how key he is to their success. He gets everyone in the right spots and still has a deadly mid-range jumper. Booker has continued to be solid scorer, averaging 25.6 points this season with an 53.3 eFG%. He can make shots from all three levels and is a tough assignment for any defense. Just ask Chicago as he scored 45 points when the two teams last faced off in March.
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