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BOB RYAN

Green with envy

Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, so it is in that vein I present myself to you this morning as an unreconstructed and unrepentant sinner.

The good people of Detroit, Miami, Phoenix, and Dallas have the NBA playoffs, and we don't.

Oh, how I envy them.

Waaah!

I'm not handling this very well, I'm afraid. Every time I turn on my TNT or ESPN or ABC and see a packed house at one of those venues, with frenzied crowds making lots and lots of noise, I become consumed with envy; jealousy, even. What did they do to deserve their good fortune? When's our turn?

Well, of course, we did have a turn, and a pretty lengthy one, at that. The Celtics were bridesmaid sorts in the first half of the '50s, and from 1957 through 1992 they were an athletic dynasty, winning 16 championships, losing in the Finals three other times, and just generally being a Factor for 3 1/2 decades. It appeared to be our civic birthright to have the Boston Celtics in the playoffs.

It was never a question of making the playoffs, either. It was, far more often than not, a case of speculating on just how far the team could go. We laughed at other cities making a big deal out of a first-round playoff appearance. We were led to believe that a season that did not result in a championship was a disappointment. That's the way the Celtics themselves talked, and I think they believed it to be true.

Yes, I know we're only one year removed from the latest playoff venture, but somehow it seems as if it happened long ago and in a distant galaxy. It may have been the one time you truly wished they hadn't made the playoffs. Losing three home playoff games in one series and being blown out at home in Game 7 is not a memory to cherish. And then there was the peculiar Paul Pierce meltdown that punctuated Game 6 in Indy. All in all, the 2005 playoff experience was a true bummah.

Now, then, are you paying attention to what's been going on? Are you aware that the playoffs have been riveting? Are you hip to the fact that NBA basketball as you once knew it has been making a proud comeback after a decade that can only be described as the NBA's version of the Dark Ages? Are you attuned to the new generation of stars who are going to take their place in our memories with the hallowed heroes of yesteryear? I sure hope so.

The game has been taken back from the conservative, fraidy-cat coaches who had been strangling the life out of it for far too long. No longer is it a badge of honor to lose, 82-80, and then be able to talk about how well you ``coached." It is once again understood that you can play a 120-118 game and still have played legitimate defense. And get this: The transition game has been taken out of cold storage. Fast-breaking is back.

The team in the forefront of all this is, of course, the Phoenix Suns. They are the most lovable NBA team since those rootin'-tootin', run-and-gun Doug Moe teams in Denver and San Antonio. With two-time MVP Steve Nash orchestrating things, they are a 100 percent comin'-at-ya' team. For years no NBA team would consider it to be a fast-break possibility on anything less than a three-on-one, and even then a point guard would have to produce a letter of approval from his coach before trying one. A four-on-three? You kidding? Slow it down. Pull it back out. Look over to the coach to run his play, all this taking place after the defense has dug in.

Now we have the Suns, who need no numerical advantage to push the basketball. Nash gets it up there, lickety-split, and if someone is open, he gets the ball with a license to fire; that is, if Nash hasn't already taken it to the hoop or launched a three himself. And you'd better get back when you score. The Suns are the best at what I call the right-back hoops since the Magic Johnson-fueled ``Showtime" Lakers of the late '90s.

It's not as if the Suns play no defense, but let's not try to kid anybody. They play to their obvious strengths, and coach Mike D'Antoni is attempting to win the NBA title by outscoring everybody. It would be the best thing for the sport if they were successful, but I don't think it's going to happen. If he had Amare Stoudemire? That's a different story. Next year's story, perhaps.

There is no better example in sports of what dynamic ownership can accomplish than Dallas. When Mark Cuban purchased that team, the franchise wasn't even lively enough to be labeled as moribund. Now there is no livelier place to see a sporting event on this continent. The Mavericks will be contenders as long as Cuban owns the team because players always will want to come there.

I think Dallas, with the wondrous Dirk Nowitzki, will beat Phoenix, probably in seven, but I'm not at all certain who'll be waiting in the Finals. Detroit seems to be suffering from Turn-it-on-Turn-it-off-itis, and that's a dangerous practice against a team with as much to offer as Miami.

If you haven't been watching the playoffs, you are then unaware of a major coming-out party, namely, the emergence of Tayshaun Prince as Detroit's most indispensable player. Prince is 6-9 going on 7-4, a menace at both ends of the floor. He provides the Pistons with whatever they need at the time, be it a 3-pointer, clever drive, clutch rebound, big block, or even putting that slender body in front of someone to take a charge. He is a pleasure to watch.

And speaking of pleasures, how about Dwyane Wade? What doesn't he do?

There is great theater everywhere you look in these playoffs. The Pistons stand for something. The Heat, with larger-than-life personalities such as Shaq and Pat Riley, have their own aura. The Western foes each have their unique brand of dynamism. The World's Greatest Basketball League, which was living on reputation given it by the Celtics and Lakers two decades ago (face it: the Bulls were always about Michael, and Michael only, not, you know, The Bulls), is back in the entertainment business.

So, yes, I wallow in envy. Oh, what I'd give to witness another Memorial Day Massacre.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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