— The Western Conference playoffs have been compelling.
The Eastern Conference finals have been competitive.
The difference this NBA postseason has been stark.
And now we're down to about as good as we can expect from an Eastern Conference finals in this lockout-compacted grinder of season: A Miami Heat team lacking an ambulatory Chris Bosh and a Boston Celtics team seemingly on its last legs.
Thunder-Spurs this is not.
Out West, you won't find the likes of Ronny Turiaf as a starter or Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Hollins as featured reserves.
Out West, the once-and-forever All-Star (Tim Duncan) is still standing tall. In the East, the future Hall of Famer (Ray Allen) grimaces with each step.
It has been this way in the East for a month now, with Derrick Rose disappearing, Amare Stoudemire sidelined, Al Horford hobbled, Bosh going down with his lower-abdominal strain less than 24 minutes into the second round, Avery Bradley unable to shoulder anymore playoff basketball.
This is not competition. This is attrition.
And, at times, atrocious.
And yet, we may nonetheless be on the verge of the most compelling series the East has offered this far, because even at seven games, Celtics-76ers was hard on the eyes, with Heat-Pacers never truly in doubt once Dwyane Wade got rolling alongside LeBron James.
"It's inevitable," Wade said of the Heat and Celtics outlasting the rest of the decimated East. "It's the matchup the game of basketball wants. Obviously, with the Chicago Bulls being out, this is the biggest matchup the Eastern Conference can have."
To some — OK, essentially anyone who has witnessed the Celtics this postseason — this has the possibilities to produce decidedly lopsided fare.
But even with James and Wade suddenly at their tag-team best, the Heat remain most vulnerable at the very spots where the Celtics have been successful through their two-round slog past the Hawks and 76ers.
Kevin Garnett holds a considerable advantage over anyone and everyone in the Heat's remaining power rotation, with Udonis Haslem, who doesn't even start anymore, about as close as Miami can come to a defensive answer.
Rajon Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds in his three appearances against the Heat during the regular season. Had the Celtics' point guard not been injured in last season's five-game Heat-Celtics series, Boston assuredly would have lasted longer. Mario Chalmers may be many things, but Rondo-stopper is not one of them.
Yet for all of what Garnett and Rondo are capable of accomplishing, as Allen and Paul Pierce hobble alongside, what makes Heat-Celtics meaningful fare is the fact that for the fourth time in five seasons, James finds himself going against Boston in the postseason, already with 18 career playoff games against the Celtics.
He met up with the Celtics twice in the postseason while with the Cavaliers and lost each time. He then won a five-game series last season with the Heat.
Now, here he is again, needing to push past a longtime nemesis for the opportunity to redeem himself in the NBA finals, after last year's meltdown against the Mavericks.
"I wouldn't have it (any) other way, personally," he said. "It's really the only team I'm accustomed to playing in the playoffs. No matter where I go, I find a way to play Boston.
"We've got a lot of history."
Until last season, none of it was good. Some of it was ugly.
It is why he insists he won't be taking them lightly, and why Wade won't allow it. With the Heat still lacking Bosh, Wade scoffs as the Celtics arriving as some sort of floundering foil.
"Get out of here with that," he said. "I don't believe none of that. No feet hurtin', no tired, no nothing. This is the Boston Celtics. They're all 100 percent to me, because when they play the Miami Heat, different ballgame and vice versa.
"Ain't no story lines, no excuses. Last year, yeah, we beat them in five, but man, it was like a nine-game series, it felt like."
Of course sitting through much of these Eastern Conference playoffs has felt like sitting through nine-game series, not because of compelling play, but tedium.
Yet if you listen to the Heat, who went 1-3 against the Celtics during the regular season, you'd think Bird, McHale and Parish were walking through that door (even though the Heat also went 1-3 against the Celtics last season before knocking them out in the second round in five games).
"Was there any doubt that it'd be us and Boston?" coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the reality that there essentially wasn't any doubt once Rose and Joakim Noah went down for the Bulls in the first round. "We have great respect for what they've done, the last two months of the season in particular, and in this playoff run.
"Their first two series I think epitomizes what they're made of. And they have some character and championship toughness."
Or simply have been a step above mediocre and remained somewhat ambulatory, which this season practically guaranteed a spot opposite the Heat in the East finals.
"This is a good time right now," Garnett said. "We definitely didn't like the way we left last year. So we'll see what happens, man. We'll see what happens. Let's get it on."
This is where the Eastern Conference has delivered us, on one side a Big Three compilation that doesn't even reference the team's best player, in Rondo, and on the other side a Big Three reduced to a Big Two still capable of plenty of damage, having already silenced the East's two hottest teams since the All-Star break.
Celtics vs. LeBron as a rivalry is enduring and legitimate.
Celtics vs. Heat has yet to produce lasting drama.
But this season, in this conference, it is as good as it gets, off-day between for the true theater out West.
"It's the cream of the cream," Garnett said.
Because everything else in the East this postseason turned rancid.