The NBA Playoffs arrived on Saturday. For two teams, it’s a chance to prove to the rest of the league that the entire season was just a coronation, a feeling-out process before the NBA Finals. For teams like the Pistons, Hornets and Pacers in the East, its stirring up the nest and crafting a sense of doubt in the heavy favorites such as Cleveland, Miami and Toronto. In the West, its our lowly Rockets starring directly in the face of a juggernaut who looks like Goliath and acts like David; then there's everybody else.
Through their own stubbornness, the Rockets somehow decided to make this 16-team tournament. Either way you look at it, they're in a no-win situation. Lose out and you get presumably the 13th or 14th pick in the NBA Draft, aka “The Morey Special." Win and you get Golden State in Round 1. The Rockets treated the season like a B+ student who coasted throughout a semester and then tried to turn in all of their assignments the last two weeks of the year — and we, the fans, have to suffer for it.
Needless to say, the Rockets offer a ton of drama. Scripted or not, its like watching a WWE soap opera play out for the world to see. Soap operas need theme songs. The Rockets sort of do have theme songs, and have had theme songs, but haven’t done a damn thing to deserve one this year. So, here’s handicapping the first round of the NBA Playoffs using only...WWE themes? For historical purposes, the 1995-96 Bulls would have easily been Brock Lesnar's "Here Comes the Pain" or even "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix. The 1994-95 Rockets would have been Sting's "Crow" theme. This year's Rockets could have been Doink the Clown's theme, but I still have some respect for them.
For historical purposes, the 1995-96 Bulls would have easily been Brock Lesnar's "Here Comes the Pain" or even "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix. The 1994-95 Rockets would have been Sting's "Crow" theme. This year's Rockets could have been Doink the Clown's theme, but I still have some respect for them.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)
The Warriors are the defending NBA champions (duh). They’re also the current overlords of the NBA and can wreck shop on the world (again, duh). When you hear of Steph Curry loading up from three, you immediately know what’s about to happen. When their Death Lineup touches the floor, you know what’s about to happen. Thus, the Warriors are “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. When the glass shatters, that’s pretty much it.
The Rockets, on the other hand … well, they’ve got no shot. Even the entire city says they’ve got no shot. Thus, why not go ahead and christen them with Vince McMahon’s “No Chance In Hell”? Normally when Vince comes out to it, it means no chance for the opponent or whoever is under his thumb that week. The Rockets? Hopeless. And yes, we just made the Austin/McMahon corollary in 2016. I like where this is going. Three-Count: GSW in 4 — if the Rockets push it to five, good for them.
Three-Count: GSW in 4 — if the Rockets push it to five, good for them.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
Ah, the Spurs. A team that — like God, death and taxes — will appear in the playoffs and make certain that their voices are heard. We’ve already pencilled them into the Western Conference Finals and considering that they’ve been here 19 consecutive years with only ONE first-round exit to their name, every time you see that silver and black, you should think gongs. You should think slowly moving to your death via a Tombstone Piledriver (or a Tim Duncan bank shot). You should think The Undertaker's theme. Mainly because Gregg Popovich is going to put whatever opponent he can in a vise grip. And he also has the defensive black hole, aka Kawhi Leonard.
Memphis always seemed like a team that would be ready for a fight should it happen but still be scrappy enough to make it interesting basketball-wise. Yet, they’re still from Memphis, so all of the history of Memphis has to tie into it. Why not have them be Mark Henry’s “Somebody Gonna Get Their Ass Whipped”? Three 6 Mafia made that theme and if you know anything about the current Grizzlies roster, you could name more people in the Hypnotized Minds camp than on the Grizzle. Three-Count: Spurs in 4
Three-Count: Spurs in 4
Oklahoma City Thunder (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)
Oh man, what can we do with the Thunder? No other team in the NBA looks and feels like a team from the ‘90s more than they do. The parallels between these Thunder and the 1994-96 Magic are eerie, right down to the transcendent point guards and star player teetering on free agency. But, again we’re talking then and now. Now? The Thunder are led by Russell Westbrook and his 18 triple-doubles. I’ve already written about how he may be the reason Steph Curry doesn’t get a unanimous MVP, but when you watch Russ work, he doesn’t have an off switch. He just keeps going until the game is over. Meet the Ultimate Warrior’s theme in basketball form, ladies and gentlemen: all guitars, all drums, all action, all roar and fury.
The Mavericks are a strange bunch. On one hand, they could play uptempo but have decided on playing better in the half-court. On the other, Oklahoma City blew the doors off the Mavericks in Game 1 to the point where you wonder if they can bounce back and fight for game two. As consistent as they’ve been the past two decades, they’ve been screwed in some situations (2006 Finals) and triumphed in others (2011 Finals). In a way, they’re the NBA’s version of Kane. They may not be the most fun, but when they’re there, you still notice them. Three-Count: OKC in 5
Three-Count: OKC in 5
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)
Is this the year the Clippers actually do something? Remember when we anointed them as this team that was gonna shake off the throws of a curse of a racist owner, bad draft picks, cheap everything else and do something? It seemed like they (finally) turned that corner last year in beating the Spurs. Then Game 6 happened and we know the rest. So the cursed Clippers did everything to rinse that out. They even changed their look to … pay homage to what? Who knows. Either way, they’re the NBA’s version of Dolph Ziggler: here to show the world something … even if it means always coming up short.
Portland is literally playing with house money. Lose LaMarcus Aldridge, still manage to be back in the playoffs. Damian Lillard no so subtly tried to destroy half the league this year (his 51 against Golden State is tied for the 7th highest scoring game this season). Nobody believes that the Trail Blazers can walk into a potential 2-5 matchup against the Spurs but why not? Why not them? Why not watch their backcourt turn into Flight of the Valkyries since they happen to be the second highest scoring duo in the league this year? Why can’t they be Daniel Bryan’s version of “Flight of the Valkyries,” which is so Northwest America you just smile? Three-Count: LAC in 7
Three-Count: LAC in 7
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8)
There are literally so many different ways you can go with the Cavaliers on this one. They can be an all-wrecking force led by the most physically gifted player in league history in LeBron James, which means they could have easily been Brock Lesnar. But the Cavs weren't all that dominant and somehow just seem destined to end up in the Finals. And every time LeBron’s name popped up in the media for whatever reason this season, it was less out of love and more out of annoyance. Which is weird, because that would mean IT’S JOHN CENA!
Detroit is kind of happy to be here after a seven-year absence. Stan Van Gundy made the Pistons in the image of the 2009 Orlando Magic, the team that managed to beat the best Cleveland team LeBron had in his first stint on their way to the NBA Finals. Their identity as a good-to-great defensive team with a little bit of an edge to them makes them feel like they’re going to eventually do great things. Still annoying when you play them, but you see the promise. Kind of like Roman Reigns. This isn’t flat-out saying that DE-TROIT BASKETBALL will make you “Believe That” or whatever corny catchphrase Reigns has, it just makes you realize that the Pistons will be back to their consistent ways sooner rather than later. Three-Count: CLE in 5
Three-Count: CLE in 5
Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)
Show of hands if you’ve watched a Raptors game this season. Show of hands if you even know who plays for the Raptors beyond former Rocket Kyle Lowry. But you can respect the Raptors this year. They pulled off 56 victories (franchise record), and they also managed to keep basketball in Canada a pretty neat thing by being consistent this year. But the Raptors and the playoffs just don’t really mesh. They’ve achieved only ONE second-round entry in their entire 20-year existence, the same year Vince Carter graduated from North Carolina, only to lose Game 7 against the Sixers. Sorry, Canada, you’re still Owen Hart in our book — a talented, solid team that still has some growing up to do.
The Pacers almost shouldn’t be in the playoffs. Paul George broke his leg in 2014 in a horrific way and came back to play the final six games in the 2014-15 season. George returned to third team All-NBA caliber play this season, but the Pacers still seem so vanilla that you can’t really picture them as anything other than a somewhat decent basketball team. When you see the Pacers, you see Ken Shamrock’s old WWF theme. Definitely that theme, and not the one he walked out to at Bellator when he not only lost to Royce Gracie, he was busted for PEDs. Three-Count: TOR in 6.
Three-Count: TOR in 6.
Miami Heat (3) vs. Charlotte Hornets (6)
Three titles, a lot of momentum and some sentimental value (Chris Bosh being out again). The Miami Heat are definitely the one team I could argue might give Cleveland some problems in a potential ECF. Actually, I would love that to be the ECF, solely because of the LeBron vs. Miami narrative being stretched out for a week and a half, before the Cavs eventually succumb to the Warriors in the NBA finals (again). Ask any Miami Heat fan about Dwyane Wade; he’s simply Bret Hart to them (“the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be”), and given that the Heat are ALWAYS in neon in some form or fashion, they are the shiniest player in this NBA playoff race.
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For all the teams in the playoffs, the most unheralded and unsung happens to be the Hornets. I know what you’re saying. How can a team with Jeremy Lin, Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson and a host of others make noise this postseason? Well, since mid-February, they’re the third-best team in the league behind Golden State and San Antonio. Yes, the Hornets. Plus, Kemba Walker in the playoffs should be pretty fun, and with all the spunk the Hornets have, they’re poised for a decent future. So, they’re the Bayley of this particular bracket. When Hornets fans see them, happiness abounds. Happy-go-lucky squad, joyful players and the most famous meme in the history of sports are on their side. Three-Count: Heat in 6
Three-Count: Heat in 6
Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Boston Celtics (5)
As straightforward basketball heroes go, Atlanta has a lot of likable guys. No superstars, but enough decent players who will make you appreciate basketball. Spurs East may have peaked already, though, with last year’s 60-win team that made the ECF before getting swept by the Cavaliers. But ask any Hawks fan about the struggle of supporting that team and he’ll tell you about “Hard Times”; he’ll tell you that the Hawks, just like Atlanta, are as common as Southern as anything. The Hawks want you to believe they’re Dusty Rhodes: plucky, not sexy, but still willing to give you a fight.
The Celtics have 16 championships and a squad that would literally dislocate your shoulder in order to gain an advantage. You’d want to believe they’re Hulk Hogan or something, real American heroes, but no. When you think Boston, you think 54-game home winning streaks ending. You think 48 minutes of hell and torture. You think the black and white, grit and grind of the New World Order theme. Brad Stevens is going to be our president in 2032 once he’s done with coaching. We’re just preparing for the inevitable. Three-Count: BOS in 6
Three-Count: BOS in 6