The end of the NBA season is upon us, and it’s time for you to make a choice. Maybe you’ve been following one NBA team all year, watching every game, reading all the box scores, and washing your Dion Waiters jersey with a toothbrush because it “just calms you down,” but your team isn’t going to be competing for a title this spring. Or maybe you haven’t watched any sort of basketball, much less the professional version, and your knowledge of the NBA extends no further than Zero Dark Thirty, which goes to show how little you know, because that movie is mostly not about basketball. Either way, you need to figure out which squad you should be pulling for through the remainder of the season and the playoffs, and I’m here to help you figure out which squad that is.
Yesterday, we looked at the Western Conference; today, it’s the Eastern. There are eight teams in the Eastern Conference more or less certain to make the playoffs. Read on to figure out which of them deserve your love and support and toothbrushing.
3. Sports-Movie Aficionados Should Root For: The Chicago Bulls
Emblematic Player(s): Joakim Noah and The Ghost Of Derrick Rose
SYNOPSIS: The Chicago Bulls, a scrappy but talented squad led by star point guard DERRICK ROSE (Will Smith), appear to be the only team capable of taking down the Miami Heat and their star, LEBRON JAMES (George Clooney). But before that battle can even begin, ROSE goes down with a season-ending knee injury that will keep him out through most of the next season as well. The Bulls are bereft — what can they do without their best player and captain? Against all odds, the team’s hyper-intense, brilliant coach, TOM THIBODEAU (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and their weirdly coiffed center JOAKIM NOAH (Joaquin Phoenix), plus an essential boost from goofy bench scorer NATE ROBINSON (Kevin Hart), manage to make it back to the playoffs. Could ROSE come back in time to help them win? You’ll have to watch TYLER PERRY PRESENTS THE THORNS (LIFE GOES ON WITHOUT A ROSE) to find out!
5. Poets Should Root For: The Milwaukee Bucks
Emblematic Player(s): J.J. Redick and Brandon Jennings and one-half of Monta Ellis
Bucks shooting guard J.J. Redick is not the greatest poet, but at least he’s trying. It takes courage to put yourself out there like that, as an artist. Meanwhile, point guard Brandon Jennings kind of inspires a poetic sense of despair, talent in a void, his thrilling debut as a bobbing, weaving rookie having given way to being a bobbing, weaving guy on a team that always finishes a little below .500. Monta Ellis, the third member of the Bucks’ backcourt rotation, also plays offense in a whirlwind of creativity and dynamic landings, like a good poem, but he literally doesn’t exist on defense — the Bucks only get to play defense with four players.
7. Sociopaths Should Root For: The Boston Celtics
Emblematic Player: Kevin Garnett
In a dark corner of the burned-out wasteland that once was planet Earth, a man sits on a large rock. In one hand, that man cradles a basketball; in the other, he holds a piece of paper. On that paper are names, and he has just crossed out the last one. At the top of the page, it says “List of Enemies.” That man is Kevin Garnett.
Oh, and Rajon Rondo is out of his mind too.
9. Rappers Should Root For: The Atlanta Hawks
Emblematic Player(s): Josh Smith and Waka Flocka Flame
As a basketball team, the Hawks are basically a posse called Big Malcontent and 11 Random Bros: Josh Smith is Big Malcontent, everyone else makes up the Random Bros, and Al Horford’s wonderful game is completely ignored by everyone, including me, since I just called him a Random Bro. And right now, the thing Atlanta does better than just about anywhere on the planet is rap music. If you like and/or are Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane, or Future, cheer for the Atlanta Hawks.
11. Mumford & Sons Should Root For: The Brooklyn Nets
Emblematic Player: Brook Lopez
The Nets are a weird entity in the league right now because their brand greatly exceeds their allure as a basketball team. The sexiness and aesthetic of the team as an idea — basketball in Brooklyn! The battle for New York! — is way more intriguing than the on-the-court product, which has been often disjointed, ugly, and, even in wins, pretty painful to watch. Deron Williams, their supposed star point guard, has struggled mightily to shoot and run the offense efficiently; Joe Johnson, a formerly dynamic scorer, is only shooting 42.6% from the floor, his worst effort since 2001; and the team’s best player, Brook Lopez, is just sort of a goofy dude. In these ways, the team bears more than a few similarities to the mega-famous but sonically bland Mumford & Sons, a band that’s intriguing in concept (mandolin arena rock?) but fairly conventional in execution.
13. Junkies Should Root For: The New York Knicks
Watching the Knicks play, you get the feeling that, more than any other team, these guys seem to all be using something. It’s partly in the frenetic and wanton way they hoist up threes, like every game is the first time they discovered that, oh man, there’s this other type of shot and it’s WORTH MORE POINTS. It’s partly in the way that Carmelo Anthony will erupt in an inexplicable spasm of motion, then end up at the rim and with the ball in the hoop before you figure out that the Knicks even had the ball. And it’s definitely in sixth-man bench wild card J.R. Smith. Just everything about J.R. Smith.
But as the Knicks have learned after their red-hot start, this kind of magic feeling just can’t last forever. Sure, three-pointers make you feel good right away, but ask the Orlando Magic what happens next. Fortunately, the Port Authority is only eight blocks away for Knicks fans who need a disgusting bathroom to throw up in.
15. Surprise-Party Enthusiasts Should Root For: The Indiana Pacers
Emblematic Player: Paul George (but I’m using a picture of Tyler Hansbrough because he’s so funny looking and you really can’t pass up any opportunity to use a picture of Tyler Hansbrough)
Beginning with last year’s playoffs, when the ragtag Midwesterners almost beat the Heat in a series they were originally thought to have a less-than-zero chance of winning, everything about Indiana has had the feeling of a pleasant and engaging surprise. Paul George is an All-Star! Their defense is like the Iron Curtain, except slightly less hostile to religious belief! Tyler Hansbrough always looks like 50 people just jumped out from behind his sofa! And, if the Pacers actually pull off an upset of the Heat in the playoffs, it’ll be the biggest surprise party the NBA’s had in years.
17. History Buffs Should Root For: The Miami Heat
Emblematic Player: LeBron James
In an indisputable fashion, LeBron James is currently making history. He’s on track to have one of the best seasons ever, if not the best, in terms of PER, which rates a player’s across-the-board offensive contributions, and he will also be a favorite for what would be his fourth MVP award in five years. LeBron has already entered the pantheon of the best NBA players ever; the question at this point is just where in that pantheon he will land by the end of his career. And if you’re the type of observer whose appreciation for sports resides mostly in the legends and characters who define it, then you should be paying very close attention to the King.