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 Goran Dragic 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. There are five teams in the Western Conference more or less certain to make the playoffs, and five more in the West who have the potential. Read on to figure out which of those 10 deserve your love and support and toothbrushing.
Emblematic Player: James Harden
The Houston Rockets play fast. Like, really fast. Like, “Oh, defense? Does that mean it’ll take us an extra second to get to the rim? Fuck that” fast. But the Rockets do this well, meaning that, between James “Jim” Harden’s all-around lethal offensive game, Jeremy “Jeremy” Lin’s dribble penetration, and the three-point-shooting prowess of Chandler Parsons, Houston is the league’s most exciting team. Now, there are a number of different ways to be a speed freak: you watch a lot of NASCAR, or you tend to run everywhere instead of walking, or you have a really jacked-up high-falutin Internet connection, or you take meth. For any and all of these types of human, the Rockets are your team.
Emblematic Player: Kobe Bryant
I’ll keep this very straightforward. If you have ever: held some ownership stake in either a Bugatti, a McLaren, or a Bentley; have some financial/scientific investment in the continued livelihood of Robot Kobe Bryant, who is having one of the best seasons of his career thanks to Magic German Knee Procedures; or have ever held a 45-minute-or-longer conversation about Jacuzzis, then you should cheer for the Lakers.
Emblematic Player: Damian Lillard
Yes, Twin Peaks takes place in Washington, and Portland is in Oregon, I know, back off, stop it, stop gnawing on my arm. But there are some other parallels that hold true. 1) The Pacific Northwest is a weird place to live/play basketball, because there are so many trees! 2) It would be very unlikely for the Trail Blazers to make the playoffs, just like it was unlikely for [redacted] and [redacted] to get [redacted] in the first season of Twin Peaks. And 3) Damian Lillard is like Agent Cooper, in that they both seem to have inexplicable innate powers — Lillard, the league’s most surprising freshman and the almost certain Rookie of the Year, to score and pass like a veteran despite his neophyte status, and Cooper to have dreams about little men talking backward.
Emblematic Player: Al Jefferson
Shout out to all our brontosaurus readers! Despite your very small brains, we appreciate your patronage! Just kidding — brontosauruses aren’t real and never were; the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and dinosaurs were really just early people with skin rashes. What I mean to say is, if you like big things, you will like the Jazz, because the Jazz have approx. 97 talented frontcourt players who they’ve stubbornly held on to despite the fact that having all four makes no strategic sense. Occasionally, though, three of the four guys — Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the vets, and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the youths, all taller than 6’8” — will play at once, forming a superbig lineup, also known as a Voltron. And that’s awesome.
Also, Gordon Hayward looks like he’s twelve years old.
Emblematic Player: Stephen Curry
The Warriors are SCRAPPY. Stephen Curry literally tried to fight a dude who has 11 inches and 95 pounds on him. David Lee is such a bad defender — he’s basically the worst defender — because he spends most of his time making shivs out of stadium programs. (Fact.) If you’ve ever hit someone in the face with a bottle of Corona after pouring the contents on your own head, then boy do I have the team for you.
Emblematic Player: Kenneth Faried
There’s a spectacular theatricality to the Denver Nuggets. It stems partly from Kenneth Faried, a be-dreadlocked explosion who can jump higher than most planes can fly. It stems from Ty Lawson, who’s 5’11” but runs and jumps fearlessly into the lane to attack the tree-height defenders therein like a flying squirrel. And it stems from JaVale McGee, a seven-foot-tall alien.
Emblematic Player: Marc Gasol
Pau Gasol is hurt, and even when he wasn’t hurt, the Lakers were treating him like a 7-foot-tall misbehaving golden retriever, meaning that really, if you’re Spanish, or a Spain-o-phile, or the ghost of 17th-century Spanish comic hero Don Quixote, your only option is the Memphis Grizzlies and their roca, Marc Gasol. (Roca means rock in the Spanish language, which they speak in Spain — and beyond.) In addition to being a terrific defender and rebounder, Gasol’s also one of the best passing bigs in the league, giving him a far more eloquent style than most seven-footers. You could even call it… ROMANTIC. Like a Romance language. I’ll find the door.
Emblematic Player(s):: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul
Look at that guy photobombing Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in this picture. He knows what’s up. Blake’s a funny dude. In fact, the whole Clippers team is a bunch of goofballs that could threaten for a title spot or explode in a cascade of funfetti during the postseason, and anyone who prioritizes their sense of humor would be well-served to hitch their camel to this tow truck. Ha, can you imagine! Camel truck?!?!
Emblematic Player(s): Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
Guess what! The Thunder aren’t underdogs anymore. In fact, they’re basically as much of a conventional title-favorite superpower as the Heat. And yet, they’ve still managed to hold on to the sheen of their former-underdog nice-guy alternative status. Nobody thinks of the Thunder as the 49ers to the Heat’s Cowboys; they’re more the Frank Ocean to the Heat’s Mumford & Sons. BUT THIS IS WRONG. The Thunder are huge, now. The key in cheering for them is to tout the fact that you were there first, back when OKC had just moved from Seattle, Durant weighed 90 pounds, and Nenad Krstic was playing 57 minutes a game.
Emblematic Player: Tony Parker
If you are an American who takes spin classes and drives an Audi and wears Brooks Brothers sweaters and tassel loafers and can relate at least some parts of John Updike novels, then the San Antonio Spurs are for you! Because: 1) Gregg Popovich runs the team like an airtight Fortune 500 company; 2) 112-time All-Star Tim Duncan — bet you didn’t even know there had been 112 All-Star teams! (there haven’t) — embodies all that is unobtrusively excellent in Basketball; and 3) Tony Parker’s public mastery of the game is nicely balanced by an untoward and kind of bizarre private persona that involves sleeping with his teammates’ wives, MAYBE. The San Antonio Spurs: flawless on the outside, sordid on the inside!