MIAMI VS. MILWAUKEE: MIA in 4
Nelson Muntz vs. Martin Prince is a fairer fight than this matchup.
NEW YORK VS. BOSTON: NYK in 6
Boston has pride. They also have a backcourt of Avery Bradley & Frankensteinleecrawfordterry instead of Rondo & Jesus Shuttlesworth.
INDIANA VS. ATLANTA: IND in 5
This series promises to be as exciting as Magic Johnson…the talk-show host.
BROOKLYN VS. CHICAGO: BKN in 6
Because no team that depends on Nate Robinson will ever win anything.
#1. MIAMI HEAT: 66-16
THE GOOD: The best player on Earth is playing the best ball of his life: LeBron James has gone from having his clutchness (unfairly) questioned to where the only question left now is whether he’s 100% human or part HGH-fueled cyborg. The Heat’s team narrative now mirrors LeBron’s: no player ever entered the league with the hype and pressure that LeBron did. If he’d ended up “only” being Clyde Drexler, or Paul Pierce, or Carmelo Anthony, he’d have been a disappointment, maybe even a failure. Now, the Heat, who boasted of coming together to win not 1 title, not 2, not 3, not 4…now the pressure’s on all of them to measure up to the scope and arc of their leader.
THE BAD: While the Heat’s brilliance is undeniable, they remain unlikable to the world at-large. They’re like Dick Cheney: they know you hate them. They know why. They don’t care. And they know that you know there’s nothing you can do to stop them.
THE UGLY: Even if you take away their 27-game winning streak, the Heat’s remaining winning percentage of .709 would still be the 2nd best in the league, behind only OKC’s. That’s ugly for the rest of the league.
DID YOU KNOW? Pat Riley is already making moves to ensure the Heat have enough cap room in 2014 to sign a new public address announcer, with space left over to sign enough fans to keep the American AIrlines arena from being taken over by New Yorkers every time the Knicks are in town.
#2 NEW YORK KNICKS: 54-28
THE GOOD: This was the Knicks’ most successful regular season since The X-Files was on the air. They won 50+ games for the first time since 2000 and won the division for the first time since 1994. Carmelo Anthony went from brilliant soloist to brilliant conductor, orchestrating a top-3 offense despite the fact that most of his teammates were already old when he was in college 10 years ago. JR Smith grew from feast-or-famine to probable Sixth Man winner. Mike Woodson went from “I’m a defensive specialist here to help Mike D’Antoni” to “I’m running D’Antoni’s offense and leaving the all the defense up to Tyson Chandler. And if I ever get Larry Drew alone in a room, it’s gonna get uglier than PJ Brown vs. Charlie Ward.”
THE BAD: The Knicks are older than the joke about something being older than Methuselah. They lose 3-4 players to injury a week. The Knicks make Jose Reyes look like Lou Gehrig.
THE UGLY: Owner James Dolan is charging an average of $629 per ticket for their 1st-round series vs. Boston, after a decade of serving up blasphemous b-ball fare at the supposed “Mecca.” To put it another way: imagine if George Lucas puts out 8 more awful Indiana Jones movies, then releases #9 and only lets people in to see it if they surrender an arm, a leg, and whichever kidney they’re most attached to.
#3 INDIANA PACERS (49-32)
THE GOOD: Having realized a few years ago that there has never been a single professional athlete in history who said, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Indianapolis,” the Pacers built their team to be a collection of complementary, talented players, eschewing the traditional approach taken by the Heat and Knicks of bringing in elite talent and surrounding it with role players.
THE BAD: The Heat and Knicks were the only teams in the East to win 50+ games, so the Pacers apparent pragmatism is a lot like maxing out your credit card to pay for a Jeep Wrangler when your neighbors all drive Mercedes and Porsches.
THE UGLY: Watching a Pacers game for 5 minutes is like watching the Flintstones take steroids and then play basketball. If the sound of shots clanging off the rim and bruises forming is what gets you going, you may have psychosexual issues. And you may be a Pacers fan.
DID YOU KNOW? The only people who hate Pacer teammates and brothers Tyler & Ben Hansbrough more than opposing fans are the Hansbrough parents.
#4 BROOKLYN NETS (49-33)
THE GOOD: The Nets have gone from a historically bad team a few years ago to a mid-levelforce in the East. Admittedly, this is like going from being an unpublished writer to having your letter to the editor published in the Weekly World News. Still,progress is progress, especially for a franchise that has seen such lows over the years as Chris Morris, “whoop-dee-damn-do,” Starbury’s “All Alone,” Yinka Dare, trading for & extending Deron Williams/taking on Joe Johnson’s contract/trading for & extending Gerald Wallace…oh, wait. Those last 3 just happened, didn’t they?
THE BAD: The Nets were dominant this year against sub-.500 teams and awful against teams with winning records. On the bright side: if the Nets can get past Chicago and the Bucks violate the space-time continuum by beating Miami, the Nets might actually have a shot at reaching the Finals, the goal put in place by their supervillain owner.
THE UGLY: Despite their supervillain owner’s endless & ill-gotten wealth, the Nets have no cap room for the forseeable future, which will make improving the team quite the riddle. “Mid-level force in the East” may be as good as it’s going to get for awhile.
DID YOU KNOW? Jay-Z runs the Illuminati. But Nas would run it better.
#5 CHICAGO BULLS (45-37)
THE GOOD: The Bulls have been hit hard by injuries going back to Derrick Rose’s ACL tear last year in Game 1 of the playoffs. Despite missing their best player, they continued to play as good a defense as you’ll see in the NBA, showing pride and purpose all year despite not knowing whether Rose would return (still an unknown). Ending the Heat’s 27-game winning streak was a high-point in a season short on landmark moments.
THE BAD: Ending the Heat’s 27-game winning streak may be the Bulls’ high-point for awhile. All-Star center Joakim Noah is banged up. Carlos Boozer improved his play in Rose’s absence but remains a big fish only when swimming in small ponds. Luol Deng played 3 million minutes this year after playing big minutes last year and starring for the British national team at the London Olympics. How much will Deng have in the tank whenever Rose returns? Even if the Bulls amnesty Boozer, can they find a way to put together a team that complements Rose rather than depends on him for so much?
DID YOU KNOW? Despite Rose missing the entire season due to injury, the 2013 Chicago Bulls were the ugliest team in the NBA for the 3rd year in a row.
#6 ATLANTA HAWKS (44-38)
THE GOOD: First-year GM Danny Ferry was able to unload Joe Johnson’s albatross-of-a-contract on the Nets, putting the Hawks in position to spend some money this off-season, perhaps in pursuit of Atlanta-area native Dwight Howard. They didn’t finish with much worse of a record than when Johnson was there, and they don’t have any less of a ceiling (second-round fodder, at best) than last year. So,you know…there’s that.
THE BAD: Howard isn’t leaving LA for Atlanta. Ferry dumped Johnson’s contract last off-season, meaning there really wasn’t a high-point this year for the Hawks.
THE UGLY: Do you get the feeling the Atlanta faithful (cough) are not exactly going to give free-agent forward Josh Smith a heartfelt sending-off in his last home game?
DID YOU KNOW? “Atlanta” is the Cherokee word for “damned to an endless and ill-attended mediocrity.”
#7 BOSTON CELTICS (41-40)
THE GOOD: Rooting for this Celtic team must be what it feels like to root for Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers. You know they’ve done horrible things, but those atrocities were committed against people on your TV screen, not you. You know it will be over soon: movies don’t last forever, nor do old basketball teams or their runs of success. You know people have said they were dead and buried before, yet no matter how much damage they sustain, no matter how illogical their continued existence seems…they persist.
THE BAD: The Celtics are an ornery, miserable, slowly decomposing collection of scumbags and posers. They’re like the street gangs from the video for Beat It. No, that’s not it. They’re more like a radioactive leak: whatever great promise they once offered the world, those days are gone. The best thing for everyone at this point is to dispose of them many miles below the Earth’s surface, move on, and let future generations deal with the fallout.
THE UGLY: The number of technical fouls + flagrant fouls committed by the Celtics will triple the number of playoff games they win.
DID YOU KNOW? The 2011-2013 Bulls are the first threepeat for NBA’s ugliest team since the Celtics set the record for fugly by breaking mirrors every year from 1980-1987.
#8 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (38-44)
THE GOOD: Umm…well…
THE BAD: After being playoffs bridesmaids the past 2 years, finishing 9th both times, the Bucks finally make it back, only to face Miami in a first-round matchup that will be over quicker than Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes of fame.
THE UGLY: This off-season, the Bucks must either pay Brandon Jennings money he doesn’t deserve or lose him for nothing. Milwaukee is not exactly a rising stock, as NBA teams go…