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First Team All Nonsense Friends and Family Guide to the Playoffs

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Thanks to the guys at First Team All Nonsense.

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

First Team All Nonsense

Friends & Family Guide to the 2017 NBA Playoffs

BACKGROUND

The past couple of years, under his CanisHoopus.com contributor name of dontbesomean youngfella, Dan has published a pre-season “Family Guide to the MN Timberwolves,” with the idea that so much of basketball journalism is “insider baseball” in that it presumes a knowledge of teams, storylines, individual players, etc.

Given that the vast majority of sports fans have at least one housemate for whom they’d give anything to be able to share their passion for their sport of choice, it seems like folly that there aren’t resources out there to ease a transition into fandom. Anyway, with the idea that some among our listeners might fit into the “casual fan” category, we present to you the First Team All Nonsense Friends & Family Guide to the 2017 NBA Playoffs. This guide was written as a companion piece to Episode 12 of the First Team All Nonsense podcast, but can certainly stand on its own. It also presumes only the most cursory knowledge about the current state of the NBA.

THE NBA PLAYOFFS

There are 30 teams in the NBA, divided evenly between Eastern and Western Conferences. Eight teams from each conference make the playoffs (and this is a good time to note that in a league where over half the teams make the playoffs each year, the Timberwolves have not made the playoffs in 13 years). There’s a little subtlety in the system, but the teams are generally seeded 1-8 with the best playoff team in each conference as the #1 seed, and the worst team in each conference as the #8 seed. #1 plays, #8, #2 plays #7, and so on until a conference winner emerges and faces the winner of the other conference in the NBA Finals. We’ll now go through those seeds, by conference, and give you a little information that might make the games more enjoyable to watch!

WESTERN CONFERENCE (by seed)

1. Golden State: The presumptive favorite to win it all, at the beginning of the year and now. Golden State set a record for number of wins in an NBA regular season last year, and this year all they did was add one of the consensus top five players in the league. They are led by last year’s league MVP Steph Curry, a ball-handling magician who also happens to be a record-setting three point shooter. Kevin Durant, who is probably 7’ tall, is listed at 6’9” and moves like he’s 6’5” - with a silky smooth shot and great all-around game. Klay Thompson is also an amazing three-point shooter (see the theme here?), Draymond Green is the resident enforcer, a real dickhead who is one of those “guard all positions, do anything” players who does all the dirty work, including actual dirty plays, so the rest of the team can retain their choirboy image.

2. San Antonio Spurs: MN hasn’t been to the playoffs for 13 years now? (sad trombone) Well, San Antonio hasn’t MISSED the playoffs in 20 years. Sustained excellence has been the hallmark of San Antonio coach Greg Popovich (and most ‘woke’ NBA coach) for two decades now, with regular re-tooling around key players through diamonds in the rough who buy into a system that works. Their featured player these days is consensus top-4 MVP candidate and swing-man Kawhi Leonard (swing in the basketball sense, in that he’s somewhere between a 2 guard and power forward, not in any of the other ways you might use the term “swing”), nicknamed “the claw” for his supernaturally large hands - which are used to great effect, as he is widely considered the #1 perimeter defender in the league. He has also turned into a dagger-deliverer and 26 point-per-game scorer on offense, so he can really do it all. He may also be some sort of cyborg - many memes have been launched regarding upgrades to his software - now with smiling! The Spurs also feature borderline All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge (possibly the most boring man in the NBA) and aging-but-still-effective Spanish center Pau Gasol (a real Fancy Man, having chosen to play in Chicago last because it had an arts scene), brother of Marc (who plays for Memphis). Things to watch - Kawhi Leonard’s hands, his subtle mood changes, the last days of the once great Tony Parker (noted French water bug) and Manu Ginobili (noted Argentine bat catcher, flopper, and still occasional basketball savant).

3. Houston Rockets: The Rockets are a team that exemplifies the modern NBA’s “pace and space” philosophy almost to a fault. By that, I mean that they have so bought into the notion that the only shots worth taking are shots at the rim or three pointers that they won a game versus the Wolves earlier this year in which they literally took only two shots not in the lane or from outside the three point line . When shots are going in, it’s incredible to watch, but there’s always the fear that an offense like this could be derailed with the more physical and intense style of defense one can expect in the playoffs. As far as Houston is concerned, the other player in the league with statistics almost as eye-popping as Russell Westbrook is two guard James Harden, the bearded one, who was himself only shy of a triple double average by less than two rebounds a game. He’s incredibly difficult to stop en-route to the basket, and if you do manage to stop him, it usually results in free throws. That should help, if they get into physical games. Thing to watch: Watch how Houston doesn’t take any midrange shots.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Los Angeles Clippers have a starting five roster that is ostensibly a super-team; a special construction of talent and balance seemingly tailor-made to win a championship. But whether because of ill-timed injuries during the season, a dodgy bench, or just plain whininess, they never seem to be able to take that step into the topmost tier of contenders. Point guard Chris Paul is a crafty master of opportunistic scoring, passing, and defense - one of the top three point guards in the league for pretty much the past decade, but also a Sneaky Ball Puncher. Power forward Blake Griffin ushered in a new era of high-flying above-the-rim play by big men and is a 20-point, 10-rebound machine, and center DeAndre Jordan is another freak of nature. About 7-feet tall, he cannot and will not shoot from more than seven feet from the rim, but his ability to snatch alley-oops one-handed out of the stratosphere and cover great speed in light make him a terrifying presence down low on both offense and defense. Thing to watch: Their whininess! They complain about EVERY CALL, while mystifyingly being guilty of more cheap shots and borderline dirty plays than anyone.

5. Utah Jazz: Finally! For five years they were a “team on the rise.” Well, they finally rose. They are deep and pretty well-coached (keep an eye on Coach Quin Snyder’s various facial expressions over the course of a game - his default is scowl, but it really transforms depending on how disappointed he is). They are led in scoring by bona-fide Fancy Man and first-time All-Star Gordon Hayward, who has immovable hair. Seriously. The Jazz have been the darlings of the NBA cognoscenti since the preseason, but suffered through injuries to most of their starting 5 over the course of the entire year - even still they managed to break the 50 win threshold. They have a stifling interior defense, including power forward Derrick Favors and none other than the Stifle Tower himself, 7’3” French pogo stick (le baton pogo!) Rudy Gobert. Players to watch: Gordon Hayward - for that hair! And the aforementioned Rudy Gobert, whose combination of height and leaping ability make him a wonder of nature. Watch when he stands near other tall humans - he appears to be unnaturally tall, even for an NBA player. Adding some excitement, there seems to be a little bad blood between them and the Clippers, including already noted nut puncher Chris Paul. One of their last games featured a bit of a scuffle between a couple clippers and Gobert. No one likes the Clippers, so rooting for Utah is the way to go here.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: The story of the Thunder pretty much begins and ends with dynamic point guard Russell Westbrook, probable leader in the race for the MVP. For the past few years, he shared top billing with all-league player Kevin Durant. But with Durant’s departure this year, Westbrook was unleashed in a way nobody quite imagined. A 6’4” bundle of muscle, hops, and ferocity, he managed to achieve the seemingly impossible this year in averaging a triple double in points, rebounds, and assists. What’s more, he didn’t just score in double figures - he led the league in scoring. In ten of his triple doubles (almost 1/8th of his total games played!) his triple double included 40 or more points. Just incredible. He’s an inefficient player - often jacking up ill-advised long-range two pointers; and his shooting percentage isn’t great. But there’s no denying his impact on the court. His team is terrible when he’s not playing (excepting their Westbrook-less victory over the full-strength Timberwolves in the 81st game of the season - sad trombone). Only other player of note is Zeawander and center Steven Adams, who looks like a pirate. Fun guy. Very tough and very efficient. Thing to watch: Though he has all the talent in the world, watch how many contested long-range two point shots Russell Westbrook takes. For as eye-popping as his numbers are, his offense could be a lot more efficient. But then just watch his ferociousness when he has the ball. You may be treated to the spectacle of a slam so mean it triggers a visit by Amnesty International.

7. Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis seems to be an always-a-bridesmaid, never a bride sort of team. They play a throwball sort of gritty, hard-nosed, half-court ball in a league that really favors high-fliers, fast-breaking, and three-point shots. They can beat you up, they just can’t get past the first round. Their center, Marc Gasol, looks like a behemoth but can really do it all. Versatile passer, three pointer shooter, and nifty play in the post. Their point guard is the similarly versatile and perennially underrated Mike Conley (so underrated that in this past offseason he because the highest paid player in the history of the league). Thing to watch: Hard-nosed power forward Zach Randolph, who always looks like he’s mad.

8. Portland Trail Blazers: This is a team that made an unlikely run to the playoffs last year after the departure of All Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (now with the Spurs) with the dazzling play of their guard duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Most of their points come from those two, but the team really struggled on defense most of the year and didn’t have much balance until the arrival of Bosnian forward Jusuf Nurkic (also known as the Bosnian Bear...and not to be confused with Serbian Nikola Jokic, his former teammate on the Denver Nuggets), who re-energized the team on the court as well as the fanbase (“Nurk Fever”) and led a late push into the playoffs, though he has been out with an injury for a couple weeks and his status is undetermined as of now - at least whether he’ll be back to anything like full speed. Nurkic is a versatile beast of a man. Things to watch: The Portland crowd during breaks in play. They are absolutely the worst crowd at dancing in the entire NBA. Also to watch, their swift exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, a team with all of the fire power and none of the liabilities. We might get an actual fight between no shit taker Nurkic and noted nut puncher and involuntary leg mover, Draymond Green.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Boston Celtics: This is a team that was supposed to be the poster child for the theory of assembling a team entirely made up of good-but-not-great players with the idea that consistency and buying into a system could win out over mix of superstars and dead weight. The Atlanta Hawks were a possibly better version of this team 2 years ago, minus the joy. To the surprise of perhaps all but himself, an improbable superstar emerged out of this collection of presumed “pretty-good”s, in the tiny form of Isaiah Thomas. He’s a more efficient and more likable Allen Iverson, who seemingly has a sixth-sense awareness of his body in space and ability time and again to weave through a forest of much taller humans and lay the ball in - even though everyone in the building know exactly who is going to shoot. Isaiah is surrounded by a cast of players who all generally make good decisions, but are probably best suited as 4th options on a championship team. They’re only going as far as IT’s heroics can take them and in the two previous years, that wasn't very far. Things to watch: The heroics of tiny Isaiah Thomas! Are they making shots? Will Marcus Smart rip the ball out of the hands of an opponent?

2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Some would have you believe this is a three-headed monster of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. MOST would have you believe it is a dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. We, alone, here at First Team All Nonsense Towers, 12 All Nonsense Drive, Studio City, California are privy to the following information: LeBron James is really good. Really, REALLY good. Your TRUE Most Valuable Player has once again drug a rag-tag fugitive fleet of can’t do-s, don’t-wanna-do-s (defense), and used-to-do-s squalling and blundering into the playoffs. He cares not for the seeding. He’s just been waiting for the playoffs. He is a man playing a boys’ game, and this is his time. Thing to watch: Really? The best player of the past 20 years and likely top three player of all time, LeBron James.

3. Toronto Raptors: Also a pretty deep team, this is the team FTAN co-host Mixdorf thinks might be best positioned to surgically remove the LeBron Block. They are led by yet another backcourt tandem; in this case, the underrated point guard Kyle Lowry (does everything, does it well) and the overrated DeMar Derozan (POINTZ!!!). They are a pretty balanced team, pretty good defensively, and have few players on their team who, if less notable, help them to “play tough.” Thing to watch: Contrasting styles of play between Lowry and DeRozan.

4. Washington Wizards: The Wizards are a story of a pretty balanced and talented team that was finally freed this year from the shackles of one of the worst coaches in the league, Randy Wittman. Wittman was replaced with the former OKC coach Scott Brooks, who people were pretty skeptical of...though we’ve learned a bit this year what it means to coach Russell Westbrook.... Point guard John Wall is arguably the fastest player in the league - a blur as he blows past dudes on his way to the hoop, but a well-rounded player otherwise. His backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, is a good scorer who finally managed to play an entire season without injuries, and center Martin Gortat - who not only looks like that Wizard in the Star Trek episode “Catspaw” — but also has also been in the “really good centers” conversation for around a decade. His nickname is The Polish Hammer (one gets the feeling that foreign players are getting better nicknames). One other guy to note: Otto Porter, not talked about an awful lot, but an actual living representative of the seemingly fabled “3 and D” category of NBA player. Great 3 point shooter, good defense. Things to watch: Speedy John Wall, a mediocre bench that was bolstered by the addition of Bogdan Bogdanovich, ( a “stretch 4” who had been wallowing on the Nets for a few years). Still, their bench is a real weakness.

5. Atlanta Hawks: (sad trombone) I think we here at First Team All Nonsense can agree that the Atlanta Hawks, reportedly well-coached and balanced, are just taking up space from teams that are either on the rise or have a legitimate storyline about which we should care. The less said about them the better, but let’s note veteran power forward Paul Millsap, who Dan is hoping the Wolves can land in free agency over the summer. Things to watch: Paul Millsap playing well, I suppose. I mean, well, I guess.

6. Milwaukee Bucks: NBA Insiders will try to tell you that we should talk about Jabari Parker or Khris Middleton, but they’re wrong. All you really need to know about is The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, a seven-foot tall human anomaly with larger hands than Kawhi Leonard, and who leads his team in pretty much every significant statistical category: points-per-game, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Thing to watch: Antetokounmpo doing everything.

7. Indiana Pacers: What to say about the Pacers that has not been said already on our Celtics-Pacers-Timberwolves podcast...after a season-long Dance with .500, they seem to be peaking at the right time. The controversial (in First Team All Nonsense if nowhere else) Lance Stephenson injected an undeniable boost of passion and intensity, and the Pacers of late have been playing like a much higher seed. You’ve been meeting the Pacers all year long — jolly Al Jefferson, Jeff Teague with his 80s moustache, Joe Young, LaVoy Allen, Thad Young, Kevin Seraphin (Snakey must be so proud!), and the rest. But let’s face it: if this were any other podcast, we’d pretty much begin and end our discussion with small forward Paul George, who seems to have regained his “top 10 player” status of late, scoring 33 points a game, shooting the lights out and up in virtually every statistical category in the month of April. Thing to watch: A possibly more feisty Indiana team than most casual fans recall, making Cleveland work even if ultimately lacking the talent to get past The LeBron Block. And Paul George, who simply IS a physically and mentally built for the post-season.

8. Chicago Bulls: This team was supposed to be (and often was) a team chemistry disaster combination of former greats and “personalities” intended just to put butts in the seats until the front office could find a way to re-build around their one true peak superstar, Jimmy Butler. But somehow they managed to get past all the drama and squeak into the playoffs. Small forward Jimmy Butler is a do-everything-and-do-it-well swingman any team would be proud to have as a cornerstone. Beyond that, you have former great two-guard Dwyane Wade (noted nut puncher) - who can still be great in spurts, former...enticingly good enigma (if not great) and now frequent malcontent Rajon Rondo (who, in 2012 was the best player in an Eastern Conference Finals featuring LeBron James — dude could play). They should make a quick exit from the playoffs and watch for (this is Thing to Watch): Tempers flare and personalities conflict if things go south. Also, contrast their style of play with pretty much every team in the league, except maybe OKC.

That’s all! Be sure to listen in on our podcast somewhere along the way for a first-round recap and, in the meantime, Happy Playoff-ing!