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A comedian's guide to the NBA playoffs

The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, and to get you prepared, motivated, and sarcastic about the upcoming showdowns, we present a Comedian’s Guide to the NBA Playoffs, written by, who else, a comedian. This will let you ignore boring stuff like shooting percentages and turnover rate to focus on what truly matters in these playoffs: random regional rivalries, personal feuds, and people falling down. Because the only thing more fun than watching sports is making fun of them.

We’ve previewed each series by the important criteria, such as Celebrity Fans and Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry, so you can prepare for the two-month cavalcade of hoops. And don’t worry if you’re not a basketball expert  while watching games with your friends. Just yell “That’s traveling” every once in a while, because you will be correct. As a bonus, say, “Wow, they’re really letting them play” any time someone falls down and you don’t hear a whistle. And even though the Lakers aren’t in the playoffs, you can still score points by declaring that LeBron James “is no Michael Jordan,” because Jordan had no trouble getting other players to be in his “Space Jam.”


Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (8) 

History: The Clippers beat the Warriors in seven games in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs. That's it in the playoffs.

Overview: The Warriors start five All-Stars and are trying to become the first team to Three-Peat since the 2002 Lakers. The Clippers got rid of all their All-Stars and still won 48 games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: The Warriors and Doc Rivers had feuded for years, with the initial conflict about Doc’s cancellation of the teams’ joint chapel sessions. That’s what happens when you hire an actual preacher like Mark Jackson to coach your team -- scripture-based beefs. Draymond Green frustrated Blake Griffin, Steph Curry and Chris Paul frustrated each other, and the Clippers blocked the Warriors when they tried to sign away DeAndre Jordan.

But all those Clippers are gone now, and last year, Doc’s daughter Callie had a baby with Steph Curry’s brother, Seth. It’s like Steph recruiting Kevin Durant to play in Oakland. Suddenly enemies are family, and the only conflicts are about who is hosting the family reunion, and whether Ayesha Curry gets to cook the Thanksgiving turkey. The biggest motivation might come from Jerry West, who left the Warriors for the Clippers when they tried to cut his salary in half. You never want to bet against Jerry West, unless he’s playing the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Best Players: If you ask Warriors fans, it’s Steph Curry. If you ask non-Warriors fans, they’ll say Kevin Durant. Draymond Green wouldn’t say it’s him, but he secretly believes it. Klay Thompson would say, "Let’s play XBox."

The Clippers best player is Danilo Gallinari, a handsome Italian who kicked butt this year, after missing half of last season with a butt injury. There’s also Lou Williams, who is a two-time Sixth Man of the year as well as the NBA’s most prominent polyamorist. Obviously, his main skill is scoring.

Celebrity Fans: The world’s biggest Clippers fan is Billy Crystal, whose two NBA-themed movie projects, “My Giant” and “Forget Paris,” were about as successful as the Clippers franchise over the years (five playoff series wins in 48 years). The Warriors celebrity fans are mostly app developers, tech company executives, and robber barons, plus E-40 and Too $hort.

Stakes: Winner gets the California Trophy, awarded to the best basketball team in California. It’s made out of avocado toast.

Ridiculous Things That Happened To The Teams This Season: Draymond Green and Kevin Durant got into a heated argument during a loss to the Clippers, after which Draymond got suspended. That sparked a whole season about KD’s imminent departure to the Knicks, or the Wizards, or even the Clippers. Klay Thompson started talking to his shooting hand. The dating app Bumble sponsored the Clippers jerseys, delighting Lou Williams. Boban Marjanovic dunked so hard he broke the rim and then got traded. 

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7) 

Overview: The young Nuggets battle the old Spurs and their even older coach. It’s inexperience vs. experience,

History: The Nuggets beat the Spurs in the first round in 1985. San Antonio defeated the Nuggets the five other times the teams met in the playoffs. 

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: San Antonio’s main industry is aerospace, while Denver’s main industry is getting people high. Nuggets coach Mike Malone lost to San Antonio as a Cavs assistant in 2007 and as a Warriors assistant in 2013, and his father Brendan lost to them as a Knicks assistant in the 1999 Finals. If Malone doesn’t avenge his father’s defeat to Gregg Popovich before Coach Pop retires, his father’s ghost will never be able to rest. (Brendan Malone is still alive.)

Best Players: The Nuggets' best player is Nikola Jokic, a seven-foot center from Sombor, Serbia. His nickname is “Joker,” though his teammates call him ”Big Honey.” The Spurs’ best player is LaMarcus Aldridge, a 6-11 center from Dallas. His nickname is “L-Train,” even though San Antonio is the largest city in the country without a light rail system. DeMar DeRozan doesn’t need a nickname, because his name is DeMar DeRozan. 

Celebrity Fans: For the Nuggets, it’s John Elway, with Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” a close second. For the Spurs, it’s Samuel L. Jackson, with Danny Trejo a close second, though please don’t tell Trejo we said that.

Stakes: If the Nuggets win, they get a box of Slam Duncan-Os, Tim Duncan’s signature cereal. If the Spurs win, they get to choose any of J.R. Smith’s old discarded shirts from the Denver practice facility. 

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: Coach Pop got ejected 63 seconds into the last Nuggets-Spurs game, and later crashed Coach Malone’s postgame interview.  A bat got loose in the Spurs arena and their Coyote mascot captured it while dressed in a Batman costume. Normally that’s Manu Ginobili’s job, but he retired. Hopefully, Batman-Coyote won’t try to fight the Joker.   

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6) 

Overview: The Blazers lost center Jusuf Nurkic to a horrific injury that we will not be linking to, but rallied to earn the 3-seed. Their reward is to play an OKC team that went 4-0 against them in the regular season, with MVP candidate Paul George, triple-double machine Russell Westbrook, and Aquaman lookalike Steven Adams.

History: The teams haven’t played in the postseason since the Thunder left Seattle. The Blazers beat the Sonics in 1991, and the Oregon Ducks defeated Oklahoma State in the 2008 Holiday Bowl.

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: The Blazers can defend the honor of the Pacific Northwest by defeating the former Sonics. Portland residents aren’t fond of fracking, a big moneymaker for the Thunder’s ownership. Also the Thunder matched Enes Kanter’s max offer from Portland in 2015, and two teams and four years later, Kanter is on the Blazers, prepared for revenge. Portland also wants revenge on OKC backup guard Raymond Felton because he was really fat in his one  season with the Trail Blazers.

Best Players: Damian Lillard is the Blazers' leader, top scorer, and best rapper. George is the Thunder’s best defender, three-point shooter, and maker of regrettable Gatorade ads. Kanter was wanted by the Turkish government and unwanted by the New York Knicks this season.

Celebrity Fans: OKC native Olivia Munn is the most famous Thunder fan, while Portland’s top celebrity fan is Carrie Brownstein of “Portlandia.” Huge showdown for prestige cable TV fans.

Stakes: If Portland wins, Lillard gets all the outfits Westbrook wears to the arena, and if OKC wins, they get to steal the Seahawks, too.

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: C.J. McCollum got embarrassed by Kevin Durant on his own podcast. Russell Westbrook did Lance Stephenson’s air guitar celebration back to him during a game. And somehow Zach Collins beefed with Klay Thompson, even though the both seem like the nicest young men in the world.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5) 

Overview: The NBA’s best offensive player, James Harden, battles the NBA’s best defensive player, Rudy Gobert, while the NBA’s best complainer, Chris Paul, yells at the referees for 48 minutes a game.

History: Utah lost to Houston in the second round last year. The Jazz beat the Yao Ming Rockets twice in the 2000s, and they and the Rockets took turns beating each other on the way to the NBA Finals in the '90s.

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: These teams have enough recent and ancient history with each other to hold a grudge, but it really feels like two opposites. The Jazz play up in the mountains, the Rockets play on the Gulf Coast. Many Salt Lake City residents don’t touch alcohol or even caffeine, while Houston invented sizzurp.

Best Players: The Rockets' James Harden had the highest-scoring season and largest beard in 30 years. Chris Paul fought off injuries and saw his house get destroyed in State Farm ads. Rudy Gobert played great defense, cried after he didn’t make the All-Star Game, and set a record for single-season dunks that only Jazz fans care about. And Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell disappointed fans by never wearing a “Sophomore” hoodie.

Celebrity Fans: The Rockets' most famous fan is Beyonce, while the biggest Jazz fan is Senator Mitt Romney, who taunted Russell Westbrook in last season’s playoffs, which ensured he’ll never win the state of Oklahoma in an election again.

Stakes: The winning team should be the only one allowed to keep their mascot, which is inexplicably bears for both. Two bears enter, one bear leaves! Watch out, Clutch -– Jazz Bear is aching for revenge against Kevin Durant.

Funniest Thing That Happened to the Teams This Season: Adding an aging Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets almost sunk the team like a leaking banana boat


Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8) 

Overview: The Bucks and likely MVP/Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo improved by 16 games and dominated the league during the regular season. The Pistons and sore-kneed Blake Griffin won half their games and dominated the Detroit sports landscape, which isn’t saying much. 

History: Detroit has beaten Milwaukee all four times they’ve met in the playoffs, which isn’t shocking because the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series in 18 years. Traditionally, the Bucks’ biggest nemesis has been the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: Detroit vs. Milwaukee is cars versus Harleys, Lake St. Clair versus Lake Michigan, “Home Improvement” versus “Laverne and Shirley,” “Eight Mile” versus that one scene in “Wayne’s World” with Alice Cooper. But the real reason for a feud might be Detroit’s resentment at Milwaukee swindling them out of 2019 All-Star Khris Middleton six years ago. 

Best Players: Milwaukee has a deep team, but it all centers on Giannis, who looks like the future of the NBA. Detroit has a shallow team, centered on the old future of the NBA, Blake Griffin, who just completed his third straight season without breaking his hand punching a trainer. 

Celebrity Fans: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is the most famous Bucks fan, while Eminem is the No. 1 Pistons celebrity fan. We would have suggested Kid Rock, but other Pistons fans boo him now, which is bawitda-bad news for your fan status. 

Stakes: If the Bucks win, Giannis gets all the Detroit-style pizza he can eat. If the Pistons win, all of the Bucks must sign a petition urging Comedy Central to bring back “Detroiters.” 

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: Giannis spent the summer sampling “classic” American foods like funnel cake, corn dogs, Kool-Aid, and Funyuns, calling his quest “What’s Next For The Freak.” Center Brook Lopez said he wanted to let a bat bite him, explaining, “If you’ve learned anything from the modern superhero myth, if you see a bat around and it bites you, you have a 75 percent chance of ending up a superhero.” This is probably only relevant if the Bucks end up playing in San Antonio. 

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Orlando Magic (7) 

Overview: Orlando made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, while Toronto returns for the sixth straight season. Anything less than the Finals is a disappointment for the Raptors, while the Magic are excited they’re not relegated to Disney World by mid-April.

History: Orlando won the only playoff meeting of these teams, in 2008.

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: You could focus on Orlando’s poaching of Tracy McGrady from the Raptors, or even blame the whole state of Florida for when the Heat lured Chris Bosh 10 years later. But what would truly ignite the competitive flames would be a long, extended debate about the merits of the metric system. They’d only have to list Nikola Vucevic’s height as 2.13 meters once before Americans’ passion for inches and feet made them rally behind Orlando.

Best Players: Toronto has Kawhi Leonard, the NBA’s least charismatic superstar with the weirdest laugh. They also have five-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, part-time rescue boat captain Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, who has his own cooking show called “How Hungry Are You?” where he makes his teammates eat exotic foods. Orlando has first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic, one of three prominent Nikolas in the NBA playoffs, and Aaron Gordon, Uncle Drew’s nemesis and the most famous dunk contest loser of all time.

Celebrity Fans: Toronto’s top celebrity fan is Drake, who sits courtside, paces the sidelines like a coach, and heckles opposing players, though he probably has ghostwriters for his taunts. Orlando’s top celebrity fan is Tiger Woods, who has also struggled in the past decade.

Stakes: If Orlando wins, Aaron Gordon and his drone get to dunk over Drake at next year’s All-Star Weekend. If Toronto wins, they get joint custody of Terrence Ross.

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: Both teams have a lot of fun, but nothing was funnier and creepier than hearing Kawhi laugh for the first time in his career. It sounded less like an expression of mirth and more like a goat with a collapsed lung.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6) 

Overview: The 76ers and Nets overcame years of being very, very bad at basketball to return to the playoffs. The 76ers lost on purpose to garner high draft picks, while the Nets traded all their good picks years ago to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and some magic beans. So it’s top picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, plus trade acquisitions Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, matching up with D’Angelo Russell and an assortment of projects, castoffs, and Afro-wearing shot-blocking machines

History: The Nets played the Sixers twice in their New Jersey days, losing in 1979 and knocking off the defending champions in 1984. That second series may have been revenge against the Sixers for poaching Julius “Dr. J” Erving when the cash-strapped Nets were joining the NBA. 

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry:  Besides the Dr. J move, there’s potential for heated rivalries. Brooklyn and Philadelphia are becoming hipster paradises -– Sixers shooting guard/podcaster J.J. Redick actually lives in Brooklyn, despite playing in Philly. We’d love to see some trash talk between Brooklyn food trucks and Wawa merchants over who makes the best hoagies, although it would be real trouble if fans started throwing Tastykakes.

Best Players: Philly's Joel Embiid had an MVP-caliber season while displaying Hall of Fame-caliber trolling skills online. Ben Simmons made the All-Star team even though he’s never hit a three-pointer, an astounding feat for 2019. Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell played himself into the All-Star Game and never once filmed a teammate without his consent. And Spencer Dinwiddie could win Sixth Man of the Year, though he’s already won Most Dickensian Name for 2018-19. 

Celebrity Fans: The Sixers' top fan remains Will Smith, even after his mom sent him to live with his auntie and uncle in Bel Air. Since Jay-Z moved, it’s hard to call him the Nets No. 1 fan, but no one has taken the throne from him yet. Based on the Nets Celebrity Gallery, it might be Vinny from “Jersey Shore.” Gym, tan, layups, anyone? 

Stakes: If Brooklyn wins, Joel Embiid has to open a food truck that serves Shirley Temple on Flatbush Avenue. If Philadelphia wins, everyone on the Nets has to start pronouncing “water” like “wooder.” 

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: The 76ers went into a crucial summer with no general manager, after Bryan Colangelo resigned when he was linked to secret Twitter accounts that criticized his own players and defended Colangelo’s own large shirt collars. Former No. 1 draft choice Markelle Fultz forgot how to shoot, got diagnosed with a nerve disorder, and shipped out to Orlando. Jimmy Butler screamed at his teammates and coaches and got mad about video games, and then Philadelphia decided he was the perfect addition to their young core. And the friendship of Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic (“Tobi and Bobi”) remained consistently heartwarming, especially after they were traded to Philly together. 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5) 

Overview: Both of these contenders struggled with injuries and limped into the playoffs. Victor Oladipo ruptured his quad tendon, Gordon Hayward struggled to come back from last year’s devastating injury, Marcus Smart tore his oblique, and Kyrie Irving blew his own mind thinking about conspiracy theories and the flatness of the earth.

History: The Celtics beat young Reggie Miller’s Pacers twice in the '90s, then Indiana won two of their three straight first-round series from 2003-5.

Arbitrary Reasons For A Rivalry: There’s honestly a lot of reasons for these cities to embrace each other, rather than hate. Indianapolis loves their former Butler University heroes Brad Stevens and Hayward, while Boston fans love former Pacers team president Larry Bird. Boston fans love Notre Dame, and it’s only a few hours away. But there’s a strong dislike between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots because of so many playoff battles and the Deflategate scandal.

Best Players: Boston has Kyrie, Uncle Drew himself, plus Al Horford, the big man who’s so famously underrated that he’s become overrated again, and the hobbled Hayward. Indiana has Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner at center, plus the hot-shooting Bojan Bogdanovic. It’s a shame Sacramento couldn’t have made the playoffs, giving us a Bojan, a Boban, and a Bogdan in the postseason.

Celebrity Fans: Boston has a lot to choose from, but we’ll go with Mark Wahlberg, despite his friendship with Jimmy Butler. It’s a little more sparse in Indiana, so we will go with comedian Mike Epps. He’s certainly a better choice than their previous top celebrity fan, Jared from Subway.

Stakes: If Indiana wins, the Celtics have to send Bird 10 gallons of ice cream and seven wedding cakes, while if Boston wins, Indiana must take Hayward and his contract.

Funniest Thing That Happened To The Teams This Season: Boston had at least three different closed-door team meetings that were supposed to save their season. Gordon Hayward’s wife yelled at him for playing video games. And in last year’s playoffs, Nate McMillan slipped like there was a banana peel on the court while complaining to the officials.

Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.

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