There’s no real rhyme or reason to how or why I first thought of comparing NBA playoff teams to breakfast foods. Maybe it was because I live near an IHOP. Maybe it’s just because I was hungry in the morning. Either way, the counterparts for the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors came easily (but that’s for another time). That was a week ago, and now I’ve got a page-long list that I agonized over for far too long. Basically, what follows is the result of a pointless mental exercise that has already gone about 500% too far. So why not go farther? Since writing a decent sized blurb about every team would take quite a few words, I decided that it’d be best to break this up by Conference for the sake of readability. Without further ado, here’s part 1, devoted to the Eastern teams. Welcome to the National Breakfast Association.
Disclaimer: An honest attempt was made to ignore divisional and geographic biases here. No promises on how successful that attempt was, however. I tried.
- Detroit Pistons.
While the Pistons have had a rough go of the last few years, they’ve consistently exhibited positive qualities. They’re likable, they hang around, and there’s real substance to their play. Not only that, but the franchise has a history of success going back to the back-to-back championships back in ‘89 and ‘90 and good runs in the mid-00’s. They’re a classic component to the playoffs, they’ve got real appeal and upside, and a bit of kick to them. Not only that, but there’s a kind of “everyman” appeal to them, even if they can succeed in a number of ways or forms (lights out shooting, punishing inside presence). They’re accessible, and not afraid to mix it up with everyone around them. The Pistons are sausage links/patties.
- Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are, and have been for some time, a solid team. While they’ve hopped around in the standings over the last few years, their identity has been somewhat consistent. A bona fide star in Paul George, solid defense, good coaching, and a wild card (formerly Lance Stephenson, now Monta “Doesn’t have much of it anymore” Ellis). Here’s the problem: they’re not terribly exciting. George has a lot of watchability appeal, but Ellis is tough to watch more often than fun to these days. It just doesn’t seem like any other team in the East is easier to…forget about than the Pacers. It doesn’t help that it’s Indiana, a bit of a bland location. There’s appeal, consistency, and substance to this team. They’re just a bit dull from an outside perspective. The Pacers are oatmeal (if you wanna get technical, we can say PG is blueberries or something).
- Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are fun. They’re easy to root for, they’re tough, and they’re versatile. Built around a 3 and D system with a Grade-A offensive talent inside, there’s a lot to like about this year’s team which just won its first playoff game in the young franchise’s history. Between Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson alone, there’s a lot of kick to this team. Beyond those players though, they’re more of a side dish than a main course right now. They’re on the plate for a reason, and they deserve to be there. Just don’t expect to be wholly satisfied by them at the end, at least not without an extra ingredient or two to really get them over the hump. The Hornets are potatoes/hash browns.
- Boston Celtics
I love this Celtics team. They gave the Warriors hell for two games, even managing to take one in Oracle down the home stretch. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are the real deal, and I love the upside of their wings (shout out to Jae Crowder). Not just that, but the way they’re built is satisfying. Brad Stevens is one of the five best coaches in the league, Danny Ainge is playing chess among checkers players with trades, and they draft well. They’ve steadily ascended through smart picks, savvy free agency moves, and natural progression of their young core guys. There’s just something organic about them. That all being said, they’re not quite there yet. While making a valiant upward push, it’s not enough yet. They’re still a bit of an accessory in the greater narrative despite their upside. Likable, tough, wholesome, but not quite there yet? The Celtics are a fruit medley.
- Atlanta Hawks
Everyone remembers the Hawks picking up the nickname “Spurs of the East” last year, and for good reason. Built on good fundamental play, ball movement, and smart shot selection, the Hawks have a lot of the basketball appeal of the Spurs without the mental fatigue of two decades of success. The Hawks are a staple playoff team with a ton of upside and substance. This is a main course team. However, the fact that the Spurs are their best analogue and what they aspire to makes them seem kind of like a trendier version of the same thing, but without the same sustained presence on the playoff platter. The Hawks are waffles.
- Miami Heat
Full disclosure: Justise Winslow is my favorite rookie this year not named Karl Anthony Towns (which really shouldn’t even count, because KAT is a cyborg monster sent to destroy us all, more on that later). All the athleticism in the world and great defensive instincts, if that kid learns how to shoot, we’re all screwed. This is a Heat team that’s really fun to watch and they’ve got some spice to them with explosive guys like Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Hassan Whiteside. The other thing that justifies their food is that the fun is almost as much in who made the team as it is the actual team. I doubt I’ll ever get sick of Pat Riley’s mafioso roster wizardry, and Erik Spoelstra is a very good coach. This is a legit team with top-down appeal and an edge to it. The heat are huevos rancheros.
- Toronto Raptors
Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about the Raptors this year. Kyle Lowry is legit, and DeMar DeRozan is fun to watch, even if his performance has been a bit disappointing in the postseason. I’m just not sure how much I buy them as a true contender (I’d rather pick Atlanta to hit the ECF, honestly). Jonas Valanciunas is good, but not ‘lean on me’ good. The only real guy in I’d trust in a crisis situation on this team is Lowry, especially if DeRozan’s shot vanishes. After him, their quality of fallback guys drops a bit sharply for my tastes. That all being said, this is still a good team. I could easily be wrong about it, and they’re still fun to watch. They’re appealing and definitely deserve a place at the table, but I’m not sure where that is how just how good they really are. The Raptors are ham, or canadian bacon if you prefer.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
Every year, LeBron James seems to have that early-mid season lull where everyone (stupidly) decides to start questioning how good he really is, or if this is finally the year that 40,000 minutes starts to show its toll. Then there’s the inevitable final few weeks of the season where he starts eviscerating other teams on live TV, and you realize that the LeBron show might be nastier than Game of Thrones. Not only that, but Kevin Love finally woke up running the 5, Kyrie Irving is a man on a mission, and the league is realizing that Matt Dellavedova might be the most valuable backup point guard in the NBA other than Shaun Livingston. This is a jumble of really good components that’s very satisfying when it’s clicking on all cylinders and working, but one where a misstep can throw the whole thing off. Each part knows its place, and the mix is very good, but day to day you’re never completely sure how smoothly they’re gonna work. At best, they’re great. At worst, they’re pretty good, but they’ll probably still get you where you want to be at the end. The Cavaliers are a breakfast skillet.