The Corner

The Conservative’s Guide to the 2017-2018 NBA Season

For the last ten days, the demands have been building. First they were confined to texts and tweets. Then came the calls and letters. Finally, there were the tearful personal visits. The people cried out with one voice, “When? When will we see the 2017-2018 conservative’s guide to the NBA?!?”

Wait no longer, my friends. The day has arrived. Tomorrow tips off the new season of America’s greatest sport, and we Red Americans can’t let our urban Blue brothers have all the fun. So, without further ado, here’s the guide — and in keeping with last year’s tradition, it divides teams by familiar political categories.

Beware, there are more than 2,000 words after the jump.

The Hillary Clinton Division. These teams lose. They’re boring. Please go away.

The Orlando Magic. Honestly, I’d rather attend a Clinton book-signing than watch the Magic play. They lack a clear identity. They don’t have a must-watch star. And they’ve been bad for a really long time. Remember when Dwight Howard led them to the finals? Neither do I. Next!

The Chicago Bulls. A storied franchise has jettisoned its star players and is serving up to one of the league’s best home crowds a full-on dumpster fire of a team. At least the fans can warm their hands on the burning trash during those cold northern winters. The Bulls are tanking (deliberately putting a bad team on the floor to maximize their chances for a top draft pick), and I for one have no intention of spending one second of my valuable time watching it happen.

The Atlanta Hawks. They have one of the longest playoff streaks in the NBA, yet one of the most lukewarm fan bases. Expect lukewarm to turn ice cold this year, but if you live in the South and want cheap tickets on Stubhub to see at least one good basketball team, put on your Warriors, Cavs, or Thunder gear, fight through the worst downtown traffic this side of purgatory, and take in a Hawks game. And bring a book. If it’s a blowout the arena will be as quiet as a library.

The Indiana Pacers. This one pains me. It really does. Indiana’s a great basketball state, the Pacers have fought hard to stay competitive, and it wasn’t long ago that a few folks thought they could dethrone at least one of LeBron’s Heat teams in the East. No more. Paul George is gone, the Indiana State police are still investigating the heist, and while Myles Turner is worth watching, don’t let the channel linger for more than five minutes. They’ll be that bad.

The Bernie Sanders Division. These teams lose, but they lose with attitude.

The Phoenix Suns. I have two words for you: Devin Booker. Last year, as an NBA sophomore, he dropped 70 points, against a good Celtics team, on the road. If you’re bored, you’ve finished rewatching Battlestar Galactica for the third time, and you don’t know what else to do, it’s worth checking out the Suns. There’s a chance Booker’s at 30 points early in the third quarter, and you’ll want to catch every second of his glorious, trash-talking run to 50. It will happen. Three times this season, at least. Mark it down.

The Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are an NBA oddity. They’re a terrible team with no incentive to tank (the Cavaliers own their first-round draft pick). So they actually play hard every night, and they’ve got a couple players — D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin — with something to prove. D’Angelo wants to show that one social media mistake can’t derail a career. And Lin? Well, who doesn’t want one more round of Linsanity? He’s a great guy. He’s fun to root for, and his hair is in a constant state of cultural appropriation.

The New York Knicks. They’re terrible. No, really. They’re awful. But they’ve got one of the best young players in the league (Kristaps Porzingis), and they’ve handed him the keys to the team. It’s the “Latvian gang-banger’s” franchise now. If he can stay healthy, watch the Knicks’ win totals grow at the same rate as co-sponsors of Bernie’s single-payer bill. The present is bleak, but the arc of history just might be bending towards the Knicks. Stay tuned.

The Dallas Mavericks. Dirk is in the twilight of his career, but they’ve got a talented young guard, and Marc Cuban is one of the most interesting men in basketball. What’s not to love? Their likely record, for one thing. It’s Bernie-land for the Mavs in 2018.

The Sacramento Kings. This is my favorite team in the Bernie Division. The owner — though apparently a brilliant businessman — just might be basketball-insane. The roster is an eclectic mix of old and young, and their top draft pick (former Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox) is an outstanding young kid and a future star. In other words, they might have potential, at least until the franchise does something certifiable. There’s a fine line between “quirky” and “train wreck.” The Kings straddle that line like no one else. Either way, they’re entertaining. Either way, they’ll lose a lot of basketball games. They’re the perfect Bernie team.

The Detroit Pistons. My least favorite Bernie Division team. Thanks only to their coach (“Form a f***king wall”), they’re just barely interesting enough to stay out of Hillary-land. But the players? Wake me when it’s over.

The Roy Moore Division. Crazy enough to win. Crazy enough to lose.

The New Orleans Pelicans. They have two of the best big men in basketball, and one of them, DeMarcus Cousins might be the most polarizing players in the league. Is he a head case? Or is he a solid guy who’s been jerked around? This year won’t settle the debate, but it will settle whether a team can surround two great interior players with three also-rans and win in the modern NBA. My bet? They’re crazy enough to lose.

The Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball will win rookie of the year. The Lakers will win 40 games. LaVar Ball (Lonzo’s dad) will trigger at least three significant Twitter meltdowns. And then, shortly after the season ends, LeBron will join the Lakers. We’re two (three) years from another Lakers/Celtics finals battle for the ages. Kyrie in his prime versus Lonzo and LeBron. It’s going to be lit. But that’s the future. For now, they’ll have to settle for being one of the most entertaining mediocre teams in basketball.

The Cory Booker Division. Talented, but no one quite believes they’re for real.

The Milwaukee Bucks. If Giannis Antetokounmpo (better known as “Greek Freak”) could shoot threes there would be very good reason indeed to “fear the dear.” The team is long, athletic, and fun to watch. And yet they’re not quite ready. Give it another year. Perhaps two. Let Giannis perfect his stroke, and let LeBron move out west. Then we might see Milwaukee in the conference finals . . . or beyond.

The Portland Trailblazers. They’ve two great guards. Either one can light you up for 40. And that’s just about it. Worth watching, not worth believing.

The Charlotte Hornets. I put them in the Booker Division rather than relegating them to Bernieland because I’m a shameless Kentucky homer, and the Hornets got the steal of the NBA draft. Malik Monk is the man. Perhaps I’m wildly optimistic, but he’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder (he still acts mad that the Knicks didn’t draft him), and maybe just maybe he can help a decent Hornets team over-achieve in a weakened East.

The Philadelphia 76ers. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy, this might be the most intriguing team in the league. Embiid is a lovable, wisecracking superstar on the rise . . . if he can stay on the court. In three years, he’s only played part of one season, and that season ended well short of forty games. Stay healthy Joel, then we’ll believe. Until then, you’re stardom is only as real as Booker’s best friend T-bone.

The Utah Jazz The Basketball experts seem to really like this team. I don’t. They’re good, but they’ll underachieve. Welcome to Bookerland.

The Miami Heat. One of my favorite subplots of the 2016-2017 season was the remarkable career resurrection of Dion Waiters. But it wasn’t just Waiters that bounded out of the tomb. The entire team came back from the dead. Waiters was a Lazarus player on a Lazarus team. They started the year 11-30. They finished it 30-11. Waiters started the year with his career hanging by a thread. He ended the year a star in South Beach. But I’m sorry. Lazarus was still mortal. This year he gets the flu. Look for the Heat to struggle to break even.

The Denver Nuggets. The basketball nerds like this team just like they like the Jazz. — and they positively adore Nikola Jokic. As for me? I have to see one full year as good as Jokic’s last half-season before I start to believe. The Nuggets are an eight seed. If they’re lucky.

The Edmund Burke Division. Out of fashion, but timelessly great.

The Memphis Grizzlies, of course. Grit and grind. The Grizzlies are my favorite team, and though they won’t be first on the court this season, they’re first in all our hearts. There’s no more courageous point guard than Mike Conley. Marc Gasol is the best Spanish center to ever play the game. And who can’t root for Mario Chalmers coming back from a potentially career-ending Achilles injury? It’s a team of two stars, one maybe-star (Chandler Parsons, if he can stay healthy), and a rotating gang of all-heart role players. They’ll shock the NBA world and extend their playoff streak. Expect to see another classic playoff battle in Grindhouse this April.

Here’s how it will go: Three-seed OKC beats the six-seed Clippers in Round One. They squeak by two-seed Houston in six hard-fought games, then they shock Kevin Durant (and the world) in seven in the conference finals. The Celtics will wait, confident that they’ll raise another banner into the Garden’s rafters, but Russell Westbrook has other plans. He’ll average 25-14-11 in six close games, and he’ll break Boston’s heart with a game-winning pull-up jumper on the parquet floor. It will be magic. It will happen.

And when it does, remember. You heard it here first, in the virtual pages of National Review.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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