Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, you can let go of your breath: the Cavs won’t be participating in any playoff basketball for at least one more season. And while the Cavs’ championship will be determined by loose ping pong balls, there are 20 teams who will play actual basketball to decide a champion. But maybe you’ve been living quarantine all season with little to no outside contact with the outside world (*shudders*) and have no idea who to root for. No worries—this comprehensive guide calculates every conceivable lifestyle choice a Cleveland basketball fan could ever make and determines a team from each conference for you to adopt for this postseason.
Here’s who you should root for if you…
...love sleek, modern basketball; love shit talking even more: Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors
The Heat and Warriors are paragons of modern hoops. Switchy defenders, playmaking bigs, heavily-featured three-point bombers—both of these teams were near the forefront of innovation this past decade, and a series between them would feature those innovations in spades. This is secondary, though, to the fact that Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green are two of the most ruthless and relentless shit talkers in the league. Basketball is at its most fun when tensions get high and ratchet up the temperature, and an argument between Butler and Green could activate a dormant volcano.
...love memes; want to have reason to believe the meek shall one day inherit the earth: Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers
The Cavaliers lost a lot this year. They also lost a lot last year, and the year before that, too. Because they lost a lot, they won not a lot. This is life as a bad NBA team. But in the Nuggets and Sixers, Cavs fans can see what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like. Both lost a lot (well, one more than the other), both drafted multiple All-Stars, and both developed their young cores into real NBA Finals contenders. Losing doesn’t always pay off, but this is what it looks like when it does.
As a bonus: in a wing- and guard-dominated world, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, two 7-foot celestials, have cemented themselves as NBA Twitter royalty. They’re sort of everymen, who at times look and post like many of the fans who watch them. My bold take: Jokic vs. Embiid wouldn’t just be a great positional battle, it would have the highest meme potential of any individual matchup in NBA history.
...are a scorned lover looking for healing and closure: Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets
Getting dumped is always a gut punch. But getting dumped by two Hall of Famers, including maybe the all-time great, over the course of just a few years...have you ever seen Little Mac use his Final Smash?
Painful stuff. But that pain is born of the love that remains for the people who you share so many cherished memories with. It might hurt to see them thrive somewhere else, and it’s certainly tempting to wonder what it could be like were they still here. If this sounds like you, the healthiest thing you can do is be supportive and root for your former flame to thrive...by throwing yourself behind LeBron James and the Lakers and Kyrie Irving and the Nets.
...are a scorned lover looking for a chance to watch your ex eat shit: Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks
On the other hand, maybe searching for closure isn’t as satisfying as seeing your exes fall to their greatest mortal nemeses. I can’t say I land here, nor do I encourage others to do so. But if you enjoy living a spiteful life filled with the maximum amount of chaotic evil, head across town from the Lakers and Nets and take up a mantle for the Clippers and Knicks.
...are a SexLand fan; are willing to offer grace to a slightly undercooked idea: Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers
A pair of small-but-dynamic guards who often struggle on defense? Incessant (and mostly external) discussions about their ability to coexist? Red and black uniforms for a team located in a northern corner of the country? Watching the Blazers feels like looking at the Cavaliers’ future through a bullish crystal ball. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum might be the best-case scenario for the SexLand pairing; it would be nice if they could demonstrate that their best-case scenario includes a legit run at a title. As for the Celtics...umm, well, they have a young duo who play similar positions and whose names lend themselves to an easy couple name in the Jay’s. So that’s kinda close?
...are a Collin Sexton stan; love old previously-thought-to-be-washed point guards: Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards
Boy, if you think Sexton gets a bad name #online, just wait until you hear about this Russell Westbrook fella. Russ’ former teammates constantly rave about him and how he helped them become better players, he’s averaging a triple-double over a half-decade stretch, and yet he’s largely been reduced to the internet’s punching bag. Similar themes have followed Chris Paul throughout his career, though to a less-fervent degree: he’s never won a title, nor has he even made the Finals, and those have at times led to questions over whether he’s just a ‘regular season’ guy (Whether you’re COUNTING THE SECONDS UNTIL THE DAY YOU CAN SHOVE IT IN THOSE JERKS’ FACES optimistic about Sexton, like I am, or just exhausted with arguing about him every day, root for Paul and Westbrook to show that, sometimes, it’s fine to simply not have a take.
...want to live vicariously through another team’s electric young point guard: Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets
Maybe you’re hoping to feel flashes of the old days, to see shadows of Kyrie snatching souls and ankles on his way to the rim. Or, maybe you just can’t wait until the day when Darius Garland is cartoonish passes through playoff defenses. If indulging in romanticized thought exercises, realistic expectations be damned, sounds like your jam, allow Ja Morant and LaMelo Ball to act as proxy for your fantasies and take up a stake in the Grizzlies and Hornets.
...don’t necessarily love routine, but recognize that the rewards of stability can be greater than those wrought by one’s whims: Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs
You start each day with a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats, and black coffee for breakfast. During your lunch break at work, you warm up for 10 minutes, jog for 15, cool down for 5, and make sure to leave time to stretch so that your muscles don’t tighten up. You fill your dinner plate with representatives from each food group, watch your nightly program, and by 9 p.m., you’re in bed, resting your body so it can do the same thing tomorrow. The San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers are both admirable franchises. Their primary colors are grey and navy blue, respectively. They’re that cheerful substitute teacher; they may not be overly exciting, but when the postseason starts, you can bet they’ll be there. If you like rewarding reliability, there’s no outcome better than the Spurs and Pacers.
...prefer teams that operate as much like a 2K MyCareer team as possible: Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks
Here’s a story: I was Livin’ Da Dream in an NBA 2K16 MyCareer as a point guard for the Clippers. My player averaged something like 27 points, 9 assists, and 13 rebounds as a rookie (and also seemingly murdered someone in high school). My team finished 45–37, good for sixth in the Western Conference, then lost in the first round anyway because…????????? And then my player got released after his shithead best friend died.
My point is this: 1.) 2K16 MyCareer was so, so stupid, 2.) It was pretty fun doing literally everything for my team and putting up ludicrous numbers, and 3.) Trae Young and Luka Doncic are both fully capable of doing something like this in real life. Gamers, the Hawks and Mavs are your new favorite teams.
...yearn for a compelling coaching and personnel matchup; are definitely not a hipster: Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz
This pairing—my personal favorite, and certainly one of the best potential Finals matchups out there—feels like a photo-negative version of Lakers/Nets. Outta the way, coastal elites, the midwest is the real glamor destination! Signing established megastars largely on the strength of brand power is so mainstream—we like teams who draft and develop their way into juggernauts.
Dropping the bit for a second: this feels like an incredibly low-key-interesting matchup. Would Quin Snyder use Rudy Gobert to help wall Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the paint? Would Donovan Mitchell get swallowed up by the Jrue Holiday gravity well? Could the Bucks possibly clinch a championship in their ‘Cream City’ jerseys? This series wouldn’t have the same supernova-level star power as certain others, but it could make for a compelling coaching battle—and one that Mike Budenholzer would almost certainly have to win to keep his seat cool.