Now that only the good teams are left, your friends have invited you over to watch some playoff basketball—but you didn't even know there was a Golden State. Not to worry: Here's a cheat sheet for those of you who can't tell the difference between a Mikan drill and a three-man weave. (Read up, Sebastian Telfair.)
Eastern Conference semifinals: Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons
Bulls talking points: On the strength of strong seasons from Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace, a breakout year by forward Luol Deng, and generally strong team play, the Bulls enjoyed their most successful season since the Jordan era. Raise some eyebrows by arguing that the Bulls are a better team qua team now than they ever were in the Jordan/Pippen 1990s.
Historical context: The last time the Bulls won a playoff series was in 1998. Since then, the team has endured five head coaches, two teenage Antichrists, the Dragan Tarlac era, the Eddie Robinson era, and two mascot arrests. It's been a long time coming.
Conversation starter: "Scott Skiles fits Chicago's scrappy, blue-collar ethic better than Phil Jackson ever did."
Conversation stopper: "But if it comes down to Skiles and his staff versus a clown car full of mini-Ditkas, I'm taking the Ditkas."
Pistons talking points: The Pistons were tops in the Eastern Conference, which is sort of like being the fittest patient in the oncology ward. Defend the Motor City's bona fides by noting that this year's Pistons had the league's best defense, and that defense wins championships. At least it does in football.
Historical context: Twenty years ago, the fabled Pistons' "Bad Boys" squads were the terror of the NBA. These days, Bill Laimbeer coaches a women's basketball team, Dennis Rodman is an international embarrassment, John Salley's on a lousy sports talk show that used to star Tom Arnold, and Isiah Thomas is running the Knicks into the ground. Sort of makes you wonder how Chauncey Billups is going to end up.
Conversation starter: "Good thing the Pistons held onto the right Wallace—I'll take Rasheed over Big Ben any day."
Conversation stopper: "Yes, but what about Wallace Shawn in My Dinner With Andre? Talk about an impact performer!"
Eastern Conference semifinals: Cavaliers vs. Nets
Cavs talking points: LeBron James—you know, the guy in the Nike commercials—deservedly gets most of the credit for the Cavaliers' success, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas has quietly become one of the best centers in the league, and good centers are arguably harder to find than high-scoring small forwards. Go contrarian and argue that without Ilgauskas demanding constant coverage as a low-post scoring threat, James would be a king without a crown. Feel free to refer to him as "The Queen Z" if you like.
Historical context: "Zydrunas" is apparently Lithuanian for hydrogen—which makes sense, because his touch in the paint is lighter than air. OK, that's neither true nor historical, but people will think you're wicked smart if you pretend that you can speak Lithuanian and that you know about science, too. I say, use it!
Conversation starter: "LeBron's the Philip Seymour Hoffman of basketball—he makes everyone he performs with better."
Conversation stopper: "Keanu Reeves is the Scot Pollard of acting—limited range, only good in very specific roles, and mainly just happy to be there."
Nets talking points: The Nets won eight of their last 10 games to sneak into the playoffs despite a lackluster regular season. Still, their versatility and athleticism might make them the Eastern Conference team that opponents would least want to face. Cite the Nets' explosive core of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson as one reason why the Nets might be better suited for short-series success than the Cavs.
Historical context: Although the Nets have been in New Jersey since 1977, ownership wants to move the team to Brooklyn to take advantage of the fan base there that's been teamless since the Dodgers skipped town in 1958. Ownership also plans to sign Johnny Podres to replace Bostjan Nachbar as the first man off the bench, drill picturesque knotholes in the stadium walls, and offer a free suit to any player who hits a full-court desperation shot.
Conversation stopper: "They really should throw a net over New Jersey."
Western Conference semifinals: Warriors vs. Jazz
Warriors talking points: It wasn't just luck that powered the Warriors past the Mavericks: It was luck and Baron Davis. Davis has been called selfish throughout his career, and he'll probably be knocked by your Utah-loving friends. Kill that argument by saying that you're only called selfish when your team is losing. When you win, it's called leadership. Either way, dude can flat-out play.
Historical context: Everybody loves an underdog story, and the Warriors are the most unlikely longshots since Ebert outlived Siskel. Be ready to compare the Warriors to other historical underdogs, like the Miracle on Ice team, or the Bad News Bears, or Chloe from the second season of Project Runway. (Note: Do not make that last reference if you're in a fratty-seeming bar.)
TODAY IN SLATE
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Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.