An NBA Playoff Primer For Anyone Else Who Still Thinks It’s 2000

In case you missed the Bulls-Heat overtime thriller last night, let me explain what happened. Basically, the Bulls were up late until the Heat grabbed a three-point lead win the final minute. Then with less than 3 seconds left, the Bulls made a clutch three to tie it up and stayed hot in overtime, outscoring the Heat 12-2 in post-regulation roundball to win the game and most likely lock up the top seed in the East for the playoffs.

But the “what” about that game is really only minorly important. The “who” is the story. When I say “the Bulls made a clutch three to tie it up,” who do you think hit that shot? And when I say the Bulls “stayed hot in overtime,” which players do you imagine slammed the door on Miami?

If you said reigning MVP Derrick Rose, you’d be wrong. And he wasn’t just letting other guys do the work while he facilitated with assists. In fact, he wasn’t even on the floor. He didn’t get hurt or foul out or anything. He was benched because C.J. Watson was just better.

And this is exactly what makes the Bulls tough to beat. Hats off to Tom Thibodeau, because I really don’t know if there is another coach in the Association who would have had the balls to bench Rose and give the make-it-or-lose shot to Watson.

And the 12-2 overtime obliteration of Miami, that had to come at the hands of Rose, Noah and Boozer, right? If you get the point of this post, you’ll know the answer to that question. Chicago played the same five guys the entire overtime: Watson, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Kyle Korver. Did you catch Omer Asik in there? That team tore the Heat apart tonight.

As of today, we are less than two weeks away from the end of the NBA regular season. The playoff picture is still a little fuzzy, particularly around the bottom of the West and the middle of the East, but it’s not too early to start speculating on what might happen.

Before we get into the NBA playoffs, let’s all hop into the bus for a field trip back to 2000. I was in seventh grade and there was a war going on. Whether you liked it or not, there were two boy bands that controlled society and there was simply no way you could like both. You either went with the boyish charm of Justin and *NSYNC or the more rugged pseudo-danger of the Backstreet Boys. It was the junior high school culture war of the late ‘90s and I was living it.

In case you weren’t alive then or somehow managed to dodge that bullet with frosted tips, here’s a quick rundown:

  • *NSYNC was five guys who didn’t play instruments and sang happy love songs to unnamed girls. There was one primary lead singer (Justin Timberlake) who was clearly in control and then two guys who were semi-star backup singers (JC and Lance) and then two guys no one cares about.
  • The BackStreet Boys were five guys who didn’t play instruments and sang brooding love songs to unnamed girls. There was kind of a lead singer (Brian) but on any song, any of the other guys (except Howie) could take over.

Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. Back then, there were two ways to build a band and today there are two ways to build a basketball team. You can either be star-heavy at the top, or you can be balanced.

As we head into the NBA postseason, here’s a breakdown of which of the important playoff teams are built like each band:

*NSYNC teams

Come on, Raptors, if these guys can sell out a stadium, you can at least get to 40% capacity

Miami Heat – Sure Lebron and Wade share the Justin role, but they are two of the three biggest Justins in the NBA and there’s no way around it. Justin was 20% of *NSYNC and those two guys are around that for the Heat. This team is all starpower at the top and a bunch of nothing after it. Sorry, Chris Bosh and unnamed supporting cast.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Another case of two outstanding players at the top. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are great at what they do, but no one in the league can do the Durant/Westbrook thing. In this case, Harden/Ibaka play the JC/Lance role perfectly. Not much after that.

Los Angles Lakers – Kobe is the perfect fit for the star at the top. On any night, Kobe Bryant means more to the Lakers than any other player in the NBA means to his team. Bynum and Gasol have star moments, but with five seconds left in a tie game, they’ll be setting picks.

Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, Blake Griffen. The have complementary games, but those two combine to be the one star on the floor at any given time.

Dallas Mavericks – Interestingly, this team won the title last year playing BSBBall, but this season, it’s different. If the Mavs are going to beat you, it’s all Dirk. They have some solid second-tier players, but come on.

Orlando Magic – I don’t think JT ever held the team hostage with a potential forced trade to LFO or 98 degrees, but can you see the Magic winning a game in the playoffs without 20 and 10 from Howard. Who else is even capable of putting up either 20 or 10 on this team?

Backstreet Boys teams

Without sleeves, it’s easy to see the chips on their shoulders

San Antonio Spurs – Like the Mavericks, this team has changed in the last year. Duncan and Ginobili have been inconsistent his year and Tiago Splitter, DaJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal are winning games every night.

Indiana Pacers – Danny Granger is good, but he’s no superstar. And after him, there are seven players averaging 9-12 points per game. This is about as balanced an offensive attack as there is in the NBA.

Boston Celtics – When the C’s were the Big Four and the scrubs they were terrible. But about a month ago, something happened. Those four guys still contribute, but what makes them good is Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and even Craig Steimsma. No joke, now that the Cs play BSB style, they’re one of the scariest teams in the Association.

Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizzles are a team that everyone is afraid of in the playoffs. Last year, they beat the top-seeded Spurs as an 8 and this year they are just as deep.

Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks will be in the playoffs, even tough they kind of suck. But everyone sucks equally. No one is Timberlaking the terrible.

Here are a couple of important observations given what we know about these teams and late ‘90s/early 2000s boy bands:

  • The *NSYNC style of basketball team building wins a lot more championships than the BSB style. Really the only successful BSB style teams were the early 2000s Pistons. Playoff basketball shifts to favors the superstars. It’s documented. And has a second part
  • I was a BSB guy and maybe because of that, I favor the well-oiled machine approach
  • You may notice that the Bulls aren’t on either of these lists. That’s because they are the only team in the NBA that can be both. And sometimes they are both at the same time. That’s what makes them so good
  • It seems like the teams that I categorize as *NSYNC teams play good offense and the teams I categorize as BSB teams win games with defense. Probably because defense is more of a team effort and offense is an individual thing
  • The teams built like *NSYNC all feature at least one NBA All-Star starter except Dallas, while none of the BSB teams have All-Stars, but not starters

Have you ever thought of basketball and how boy bands inspired team structures? What team looks the most like your favorite boy band? You should talk about it in the comments.