This will be about the NBA, but first, it’s going to be about Liam Neeson.
In 2011, Liam Neeson starred in a movie called The Grey. He played a character named John Ottway, a very sad man whose job it was to sniper-shoot any wolves that tried to attack oil workers in Alaska. On a flight meant to take all the workers back to the contiguous United States for some vacation time, the plane crashes and all of a sudden the surviving passengers—eight in total—are stranded in the frozen wilderness, trying to outlast not only the weather, but also a pack of extremely aggressive wolves that have begun to hunt them.
The men try to buck back against death, but one by one, slowly and with great certainty, each of them dies off, either because of injuries suffered in the crash or because the wolves are eating them or because nature is eating them (probably the worst, most uncomfortable death in the whole movie is when a man, while trying to run away from a couple of wolves, ends up getting his foot stuck between two boulders in a river, causing him to drown just inches below the surface). The movie ends with Ottway, the final survivor, having accidentally stumbled into the den that is home to the wolves who have been hunting him and the others.
He looks around, realizes where he is, realizes there are wolves all around him, then realizes that the Alpha Wolf—the biggest, meanest wolf of the pack—is staring down at him. Ottway, by this point, is all the way in pieces. He’s watched all his coworkers die over the past 36 or so hours, and we also find out that his wife had passed away just before he’d arrived in Alaska, and now he’s looking death right in its devilish, gross, yellow wolf eyeballs. In a final fit of strength, he decides that if he has to die, then so too does the Alpha Wolf, so he tapes some tiny liquor bottles from the airplane to his left hand, tapes a hunting knife to his right hand, and then is like, “Fuck it. Let’s go,” and charges at the Alpha Wolf as the Alpha Wolf charges at him.
The screen cuts to black and that’s it. The Grey is over. That’s how it ends.
If you stick around long enough past the credits, though, there’s a quick shot of Ottway and the Alpha Wolf after the fight, both lying in the snow, the Alpha Wolf breathing big, heavy, I’m-about-to-bleed-out breaths, while Ottway’s body is set in such a manner that his head is on the wolf’s belly. You can’t see Ottway’s face, and you only ever get to see the back of the wolf, but the implication seems clear: Both Ottway and the Alpha Wolf died right there in that snow shortly thereafter.
And I bring up that movie, and that scene, to say this: Nobody is going to win the NBA championship this year. Not one single team. They’re all going to lose, same as everybody died in The Grey. Because who’s going to win the championship? Who’s really going to win the championship?
The Wizards? They’re the eighth seed in the East, which, OK, if we assign every playoff team a character from the Jurassic Park movie franchise, that makes the Wizards that goat that was chained to the floor that they tried to use as bait to lure out the T. rex in the first movie. (I know that the Raptors have the no. 1 seed in the East, and I also know that raptors are actual and literal dinosaurs, but LeBron, I think, is still the T. rex in this analogy.) (Also: Dinosaur talk aside, it just seems extremely unlikely that a team that has been battling rumors of players not liking each other since all the way back in 2016 when John Wall said he and Bradley Beal “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court” is going to be a real threat to anybody but themselves in the coming weeks.)
The Raptors? THEY MIGHT WIN 60 GAMES THIS YEAR! (But they’re the Raptors.) THEY’RE ALMOST UNBEATABLE IN GAMES DECIDED BY FIVE OR FEWER POINTS! (But they’re the Raptors.) THEY HAVE THE THIRD-HIGHEST OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY IN THE LEAGUE! (But they’re the Raptors.) THEY ALLOW THE SIXTH-FEWEST POINTS PER GAME OF ALL OF THE TEAMS! (But they’re the Raptors.) THEY HAVE THE BEST BENCH IN THE LEAGUE! (But they’re the Raptors.) THEY HAVE FRED VANVLEET! (OK, I’ll give you that one.)
The Celtics? (I actually had a great blurb written up for this section on how the Celtics could sneak their way to a championship but the blurb got injured and is going to be out six to eight months.)
The 76ers? It is, without question, fun to watch the 76ers play basketball. And Ben Simmons’s ability to turn into a handsome samurai sword during games this year has all but locked him in for the Rookie of the Year trophy. And I can’t even imagine the level of brilliance that Joel Embiid would reach on Twitter and Instagram if the Sixers actually did become NBA champions. BUT STILL. Them being champions feels very much like one of those things that feels really good to think about but that you know is never going to happen, like landing a job that pays you $2 million a year or remembering to brush your teeth twice a day every day like you’re supposed to.
The Cavs? The Warriors? Have either LeBron’s Cavs or the Super Warriors, at any point in the past three years, looked less intimidating than they do right now? Because I can’t remember a time when that was the case. And that’s not to say that they’re not intimidating at all, it’s just to say that they aren’t as intimidating as they have been, which is to say they look beatable. And sure, I’m willing to admit that there is always a chance that the Cavs could become a power again if LeBron averages something like 45-18-14 in the playoffs. And I’m also willing to admit that the Warriors could go back to being the Warriors and just Basketball Kill everyone. But you have to be willing to admit that the arguments for such cases aren’t based in stats or anything that we’ve seen for extended stretches this season, they are arguments rooted in hope and well, ifs …
The Jazz? The Trail Blazers? If I would’ve left either of these teams off this list, would you really have noticed?
The Rockets? At the moment, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the championship. But—and this is an honest question and I’m not trying to be dismissive and, if my beloved Spurs are not going to be the ones to win the 2018 title (they aren’t) then I want for the Rockets to win it because then that means that the Warriors didn’t, so please know that when I ask this question—but: Does anybody really believe the Rockets can win the championship? There are plenty of people who will say they think the Rockets can win the championship, but do they really believe it? Do they really believe that James Harden, who is undoubtedly brilliant but has a less than sparkling history in big playoff games, is going to stand tall this year? Do they really believe that Chris Paul, also a basketball savant but still someone who has never breathed in how thin the air is in a Western Conference final, let alone the actual final Finals, is going to get it done this year? Do they really believe they’ll be able to stare down the Warriors in the late May? Do they really? DO THEY REALLY?
The Bucks? The Pacers? The Heat? Sorry, Giannis. Sorry, Oladipo. Sorry … [searches “Heat roster” on Basketball-Reference.com] [reads it] [reads it again] [reads it one last time] … Luke Babbitt?
(Let me be clear: I enjoy each of the teams above very much. Giannis is, obviously, incredible and easy to love. The Victor Oladipo Revenge Parade has been incredible to watch this season. And I am extremely in the bag for Dwyane Wade. That said, as the standings are laid out right now, the Bucks would play the Sixers, the Pacers would play the Cavs, and the Heat would play the Celtics. I can’t talk myself into rooting for the Heat over the Celtics because watching the Celtics this season has been like watching a car rolling down a hill and its parts keep falling off and Brad Stevens is there trying to hold everything together with gum and duct tape and I just like that kind of general chaos. I can’t talk myself into rooting for the Pacers over the Cavs because I am always of the mind that things are more interesting when LeBron James is around so let’s just keep him in the playoffs for as long as possible. And I can’t talk myself into rooting for the Bucks over the Sixers because as much as I would like to see Giannis try to stare down LeBron in a later round, it feels a lot like we all need a good, solid, devastating Sixers-Cavs series.)
The Spurs? The Thunder? The Pelicans? These three are out because no team that has ever taken until the 81st game of the season to clinch a spot in the playoffs has ever gone on to win a championship. (Truth be told, I didn’t actually research this stat, but I’m still certain it’s true, same as how I didn’t research “No doctor has ever successfully replaced a human heart with a baked potato in surgery” but I still know it’s true.) (Also: I can’t believe that Kawhi Leonard has played only nine more games this season in the NBA than I have.) (Also: There are a ton of interesting story lines going into this upcoming offseason, but one of the secretly best ones is, “Are players ever going to want to go to Oklahoma City to play with Russell Westbrook?”) (Also: I know this is a big ask, but is there a chance that we can get some better players around Anthony Davis soon? I just want to see him in some high-stakes playoff games, is all.)
The Timberwolves/Nuggets? [Just cut and paste the Spurs/Thunder/Pelicans blurb from above and paste it here, except replace “81st” with the “82nd.”]
Nobody is going to win the NBA championship this year. Not one single team.