All posts by devinbates

NBA Quarterfinals: Worst to First

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???

The NBA Playoffs will get underway on Saturday, and hot off the press after last night’s action, we have a full slate of first round match-ups to sink our teeth into. While this particular writer is shedding a tear because the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t even come close to making it (again), this season’s playoffs promise to be one of the more entertaining ones in recent memory. The Boston Celtics were able to snag the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2008 title run; a huge milestone in the Brad Stevens era and one that will likely raise the expectations of Boston fans as the playoffs get underway.

There are four teams in this year’s playoffs that didn’t make it in 2016: The Wizards, Bucks, Bulls and Jazz. The Wizards, Bucks and Bulls all made it back in 2015, but the Jazz haven’t made it since 2012 when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round. With all of the changes that happened last off-season, we’re in for one insane playoff stretch, and it all starts with the first round on Saturday. We took a look at all of the matchups and ranked them by interest level, so when you sit down in front of your T.V. on Saturday, you’ll know what to turn on. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NBA Playoffs first round match-ups, ranked from worst to first.

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  1. Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Meh.

The Toronto Raptors did pretty much what you’d expect them to during the 2017 season. They kept up with the Celtics and Cavaliers and contended for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, eventually finishing third and drawing a matchup with the Bucks. The Raptors do have some new faces this season that they can use to their advantage in this series; primarily Serge Ibaka.

The key for Toronto is going to be their ability to shut down the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The bigger guys on the Raptors’ roster are going to have a handful trying to defend Giannis, but if they’re able to slow him down and Kyle Lowry has a good series, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t win this in 6 games. It could be one of the more competitive series in the first round, but aside from Antetokounmpo, there’s just not enough star power to make this an interesting series.

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  1. San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

This feels like a movie we’ve seen before. These two teams have squared off in a playoff series four out of the last seven seasons, and the tread on the old tire of interest is wearing a little thin.

The highlight in this match-up is the battle of the brothers. While Marc and Pau Gasol may have both passed their prime by a few years, it adds a little bit of intrigue to a series that will otherwise be overshadowed by a great Western Conference series that we’ll get into later. The Grizzlies upset the Spurs as the 8 seed back in 2011, however, and it would take a shocker like that to get us to turn our heads away from some of the other great action going on around the NBA.

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  1. Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

Well, here we are again. Another year, another Hawks team that hovers in the middle of the playoff race and will be gone by the Conference Finals. Of course, the big difference this year is that they have Dwight Howard. I don’t see many people out there pushing the idea that Dwight Howard (of all people) is somehow going to push Atlanta over the hump, and this is a Wizards team that could be poised to knock them out early. After missing the playoffs last season, Washington is the four seed this year, earning home court advantage and a chance to knock off a very beatable Hawks team.

The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks during the regular season, the most recent of those being a thrilling 104-100 victory back on March 22. If Dwight Howard can somehow wake up from the five year nap he’s been taking and make a meaningful impact for this team in the playoffs, we might have something to talk about here for the Hawks. If not, it will be business as usual, and they can start making their tee times by the end of the month.

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  1. Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

The Chicago Bulls’ motley crew of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did enough to squeak in to the playoffs at the last second as the 8 seed. At different points in their career, all of these guys were dynamic players who could shift a playoff series just by stepping on the court. Butler is still that player, Rondo can impress occasionally, and Wade, when he’s not battling injuries, is a serviceable veteran player who can hit big shots when it matters.

The end result of all of these things is a team that is often inconsistent and frustrating, but if everything were to click at once, they could make this a series. That is going to mean slowing down Isaiah Thomas, however, and that is no easy task to say the least. Thomas is averaging 28.3 PPG in his last ten games, and the Celtics have a renewed sense of confidence after claiming the 1 seed in the east. Although it is a 1 vs. 8 matchup, these two teams split the regular season 2-2, so we could be in for at least a six game series if all goes well for the Bulls.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)

If the Cavaliers had drawn a first-round match-up with the Bulls, this might be a little bit higher on the list. Of course, we’re always up for watching a great duel between LeBron James and Paul George, but this doesn’t appear to be more than a small roadblock for the Cavaliers. An interesting side note here, however, is that Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers, and the last time he was in the playoffs, he was whispering sweet-nothings into LeBron’s ear. With that in mind, we ask Lance Stephenson please, give us more great theater like this. I want to turn on SportsCenter and see more of Stephenson trying to get under LeBron’s skin. Yes.

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  1. Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)

For the casual NBA fan, the name Jusuf Nurkic might not ring a bell. Nurkic was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 2014, then traded to the Nuggets on draft night. Now, standing at 7ft 0in, he is the second tallest player on Portland’s roster, and he could play just enough of a role to make this more than a four game sweep for the Warriors. If Damian Lillard can also put the team on his back, we could be talking about a five or six game series, but don’t hold your breath. Golden State is just getting warmed up.

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  1. Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Los Angeles Clippers are in a weird spot. They have largely underachieved the past few seasons, but in a conference dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, it’s not like they ever had much of a chance. They’ve been playing very well lately, however, and their starting five are as good as anybody’s in the top of the conference (ok, maybe not the Warriors, but who cares).

The Jazz, on the other hand, are a new product. They last made the playoffs in 2012, and the only holdovers from that team are Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. The Jazz were sneaky good this season, finishing with a record of 51-31. For comparison, that is the same record the Cavs and Raptors finished with this season. They might not be much compared to the powerhouses of the West, but they could become the little engine that could if they’re able to advance to the second round and steal a few games from the Warriors. Don’t sleep on the Utah Jazz, you heard it here first.

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  1. Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

Now here is the juiciest of juicy match-ups. Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden in what amounts to the MVP-Bowl of playoff series. It’s fun enough watching these two go at it for one game, but the possibility of 4,5,6, or perhaps even 7 make this must-see television for the first round. This is what everyone is going to be talking about. During the regular season series, Houston went 3-1, with both teams averaging well over 100 points in each of the four games (Houston averaged 115, while the Thunder averaged 111).

The fireworks, however, came in their final match-up of the regular season, when the two teams combined for 262 points in a 137-125 Houston victory. The interesting stat in that game? James Harden was Houston’s fourth leading scorer, while Westbrook dropped 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. If they’re able to beat the Thunder and the ever-bucket-draining Westbrook in this series when Harden has a quiet night like they did on March 26th, there just isn’t much wiggle room for the Thunder to be able to take this series. Russ will have to play like a madman, and we’re assuming he will. Will it be enough? Who knows. That’s why they play the games.

 

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Everyone Is Talking About NBA Tinder Habits

It all started with a lengthy ESPN article from Tom Haberstroh detailing how the 21st Century has changed the partying habits of NBA players. Back in the 1990s, teams weren’t nearly as good on the road as they are in the present day. Haberstroh anonymously interviewed several NBA execs and players, and they all reached the same conclusion: it’s very easy to get laid in today’s NBA with dating apps like Tinder, and that is the reason that teams do better on the road in the year 2017. Not a better fitness regime, not some crazy new advancement in rehabilitation and recovery, nope. Just good old-fashioned intercourse.

“It’s absolutely true that you get at least two hours more sleep getting laid on the road today versus 15 years ago,” one former NBA All-Star told Haberstroh.

This article set off a firestorm of reactions from various media outlets. Everyone from Maxim to Bleacher Report published articles reacting to this strange phenomenon, and it seems nobody can get enough of gossiping about the sex life of professional athletes.

Back in the day, things in the NBA used to get dicey after dark. In the ESPN article, former No. 1 overall pick John Lucas discussed how cocaine was a constant presence in 1980’s NBA. We all know the story of Len Bias’ cocaine-related death in 1986. Many other players have since come clean and admitted to excessive drug use during their playing days. The 1990s weren’t much better. Even when drugs weren’t involved and guys were just trying to find a lucky lady, they used to have to actually go to a club and put a little bit of effort into their evening rituals.

The concept that better road records in 2017 can be attributed to Tinder and other dating apps, however, is mind blowing. The article also talks about the fact that athletes are becoming more disciplined and staying out of the public eye, which sounds like a much more likely explanation for improved road performance. The “tinderization” of the NBA, as one executive called it, however, is a much more interesting tangent of thought. Plenty of people weighed in on the topic and offered their opinions:

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Andre offers us a thrilling discovery:

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And this fake Tracy McGrady account took it upon themselves to roast the poor guy for writing the article in the first place:

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So, who knows? Maybe Tinder actually is making NBA players better on the road. Tinder and other social media apps have also done their fair share of harm to the NBA, so let’s not go crowning them the savior of the league. Just ask Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell about Snapchat.

Ray Allen Says Isaiah Thomas Should Win MVP. Why Isn’t Anyone Else?

When you’re in an MVP race, it’s always nice to get some love from the greats to help sway voters in your favor. Recently, Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas got a nod from the recently retired Ray Allen.

Allen was recently a guest on The Rich Eisen Show, and he was asked for his opinion on the current MVP race.

“Right now, I’d have to say Isaiah Thomas.” Allen said. “I like Isaiah… You take him off that roster, I don’t know how successful they’d be.”

Judging by these comments, it seems Allen views the MVP in a very literal sense. He argues that without Isaiah, the Celtics wouldn’t be any good.

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The assertion that the Celtics wouldn’t be good without Thomas is in contrast to several remarks made earlier in the season by Boston media personalities who thought the Celtics did just fine without Thomas during a stretch in December.

“11 assists on 13 buckets. Is it just me or does the ball move better without Isaiah Thomas?” tweeted Tony Massarotti, co-host of Felger and Mazz on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Comments like this seemed to irk Thomas, who was battling a groin injury and was forced to sit several games.

“They gotta write something. They say the stupidest things so they get the headlines and everybody can talk about it,” Thomas said. “I can’t control that. At this point, I laugh about it now. Because it’s like, if you really think that, OK, that’s fine. I know what I mean to my teammates, I know what I mean to this organization and to Brad Stevens.”

From that point on, Thomas went on an MVP-worthy stretch that not only catapulted the Celtics to second in the East, but launched Thomas right in the thick of the MVP race.

In early February, CBS Sports had Thomas in a three-way tie for first in the MVP race with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. At this time, Thomas was second in the league with 29.9 PPG and led the league in fourth quarter scoring. At the time, Bill Reuter of CBS Sports wrote “Will it last? No idea. But for the time being he belongs right here, in the mix for the MVP with Westbrook and Harden.”

Contrary to Bill Reuter’s nod to Thomas, Ray Allen’s remarks come at a time when hype around a potential MVP title for Thomas seems to be cooling down outside of Boston media.

Since Reuter’s article was published on February 8, the narrative of the MVP race seems to have changed. That same source, CBS Sports, published a lengthy article today detailing a new tie for first: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. In a feature-length article with over twenty paragraphs, Isaiah Thomas was not mentioned once. What gives?

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Part of the reason Thomas has faded out of MVP contention is that a lot of people suddenly remembered that Kawhi Leonard is really good. Leonard and the Spurs’ rise in the Western Conference has outshadowed the Celtics’ Eastern Conference domination, and while Thomas is good, he has been relegated to a secondary tier of MVP candidates along with the likes of John Wall and Kevin Durant.

The truth is, while Thomas has played great since his peak in February, it hasn’t been enough to capture the attention of voters enough to pull away from the gargantuan forces of Westbrook, LeBron, Kawhi and Harden. Most of his MVP attention came after a stretch where he scored 37, 41, 44 and 38 points. It would take another extended stretch like this for Thomas to get serious MVP consideration, whether fair or not. He’s second in the league in scoring and he’s leading the Celtics to their best finish in years, but that simply isn’t enough when you’re going against a guy who is nearly averaging a triple double for the season in Russell Westbrook.

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So while Allen’s claim that the Celtics wouldn’t be much without Thomas may be true, it’s going to take a whole lot more than that to win votes.

The final push for Thomas, however, may have to wait several days. He is currently dealing with a bone bruise in his right knee and might miss the weekend’s games.

Allen also said in his interview that he believes the Celtics will make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. So far, this is shaping up to be a thrilling finish, and you can expect Thomas to do everything he can to ensure the Celtics can make that claim a reality.

 

Cavs vs Celtics Last Night… Eastern Conference Finals Preview?

Last night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers had a definitive playoff feel. The Cavs are currently atop the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics are now hot on their tail with last night’s win. The fallout of the Celtics’ 103-99 win raises many questions, but there is one that is on everyone’s mind after last night: is this an Eastern Conference Finals preview, and if so, did the Celts show us they can hang with the defending champions?

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In short, yes. The Celtics were able to grind out a thrilling fourth quarter and beat the Cavaliers, and they did it by sinking big shots in big moments. This showdown between these two particular teams had the type of hype surrounding it that we haven’t seen since the Celtics’ big three era, back when LeBron couldn’t get over the hump and win a championship in his first stint with Cleveland.

Though the Cavs may be undeterred by this loss, it shows that the Celtics could keep up with Cleveland in a 7-game series. In recent years, the Cavaliers have all but steamrolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the 2016-17 Celtics have shown that they have other plans.

Of course, the Celtics won’t be able to rely on 31 points from Isaiah Thomas every game. In order to beat Cleveland, they would need a total team effort, something that they have shown they are capable of putting together. The prospect that the Celtics could actually do this, however, is exciting for Boston fans to say the least.

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Perhaps the most encouraging part of the win for the Celtics is that they did it despite a triple-double from LeBron James. It was James’ seventh of the season, and not many teams are able to beat the Cavs when he’s hot like that. The Celtics took LeBron’s best shot and still came out victorious.

The recent injury to Kevin Durant has also shifted the playoff scene. If he is unable to get to a healthy level by the time April rolls around, it makes the Western Conference a whole lot more interesting. At that point, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets would come into play. A more even Western Conference would mean more wear-and-tear, which could be good news for the Celtics or Cavaliers, depending on who makes it in this hypothetical situation.

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At the very least, the Celtics showed the world that they have arrived as contenders. The next step in the Brad Stevens era will most likely have to run through Cleveland, and last night, they showed that they can keep up and win. If you thought this game was intense, mark your calendar for April 5th. The two teams will meet again at the TD Garden in one of the final games before the NBA Playoffs begin.

 

2017 Dunk Contest: Worth Your Attention

The 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest will throw down Saturday night on TNT, and this year showcases an interesting mix of players. In the previous two seasons, Zach LaVine came away with the trophy after putting on a dazzling performance. However, he is now dealing with an ACL injury, and the fAaield has shaken up a bit for 2017.

You might not think the dunk contest is as good as it used to be, but there is no doubt it still demands attention if you happen to be near a TV on Saturday night. Lately, contestants have been getting more and more ridiculous with their props (see Aaron Gordon’s mascot hoverboard dunk from last year… remember hoverboards?), and if you’re at the bar watching with a few friends, chances are you’ll be dialed in from the start.

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This year features Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, Deandre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers, Glenn Robinson III of the Indiana Pacers, and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns. Jordan will bring the event a little more star power, while Gordon is turning into a perennial dunker. The other two guys are a little lesser known, but hopefully they will be able to throw down some crazy dunks and get everyone in New Orleans hyped at All-Star Weekend.

Many would argue that Aaron Gordon should’ve won it last year. LaVine got a perfect score in the final round and dunked from just in front of the free-throw line, and Gordon came up just short in the eyes of the judges. Gordon can really spring up in the air, so expect him to come up with some crazy dunks for the fans in New Orleans.

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Somehow, this is DeAndre Jordan’s first time on an All-Star team. It’s not that he isn’t good enough- he has a gold-medal in the Olympics with Team USA. Jordan just hasn’t made it to the All-Star festivities, so his Dunk Contest debut will be very interesting. Not to mention, Jordan leads the league this season with 150 dunks. His in-game dunks are emphatic and ferocious, but will he be able to bring that intensity to the contest?

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The next contestant is Glenn Robinson III, son of Glenn Robinson II, a former No. 1 overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. A former Michigan standout, Robinson has been relatively quiet in his few seasons with the Pacers. He currently averages 22.3 minutes per game, and his workload has been increasing slightly in recent months. Nobody can really jumpstart their career at a dunk contest, but it will be a great chance for the young player to market himself and get his name out there more among casual NBA fans.

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Derrick Jones Jr. is the final contestant, and he is an even fresher face in the league than Robinson. Jones, a rookie with the Phoenix Suns, has been splitting time between the NBA and the Northern Arizona Suns, the Phoenix Sun’s D-league team. It doesn’t really take a “good” NBA player to make a good dunker, so it could be fun watching the 19 year-old use his athleticism to compete against the three other players.

Will this be the best dunk contest ever?  Hell no. Will it be better than last year? Maybe. Who cares? It’ll be on Saturday night, so crack open a beer, watch Shaq crack jokes for two hours, and enjoy some damn dunks!

 

 

 

Top 4 League All-Star Weekends

Ah, the All-Star games. While nobody is ever lining up outside a bar to get in and watch the All-Star game, it provides for a somewhat entertaining event. The constant battle between fans wanting athletes to take it seriously while also wanting six Hail Mary touchdowns in one quarter makes for an impossible scenario in which to enjoy the game.

One of the issues with these games is the leagues’ inability to pin down exactly what fans want to see. It seems like every year, they switch up the formula to try and get people to pay attention, just to confuse casual fans with a bunch of nonsense.

Some leagues do it better than others, but all four need some work. Here’s the big four U.S. sports leagues’ All-Star Weekend festivities, based on entertainment value:

  1. NFL Pro Bowl

The NFL Pro Bowl has never been known for holding anyone on the edge of their seat. For years, fans have complained that there is no defense, no competitive spirit and no effort. On top of that, many of the NFL’s actual pro-bowlers end up rejecting the offer to play in the game. Back in 2013, the league tried to spice things up by allowing former NFL stars to draft their own teams. This continued for several seasons, but in 2016 they reverted back to the traditional AFC v. NFC format. This year, the teams actually played some defense, and it still wasn’t that interesting. The AFC won 20-13, with Travis Kelce winning the MVP.

For the first time, however, the Pro Bowl wasn’t the only event of the weekend. This season, the NFL added on a Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. While it didn’t offer quite the same excitement that the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or Three Point Contest provide, the NFL may have something worth keeping around a few more years to see if it catches on. Any time you can get grown men to compete against each other catching footballs from a drone, it might be worth another look.

It seems odd that the most popular sports league in America has one of the least interesting “All-Star” events, but with the popularity of the NFL, the ceiling is very high if they can find something to latch on to.

  1. NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL All-Star Weekend is probably the weirdest out of all four major sports. Instead of one game, the NHL plays three 20-minute games in a 3-on-3 elimination tournament, with a semi-final and final round occurring after elimination play. In addition to this, the NHL has a skills challenge similar to the NBA.

After John Scott in 2016, the NHL was fighting an uphill battle if they were trying to increase popularity with their All-Star Game. The bizarre concept that an unknown enforcer from the Phoenix Coyotes could get voted in, win the MVP and actually play well baffled minds everywhere, and made a lot of headlines in the process.

This year, there were several interesting storylines. A few days before the weekend was set to get underway, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told the Colombus Dispatch that he had a family matter to attend to and would not be able to coach the Metropolitan Division. In his place, Wayne Gretzky stepped in. Gretzky’s last official coaching experience came from 2005-09, when he was head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons.

However, the real talent here was Ilya Bryzgalov. For those unfamiliar with him, he’s the one who brought us this gem:

Also, the dude has some deep thoughts on everything from the universe to Russian booze, as we see in this clip from Episode 1 of HBO’s 24/7 Flyers v. Rangers from the 2012 NHL Winter Classic:

This year, they let him be a guest reporter for All-Star weekend, and the results were exactly what you might expect:

And of course, he asks the universally unknown question: is a hot dog a sandwich?

  1. MLB All-Star Weekend

The MLB is the only league to put a real stake in their All-Star game, and they usually end up being pretty damn interesting. In recent years, the retirements of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz have given the All-Star Game more attention, and the Home Run Derby almost always delivers on our expectations.

The Home Run Derby has given us plenty of action the past few years, with Yoenis Cespedes going back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and Todd Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton followed up the following years.

The MLB also has the advantage of holding their All-Star festivities in July, the worst month for sports. Because of this, it’s one of the only interesting things going on all month, and it looks a lot better.

  1. NBA All-Star Weekend

The NBA does a great job promoting All-Star Weekend, and despite the lack of stars in the Slam Dunk Contest, it almost always ends up being a great show. Plus, there was that time last year that Kevin Hart accidentally beat Draymond Green in a 3-point contest.

Hopefully we get the same great theater this year. The league has been using #NBAVote to allow fans to have a say this year, but now players also can chime in. Some players have been campaigning with fans in order to secure a nomination, while others don’t seem to care as much.

The Three-Point Shootout will be interesting this year as well- Steph Curry won in 2015, while teammate Klay Thompson took the crown the following year. Who knows, maybe KD will take it now? NBA All-Star Weekend is only a couple weeks away, and while nobody is really out here getting pumped up for an All-Star game, let’s just hope it will at least be.. mildly entertaining.

Wizards Wear All Black vs. Celtics, Avoid Embarrassment By Actually Winning

If you were to rate the NBA’s most heated rivalries, Celtics/Wizards would not be very high on the list. As a matter of fact, many people might not have even realized that the two teams have any sort of beef with each other, but the Wizards set us straight on that last night.

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The Wizards showed up to the Verizon Center in all black for last night’s game against the Celtics, presumably to show them that they weren’t f***ing around this time.

It was the third time the two teams would face off this season. In the first game, John Wall got into a spat with Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder did the only logical thing to respond- touch John Wall’s nose (yeah, we don’t know either).

Due to the heated nature of the first two games, the Wizards must’ve felt like they needed to channel their inner Oakland Raiders and wear all black to set the tone:

Second only to predicting a championship and not winning one, nothing is an all-in risk like wearing all black for intimidation and getting beat down at home, so the Wizards immediately raised their stakes in this mid-season match up.

As for the Celtics in this situation? They entered last night’s action with a 26-17 record, tied for second in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors. Toronto has been free-falling lately, however, dropping four games in a row to the 76ers, Hornets, Suns and Spurs.

Before the game, a reporter showed Isaiah Thomas the videos above, to which Thomas simply replied “that’s cute”.

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Thomas would go on to lead the Celtics with 25 points and 13 assists, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome a combined 58 points from Bradley Beal and John Wall; the Wizards would go on to win 123-108.

Despite the loss, the Celtics find themselves in a very favorable position in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors continue to slide, the Celtics have a wide-open lane to second place in the east. On top of this, five out of the Celtics’ next six games will be home at the TD Garden. This includes a pivotal game against the Raptors next Wednesday that could push them to the top of the division with a win.