Getting us prepped for the first round of the playoffs the only way we can, by comparing every series to movie rivals.

Lakers vs. Portland as Saruman vs. the Ents from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Much like Saruman, Portland had their time in the sun. For Portland that time was the NBA’s 8 seeding games, for Saruman it was the first 2/3rds of The Two Towers. Saruman bested Gandalf much like the Blazers banished the Grizzlies. And then bred a Uruk-hai army from goo much like Dame conjured Gary Trent Jr. (from nowhere) and raised Nurkic from the dead.

But also like Saruman, Portland’s reign of terror will come to swift and dramatic end. Saruman ignited the Ents fury by destroying their land, and similarly the Lakers have been triggered by the narrative shifting against them. Like the Ents, the Lakers are too big—Anthony Davis, LeBron James, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, and Kyle Kuzma—too strong, and too relentless, and with the Bubble court serving as the stage/Isengard of this tale, LA will lay waste to Saruman/Lillard and his army.

Lakers in 5

Clippers vs. Dallas as Frank Abagnale Jr vs. the FBI from Catch Me If You Can

Luka is Frank Abagnale through and through. Astronomical talent—in real life Frank passed the Illinois Bar by studying for two weeks! Both are profoundly gifted, charming, malleable, and masters of their crafts. Like Frank, Luka will hold off the FBI—or in this case Los Angeles Clippers—for quite some time. I can see this series going 6 or 7. But, in due time… the house always wins (probably should have saved this metaphor for the next comparison, but whatever). The Clippers are a title-built machine and are entering the playoffs ready for a marathon not a sprint. Like Carl Hanratty, Kawhi is boring, hardworking, and uncompromisingly determined. He may not catch Frank/Luka in Game 1, or even game two. But do you think he’ll be rattled? Oh no. No he won’t.

Clippers in 7

Denver vs. Utah as Oceans 11 vs. Terry Benedict in Oceans 11

Terry Benedict is a rich and powerful older man. He owns a casino and controls everything that takes place within it. This is reminiscent of certain Mr. Donovan Mitchell, a rich and powerful (in this case) young man who carries this Jazz franchise on his back like it’s a casino that he wants humming at full capacity. Both also had partners who turned on them. For Mitchell it was his teammate Rudy Gobert on account of COVID, for Terry it was his wife Tess on account of Danny Ocean.

But man, that Ocean team is deep and they just keep coming at you. Very much like the Denver Nuggets. If Jokic and Murray are Danny and Rusty, MPJ is no question the young upstart, Matt Damon’s Linus. Both Terry and Donovan, are hard nosed, tough, and resourceful. They will fight and fight proudly, but in the end, like Danny’s crew before them, the Nuggets will prove too dynamic and too talented to be countered.

Denver in 6

Houston vs. OKC as Caster Troy vs. Sean Archer in Face/Off

Russ and CP3 traded teams like Sean and Caster traded faces. I honestly can’t remember who wins in the movie or even who is who… I think Nicolas Cage is the good guy? It doesn’t even matter.

This matchup subsumes two stylistically opposed, but even matched teams, and it’s going to be a blood bath. Do we know when Russ is coming back? Game 2? No. The answer is we don’t really know when he’s coming back or what he’ll look like when he does. I hear quad injuries are not good. All I do know is I recently turned on Face/Off and couldn’t turn it off. And I believe the same will be true for me and this series.

Houston in 7

Bucks vs. Magic as the Iceberg vs. Jack Dawson in Titanic

Like the Magic in the playoffs, Jack Dawson didn’t really know how he got on the Titanic. Had some good times—which hell, maybe the Magic will too!—but ultimately… you’re going up against an iceberg and you going down.

Bucks in 5

Toronto vs Brooklyn as Mulan vs judgement in Mulan

Listen, Mulan’s society judged her for wanting to be a soldier. Our society judged Toronto when they lost Kawhi (much like when Mulan’s father lost his ability to fight for the army). But she didn’t listen. She transformed herself into something stronger, more fierce, and more powerful than ever before. And ultimately saved China. Can the Raptors save their version of China and repeat as Champs? (Whispers: between you and me, yes.)

Toronto in 4

Celtics vs. Sixers as Batman vs. Joker in The Dark Knight

Who are the Sixers? I have no clue! They’ve been trippin’ all season and with Simmons injured, they’re somehow crazier than ever. Reminds me of the Joker! The Sixers change their identify as often as the Joker changed his face scar story. Obviously there’s genius potential on both sides, but how will it manifest? Meanwhile Jayson Tatum has legitimately earned his cape as Defender of Gotham/Boston and if Brad Stevens isn’t Alfred, I don’t know who is.

Boston in 6

Indiana vs. Miami as Phil Connors vs. The Time Loop in Groundhog Dog

Both Punxsutawney and Indiana are mundane. (Though some of those early nights where Phil really went for it remind me of the swag of a healthy Oladipo.) But more importantly, they are both unrelenting. Just as the days repeat incessantly for Phil, the Indiana Pacers attack you quarter after quarter, after tired quarter. And yet, while the time loop presses ever forward, as Phil proved over and over again, it doesn’t kill ya. And neither will the Pacers. The Miami Heat are too tough, too talented, and loaded with too much artillery. Like Phil before them, they will solve this puzzle and move on.

Miami in 6