Another day, another half of America’s finest sports league. In the conclusion of V1’s two-part preview of this year’s NBA playoffs, we turn to the readily-dismissed Eastern Conference, whose top seeds have emerged as contenders amidst a field of lower-hanging fruit and also-rans. Yet devoted fans of all eight squads will be pleased to know that we’ve got great reading recommendations custom-made for each crew. Whether your team of choice is one and done or going all the way, you’ll be too enraptured by the book selections to even lift your head upward to the sports bar Sony. Read on and take notes, but remember the sage words of a young Charles Barkley: “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” With that in mind, support your local independent: go buy these books!
#1: The Miami Heat
Prone to pronouncements that garner scoffs from the press? Unquestionably talented even in your most diva moments? Self-serious, but only out of true love of the game? Most likely to go down in the history books as the best of your generation, regardless of how fans may dispute the matter? Are we talking about Lebron James or Jonathan Franzen? Both, you blog-a-dummies! Argue the merits of the elite after reading Franzen’s lesser-known non-fiction in his latest essay collection Farther Away. Finishing twelve games ahead of every other team is one thing. Being nerd-tastically into birding is another. But employing power forward Udonis Haslem, the only player in the league whose name can be anagrammed into “Demolish Anus”? Priceless.
#2: The New York Knickerbockers
A local dynasty is reborn under the expert tutelage of Carmelo Anthony, a man who looks like he lives on Skittles and cocoa. The absence of beloved rogue Amare Stoudamire didn’t keep the Knicks from making everyone save the Heat look foolish this season. On Sunday they rallied against a depleted Celtics assembly to come from behind and win. To bookishly represent the Knicks, you need to be a local legend, a veteran success story, and rocking newfound swagger and a kind of devilish charm. Who better than Rosie Schaap, Times columnist extraordinaire and author of recent delight Drinking with Men? None better, that’s who.
#3: The Indiana Pacers
Defiance of bicoastal elitism, under-the-radar bestseller status, and rocking two first names as your whole name. If you had Pacers small forward Paul George and Beautiful Ruins author Jess Walter matched as bosom buddies, you win! The Pacers are a team that has stunned everyone with tenacious defense under the boards: as the best rebounders in the league (and #2 overall in points allowed), they create shocking numbers of opportunities to score and vital persistence against opponents. Such is Walter’s relentless approach, releasing three novels and a collection of short stories within the last five years. Just as the Pacers have become unlikely fan favorites, Walter is moving hella units in recent months, as a Carver-and-Delillo-style juggernaut who seems to be on the shelves and desks of everyone you know.
#4: Your Brooklyn Nets
A lot of enthusiasm from the hip kids and heavy expectations didn’t detour our borough’s beloved Nets. The 4 seed/5 seed split is the most dangerous in first-round affairs: evenly matched teams can shock and tear down one another. But just as the burdens of hype didn’t keep the Nets from producing all season, so too was The Flamethrowers author Rachel Kushner undeterred by high expectations from her prior novel Telex from Cuba and anticipatory buildup that garnered the cover of Bookforum and a myriad of online murmuring. And like Kushner’s mysterious character of motorcycle company heir Sandro Valera, one can easily picture power forward Reggie Evans mounting a chopper and riding into the sunset.
#5: The Chicago Bulls
It’s been a while since the release of your latest work, one that shocked the world and delivered you into the stratosphere of prodigy status. Slightly off the radar (if only while we anticipate your next work), you recall Derrick Rose as the youthful sensation who is gone but never forgotten (and as missed in this year’s playoffs as you were in last year’s). Amelia Gray, of the still badassed would-be murder mystery Threats? Your return to the court – like that of Rose – cannot come soon enough.
#6: The Atlanta Hawks
The short stories in Sam Lipsyte’s new collection The Fun Parts are a joy to read despite their subject matter of seemingly monstrous people (in whom Lipsyte is able to find great humor and humanity). The Hawks are the dirtiest players in the East, garnering the 3rd highest number of collected team and personal fouls this season, just behind San Antonio and the Lakers. Their small forward looks like the villain in a Van Damme movie, but everyone else is young, fun loving, and kinda goofy. The fast break style and nightly ear-to-ear grins of an Al Horford or a Devin Harris make them one of the most surprisingly lovable of all NBA teams, proving that like Lipsyte’s protagonists, sometimes you just need to get to know a bastard.
#7: The Boston Celtics
Adam Wilson. No one but the Metrowest-born, gravel-voiced sensation – author of Flatscreen and first writer to perform at over five hundred Volume 1 events and counting – has the temerity to represent the wicked pissah that is Boston. Is Wilson sweating it that he blew a surprising lead against the Knicks on Saturday? That wack analysts are suggesting he might be better off without injured team leader Rajon Rondo? That Kevin Garnett is too old and tired to carry out his patented routine of intimidating opponents by screaming and cursing at everyone in sight? Wilson – one of the most cool, calm, and composed writers in the business today – is taking it with a grain of salt. With rumors of a new novel on the horizon, can Wilson inspire the Celts, a team both too old and too young in varying positions, to unforeseen glory? Only time – and the prophetic, Paul Mall chain-smoking sea urchins seated on the stools at Flann O’Brien’s in Roxbury Crossing – can know for certain.
#8: The Milwaukee Bucks
You’re a lovable sort hailing from the pale side of the moon. People appreciate having you around despite difficulties in remembering your name. Ersan, was it? You come from a mysterious land unfamiliar to book industry snobs… something either called Wisconsin or Bosnia, we can’t recall which. You’re appreciated by the folks who really know the game, but have yet to break through in the ways you richly deserve. You’re the Bucks, brutally stacked up against the unbeatable Heat. But you’re also Aleksandar Hemon, whose spectacular and original memoir The Book of My Lives is a must-read that too few are reading. You’re too nice buncha guys to be quietly being downgraded on the OKCupid star rankings of life: fight, Milwaukee and Hemon, fight!