The playoffs are coming.
Sixteen title aspirants from across North America have reached the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Among that group, only a select few franchises have true claims on the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Two will reach the 2014 NBA Finals. Only one will emerge victorious and live forever in basketball history. The NBA's postseason will unfold as the fourth season of "Game Of Thrones" plays out on HBO during April, May and into June. In both unpredictable dramas, egos and strategies will clash as legacies are forged and broken.
“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.” -Cersei Lannister
With elite basketball players dominating the action on the court as well as the plotting during the offseason to such an extreme extent relative to other professional leagues, the NBA-GOT mashup has become increasingly popular since HBO first brought George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice And Fire" series to the small screen. Grantland, Bleacher Report and others have reveled in the parallels between the NBA's annual playoff chase and the ongoing battle for the Iron Throne at King's Landing in Westeros in years past. With HBO's adaptation of Martin's unfinished epic delivering gasp-inducing twists with seemingly every new episode and the NBA's constantly shifting landscape, these two unrelated realms make for endless combinations and fresh comparisons each season.
For decades, the NBA's Iron Throne has been held by a small set of powerful houses. Since 1984, only eight teams have claimed the Larry O'Brien Trophy as NBA champions. In place of sigils, NBA franchises have logos. In place of words, they increasingly have playoff slogans and hashtags. In 2014, the Miami Heat will look to win a third consecutive title while a host of rivals from various locales around the continent will attempt to usurp them. Here are some of the parallels between characters in "Game Of Thrones" as Season 4 heats up and key players in the 2014 NBA Playoffs:
NOTE ON SPOILERS: The winner of the 2014 NBA Finals is not named below but details of certain events from Season 4 of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" may be found. All GOT references are to the HBO series as opposed to Martin's books.
Miami Heat: The Lannisters
With two titles in two seasons and three of the game's biggest stars at his feet, Miami Heat team president Pat Riley is the NBA's Tywin Lannister. Riles has risen through the NBA ranks, amassing a fortune in championship rings and league-wide respect. Sunny and wealthy South Beach is the Association's Lannisport and AmericanAirlines Arena its Casterly Rock. That would make the Heat's Big Three the hoops stand-ins for the trio of Lannister children who drive so much of the action and intrigue in Westeros.
The undervalued Chris Bosh seems to be the underestimated Tyrion of the Heatles with the oft-injured Dwyane Wade filling the role of the vainglorious, valiant and maimed Jaime. That would leave LeBron James as Cersei, beautiful to behold but terrible in her single-minded pursuit of power. United they can seem unbeatable.
(GIF via @CoupNBA)
As far as Joffrey, the Heat's three main stars treat point guard Mario Chalmers as if he were a young problem child but it is likely that there are some fans in Miami who would be better cast as the spoiled brat offspring of Jaime and Cersei.
Will these fans be celebrating another title in Miami? Or will they be shocked by a Purple Wedding?
Toronto Raptors: The Wildlings
The surprising Toronto Raptors are the NBA's wildlings storming down from beyond a northern border. With general manager Masai Ujiri in the role of Mance Rayder, the Raptors managed to win the Atlantic Division away from the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks with a 48-34 record. Nobody expects the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs to be factor in the title race but nobody expected them to get this far either. Watch out for the #NorthernUprising.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 17, 2014
Oklahoma City Thunder: Daenerys And Her Dragons
Just as fans of "Game Of Thrones" on HBO have been waiting for the young Targareyan princess and her menagerie of dragons to finally set sail -- or fly? -- to war in the Seven Kingdoms, NBA fans have been waiting for the Oklahoma City Thunder to mature into NBA champions. With a savvy that made him the darling of the league, Thunder general manager Sam Presti gathered three young dragons to him in the NBA outpost of Oklahoma City. He drafted Kevin Durant in Seattle and later added Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the team moved to the Midwest. Unlike Daenerys, Presti willingly parted with one of his young dragons over money. Even without Harden, Durant has emerged as the most devastating offensive force in the game and has four scoring titles in five years straight to prove it.
(GIF via @JDonSports)
When healthy, Westbrook brings an athleticism that few match.
(GIF via @JDonSports)
The Thunder appeared in the 2012 NBA Finals but were defeated by the Miami Heat. At the time, the Thunder's defeat was widely viewed as a prelude to future successes. Is their time finally coming?
(GIF via @JarettSays)
Chicago Bulls: The Starks
Both the Chicago Bulls and Starks of Winterfell manage to remain stoic and formidable after the losses of great leaders. Even after losing point guard Derrick Rose to another knee injury and trading away Luol Deng during the 2013-2014 NBA season, the Bulls still secured the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. With head coach Tom Thibodeau pushing his team to play a relentless, disciplined brand of basketball that would met Ned's approval and Joakim Noah displaying a court vision that only a warg could really understand, the Bulls will have home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series with the Washington Wizards.
(GIF via @MrTrpleDouble10)
As tragedy befalls each group, new leaders keep emerging. When Eddard Stark lost his head, Robb Stark took the lead. After Robb was felled at the Red Wedding at the end Season 3, Arya, Bran and Jon Snow all began Season 4 looking capable of controlling the fates of many. Even previously woebegone Sansa seemed like she could have had a hand in the events of the Purple Wedding.
In Chicago, Noah emerged as a dynamic playmaker and teammates D.J. Augustin, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson stepped up alongside Carlos Boozer after Rose went down and Deng was shipped out. Together they've kept the Bulls in the mix and ensured that winter is still coming, even if they'd prefer it weren't.
Brooklyn Nets: House Tyrell
The words of House Tyrell are "Growing Strong" and the family from Highgarden has shown it will do anything and side with anyone to grow stronger. Matrimony and money joined the Tyrells to the Lannisters by Season 4 after a short-lived marriage between Margaery and Renly Baratheon. In the NBA, the Nets joined with longtime rivals Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in hopes of chasing a title. These are connections of ambition not love.
Instead of Lady Olenna's purse, the money funding the Nets' pursuit of power comes from Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Neither seems to mind spending freely on the finer things in life provided everyone knows they're picking up the bill.
(GIF via @NetsDaily)
San Antonio Spurs: The White Walkers
The White Walkers beyond The Wall can only aspire to have the staying power of the San Antonio Spurs. Suggesting they're on their way to such prolonged relevance, those Walkers do seem to have a leader with the same in-game interview charisma as Spurs head coach Gregg Poppovich.
With Tim Duncan (37), Manu Ginobli (36) and Tony Parker (31) all on the wrong side of age 30, the Spurs marched to an NBA-best regular-season record of 62-20. To the horror of Western Conference opponents, Poppovich and his veteran players seem to be able to infect any young player they draft or sign with some sort of cold-blooded Spursiness.
(GIF via @theScore)
It would seem that no mortal force would be able to defeat the Spurs or the White Walkers but such victories are apparently possible. The Spurs were seemingly just seconds from winning the 2013 NBA Finals when Ray Allen drained a game-tying, series-extending three-point shot for the Miami Heat.
Will such a miraculous eleventh-hour stroke save the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers?
Los Angeles Clippers: The Martells
A family and franchise that both seem to be increasingly dangerous to more established powers. With Chris Paul at the point and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan jousting around the rim, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference behind the Spurs and Thunder.
(GIFs via @HPbasketball)
Their fast-paced style of play is fun for fans but can be vicious to opponents. Two episodes into Season 4, it seems that the same could be said of Oberyn Martell. Like the Clippers in Los Angeles, Oberyn is the second son in Dorne. Like the Clippers, he seems to be looking to step into the spotlight. The Dornish prince arrived in King's Landing ready to love and to fight.
Whatever they're doing, it can be hard to take your eyes of either group.
Indiana Pacers: Stannis Baratheon
At times during the 2013-2014 season, the Indiana Pacers seemed to have a strong claim to being the NBA's best team. Likewise, Stannis has had the strongest claim on the Iron Throne after his older brother, King Robert, died. Unfortunately, neither team seems to inflame the passions of neutral fans.
Beloved or not, both Stannis and the Pacers have a chance to win their respective games of thrones. The Pacers edged the more popular Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Stannis dispatched his younger and more popular brother, Renly. The fortunes of both will likely depend on the success of two fiery individuals: Melisandre, a Red Priestess of the Lord of Light, and Lance Stephenson, a combustible triple-double machine from Brooklyn. Both bring a rare combination of passions and powers but both also seem to be capable of inspiring a mutiny or other sort of internal strife at any moment.
(GIF via @SBNationGIF)
Ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern: Varys
The Master of Whispers on the small council, Varys is renowned for his voluminous knowledge of other people's secrets. He sometimes seems to be directing the action in King's Landing while playing the role of an adviser. David Stern stepped down in February after 30 years as the leader of the NBA. The kings of the court came and went, rose and retired. For three decades, Stern worked behind the scenes for the good of the realm as well as at behest of the 30 franchise owners. Is he really going to totally disappear?
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Littlefinger
After years being the man behind the man, Adam Silver succeeded David Stern as NBA Commissioner in February. The 50-year-old has not wasted time in setting up his agenda, speaking about ads on jerseys and addressing the age limit in college basketball. He's a man with ambition.
Referee Dick Bavetta: Grand Maester Pycelle
While both worked quite hard to achieve such longevity in their fields they seem to be better known for their age than their acumen at this point. Longtime NBA official Dick Bavetta was honored by the NBA during the first week of April for refereeing his 2,633rd consecutive regular-season game.
Dwight Howard: The Hound
Are they heroes? Are they villains? Are they truly at their best in supporting roles where they get to defend for more important leaders? While viewer perception of Rockets center Dwight Howard and Sandor Clegane seems to change from season to season, both big men have proven themselves formidable opponents in battle.
After a turbulent season with the Los Angeles Lakers that didn't include a postseason trip, Howard helped the Houston Rockets to the fourth seed in the 2014 Western Conference Playoffs. A change of scenery also did the warrior known as "The Hound" some good. Formerly the bodyguard of Joffrey, he is now protecting and mentoring Arya Stark. In the NBA, Howard has traded in jockeying for position alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles to protecting the paint in Houston for James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
As both Martin's known world and the two conferences of the NBA are home to more characters and intrigues than can easily be catalogued, please volunteer other connections in the comments section. Where do Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors fit in? What about Brienne of Tarth and those Boltons?