Another AFC championship loss and the Chiefs’ run will begin to resemble the Pistons of the 2000s

The early-aughts Pistons always got close, but only brought it home once.

Over the last five years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been the closest thing we’ve seen to a dynasty in the NFL. Having won only one Super Bowl, the clock is ticking on their opportunity to claim the dynasty title. Playing in five consecutive AFC title games is an accomplishment but bringing home just one Vince Lombardi trophy is strikingly reminiscent of another almost/mini-dynasty team in another sport.

The NBA’s Detroit Pistons of the 2000s, led by Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Chauncey Billups, were mainstays in the Eastern Conference Finals between 2003 and 2008. Detroit advanced to the ECF six years in a row. That was something that hadn’t really been done by an NBA franchise with no superstar. In the end, like Kansas City, Detroit brought back one Larry O’Brien to Motown.

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While the Chiefs and Pistons play vastly different sports and were built with contrasting styles, their journeys to winning are quite similar. Andy Reid’s Chiefs went to their first AFC title game during the ’18 campaign and lost to New England. KC followed that up by making a run to the next two Super Bowls, winning the first over San Francisco and losing the second to Tampa Bay. They’ve advanced to two more conference championship games since then, including their upcoming matchup with Cincinnati in this year’s AFC title game.

Detroit’s run breaks down pretty much the same way. These Pistons made it to the ECF for the first time in ’02-03, losing to the New Jersey Nets. The next year Detroit got over the hump, upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, in five games in the NBA Finals. That was followed up by another Finals appearance where the Pistons lost to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. After that, Detroit returned to three straight ECF but never played in another NBA Finals.

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Dynasty or bust

If the Chiefs lose to the Bengals again on Sunday and fail to make it back to the Super Bowl, this could be the fate of this team very soon. The most significant difference aside from the sport is the Chiefs have the biggest superstar in football leading their team. And that’s what will make this run even more wasteful if they can’t squeeze another Super Bowl victory out of this dominant run. Having a generational talent like Patrick Mahomes and only winning one ring in a five or six-year span should be criminal.

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After the first one, many figured the Chiefs would have won at least two by now, if not three. Sunday isn’t a legacy game for Mahomes individually because he’s got so many years ahead of him. But for this team’s current lot of players, the time to reach that dynastic level is running out. Failing again in the AFC Championship game brings this run of dominance down a notch. What they’ve managed to build in Kansas City has been something to behold. Hell, at the least, they’ve been the most exciting team to watch during this time. You couldn’t say the same about those Pistons teams unless defense makes you feel all tingly inside.

For the Chiefs, Sunday is a must-win in terms of team legacy. You can’t keep knocking at the door and not walk through it again. Yes, it could be worse. They could be the Buffalo Bills, who went to four Super Bowls in a row and couldn’t win one. At least these Chiefs climbed that hurdle early, but now it’s about stacking up rings and building on that legacy. Of the four remaining teams, KC needs a win most on Sunday. They need another Super Bowl now because the Chiefs are the only team with a dynasty hanging in the balance. 

Nic Claxton is major reason why the Brooklyn Nets have played so well lately

Nic Claxton

Thursday night’s playoff rematch between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets will be like many big-time NBA regular-season matchups — incomplete.

Kevin Durant is currently out with an MCL sprain, and Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable after suffering an adductor injury during the Celtics’ Wednesday night victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The game will still have Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum — barring any last-minute changes — but a player who will be worth watching just as much as the stars is rising star Nic Claxton.

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He is currently playing the best basketball of his four-season career. Claxton is currently averaging 11.9 points per game and 8.3 rebounds, while also leading the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.6) and field goal percentage (73.8).

Of all the concerns that the Nets had off the court at the beginning of the season, their basketball weakness was considered to be size and defense. The Nets let one of their best defenders — Bruce Brown — walk in free agency. With Durant aging, and an undersized backcourt, it was reasonable to assume that unless Ben Simmons could guard every position at the same time, the Nets would have a below average NBA defense.

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For those who were dubious on the Nets’ defense prior to the start of this season, they forgot about Claxton. During last season’s embarrassing first-round performance that resulted in the Nets getting swept by Celtcs, Claxton and a handful of other role players helped keep those games close. He didn’t start in the series, but still played 24.5 minutes per game. When he was on the floor the Nets’ defensive rating improved by 9.4 points per 100 possessions.

That series was merely a glimpse of Claxton’s versatile defensive arsenal. He is now their starting center and excellent in the paint. Of players who have six or more shots attempted against 6 feet or less from the rim against them per game, only Jaren Jackson Jr. is holding opponents to a lower field-goal percentage.

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Claxton is also great on the perimeter. The Nets switch everything on defense, and one reason they are successful in doing so is Claxton’s ability to guard perimeter players. A team that sometimes has Irving, Seth Curry, and Joe Harris on the floor at the same time is currently eighth in defensive rating. That doesn’t happen without long players who can switch. The Nets have several, and their best might be Claxton.

His biggest weakness is his free throw shooting. Claxton shot 60-plus during each of the last two months of the previous regular season, so there was hope that he was improving. This season he is shooting 45.9 percent from the free-throw line. That gives the Nets two key contributors in him and Ben Simmons who shoot under 50 percent from the charity stripe.

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It hasn’t sunk the offense yet. The Nets still have the third-best offensive rating in the league. Even though Claxton is a poor NBA free-throw shooter, he is still averaging a career-high in points per game. Sure he can catch the lob, but his entire low-post game is significantly better than it was last season, which is why he is leading the league in field-goal percentage. In 2021-22 he made 14.3 percent of his attempts from 5 to 9 feet away from the rim. This season, he is converting at 45.4 percent from that distance.

Without Durant for a few weeks, it will be a struggle for the Nets to continue their recent surge up the Eastern Conference standings. However, with Claxton playing like a Most Improved Player candidate, the Nets know that if they are healthy when the postseason arrives, they have as good a chance as any team in the East to make the NBA Finals.