Which Marvel Movies Best Mirror NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Teams?


When Steve Rogers said, “This is the fight of our lives” in Avengers: Endgame, he wasn’t talking about the NBA Finals.

But it’s not hard to think of an NBA superstar using such a phrase for motivation in their quest for a championship.

In one way, the NBA and Marvel are on opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum — one being reality and the other science fiction. But the two share thrilling action, intriguing narratives and teams comprised of super talents.

As another NBA postseason kicks off, let’s look into where the vast universe of Marvel movies can provide Eastern Conference playoff teams inspiration, motivation and lessons to help with their playoff runs.

No. 1: Milwaukee Bucks – Iron Man

Everyone acknowledges that Tony Stark is a great genius. He has proven it, knows it and even basks in the praise that feeds his egotistical self.

Likewise, no one denies that the Bucks are a phenomenal basketball team. They proved it, know it and work to maintain that status.

For Milwaukee, Iron Man can serve as a reminder that you are in control of what comes of your work. Because the Bucks, like Iron Man, have much to lose. Even though they aren’t the reigning champions, this season’s title is theirs to lose as evidenced by the expectations from fans and the media. Outside voices can be a burden if you let them, but the right ones can be motivation and aid you in your goal.

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No. 2: Boston Celtics – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Both in terms of their storied history and recent seasons, the Celtics know success. They know what it’s like to be an elite team that is seen as such.

But this season’s abrupt coaching issues and change made for a shaky start. That issue, however, hasn’t deterred them. Boston remains one of the East’s best.

As the Celtics work toward their ultimate goal of the franchise’s 18th title, the team can find inspiration in the beloved Marvel classic Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers is no stranger to success and victory. Even in a new time, he learns to adapt and do good.

And when heartbreaking news changes not only his life but the world, Captain America stays true to his values and remains dedicated to his ultimate goal: fighting off and protecting others from evil.

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No. 3: Philadelphia 76ers – Doctor Strange

The Sixers are good, and they know it. Similarly, Dr. Stephen Strange is a world-class surgeon who knows, acknowledges and doesn’t waste an opportunity to show off his greatness.

But when you’re considered one of the best at something, there is much to lose. And Dr. Strange lost a lot — but also gained something magical once he started keeping an open mind.

So more than anything, perhaps Doctor Strange serves more of a warning as inspiration for the Sixers.

The Sixers are a talented team that made the postseason for the sixth-straight season. They know what it’s like to be a successful team but have yet to figure out become a championship team — let alone an NBA Finals-caliber team. James Harden and Joel Embiid — especially during a prime MVP-caliber season — are talents that should be treasured.

But it can’t be all about them. Philadelphia needs to stay aware and also utilize the talent they have beyond their superstar duo.

No. 4: Cleveland Cavaliers – Ant-Man

One of the defining characteristics of Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that he’s just this regular guy.

No one expects much of him. This is partially because of his criminal past as a cat burglar, but Scott Lang’s heart was in the right place. Regardless, even given his intelligence and engineering degree, others see Lang as just an everyman. But the Ant-Man origin film proves otherwise.

For the Cavaliers, fans never see the franchise as anything particularly special without LeBron James. But this season’s team demonstrated differently. They have — and can continue to — overcome low expectations and show they have skill and talent. Just like Ant-Man, they can prove they do indeed have more than just something to offer the league.

The Cavs can be a genuine threat, even with their disappointing defeat Saturday (because no superhero wins every time).

No. 5: New York Knicks – Guardians of the Galaxy

To put it simply, sometimes weird groups work.

The Knicks, for a long while now, have not been seen as the world-renowned franchise it once was. In recent years, with Tom Thibodeau at the helm, opinions have been all over the place. The belief in New York being one of the East’s best has not been a prominent thought in the NBA. But this year’s Knicks — and the strange combination of characters that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy — proves that things can work well even when everyone else doubts.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, the Guardians go from merely being a group of different species who can’t get along to becoming each other’s found family. More than that, to pay homage to Rocket the Raccoon, they save the freaking galaxy!

And if a human who grew up on a spaceship, an alien who’s a trained assassin, another alien who’s ridiculously strong, an anthropomorphic tree, and a talking raccoon can do that, then why can’t the Knicks have a great playoff run? And although citizens sometimes don’t appreciate their saviors, avid New York fans loved the Knicks’ Saturday success.

No. 6: Brooklyn Nets – Black Panther

When you have a star player (or a few) on your team, everything will inevitably become about them. It can be hard to escape and, sometimes, even more challenging to live up to the expectations that come with it. Having both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the Nets provided just those burdens.

But both are gone now. It frees Brooklyn of those shackles and gives them the chance to make their own way — just as T’Challa had in Black Panther.

Initially, in the groundbreaking Marvel film, T’Challa was still trying to live up to his deceased father T’Chaka’s legacy and fulfill the underlying expectations from his reign. But T’Challa grows into his own leader as the movie progresses, and that’s the kind of motivating story that can help remind the Nets of how to approach this playoff run.

No. 7: Atlanta Hawks – Daredevil

One of the best scenes in the Marvel TV series Daredevil comes in the pilot episode. Karen Page has been charged and brought to jail for a murder she claims not to have committed. Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson volunteered to be her legal team despite none of them have ever met or interacted before. Page asks the pair of lawyers how long they’ve been practicing law.

Murdock’s answer? “About seven hours.”

The Nelson and Murdock law firm may be inexperienced, but that doesn’t mean they’re not talented. And that’s the kind of mindset this young Hawks team needs to take into the playoffs. Because even if they’re statistically unlikely to go far in postseason play, they still need to make the most of it. Especially to help them with the (hopefully) successful seasons to come. 

No. 8: Miami Heat – Hawkeye

The Heat have an intriguing balance of seasoned veteran players and young up-and-coming stars. Though this season didn’t turn out as well as last year, the combination served well enough to get Miami to the playoffs — including a thriller play-in game against the Chicago Bulls.

In that contest that clinched the No. 8 seed for the Heat, Jimmy Butler and Max Strus led the way with stellar scoring performances of 31 points apiece. They were — and are — a great duo, just like Clint Barton and Kate Bishop in the Disney+ series Hawkeye.

In Hawkeye, Barton, the original Hawkeye, meets Bishop and ends up training her into an even more effective archer and fighter. It’s a story about passing on a legacy, accepting the future, and embracing the change to come. And, in several ways, that has been what the Heat’s season has been about as well. Hawkeye can remind Miami of the great mix of experience and youth it has and use that to help propel their postseason play.

The Never-Ending Story

Although each Marvel movie has a beginning and end, the cinematic universe continues unimpeded, with a new film always in theaters soon. (And there are more Avenger movies coming!) So, too, will this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs have a definitive winner, and seven also-rans.

But the story of basketball’s heart goes on. With labor peace refreshingly arrived, the NBA has never been in a healthier place. True, we don’t know if the Iron Man Bucks will fly to the East’s top.

Or maybe the Guardians save New York from more disappointment.

But no matter the outcome, for all eight franchises, next fall brings a new dawn. The multiverse always has room for more heroes.

Click here to view our Western Conference edition of this article.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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