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Players and politicians: Dynamic duos in the stretch

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Created by Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor (Photos:  TNS)

Created by Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor (Photos: TNS)

Created by Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor (Photos: TNS)

By Chris Puzia / Contributing Editor

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While basketball teams are jockeying for positions in the NBA playoffs, an entirely different race to knock off competition is unfolding across the country.

Few have ventured to link the two competitions, but there’s enough big personalities — and certainly equal national attention — in both arenas to merit comparison.

After the primary results Tuesday night, some presidential candidates may be seeking new lines of work. In case Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz are ever interested in pairing up with an NBA doppelganger to kick start their basketball careers, The Pitt News has come through with some bipartisan recommendations.

The Playground Bullies: Donald Trump and Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Both made names for themselves early in their careers and have relied heavily on those reputations to sail through the past couple of years. Howard earned his bruiser reputation dominating with the Orlando Magic in the early 2000s, and Trump will never let an audience forget his history of real estate success or extensive business credentials.

Howard’s temperament, spotlighted by his public conflict with former coach Stan van Gundy, has forced him to jump around from Orlando to Los Angeles to Houston. Similarly, Trump, who secured the win in the primaries Tuesday night, tends to steer toward conflict with his fellow nominees — just check his Twitter feed for proof.

The Familiar Faces: Hillary Clinton and LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron burst onto the NBA scene after forgoing college as an 18-year-old. While The King is still holding on to his prime at 31 years old, his fans feel like he’s been around the league forever. Likewise, Clinton’s varied political experience — from First Lady to Senator to Secretary of State to Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 and 2016 — makes her an longtime political pro.

While controversy has marred each figure’s name in the past, LeBron always figures into the NBA title race and Clinton still projects as a leading presidential candidate. James’ big “Decision” in 2010 to leave Miami sent a rift through the sports world as rattling as Clinton’s email scandal.

The pair may seem like old news — outdated by the Bernie Sanders and Steph Currys of their respective leagues, but with their track records are impressive.

The Closers: Ted Cruz and Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Cruz has a reputation for grinding and slowing the political process down when he senses a loss. In 2013, Cruz filibustered for more than 21 hours and resorted to reading “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor. Shortly after, he led the charge to shut down the government at the end of the year.

Allen famously closed Kevin Durant down in the 2014 playoffs, earning his nickname, “The Grindfather.” He’s the key piece in Memphis’ habitual effort to focus only on defense and hit the brakes on the other teams. The slightly different arena moniker, “The Grindhouse” makes it clear to other teams: don’t cross the Grizzlies or their three-time All-Defensive First Team player.

An opponent who attacks Allen on the court will likely face his swift revenge. The same applies to Cruz: when political adversaries cross him, he’s sure to retaliate, as his recent faceoffs against Trump would attest. Cruz has no problem turning his political colleagues against him — they almost unanimously panned him during the filibuster effort.

The Geezers: Bernie Sanders and Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

The first obvious comparison is age: Sanders is 74 years old and Duncan is 39 — each at the twilight of his respective career.

But it would be foolish to think either of these old-timers has passed his prime: Duncan’s 2014 NBA Championship win was supposed to be the capstone on a Hall of Fame career. Instead, he came out this year as a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Sanders, meanwhile, entered the Democratic race last year looking like a clear second — or possibly third — place finisher, but with strong early primaries, \ has made himself into a serious first-place contender.

There is one difference between the two personalities’ game plans: Duncan is markedly less … what’s the right way to say this — prone to yelling. His fiery peak came in 2007, when refs mysteriously ejected him for laughing with his teammates while sitting on the bench.

The Up-and-Comers: Marco Rubio and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Rubio has trailed Trump and Cruz in the polls for much of the election season, including during Iowa’s January caucus. Still, many political pundits predict the Florida senator will take the win.

Westbrook, also, has long been second seat to teammate Kevin Durant. But Westbrook was last year’s NBA scoring champion and boasts prolific numbers this season. He certainly has the ability to emerge as the leader in his own “party,” the Thunder. He’s also a “general election” favorite: the Thunder trail the Warriors and Spurs right now, but could still cinch the top spot in the end.

The Benchwarmers: Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore and The Philadelphia 76ers

This one is easy. Sure, those three nominees are “technically” in the 2016 presidential race, the same way the Philadelphia 76ers are “technically” an NBA team. The 8-44 Sixers are on pace to, once again, lock up the league’s worst record.

The three Republicans listed above received a combined 11.2 percent of the Iowa caucus vote (Gilmore got 12 votes. Not percent, total votes). Former Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley and his 0.6 percent in Iowa would have also been included, but he’s since hung up his jersey and walked off the court.

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Players and politicians: Dynamic duos in the stretch