The GWHH Definitive Guide to the Post-MJ/Scottie Bulls Postseasons (Pt. 1 of 2)

It’s Saturday morning as I write this, a sunny, somewhat warm Chicago day, meaning Joakim Noah won’t have to worry about snow much longer.

(And shout out to my dude Bryan Crawford for telling Noah about the snow.)

More importantly, we’re less than 36 hours away from tip-off of Bulls-Wizards Game 1, a series that makes the Bulls one of five teams to have nine postseason trips in the past ten years. (The others? The Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and Nuggets.)

Yes, it was nine years ago this week that the Bulls began their first postseason since John Stockton’s three-pointer clanked hopelessly off the Delta Center rim in 1998. After five last-place division finishes in six seasons (they finished third-from-last with a 30-win 2003), the Bulls won 45 games in 2005, earned the East’s 4 seed and hosted the Washington Wizards in a first-round series.

So it’s fitting that they’ll open their 9th postseason in ten years by once again hosting the Wizards. I’m a sucker for symmetry. This ten-year run is not the 14 straight playoffs we posted from ’85 to ’98. But it’s been steady, and a whole lot more fun than winning 25% of our games for six years.

Before we kick it off with Bulls-Wiz ’14, a look back at nine great seasons of Bulls playoff basketball, starting with…

Playoff Series Rankings
(Ordered on a scale of FUN to NOT FUN)

THE 1990s MICHAEL JORDAN DIVISION: TONS OF FUN

1. FIRST ROUND, 2007, 4-0 VS. MIAMI HEAT

While the 2009 Celtics series was unquestionably the most objectively fun series of the 12, I’d rather sweep the defending champs than lose to them in 7. Our first series win in the post-ring era was a brutalization of the defending champion Heat, with a breakout performance from Luol Deng who missed the ’05 playoffs and had three games in single digits in 2006.

He scored 33 points in Game 1, the top game among all players in the series, and averaged 26.3 points (tops in the series) and 9.0 rebounds, second only to Ben Wallace’s 9.8.

Deng’s performance even altered the course of subsequent NBA championships, since it was Deng’s high stock following this season that led Kobe Bryant to nix any Kobe-to-the-Bulls deal that sent Luol to L.A. and, in Kobe’s mind, leaving the Bulls underserved for a potential Kobe-Bulls championship.

2. FIRST ROUND, 2013, 4-3 AT BROOKLYN NETS

Like the ’07 Heat series, this series has one crucial element missing from the ’09 Celtics series — the Bulls won. Game 7 in Brooklyn with a depleted (and that’s being generous) Bulls lineup was one of the great efforts in Bulls playoffs history. (Here’s what I wrote after that game.) How banged up were the Bulls? Daequan Cook was on the floor when the buzzer sounded.

This series featured nail-biters in Games 3 (Bulls by 3) and 6 (Nets by 3), but the gem was the triple overtime Game 4, led by Nate Robinson’s 34 points, a Bulls franchise record for points scored by a reserve in a playoff game.

A year after getting knocked out by the 8th seed Sixers following a few, ahem, injuries, finding the strength to overcome the favored Nets despite setbacks was a powerful testament to will, work ethic and maximizing ones talent. A true gift to all those who witnessed it.

THE 1980s MICHAEL JORDAN DIVISION: LOTS OF HIGHLIGHTS, ULTIMATELY DISAPPOINTING

3. FIRST ROUND, 2009, 3-4 AT BOSTON CELTICS

It’s hard to lose a playoffs series and walk away thinking, “Hot damn, that was fun.” If it’s ever happened, it was in 2009. One year after seeming like the Eastern Conference’s next big thing, the Bulls fell apart in 2008, fired their coach, traded fan favorite Andres Nocioni for John Salmons and lucked into the draft’s #1 selection. With it came hometown boy Derrick Rose, the Rookie of the Year and future MVP who helped the Bulls win 11 of their final 14 games to finish 41-41, good for the East’s 7th seed and a date with the Celtics.

The series then turned into one ESPN Classic after another:

Game 1, TD Banknorth Garden, overtime: Bulls 105, Celtics 103

THE STORY: Rose scores 36 points, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for points in a playoff debut. His 11 assists made him the youngest player ever (20-years-old) to drop 35 points and 10 assists in a playoff game.

Game 2, TD Banknorth Garden: Celtics 118, Bulls 115

THE STORY: This game turned into a shootout between UConn guards, with Ben Gordon scoring 42 points and Ray Allen scoring 30 including the game-winning three. Gordon scored 14 points in the 4th quarter; Allen scored 12 all on three-pointers.

Game 3, United Center: Celtics 107, Bulls 86

THE STORY: Only dud of the series. Bulls were down 22 at the half and were booed by the hometown fans. Trailed by 34 with five minutes to go but scraped out the 21 point loss.

Game 4, United Center, double overtime: Bulls 121, Celtics 118

THE STORY: This is where the series came to life. In danger of falling behind the defending champs three games to one, the Bulls won a double overtime thriller most famous for Ben Gordon’s game-saving, sack-grabbing three at the end of the first overtime. Rose’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists were all team-highs — he was one assist shy from becoming the youngest player in league history to nab a postseason triple-double. (LeBron is the record holder — he did it twice as a 21-year-old.)

Game 5, TD Banknorth Garden, overtime: Celtics 106, Bulls 104

THE STORY: This is where the series turned ominous and spiteful. After Paul Pierce hit a jumper to give the C’s a two-point lead with 3.4 seconds remaining in OT, the Bulls ran an inbounds play that somehow got Brad Miller WIDE open at the top of the key. Miller took one dribble followed by two steps before rising for what was sure to be a game-tying layup.

Instead, with no other options, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo raked Miller across the face in a “block” attempt. The ball rimmed out and Miller fell to the ground. Dazed and bloodied — he needed ten stitches in his mouth after the game — Miller missed the first free throw to more or less end the game.

Game 6, United Center, triple overtime: Bulls 128, Celtics 127

THE STORY: This is where the series became legendary. The series was already the first in NBA history with three overtime games, and Game 6’s three overtimes gave it seven overtime periods for the series, also a record.

Game 6 is most famous for Joakim Noah’s steal-dribble-dunk sequence on Paul Pierce (my take from 2009) that gave the Bulls a three-point lead with 35 seconds left in the third OT, but don’t forget about Ray Allen scoring 51 points on a playoffs record-tying nine threes or big-time performances from Rose (28-8-7), Salmons (35 points) and Miller (23-10 off the bench).

Game 7, TD Banknorth Garden: Celtics 109, Bulls 99

THE STORY: The fairy tale ends. After leading at the end of the first, the Bulls get blown out in the second quarter 29-11 and never get closer than three points. Gordon scores 33 points in the final game of his Bulls career — perhaps fittingly, he was the team’s leading scorer in all four losses and none of the wins. (My Ben Gordon retrospective from 2009.)

THE SCOTTIE PIPPEN DIVISION: JUST GOOD FUN 

4. FIRST ROUND, 2011, 4-1 vs. INDIANA PACERS

5. SECOND ROUND, 2011, 4-2 vs. ATLANTA HAWKS

I’m lumping these two series together, because it was the domination of the Pacers combined with a solid defeat of the Hawks that made Bulls fans feel as if this team had turned a corner. Neither stands out as being a clearly more fun series than the other. The Indiana series was a thumping, but the Hawks series put us in our first Eastern Conference Finals since 1998.

Highlights of the 11 games were Rose scoring 39 in Game 1 vs. Indiana and 44 in Game 3 vs. Atlanta. Highlights of the 44 point game coming in a later section, so here is the 39er:

THE ELTON BRAND DIVISION: FUN FOR A WHILE, ULTIMATELY NOT FUN

6. FIRST ROUND, 2005, 2-4 vs. WASHINGTON WIZARDS

7. FIRST ROUND, 2006, 2-4 at MIAMI HEAT

The first Bulls playoff series since the 1998 Finals started with rookie Andres Nocioni scoring 25 points and grabbing 18 rebounds, one of only six 25-15’s in Bulls playoffs historyI attended that game, and the pressure release at the U.C. after six postseason-less seasons gave me chills.

The Bulls crushed in Game 2 but then dropped four straight, including a heartbreaking Game 5, in which we erased a ten-point lead with 40 seconds to go only to see Gilbert Arenas slay us at the buzzer.

As for the 2006 series vs. the Heat, we lost the first two games, won the next two, and lost the final two.

Upsides of this series: We found out that Mike Sweetney’s nickname was “Big Footwork” during a starting lineup intro on TV… We saw three Bulls average twenty points for the series (Nocioni, Gordon, Hinrich)… We made it onto a championship video (Miami’s, but whatever).

Downsides of this series: Shaq eviscerated us in Game 6 with 30 points and 20 boards, the second-oldest player since at least 1964 to drop a 30-20 in the playoffs. At least we made him sad a year later.

THE TYSON & EDDY DIVISION: SOME UPSIDE, BUT MOSTLY DOWNSIDE

8. SECOND ROUND, 2007, 2-4 at DETROIT PISTONS

9. FIRST ROUND, 2010, 1-4 at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

That Pistons series was arguably the most hyped of any on this list, even more than the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, if only because we’d been building to it ever since the summer of 2006 when the Bulls signed Ben Wallace. This series felt like destiny…

…but it quickly fell to pieces: lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 46 points in Detroit, then came home with that “It’s okay, we’ll win at home” mindset, led Game 3 44-28 at halftime, and lost by 7. Recovered to win Game 4 at home, and then won Game 5 in Detroit, setting up a home Game 6 with dreams of at least making it to Game 7.

Nope. Pistons roll.

(Weird trivia: Who led the Bulls in scoring in the final playoff game of the pre-Derrick Rose era? P.J. Brown, with 20 points.)

The Cavs series in 2010 was an execution. We’d been sentenced to death at the hands of a Cavaliers firing squad led by the league’s best player. There was nothing to do during that series but enjoy the show, the challenge and the improved play of Rose & Noah.

I wrote at length about this series (Game 1Game 2Game 3Game 4Game 5) so I’ll leave you with mentioning that this has got to be the saddest “We just won a playoff game” press conference in the history of sports:

Maybe he sensed that this was coming three days later:

THE TIM FLOYD ERA DIVISION: LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH

10. SECOND ROUND, 2013, 1-4 at MIAMI HEAT

By the time the Bulls reached their second round series with Miami (the third matchup with LeBron in four years), they were on their last legs. In Noah’s case, literally. And he was one of the healthy ones. (My injury parody column before Game 4.)

The Bulls stole Game 1 and then lost the next three by an average of 23 point per game during which Joakim Noah got flipped off by a crazy Miami woman once accused of murdering her husband. When it ended, I for one was grateful.

THE JAY WILLIAMS CRASHED HIS MOTORCYCLE DIVISION: I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT, BUT SURELY NOT THIS

11. EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS, 2011, 1-4 vs. MIAMI HEAT

The Bulls ROLLED in Game 1, holding LeBron to 15 points and winning by 21. Then their season crashed into a tree. Miami tied the series by closing Game 2 on a 12-2 run after being tied at 73 in the 4th, won Game 3 by 11, won Game 4 by eight in overtime and stole Game 5 with a game-clinching 18-3 run to scrape out a three-point win and a trip to the Finals.

THE JOHN STARKS ON THE BULLS DIVISION: THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING

12. FIRST ROUND, 2012, 2-4 vs. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

A lot of Bulls fans have forgotten the short-lived John Starks era of 2000 (I can’t find any video, thank God, and can only find one good picture) but no Bulls fan will ever forget the sight of Derrick Rose pulling up lame on a jumpstop at the end of a Game 1 win over Philly. Like Bryan Crawford wrote a year later about the mood at the United Center that day: “It felt like a funeral.”

When we learned Derrick was out for the playoffs, I started calculating the odds of knocking off the CELTICS in Round 2, and then wondering how we might fair against Miami. But ye gods! I never thought that we wouldn’t even beat the Sixers.

Just hideous.

Coming tomorrow: The best performances, best games and best dunks from the 2005-2013 Bulls playoffs.

(UPDATE: Here is Part 2.)

Jack M Silverstein is a staff writer for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Say hey @readjack.

NBA Playoff Preview (told thru songs)

Follow along as I predict who wins the NBA Title while simultaneously dedicating a new song to each team and the game’s biggest superstars. Catch up on your new music and have a laugh or two (maybe) along the way. This is not your usual NBA Playoff Preview.

Indiana Pacers
Childish Gambino “Sweatpants” [Music Video]

I can’t help but connect the Indiana Pacers to this scene as the new “Sweatpants” video unfolds.

Can’t you just feel the tension amongst the Indiana Gambinos? Roy Hibbert calling his teammates “some selfish dudes” was the telling sign that the team chemistry that led to a photo like this has fallen off as bad as OutKast’s chemistry at Coachella.

Best Case Scenario: The Pacers get it together, win Game 7 against the Heat at home (justifying their annoying quest for the 1 seed), and earning a 50/50 chance to win the title against whomever comes out of the West.

Worst Case Scenario: Indiana loses Game 1 to the Hawks at home, crumbles under the increased pressure, and loses to the 38-44 #8 seed in what would be as shocking of an 8-1 upset as the ’94 Nuggets.

What May or May Not Happen: Indiana survives Rounds 1 and 2, looking as vulnerable as they have in March and April, only for their run to end to the Miami Heat, a la last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. Lance Stephenson, if he has a good playoffs, gets overpaid by the Pacers and if he has a bad playoffs, still gets overpaid by someone else. Andrew Bynum permanently is out of the league. Roy Hibbert permanently joins the cast of Parks & Rec.

“Take me there!”

Atlanta Hawks
Drake “Days In The East”

The aforementioned Atlanta Hawks finished 38 and 44. Therefore, it’s only right that Drake’s newest sad R&B song, appropriately titled “Days in the East” applies to the 8 seed.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns finished 48 and 34 and did not make the playoffs. So, also fittingly, they earn the track “West District” — ironically PARTYNEXTDOOR’s superior solo version of the above track he actually produced for Drake.

Phoenix Suns
PARTYNEXTDOOR “West District”

 

Chicago Bulls
The Boy Illinois f/ GLC “Old School RMX”

1. You know we gotta keep it local for the hometown Bulls.

2. Let’s go “Old School” like the Bulls’ style of play with this collab between a Chicago veteran (GLC) and one of the city’s brightest up and comers (The Boy Illinois). GLC’s puff-your-chest-out verse sets the tone and demands respect akin to the trademark Thibs defense. Illi’s smooth style and delivery touches on some different topics, and drives the Bulls comparison home with the track’s versatility a representation of the team’s various offensive options. One game it’s D.J. over 20, another it’s Taj with 15 off the bench. Or Jimmy, Boozer, Dunleavy, or Noah. Though the Bulls don’t have a go-to scorer and finished in the bottom 5 in offensive efficiency, the offense has run smooth through Joakim Noah (leading the team in assists) since the Luol Deng trade and challenged the opposition with an unexpectedly high number of options.

Worst Case Scenario: The Bulls’ bottom-5 offense proves itself in the playoffs, as the Wizards’ athletic backcourt shuts down team leading scorer D.J. Augustin (fire up your time machine and read this sentence 6 months ago) and a healthy Nene cuts off Joakim Noah’s passing lanes and consequently 90% of the Bulls’ offense. John Wall outclasses his first NBA mentor Kirk Hinrich and is the best player in the series as the Wiz advance in 6.

Best Case Scenario: The gritty Bulls continue to embody our city with blue-collar hard work and the heart of a united family on their way past the Wizards and upsetting the Indiana Pacers. Next is a hard fought, yet short series loss to the Miami Heat in which every game was close. In the end, the Bulls were missing their closer and MVP…

Derrick Rose
Chance The Rapper “Save Yourself First”

Could the song title be any more fitting, especially coming from the anointed one of Chicago rap? Released in March, Chance’s original version of his James Blake remix oddly doubles as sage advice for Chicago’s anointed one of… well, everything. I hope this year though the city obliges to Rose’s out for the postseason status without starting any drama. If the Bulls are fighting hard against the rival Pacers in Round 2 though, I think the city’s vitriol against it’s hometown hero will sadly return. I just happen to have a hunch (i.e. inside info from a source who’s close to a source of Rose’s camp… whatever that’s worth I know) that our hometown hero will return (if the Bulls get that far).

Miracle Case Scenario: Down 2-0 to the Pacers in Round 2, heading back to Chicago, Derrick Rose returns at the United Center to a raucous crowd that sways the momentum of the series, even though he only plays 10 effective minutes in his return. The minutes restriction loosens as the series progresses with Thibs playing Rose all 48 minutes in the stunning Game 7 victory (just kidding, but seriously.) Rose then avenges the Bulls’ 2011 ECF loss to the Heat, outplaying LeBron James and hitting a series-clinching buzzer beater over his outstretched arm. Then the Bulls defeat the MVP Kevin Durant-led Thunder at home as Rose hits an open Jimmer Fredette for the series-icing 3, solidifying Jimmer’s place amongst Bulls folk heroes John Paxson and Steve Kerr. The whole journey soon becomes a 30 For 30 narrated in spoken word raps by Kanye West.

It’s just a hunch though, I’m not going to get carried away.

Washington Wizards & Charlotte Bobcats
Real T@lk “Happy (Unofficial Pharrell RMX)”

The choice of “Happy” is really geared more toward the fan bases of the once lowly Wizards and once lowly Bobcats because I don’t really get a “happy to be here” vibe from the preliminary interviews with each team’s stars. So instead of choosing the token “happy people dancing to ‘Happy'” video I’m bringing back the best rap remix I’ve seen of Pharrell’s mega-hit, courtesy of Chicago wordsmith Real T@lk. Sure enough, his music video is a happy one too.

Best Case Scenario: The Wizards follow the same best case scenario as the Bulls, with John Wall making the leap into the top tier of point guards. The Bobcats take a game from the Heat on ABC as LeBron James misses a buzzer beater in front of the Bobcats bench, as Michael Jordan is unable to hide a “I would have made that, you’re not worthy of starring in Space Jam 2” face.

Brooklyn Nets
Chuck Inglish f/ Action Bronson “Gametime”

It’s put up or shut up time for the Brooklyn Nets so what better track to bring them in than “Gametime” — a Convertibles standout from Chuck Inglish and huge basketball fan/New Yorker Action Bronson. When the Nets tanked the last three games of the season to avoid playing the Bulls (Marquis Teague was starting at SF for crying out loud), the Raptors, naturally, took offense to this. I mean, look at this morning’s Toronto Sun…

This morning's Toronto Star
This morning’s Toronto Star

In a series that I think is dead even on paper, I’m looking at an outside intangible that will determine the winner. I think the strong “Be careful what you wish for…” vibes, a galvanized Raptors home crowd, and Drake’s motivational commercial will be just enough to make up for the Raptors’ lack of experience and closing ability (3-8 in games decided by 3 or less points this season). Look for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to win the backcourt battle and propel the Raps in 7 into the second round.

Toronto Raptors
Drake “Draft Day”

How did the game turn into the Drake show?

Best Case Scenario: Having said that, the most exciting thing about the Toronto Raptors is a tie between Drake and a Terrence Ross tomahawk. Unfortunately for the upstart Raptors, their playoff run will most certainly end in Miami and the next thing they’ll have to look forward to is actual “Draft Day”.

On the plus side, a Toronto-Miami conference semifinal could create a rift between Drake and Heat fan rappers like Rick Ross. Any scenario that leads to more subliminal disses by Drake is a scenario I want to root for.

Carmelo Anthony
Michael Jackson “Xscape”

The biggest non-Playoff storyline is whether or not Carmelo Anthony will “Xscape” the Knicks. Ironically, after Michael Jackson’s posthumous single leaked last week, the song has since been taken down everywhere on the interwebs and the only official preview is the measly 16 seconds above. Omen aside though, I don’t see ‘Melo leaving New York and Phil Jackson (and more money). If I were Melo, I’d ride it out one more year until the Knicks will assuredly get better in 2015-16. Besides, having just completed Phil’s Eleven Rings book this week, I’d follow whatever the Zen Master says (phenomenal read).

Clippers vs. Warriors
Krewella “Enjoy The Ride (Armin Van Burren RMX)”

We transition west to the most exciting first round series (on paper) so we need a song that’s different from hip hop to personify that.

Filling that need is my favorite uptempo, EDM/club record of the year so far: Armin van Burren’s remix of Krewella’s “Enjoy The Ride”. The breakdown of the beat in the chorus is the track’s highlight, just as the breakdown of opposing defenses by Chris Paul and Steph Curry will prove to be the highlight of the series. The only bummer is that Andrew Bogut is likely out for the playoffs, lessening the chance of a brawl between these two teams who hate each other, and more importantly the chance of a Warriors upset. It’s still possible if Steph reaches NBA Jam “He’s on fire!” level, but I see the Clips advancing in 6.

When Steph Curry is in NBA Jam mode, you’ll know by the bench…

L.A. Clippers
“We Made It”

This leads us to the Clippers’ ceiling. They set a franchise record for wins this season (57) and it feels like they are true contenders with Doc Rivers at the helm and the improved play of star Blake Griffin. “We Made It!” — but which version is it?

Above is the solid new version by Jay Z & Jay Electronica, which will ultimately be most remembered for Hov’s lob at Drake (no pun intended.. Lob City):

Sorry Mrs. Drizzy for so much art talk
Silly me rappin’ ’bout shit that I really bought

For me personally though, I haven’t listened to it since the day it came out last month, instead gravitating back towards Drake’s version that dropped at the top of the year.

Best Case Scenario: The Clippers ride CP3, Blake, and DeAndre all the way to the promised land over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, breaking a Finals record for most combined alley-oops uploaded to YouTube. *cues the best version of “We Made It” — Drake’s* 

 

Memphis Grizzlies
Logic “Now”

Was somebody back then all a sudden now they fuckin’ wit me now (fuckin’ wit me now)…

Remember that we’re less than a year removed from the Memphis Grizzlies being in the Western Conference Finals. That fact, plus the fact that the reason the Grizz are the #7 seed is because Marc Gasol missed about a third of the season, makes for a seamless connection to Logic’s new slept-on anthem “Now”.

The overlooked notion of the chorus alone personifies what the Grizzlies must be feeling as they return to the postseason, going 40-19 since Gasol’s return to earn a first round matchup with playoff rival Oklahoma City. And I get the sense that the added shooting of Courtney Lee and Mike Miller makes this season’s roster better than last year’s.

It’s unfortunate that they are matching up with the future MVP, Kevin Durant, and OKC because the Grizzlies do have what it takes to make it back to the WCF. Zach Randolph is going to have to step it up from his 10 and 7 on 33% shooting versus the Thunder this season for that to happen though.

I see this first round series going 7 with the Thunder’s tough home crowd giving them the edge in the deciding game. No matter the result, the Grizzlies are definitely a team to be fuckin’ wit now.

Houston vs. Portland
Asher Roth “Fast Life”

What may turn out to be the more entertaining first round series than Clippers-Warriors is the Rockets-Blazers, due to this being the matchup between the two teams with the highest 3 point field goals made over the season. For any casual basketball fan reading this, try and catch one of these games and you’re bound to see a highly fun, high scoring affair.

So where does Asher Roth fit in? Well, the “Fast Life” music video is one of the best in 2014 and gives the song a deeper, more thought-provoking meaning. The short film presentation is so well-done and the concept of asking random people to take a note out of the box proves to be a feel-good inspiration. For any casual hip hop fan reading this, stop for a sec and press play above.

My connection between the “Fast Life” video to the Rockets and Blazers is that the winner of this series will use this experience on a deeper level next year. I think both teams are one year away from being true title contenders and to get to that status, teams typically need to go through the baby steps and subsequent growing pains. The winner (which I think will be the Rockets) will draw on the confidence gained from winning a playoff series this season for next year’s run when everyone on each team will be one year older and one year better.

Dallas Mavericks
RDGLDGRN “Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder Cover)”

http://www24.zippyshare.com/swf/player_local.swf?file=77755725&server=24&baseurl=http://www.zippyshare.com/api/&flashid=null&autostart=false&availablequality=both&bordercolor=#CCCCCC&forecolor=#000000&backcolor=#F2F2F2&darkcolor=#000000&lightcolor=#FF6600

World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Cause it won’t be too long..

Unfortunately for the Mavericks, it won’t be too long in the 2014 Playoffs. It’s of no fault of their own, really. Being in the competitive Western Conference, someone has to be the 8 seed and face the Spurs. The matchup isn’t a great one for Dirk & Co. so I expect them to bow out in a short series.

The lightbulb went on, however, when I heard the repetitive “Cause it won’t be too long” sung so infectiously by RDGLDGRN in last weekend’s Stevie Wonder cover. This is the Mavs right now! It was one of the main connections that inspired this piece and a way to push new music through a creative format, and hopefully let you readers discover new artists that you may not have heard yet. In fact, I’m going to keep it going…

Dirk Nowitzki
RDGLDGRN “Doing The Most”

My favorite track from RDGLDGRN’s debut self-titled album is appropriate for a 35-year old Dirk Nowitzki who is “Doing The Most” with a Mavericks supporting cast that, outside of Monta Ellis, is removed from its prime. As the record’s theme suggests, less is more — and I hope that Dirk gains a greater supporting cast in the next year so he can do less and make one more serious run at the Finals before he retires. I like the Monta fit, but now Cuban has to put Mr. Wonderful and his fellow Sharks on pause to get Dirk some more young talent around him.

…not him, though.

San Antonio Spurs
Kid Cudi “Return Of The Moon Man”

I’m sure Coach Pop would be happy to know that I chose a song with no words to represent the 2014 Spurs. In fact, I got an e-mail reply from him that simply read “Who are you?”, which basically means Happy Pop.

All jokes aside, the only fact in the previous two sentences is that this song has no words. Kid Cudi’s “Return of the Moon Man” is instead a self-produced instrumental from his new Satellite Flight album that is the most calm pump up song I have ever heard. Seriously. And there is such a thing as the oxymoron “calm pump up song”. It’s because “Return of the Moon Man” is a journey the Spurs, and us all, can relate to.

The rise of a pulsating melody defines the first three minutes of the track, followed by a solemn guitar solo that inspires zen reflection. It puts the listener at a state of calm — a platform I like to create from in the heat of the moment, not high-octane angst or anxiety. The singular plucks of the high-pitched notes blend back into the same marching melody as before, with added background percussion layers giving the rest of the track a monumental feel. I like to think of this record as Cudi facing deep thoughts of reflection or even sadness and then triumphing over them, ready to meet life’s challenges when the guitar solo ends and the energy ignites again.

It goes without saying what the Spurs’ version of the solemn guitar solo is the way last season ended. It’s no surprise that they have triumphed over adversity this season to become an even stronger unit, improving from within, and prime to finish what they started.

Duncan and Parker continue to play at a high level, a healthy Ginobili looks even more effective (remember, he was banged up last June), and Kawhi Leonard is a two-way machine that can matchup with the Durants and LeBrons in addition to providing his own offensive punch. Add in the depth (no Spur averaged above 29 minutes this season) and all this is why I think the Spurs will be celebrating to the greatest celebratory song to drop in 2014. You know where I was going with this one…

Drake “Trophies”

But wait… who can stop the Spurs?

Kevin Durant
Kid Cudi “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now”

I am a person with powers
I possess the power
You can’t hide
See me shine

The concluding words of Kid Cudi’s masterful (and amazingly titled) “Too Bad I Have To Destroy You Now” are no more characteristic for anyone than it is for Kevin Durant. His offensive season is one for the record books (32/7/5 + 50/39/87%) and will lead to his first league MVP. The playoffs are when superstars elevate themselves to another level; after all, that’s why their superstars. Kevin Durant has all the momentum, gone through the growing pains, and improved his overall team game (career high in assists, most notably) to a level where he can carry his team to a championship.

The coldest buzzer beater of the season.

I underestimated the Thunder at the beginning of the season (not making the conference finals in my pre-season preview) because I don’t really trust KD’s supporting cast outside of Russ and Ibaka (and I don’t trust Westbrook’s decision making in the clutch), but the zone that Durant is in can supersede anything. As much as I like the Spurs getting the title, I see just as likely of a (best case) scenario where the Thunder’s athleticism powers them through San Antonio and Durant tops LeBron in the Finals for his first title and, biggest of all, the end of the Lil B curse.

So what about the scenario where the Heat three peat?

Dwayne Wade
The Roots “When The People Cheer”

To me, the key to the Heat three peating is which Dwyane Wade we’re going to get. He has missed 33 games this season to rest various nagging injuries, but I have a feeling we’re going to see the same old Dwyane Wade of the past two seasons as an effective Robin to LeBron’s Batman. I think the media is playing up the Wade is “old, too injured, and a non-factor” narrative too much that we’ll see a drastic 180 “When The People Cheer” and the media pretends like they never doubted D. Wade at all.

LeBron James
Future “I Won” f/ Kanye West

This leaves LeBron James as the last player or team to have a song loosely attached to them, and the relevant choice is hip hop’s most braggadocious song out right now: Future’s “I Won” featuring Kanye West (taking the belt from “Sanctified”).  The video premiered the other night and I couldn’t help but think of the throne status that Hype Williams has a way of depicting Kanye. And right now, LeBron and the Heat are atop the throne. And no matter if the Heat flame out, LeBron can play the “I Won” card twice.

It’s just that come June, LeBron and the Heat can redefine their legacy with a three peat.

The best case scenario is certainly, and clearly in play; I just don’t think it will happen. The Heat have struggled down the stretch finishing 11-14 since March 4th, the defense has been the most inconsistent in the Big 3 era (12th in the league in Defensive Rating), and the supporting cast looks as ineffective and the least imposing of the last two seasons.

So 3 titles in 3 years? Nope! I predict the Heat falling short to the Spurs (and the Thunder and Clippers if they meet them).

BUT, the Heat will win the East. (You know, barring any sort of Miracle Case Scenario…)

* * * *

If you care to see my track record, click here for my pre-season predictions (combined with Hip Hop Awards) wherein I at least called the Pistons not making the Playoffs..!

NBA Signature Shoes fused with Rap Albums

Bball and rap come together yet again in the form of these original illustrations by designer Patso Dimitrov. He re-imagined your favorite superstar’s signature shoe with a colorway that matches the scheme of your favorite rap album, past or present.

As you’ll see in the gallery above, you get some natural fusions like LeBron with Kanye & Jay‘s Watch The Throne, D. Rose with Chance‘s Acid Rap, and Blake Griffin taking flight in some NWTS J’s.

My two favorites — well, one, how can you knock the Chicago D. Rose 4.5 ‘Acid’? The purples of the Acid Rap cover instantly yield towards a fresh, unique shoe colorway. The other top tier fave is KD‘s Magna Carta Holy Grail shoe, purely because of the cross out on the ‘KD’. Slick move, Patso. Tweet him your favorite.

h/t Hooped Up

Gowhere Hip Hop Awards for the 2013-14 NBA Season

AboveHow last season ended. Will LeBron James still be “Worried About Nothin'” as he attempts to ‘Heat Peat’? 

One. Moar. NBA Preview! I can’t match the depth of Bill and Jalen’s (who today revealed our hometown Bulls is Bill’s #1 team), nor The Starters’ 101 Questions, but I can make up fake awards that connect hip hop to the NBA to sum up recent events in hip hop and reveal my predictions for the NBA season. It’s officially a yearly tradition! I did this on the day the season started last year, seeing mixed results. I nailed picks like Kyrie Irving with the “Kendrick Lamar Breakout Star Award” and Damian Lillard as one of the rookies everyone will know a year later (the “Kids These Days Award” … Whoops! They’ve since disbanded. BUT Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet are doin’ their thing as solo artists.) The picks I didn’t nail? Well, that’s the unfortunate downside of archives.

Anywho, let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? Instead, the envelope please…

The TDE Award
for this season’s team ready to take the next leap goes to…

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

It goes without saying that you tuned into the BET Cyphers just for #KendricksVerse and TDE. Sure, there were some other nice groups (Slaughterhouse & A$AP Mob) and emcees that you wanted to see too, but all the excitement was for the Kendrick Lamar-led crew. In between the start of last season and today, they’ve made the leap to one of the all-star crews in hip hop today. Remember, good kid, m.a.a.d. city was out for only a short time a year ago today and as the dust settled, the album still has serious lasting power. “Money Trees” was one of the endearing anthems of SXSW, and that was 6 months after it was released. More recently, Kendrick’s buzz is stronger than ever after bodying “Control” and the aforementioned BET Cypher, dissing Drake and taking names in the process. I’ve actually likened Kendrick to that of the no-nonsense/star-powered Bulls (on my guest spot on The Bulls Show), but I think of TDE as a whole to the Warriors because of what may come next.

The Warriors galvanized the Bay Area (and the country) behind the record-setting shooting of the Splash Brothers (Steph Curry & Klay Thompson) and an exciting playoff run that saw them hang with the eventual Western Conference Champs. Now, they add another dimension to their style with the versatile playmaker and defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala — the same way TDE just added a new dynamic with a talented female singer in SZA. I envision a fresh, and positive impact from both Iggy & SZA that’ll only help propel their respective camps to make the next leap. We all know about TDE and the Warriors now, but can they reach the top tier of the game? Some may argue that TDE’s already there, but I need to see more — namely the upcoming albums from Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul. Then, the stars themselves got to take that next step too. Come May and June, I think we’ll see K. Dot ready to drop a much-hyped sophomore album and Steph Curry ready for another playoff run that I think will at least get to the Western Conference Finals (barring injuries).

In fact, let’s take this a step further…

Stephen Curry acknowledges fans, who are acknowledging him.
Stephen Curry acknowledges fans, who are acknowledging him.

The Kendrick Lamar Breakout Star Award
goes to…

STEPHEN CURRY

Last year, the award named after Kendrick Lamar had a different meaning than it does today. Citing his year’s progression summarized above, I’d say that Kendrick’s star power has grown since this time last season, and has taken him to the second tier in hip hop. I think with one more strong year (and album), that Kendrick will easily be in the top tier, no arguments. Likewise, Curry, who’s a lock for his first All-Star Game (barring injuries, again), can breakout into the top tier of the NBA with one more playoff run into June. I’m betting on both to happen.

Runners Up: Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving (but I didn’t want to give it to him again, and also prove, in my own weird way, that there is such a thing as “voter fatigue”. Watch out LeBron, the MVP is either D. Rose’s or CP3’s this year.)

The “Pound Cake” Award
for most hyped collab that ultimately falls short goes to…
BROOKLYN NETS
(Runner Up: Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings with the Detroit Pistons)

Isn’t the Jay Z connection here poetic? You know, the connection I just made up? But to be frank, the internet nearly broke at the mere picture of Drake & Jay Z in the studio together this summer. Then, when Nothing Was The Same dropped, “Pound Cake” garnered some polarizing reactions including a negative one from me. I think this was Exhibit A in the “Jay Z has mailed it in for a few years” argument, as his repetition of “Cake” (amongst other lowlights) makes it an easy skip, even if that means I’m also skipping Drake’s solid output and the superb production. Isn’t it telling that so many rappers put their own freestyle down on “Pound Cake” and earned “better than the original” type praise?

On paper, a collab like “Pound Cake” should be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. You could say the same about this year’s new-look Nets (especially if it was 2008). Don’t get me wrong, they’re going to do damage in the league this year and rightfully earn a spot with the Heat, Pacers, and Bulls in the final four of the Eastern Conference. However, that’s where I think it ends, as opposed to the hype machine that has them as the team most likely to challenge the Heat. My reason: athleticism. As the roster stands right now, I don’t think there are the athletes to keep up with superstars in the league like LeBron, D. Rose, and Paul George (second tier star). Plus, I think monitoring the minutes of KG & Pierce (plus the higher potential that they, or one of the other starters, miss stretches of games) may cost them some important Ws in the regular season for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Just as I’m skipping on “Pound Cake”, I’m skipping on the Nets when I pencil in my conference finals teams. Whoever they play — either the Heat, Bulls, or Pacers — I’m not backing the Nets.

You’ll notice the runner-up being the offseason acquisitions of the Detroit Pistons. Adding two shot-happy perimeter players will only stunt the growth of a high-potential tandem of bigs in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. And might I add that one of those shot-happy perimeter players should not be a perimeter player! I of course mean Josh Smith, who will be playing the 3 and hence staying further out from the paint (and more apt to take those low-percentage jumpers). A lot of previews have the Pistons making the Playoffs this year… not this one.

The MMLP2 Award
for the player that’s not done yet goes to…

KOBE BRYANT & TIM DUNCAN (tie)

That’s right, a tie! Only in the GWHH Awards (where I create the awards and winners) can this happen!

Just like Marshall is proving he can turn back the clock with the upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2 just a week away, Kobe and Timmay are certainly turning back the clock this season. For the former, it’s going to happen from Game 1 onward, whenever he comes back. The dude changed his Twitter avatar to “1225” for crying out loud (representing ESPN’s predictions that the Lakers finish 12th in the Western Conference and that he’s the 25th best player in the league in #NBARank). I think he’ll be motivated to come back asap, save the Lakers from their sure-to-happen putrid start (they’re starting Shawne Williams at Power Forward), and get closer to the all-time scoring record (he’s a mere 674 points behind Michael Jeffrey Jordan). I still doubt the Lakers make the Playoffs (partly so I can troll Kobe into sub-tweeting about it, because he’s obviously reading this right now), but I don’t doubt Kobe will be close, if not at his All-NBA 1st Team level of play from last season before the injury.

Meanwhile, every season we think it’s the year Tim Duncan falls off. After all, he’s played a shade under fifty thousand minutes in his career. Also after all, he’s the greatest power forward in history. His minutes will be managed, he’ll save his best for the playoffs (like last season), and to top it off, Duncan will be thinking about Game 6 and Game 7 all year. For both of these players, I’ll believe it when I see it. Two of the game’s greatest. Let’s appreciate their twilight seasons as much as we can.

To bring it full circle, many think Eminem is done as well (especially those who didn’t enjoy “Berzerk”). But for every mediocre or polarizing record like “Survival” or “Berzerk”, there’s a “Rap God” and a “Monster” where I think of Em dropping the mic like in 8 Mile. I don’t foresee Eminem’s best album of his career when it comes out in a week, and certainly not career years from Kobe or Duncan, but I do see the “turn back the clock” moments already in all of them. And I find myself rooting for all three more than ever.

The Bizarro ‘Dedication’ Award
for the series that should never end goes to…

UNCLE DREW

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What this award means is that Lil Wayne’s Dedication series should end and that the Uncle Drew series should absolutely never end.

In regards to Weezy, the best track on D5 this past September was the Chance The Rapper-featured “You Song”. And worse off, it actually feels like it’s Chance featuring Lil Wayne, not the other way around. After all, Chance and his team produced and pitched the record for Weezy, who admittedly put down a solid verse. The only other most memorable track on D5 was “New Slaves” and that’s because Weezy rapped about p****y and provided reason #2 why no one else rapped over “New Slaves” (reason #1: Kanye made it untouchable). So Lil Wayne, I think we’ve had enough. Let’s move on to albums or R&B features only, please.

In regards to Uncle Drew, I mean, did you see Uncle Drew: Chapter 3 yesterday? It was all sorts of awesome.

The Underground Chicago Hip Hop Scene Award
for the team that’s still overlooked goes to…

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

“Wait, what? But Tibs, the Chicago hip hop scene is as buzzing as it’s ever been in recent years. How is it overlooked? You’re a homer!”

– You, maybe.

Follow me for a second. I agree, the underground Chicago hip hop scene is as buzzing as it’s been in recent years. But what I have noticed is that we’re being boxed in to two styles: the drill movement (obviously) and Chance’s “Acid Rap”. No disrespect to Chance or any of the drill artists (and Ben Affleck), but the independent scene here is bigger than them and I feel like our melting pot of styles is not getting its due attention from a national perspective. This results in a national perspective that I’ve been seeing from publications and tastemakers that Chicago is only drill and Chance. That’s simply not the case.

Yes, I clearly have a close perspective and attachment to our hometown’s scene, and not nearly the amount of experience in other markets. But here’s what I can tell you about Chicago hip hop right now. We have some of the most talented artists, period, that have their own fresh style of hip hop — their own lane that I’m not really hearing elsewhere right now. As any consistent reader of the site can attest, I’m personally posting all kinds of music from everywhere, and I can safely say there are more rappers here in Chicago that have created or are developing their own true lane.

I’m only going to name a few artists, for example’s sake. Trust me, I see the irony of calling the city overlooked while overlooking a few Chicago artists doin’ their thing. The full list of artists are for another post: that’s why I’m just citing some of the unique styles and who comes to mind who exemplifies them:

– The conscious, soulful, jazzy hip hop: Add-2, Neak, Real T@lk

– The ‘luxury rap’ storytelller with a dark sound: The Boy Illinois

– The rap/singing hybrids: Gemstones, S-Preme

– The boom bap (even trap) duos: M.L.A., theWHOevers, Retrospect (5 of 6 of these guys are Asian)

And once again, that’s not citing everybody, including emerging artists within the drill scene or the Chance ‘quirky delivery’ scene that I like to think of it, and even all the talented singers we have comin’ up.

It took awhile to get here, but I was thinking about the scene, then I was thinking about how, or even if it could possibly be tied into the NBA. I thought of the T’Wolves because a lot of experts have them on the outside of the playoffs looking in, except they have two young stars in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. With the limited national attention they get, Love, Rubio, the rest of the Wolves, and the idea that they can be successful is sometimes lost. Like the underground Chicago hip hop scene, there are a lot of different styles and versatility within the entire roster, and together, they’re worth talking about more than just Love and Rubio (Pekovic is a beast down low, for instance). I believe in the Wolves’ talent overcoming their health concerns and making the playoffs, and as a dangerous team at that, too. And above all, I’m looking forward to the growth in their respective lanes of all of the above.

Kevin Love & Ricky Rubio, kinda.
Kevin Love & Ricky Rubio, kinda.

The Yeezus Award
for most entertaining interview goes to…

GREGG POPOVICH

Let’s bring it back to something more light-hearted: the awesomeness, yet contrasting interviews of Kanye West and Gregg Popovich. I feel like this is an award
(that I made up) that honors a career’s worth of interviews. Yet in just the past month, Kanye has delivered some of his most powerful, poignant, and most influential interviews to the largest audience he’s had to date. Plus, it’s the same ‘Ye as in 2002 as you’ll see in this new unreleased interview.

Pop has similarly been an entertaining interview throughout his whole career, most memorably with Craig Sager after T-Mac’s 13 points in 35 seconds to, well, just last week when he was in midseason form with Sager once again. Need more proof? How about this wildly fun YouTube mix of Pop interviews?

Apologies to Joakim Noah, but I gotta respect the body of work and go with Pop. (“Voter fatigue” will certainly set in next season though and you’ll likely win.)

The Watch The Throne Award
for the team most likely to dethrone the Heat goes to…

CHICAGO BULLS

That’s right, 2300 words (or one long scroll) later and you see what you’ve correctly assumed: I’m going with my hometown Bulls to stop the Heat Peat. (Heat Peat. Thoughts? I swear I haven’t seen that anywhere else and just made it up now. Prepare for the media to make this cringe-worthy pun stick come June.)

I’m only going to add to the case of experts like Bill Simmons or Steve Kerr. D. Rose looks like MVP D. Rose. And if he’s improving physically, mentally, and skillfully like we’ve heard and the “Eye Test” has supported this pre-season, the Bulls certainly have a shot. But at the end of the day, it’ll come down to the team. And that’s where I think we have the edge to dethrone the true top dogs of the game (Kanye & Jay).

Under Coach Thibs, the Bulls have been one cohesive unit and have boasted the best defense in two of the past three seasons. It’s the mentality though, embodied first by Thibs, Rose, and Noah, of responsibility and togetherness that any die-hard Bulls fan can attest, is something on an indescribable level. They just have “it”. I haven’t seen a team win and lose together, and care about one another as much as these Thibs-era Bulls squads and I believe that unity can be the separating factor in a race for the title that’ll surely be of the closest of margins again this season.

If you need me, I’ll be the guy walking around with his fingers crossed til June.

Could Derrick Rose and the Bulls surpass LeBron James and the Heat, come June?
Could Derrick Rose and the Bulls surpass LeBron James and the Heat, come June?

WEST:

1. LAC

2. SA

3. OKC

4. GSW

5. HOU

6. MEM

7. MIN

8. DAL

EAST:

1. CHI

2. MIA

3. IND

4. BKN

5. NYK

6. WAS

7. CLE

8. ATL

CONF. FINALS:

CHI over MIA

SA over GSW

FINALS:

CHI over SA

***

BONUS:

I was amongst a select few interviewed for the Chicago Tribune’s Red Eye newspaper in Chicago about what we respect most about Derrick Rose, on tonight, his official return! Check it out here because I admit I cried over D. Rose.

I'm pretty much Vlad Rad, in my writing about D-Rose in the RedEye.
I’m pretty much Vlad Rad, in my writing about D-Rose in the RedEye.