“You’re Not Alone” — a Joakim Noah Production

Damn. This was a tough, emotional watch. But just the same, an example for those trying to cope with a tragic reality caused by gun violence.

“You’re Not Alone” is a Joakim Noah production, and a mini-doc of sorts, that interviews some of Chicago’s youth who have lost a dear loved one to senseless gun violence. Teammates Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, who had both lost friends in the same way, also sit down for the video. To see their vulnerability and emotions in reflecting on their loss certainly drove home the message that “You’re Not Alone.” Gibson literally looked lost and without an answer and Rose broke down and cried. On the same level, it was heartbreaking to hear how the kids talked about their friends so glowingly.

Through their stories and emotions, we see the importance of talking things out and coping openly if you’re in a similar situation. Furthering this sense of unity, Joakim Noah’s Noah’s Arc Foundation is selling a teardrop pendant designed by his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, as a symbol for peace and coping with loss. Noah describes the “Drop of Consciousness” in more detail with the video powerfully ending on his words and he and the other subjects wearing it. Props to everyone involved in the making of this video (dir. award-winning author and documentarian Alex Kotlowitz) and our prayers and thoughts go to them and those involved in their stories. Watch above and send an intention out for the continued end of gun violence.

It represents people. It’s also a symbol of hope, just knowing that no matter what you’re going through you’re wearing this and we’re all in this together, this fight.

– Joakim Noah

Thanks to Chicago Tribune (for more info)

Bulls vs. Warriors: Running Diary

Bulls, Warriors, December 6th has been circled on my calendar since the schedule’s release in August. It didn’t take long since the rise of superstar Steph Curry for the Warriors to become a (distant) second favorite team behind my hometown Bulls. The battle between East and West contenders only happens once this year in Chicago (June not withstanding 🙂 )

So naturally, my fellow die hard Bulls fan, AK and I had to find a way to go. Thanks to some wonderful timing and an unspent budget, AK’s company rented a penthouse suite for last night. In other words, for me: the dream.

I knew going into the game that I wanted to provide some #Analysis in some fashion. As the night progressed, too many fantastic things happened — an instant bond over Rasheed Wallace here, a classic Benny The Bull gag there — that the Bill Simmons Running Diary format was simply the most perfect way to document it.

***

6:46pm: It’s a last-minute dash to make the intros! I flex my knowledge of the United Center area and drive through two shortcuts to bypass the traffic around Madison. At a red light, AK poses the question: Who do you think wins tonight?

*slight hesitation* I think we can win it tonight. After all, we do thrive on ending streaks.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose. (As you can see, I didn’t have full confidence in the Bulls.)

The Warriors are rolling, but the matchups are fascinating. The backcourts: Steph vs. D. Rose, Klay vs. Jimmy. You got Bogut and Pau, it’s like these teams are modeled similarly. I worry about the Draymond vs. Joakim matchup though. We struggle against stretch 4s because Noah’s not used to guarding the 3 point line and Draymond’s been playin’ well lately.

(This proved to be a recurring topic of conversation later…)

6:54pm: Parked and speed-walking to the gate, which looked something like this. Looks like we’re not going to catch intros, or even the opening tip.

6:56pm: “Executive gate entrance 6 1/2” gets us up to the Penthouse with no lines. #SuiteLife already paying dividends!

6:59pm: A quick Twitter check reveals an instantly viral couple of images of Derrick Rose in a “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, in tribute to the tragic death of Eric Garner. Rose is the perfect person and personality to make a statement for justice like this, in this way. *applauds*

drose-cantbreathe

7:05pm: The national anthem, the always chilling introductions, and the Kanye West “Power Clap” video never fail to change your mood from socializing to gametime. I’m amped and trying not to show it to the 6 new people I just met.

Quick tangent: The “Power Clap” (press play below) is the icing on the cake to our pregame intro — one as a whole that has to be unrivaled in hometown pride compared to the rest of the league. First, you got one of Kanye’s most famous, demonstrative songs and productions as the backbone of the pump-up. The core of ‘Ye asking for everyone to do the “Power Clap” is not from the original, but the Jay Z remix that you may have forgotten about. Plus, a seamless blend of “I’m a Chicagoan til Chicago ends” from the classic Dilated Peoples feature and an edited “You’re now fuckin’ with the best in the worrrlldd” from the “Lollipop (Remix)” complete the audio gem.

The visual set to the song features a mix of the players clapping with D. Rose’s chillness only being one-upped by Joakim’s chill golf clap. The most awkward was Aaron Brooks & Doug McDermott together, partly because they call each other Ray and Ron, but primarily because Doug McDermott doing anything on the jumbotron to a Kanye West song is as hilariously awkward as his photo with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Kid Ink.

Jimmy & Taj were the only ones who looked comfortable clapping, with Jimmy unofficially winning the most amount of Kanye lines lip-synched. Only fitting that the winner is the self-proclaimed “Baby Mike”.

The Power Clap:

7:20pm: The Bulls’ starters came out aggressive, but sloppy. Draymond has 2 3s already, about 5 minutes in. This is becoming a theme.

7:27pm: The Warriors feel like they’re converting every turnover into points. Ultimately, they get 27 fast break points in the first half and go on a 20-4 run in the first quarter. Still, two consecutive jumpers from Rose had AK and I hopeful we were there in person for Rose’s inevitable “F U game” on a big stage. Little did we know that this 3-pointer with 3:58 left in the first quarter was Rose’s last made field goal of the game.

7:31pm: The Warriors pull off one of their 3-man weaves and even though it wasn’t even their starters and it didn’t even lead to a bucket, it was oh so pretty. The quarter ends with the Warriors up 28-22 in what feels like it should be more.

7:38pm: Taj Gibson follows up an easy post-up layup with an emphatic block off the backboard of Shaun Livingston. This leads to an irrational confidence Aaron Brooks 3, a Bulls lead, and the largest rise out of the UC crowd thus far. All credit due to Taj’s spark plug energy; great to see in his first game back from a sprained ankle.

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7:41pm: Taj tips in a Jimmy Butler miss but it looks like a clear offensive goaltending. Before we know it, play is stopped and Steve Kerr earns himself a Tech. I immediately see an assistant coach holding Steve Kerr back. Gotta hand it to the rookie head coach, he’s got that “looking like a badass while getting a Tech” thing down.

7:42pm: As replays on the scoreboard clearly show Kerr has a case, Jimmy Butler promptly misses the technical free throw. Although I can’t yell “Ball Don’t Lie!” because it’s against the Bulls, I do acknowledge the moment by telling AK, “That was a Ball Don’t Lie moment.” After a long pause, the guy next to me says, “Ball don’t lie is one of my favorite phrases in sports.”

Me: Yeah!
Guy: I miss Sheed, man.

*Tibs just made a new friend.*

7:48pm: The Bulls have been on a 25-7 extended run going back to the first quarter, erasing the damage caused by 10 turnovers in the first quarter.

7:50pm: Taj Gibson is wheezing on the baseline in between plays. He’s gassed in his first game back but Pau checks in for Mirotic instead.

7:58pm: Jimmy Butler matches a Harrison Barnes 3 with one of his own, dancing with a little bit of a crossover before hitting the contested pull-up. AK and I say to each other almost instantaneously, “Jimmy doesn’t even take that shot last year, let alone make it.” What a season he’s having so far.

8:05pm: Already three chicken tenders in, I finish up my Chicago dog and continue to ignore finger food and salad. Can’t fill up on the extras. I instead pace myself like a veteran for the even better dessert cart to come in the second half. Fortunately, not that much has happened during my second dinner, but the Warriors have stretched their lead out to double digits, dominating the last half of the second quarter.

8:08pm: Joakim Noah throws a terrible 3/4 court pass with 2.9 seconds left that turns out to be a solid strategy. The ball goes off the Warriors out of bounds so the Bulls have the ball past half court with 2.3 seconds left. Enough time for Noah to get the inbound near the elbow and drive for a buzzer beating layup to bring down the Warriors’ halftime lead to 12, 61-49. I’m proud of the sneaky 2 points going into the half, but the crowd is a little out of it due to the double digit deficit.

8:08:30pm: I bolt downstairs to the 300 level to meet my friends Hugo and Kristin for halftime. Hugo’s a fellow basketball nerd and we both immediately agree the Warriors look legit and that it’s not lookin’ good for a Bulls comeback. We catch up on life for a bit… they just got a new place, he’s going to California for a week for work, I plan on writing a new Gowhere NBA Awards this week. Big things poppin’ for both of us. Then this happens…

8:20pm: Derrick Rose & Joakim Noah come out to warm-up first. They both dribble up at the same time for their first jump shots, and of course, the balls hit each other in the air. This would be on Shaq’tin a Fool.

Me: Wait, did you just see that?!
Hugo: Hahah, yeah.
Me: C’mon guys, let’s be professionals.
Me: …This is why I love going to games, to see things like this.

To further visualize, I drew a diagram for you. (I have an architecture degree, this is how we communicate.)

derrick-joakim-diagram-small
8:22pm: I begin my journey back to the suite to catch the start of the second half, but quickly walk past someone I play pickup with in the concourse. (Gotta love random run-ins. I’ve never talked to him ever, but now we’re going to have a convo about this tomorrow night and probably end up on the same team.)

8:27pm: I can’t find an elevator without a line and there are no stairs up to the penthouse. I’m stuck in the concourse so I just stop to an abrupt standstill, watching a video board for the beginning of the 3rd quarter. I got in the way of about 4 people in this process.

8:38pm: I just made it back to the suite, but missed the Dunkin Donuts race during the timeout (which alone could warrant its own running diary.)

Jimmy Butler hits a 3 for his second consecutive bucket and brings the Bulls within 2. Beautiful extra pass ball movement by the starters and the crowd is especially into it now.

8:43pm: Butler steals an errant pass from Curry, passes it ahead to Rose, who alley-oops it to Gasol for the Bulls’ first lead since the 2nd quarter. The crowd erupts and it’s ultimately the loudest the UC gets for the night.

rose-gasol-jimmy
8:46pm: Teams trade baskets and the lead for a couple minutes, highlighted by Curry doing a fadeaway 16-foot jumper off the glass that only a unique scorer like him would even attempt. Worried this may lead to more.

8:49pm: Pau, having made his last 3 shots in the quarter, is feeling it when he draws some surprise oohs and aahs from the crowd during this crossover display. As you can see, it unfortunately leads to a Kirk Hinrich brick (not the best Kirk Hinrich game…)

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8:55pm: Steph Curry with his most Steph Curry shot of the game. I was in awe of how fast he was coming off that curl, how quick he released it, and the fact that it was a no doubter splash.

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8:59pm: The score after 3 quarters, Bulls 80 Warriors 79. Thrilling quarter, shaping up to go down to the wire.

9:10pm: The second timeout of the quarter after a Kirk Hinrich 3 that brings the Bulls back within 2 with 8 minutes and change remaining.

Real thing I said to AK:
Man, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was at a game that really came down to the wire. It looks like it’s heading that way!

9:15pm: Klay Thompson hits a 3, blocks Kirk Hinrich’s 3 on the other end, then Draymond Green hits a 3 off a pick and pop that made D. Rose look silly.

Oh. 

The Bulls call timeout with the Warriors up 8 with 6 minutes to go. Pretty sure this is from the ensuing Draymond celebration:

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The lesson here is obvious: don’t jinx a close game by saying you haven’t been to a close game in awhile. Rookie mistake.

9:21pm: Jimmy brings back the deficit from 11 to 8 with 4 minutes remaining with his third 3 of the night. Draymond Green immediately responds with a United Center soul-crushing 3 of his own off a Klay Thompson pick and pop. That’s Green’s 7th 3 and a career-high 31 points. The disappointed gasp of the UC crowd was the most audible one of the night. You know it’s over and this guy, not even Steph or Klay, is killing us.

To make matters worse, we didn’t even get a dessert cart. #StillHungry #FirstWorldProblems

9:23pm: During the timeout, Benny The Bull went through his routine of attempting one handed half-court shots facing away from the basket. He’s remarkably good at this. I feel like I’ve seen him make it more than miss. He takes about 8 shots and comes close, but no cigar this time.

He then punts one of the basketballs into the stands. For the last basketball, he does the Hulk Hogan routine… finally picks a section and punts it. Two dudes in Steph Curry jerseys end up with the ball and obnoxiously celebrate to the crowd, milking in a shockingly loud number of boos. Out of nowhere, Benny sprints at them and silly strings both Warriors fans, much to the delight of the United Center. Benny The Bull, still the greatest.

9:35pm: The game ends rather anti-climatically, 112-102. After the buzzer, Steph gives a pat on the back to fellow Player of the Month, Jimmy Butler and to his Team USA teammate, Derrick Rose. Florida alum Joakim Noah and Marreese Speights handshake and hug at half court. I dunno, I always like to see who gives dap to one another after the game.

9:39pm: The Bulls’ music choice has been noticeably better over the years. “On To The Next One” plays at low volume, followed by the mellow “Hold On, We’re Going Home” as the UC crowd exits. Aw man, now this sad Drake song is making me feel even sadder.

#Analysis:

Derrick Rose 3.0

Contributing to the sadness is seeing Derrick Rose 3.0 in person. Summarizing this idea presented in this week’s Bulls Show, if Derrick Rose 1.0 was the wide-eyed rookie and Derrick Rose 2.0 was MVP Rose, then Derrick Rose 3.0 is post-injury, picking his spots Rose.

Now, I’m about as big of a D. Rose apologist as you can find, but I also can’t deny a trend in the early quarter of the season: over half of Rose’s field goal attempts since his return from the hamstring injury are coming from beyond the arc.

In those 7 games, Rose has attempted 87 field goals and of those 87, 46 of them have been from 3.

Rose is shooting the 3 at a 30% clip during that stretch, matching his below league-average 30% overall on the season. This is counting the ridiculous one-handed bank shot floater versus Dallas that sent the game to double overtime too.

Based on the shot attempts and the eye test, one can sense that Rose is still trying to figure out the times to attack the rim, or even pull up for a mid-range jumper. We’ve really only see him aggressively attack the rim in the team’s marquee games so far this year, most notably the home opener versus Cleveland and the post “be there for my son’s graduation” comments TNT game versus the Raptors. Hence my cautious optimism at the beginning of the diary that we could see a Bulls win and a more aggressive D. Rose with the Warriors being the elite opponent (best record in the league). It didn’t really happen beyond the first quarter with Rose finishing 1-7 from 3 and 2-11 overall.

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One more thing to keep an eye on going forward is Rose’s passing and ability to set up his teammates. It’s steadily improved as Rose has had 3 games with 2 or less turnovers in the past 5. Of course, in between was a 7 turnover outing versus the Mavs that was more close to his early November. Perhaps an underrated, lingering factor for the turnovers is one that’s non-Rose related: the games of his new and old teammates.

Eastern Conference Player of the Month Jimmy Butler is playing at an other-worldly all-star level he hasn’t touched in his career so far. It took LeBron James & Kyrie Irving just 1 month to play together more minutes than Derrick Rose & Jimmy Butler have in their careers. Think about that for a second.

Then you have Pau Gasol in vintage form, averaging 20.1 PPG (the most since ’06-’07) and 11.9 RPG (the most in his career). It’s early still, but both he and Butler are playing like all-stars and are focal points of the offense with or without Rose. In Rose’s entire career with the Bulls, he hasn’t played with offensive scoring options quite this impactful.

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So in conclusion, there is really no conclusion. Rose 3.0 is still a work in progress and we, whether a Bulls fan or analyst, have to maintain patience far beyond just a handful of games. The two focal points of Derrick’s game I’m carefully examining going forward are the 3-point attempts and the turnovers (and how he’s getting them.) I’m confident we’ll see both gradually decrease as Rose gets more acclimated to consistent full-speed games and his new teammates.

The City of Big Shoulders

Last night’s game marked the return of Taj Gibson after a 6-game absence with a sprained ankle. Great news for the Bulls, but it also pushed rookie Nikola Mirotic back to limited minutes. Niko only played 8 minutes in the wake of Gibson’s return, but his 2 TOs and 3 fouls in that time likely contributed to that. During Gibson’s injury, Mirotic averaged 12.7 PPG and 8.4 RPG in 27 minutes. He also leads all rookies with 3 double-doubles and is shooting the 3 at a 38% clip.

He’s proven he could play.

So where does he fit in the rotation now that everyone is healthy again?

The easy solution is to look at 34 year old Pau Gasol’s 36 minutes per game. Take 4 or 5 of those and give them to Niko, and it’ll save some burden on Gasol while preparing Mirotic for the playoff stage come April.

The asterisk is the notoriously stubborn Coach Thibs, but if Niko’s going to be under 10 minutes a game and Pau still at 36, I’m convinced there’s a clause in Gasol’s contract that he or the Bulls get a bonus for his all-star berth.

In addition to the minutes allocation, I’m intrigued to see what the Bulls do to resolve their defense versus the stretch 4. Draymond Green put the magnifying glass on this issue last night, probably singing “CoCo” while he was at it. 

draymond
This is a challenge that we can date back to the preseason when the Noah/Gasol frontline allowed Thaddeus Young 17 points on 4 3s in 27 minutes, albeit on a much less mobile Noah in late October than now. Even still, as athletic as Noah is at full health, it’s hard to expect the center who anchored our defense at the rim to defend stretch 4s at the 3-point line, especially when they are roaming free in transition like last night. Taj Gibson is our best option for the Draymond Greens and Kevin Loves of the NBA, so we’ll keep an eye on the minutes to Jo and Pau in these specific matchups into 2015.

The Golden State Ws

Emphasis on Ws. That’s 12 of them now for Golden State — a new franchise record. Steve Kerr’s Warriors lead the league in Defensive Rating and on the flip side, Assists Per Game with a 4th place standing in Offensive Rating.

Basically, they’re legit.

The in-person experience was just as beautiful as it is on TV, even as a biased observer. The pick and pops, Steph’s left-handed swing passes, the 3-man weaves, Andrew Bogut… literally everything an advanced basketball junkee would want, in addition to everything the casual basketball viewer would want: the Splash Brothers.

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Come April, the Western Conference Champion will largely come down to health and matchups. But carrying its own weight is the continuity the Warriors have instantly developed under a new coach. Not only on the court, but off.

There have been stories that start from the top like Coach Kerr likening Draymond Green’s hustle after a loose ball to that of a beetle. Or the team plane Instagram videos of the team singing a song that’s basically about cocaine. (Someone finally caught on and told them to stop, ha!)

I saw it on their bench as their MVP-candidate leader Steph Curry led the rallying during Draymond’s galvanizing game-long heat-check. The intangibles of a team, or its “it” factor I suppose, is impossible to quantify, but at the same time: isn’t it simply pass/fail? Seeing them in person, the Warriors are emphatically a Pass.

2015 Finals Preview? Well, both teams have a lot left to prove still and we’re not even close to peak Bulls. But as a fan, you can bet I have the calendar circled.

Jeff Green dunks on the Suns

A little bit of a retroactive post with a couple must-see highlights from the NBA action on Monday, November 17th.

Above: Jeff Green posterizes Marcus Morris. Impressive from where he leapt and how he finished over a good contest.

Perhaps even more impressive, Green’s Jordan-esque tomahawk that was put in slow-mo for the viral Vine of the night.

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Actually, the viral Vine of the night may be Joakim Noah trolling Blake Griffin, who missed both free throws (via our friends at @TheBullsShow.)

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The other, real highlight: Shabazz Napier puts Deron Williams in the spin cycle. Whoo! If only he didn’t turn it over right after…

Gowhere NBA Awards (Pt. 2)

Welcome back to the closing ceremonies… Part 2 of the 3rd Annual Gowhere NBA Awards! The after-party from Part 1 lasted through Opening Night, but I’m here today as we enter the season’s first full slate of games tonight.

The following is a deep dive into the league’s biggest storylines with commentary on what I think may come, and commentary on the biggest, or most slept on, storylines in music. Plus, add some new sounds to your playlist along the way. Without further ado…

The Gowhere NBA Awards conclude with:

– The ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ Award
– The ‘Hood Billionaire’ Award
– The Ladies ‘Dark R&B’ Award
– The Drake vs. Lil Wayne Tour Award
– The Chicago Independent Hip Hop Scene Award

 

The ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ Award goes to…
Kobe Bryant

kobe-gwhh
Allow me to pile onto the Kobe narratives with one that’s more of the same, yet a comparison that’s just the opposite. That’s because the parallels here are too clear NOT to smile. Easily my pick for the hip hop album of 2014, Common’s Nobody’s Smiling is also a perfect title for this forthcoming season from the Lakers. And I didn’t need last night’s disastrous first game that led to Julius Randle’s heart-wrenching injury, an overmatched Lakers team getting blown out, and Kobe jawing at Dwight, calling him “soft”, in said blowout to determine that this is going to be a sad season for L.A. Oh wait, that last part wasn’t disastrous, it was great.

Just following Kobe Bryant is going to be a fascinating, redeeming quality of this Lakers season. I’m totally OK that they have something like 45 of their games on national TV this year. Old man Kobe already proved in game 1 that he’ll be entertaining to watch — not just with the drama, but with his game. The Jordan fadeaways are in mid-season form and the best moment of the Lakers season will be when Kobe passes Jordan on the all-time scoring list.

That said, the season is very long. I’m intrigued to see if a healthy Kobe can maintain his patience when his hall-of-fame sidekick and rookie stud are already both out for the year and when his next best sidekicks can legitimately pull off a Rush Hour 4 sequel.

So even though Nobody’s Smiling, Kobe’s best hope is to create something from nothing. Hmm… perhaps “Blak Majik” should be the Black Mamba’s theme song this season. After all, that’s what it’s all about.

Perhaps I’m stretching at this point, but don’t Kobe & Common’s career trajectory mirror each other a little bit? Kobe, high school phenom, makes his first all-star game in his second year. Common, 20 years old, made his rap debut with Can I Borrow A Dollar? in 1992, and 2 years later, turned critical heads with Resurrection — featuring what many consider is one of the best hip hop songs of all time, “I Used To Love H.E.R.”.

Kobe, in his prime, wins 3 straight titles with Shaq from 2000-2002. Common links with Kanye West and the result is the only 2 albums nominated for the Best Rap Album Grammy with a win for “Southside” as Best Rap Performance by a Duo/Group.

Now, Kobe, at the twilight of his career, continues his quest as one of the game’s elite while Common just proved it with Nobody’s Smiling at age 42. However close you want to view them together, one thing’s for sure — let’s appreciate their excellence for as long as they choose to continue. #EverybodyUP!

The Ladies ‘Dark R&B’ Award goes to…
The Western Conference

west-gwhh

Ok, so this award probably needs some explaining. What is ‘Dark R&B’? Why is seemingly everyone in the Western Conference shown above with their prestigious Gowhere NBA Award?

1. Dark R&B is a seldom used way to actually perfect describe a sub-genre of R&B. Dark moods, sounds, lyricism, and mysterious visuals to match. Think The Weeknd. Someone who I’d say is highly responsible for how much I’ve progressed in this genre since 2011.

This year, it has been the ladies who have frequented my playlist, a lot, yet they may not get as much consistent shine on Gowhere as the hip hoppers. Here’s your Cliff Notes on the artists and a kickstart for your playlist. In no particular order…

Jhene Aiko
(also heard above on “Blak Majik”)

Banks

Snoh Aalegra

Kiesza
(She put a somber, serious twist on only the greatest song ever #JustKiddingButSeriously)
http://teamcoco.com/embed/v/85700#playlist=x;eyJ0b3RhbCI6MTAsInR5cGUiOiJyZWxhdGVkIiwiaWQiOjg1NzAwfQ

FKA Twigs
(Had to include the “Two Weeks” video to give you a sense of the visuals as a whole. An easy, cool pick, directed by Nabil, of Kanye fame.)

Tinashe and Teyana Taylor have solo albums just released or out next week, respectively, and both have some mood-altering dark sounds on what I’ve heard so far. Get up on any or all of the above; you really can’t go wrong, just like you can’t go wrong to predict any of the above teams to make a long playoff run.

2. As fun as the Western Conference was to follow last year, it should be even more exciting this season. When you look at the 8 teams that made the playoffs last season, there were 0 of them that took a large personnel step backwards. History says that the 8 teams won’t remain the same; it hasn’t happened since 1980 in the West (#TheStarters stat!).

So, that said, why are Goran Dragic and Anthony Davis in the photoshop? Because you can make the argument that their Suns or Pelicans, respectively, can improve enough to make the Playoffs this year. Counting the 3 locks not pictured (the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers), that’s 10 teams for 8 spots. Every game will matter and, unfortunately, every injury will matter.

It’s the constant, ugly duckling that thwarts preseason predictions every year because they’re impossible to predict. The incumbent playoff teams pictured above (Blazers, Grizzlies, Warriors, Mavs, Rockets) are my non-locks as they are more susceptible to be a .500 team if one of their major rotation players falls to injury for an extended amount of time.

For example, what happens to Dallas’ defense if Tyson Chandler misses 20 games? What about the Rockets if James Harden or Dwight Howard miss some time? In fact, the Rockets are my team, if I had to pick one of the incumbents, that misses the playoffs. I just think they’re too thin on offensive creators and the least balanced amongst the rest of the playoff teams.

Call it a hunch more than anything, as you can also call my 2015 new playoff team: the New Orleans Pelicans. I feel they’re due for good health after a damaging season last year, and, let’s just say I’m with the rest of the population in saying that Anthony Davis is going to be the league’s next big superstar.

The ‘Hood Billionaire’ Award goes to…
Paul Pierce

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls

I suppose this hunch is going to take some explaining as well. As you may or may not know, Rick Ross is prepping a new album, Hood Billionaire, for a Black Friday release next month. His newest single “Keep Doin That” is his latest materialistic affair that admittedly gets a fun assist from R. Kelly but also continues to promote more of the same. You don’t even have to watch the video, just look at the picture.

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My question: why aren’t we collectively tired of Rozay yet? The corrections officer killed his credibility to me from the start and I just haven’t been able to vibe with his rough voice and delivery like the masses over the years. At this point, the only reasons I’d watch his video is if Kanye West was in it or DJ Khaled’s acting was in it (this is really a must-watch, guys.)

So to me, Hood Billionaire is shaping up to be more of the same. My NBA connection: Paul Pierce.

Not in a sense of, “Go away Paul Pierce,” but is this the year he falls off a little bit? He averaged a respectable 13.7 PPG last year with the Nets, but I question his fit with the Wizards.

Won’t he take away from Wall and Beal’s faster paced games? Remember, he fit in well with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams who play more his speed last season. Trevor Ariza was last year’s Wizards best perimeter wing defender. I’m sure Pierce will see some minutes on the other team’s best guy, but he can’t do it for the full 30 over a full season like Ariza could. In an ideal world, I feel he comes in off the bench and plays crunch time (especially in the playoffs), but I don’t know about an everyday starter anymore.

Again, call it a hunch, but I feel the Pierce addition to the Wiz is, at best, a wash with Ariza and see the Wizards winning the same amount of games this season. Come playoffs though, they’ll again be more dangerous than their regular season indicates.

The Drake vs. Lil Wayne Tour Award
for Best New Rivalry goes to…
Bulls vs. Cavs

bulls-cavs-gwhh

No, Drake and Lil Wayne aren’t beefing.

I’m referring to their summer tour that pitted the two superstars against each other in a creative, Capcom inspired nightly battle across the country. Fans got to vote on an app what song they wanted to hear from Drake or Wayne next, then at the end of the show, vote on who wins.

One of the highly debated topics of preseason previews is who comes out of the East this year. After consuming much of the previews on the web or TV in the past month, I feel like it’s literally 50/50 amongst the experts. But 2 things jump out to comfort me that this is not a homer award.

1. Open Court previewed the season last week and the conversation turned towards the Bulls vs. the Cavs quicker than Derrick Rose on the fast break. Seriously, they wasted no time going on a tangent to Bulls/Cavs. It was sudden and phenomenal.

2. Bulls vs. Cavs in the preseason showed the potential of how fun this rivalry will be. Derrick Rose scored 30 points in 24 minutes; Kyrie nearly matched him with 28 points. The experts above, the national reporters who flew to Columbus, OH to cover the game, and of course, fans of the league are simply hyped for Rose vs. LeBron, Rose vs. Kyrie, Joakim vs. Love. Thibs vs. Blatt. Even Aaron Brooks vs. Matthew Dellavedova. (Ok, maybe not that last one.)

Appropriately enough, it’s not readily public knowledge who ended up winning between Drake and Lil Wayne. With each team at full strength, one can make the argument for either the Bulls or the Cavs to represent the East this year. I waver back and forth like I waver back and forth between which Carter V Wayne & Drake collab I like more. You really can’t go wrong with any pick. And above all, I just want to see (and hear) more for this year (and years to come).

The Chicago Independent Hip Hop Scene Award goes to…
San Antonio Spurs

spurs-claw-gwhh
Last season in this space, I compared the Chicago independent hip hop scene to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I apologize, Chicago.

Let me redeem myself with this pick — comparing the still-growing Chicago scene to the champion San Antonio Spurs.

What jumps out to me about the Spurs is their variety of individual styles and versatility to play at any pace as a whole. They have specialists, role players, and don’t rely on any one star to carry them every night.

From a broader perspective, the Chicago independent hip hop scene is much the same. Sure, we may have one breakout star on the national level in Chance The Rapper, but not too long before that it was Chief Keef. And save for some random releases and features this year, Chance hasn’t really put out music and yet the Chicago music scene is still being nationally recognized through other artists like Lil Bibby, Lil Herb, Vic Mensa, Add-2, The Boy Illinois, just to name a handful in addition to groups like the Closed Sessions label and the Treated Crew. I know I’m missing a ton of artists who are doing their own thing; after all, the list was off the top of my head and the full list could be another 3000 words.

I’d argue that, when it comes to cities, Chicago has the highest quantity of ‘relevant’ artists in the independent scene. ‘Relevant’ in quotes is an airy way of saying artists who are getting posts on national blogs and other big-name co-signs. If you want to verify for yourself, just study a national blog like 2DopeBoyz who posts a similar mix of mainstream and independent music as us, per their own unique tastes. Another example: Complex. Chicago artists have been popping up on one of the largest platforms of hip hop culture more often in 2014. All of whom, in their own way, represent the melting pot of Chicago with their own style of hip hop that fits in sub-genres from drill to soulful to backpack, and more.

Need some examples? Simply put, stay in tune with us. Everyday we have new Chicago hip hop on the homepage. Special shoutout to 5ABIOmatic and Ant, too. Click those red links for their unique tastes spotlighting all Chicago artists.

Much like the Ladies ‘Dark R&B’ Award for the Western Conference above, there is no Chicago rapper that I’m going to directly compare to, say, Patty Mills. The light bulb turned on when thinking about the Spurs’ melting pot of players, who when combined together, provide a swiss-army-knife style that can do it all. That’s why they were able to survive the Mavs, Blazers, and Thunder in the Western Conference and then redeem the worst Finals loss ever over the Miami Heat.

The Spurs are running it back this year. And I’ve learned to just not pick against Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Pop until they lose or retire, whatever comes first. What’s amazing about this season is that you can easily make a case for over a handful of title winners, in just the West alone, in fact. What we do know is that each team, each composition of young and veteran players, are having their “Fight or Flight” start this week…

Hey, FWIW…

WEST
Final 4: Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Warriors
Surprise Playoff Team: Pelicans
Champion: Spurs

EAST
Final 4: Bulls, Cavs, Raptors, Wizards
Surprise Playoff Team: Pistons
Champion: Bulls

FINALS
Spurs

***

What are your predictions? Once again, weigh in with a quick sign-up/comment on our Gowhere Community.

ICYMI: Part 1 of the Gowhere NBA Awards
(featuring the Kendrick Lamar “I Love Myself” Award, the Drake “I’m not new to this” Award, and more)