Zach LaVine game-winning 3 in Seattle Pro-Am

So even though the marquee NBA summer event, the Vegas Summer League, concluded last night, I had to first highlight this highlight reel of Zach LaVine tearing up his hometown’s pro-am over the weekend. To the tune of 49 points (I know, the defense doesn’t look that willing to step up here) but moreso than that: a ridiculous game-winning 3 at the buzzer. Couldn’t script in better as LaVine walks off with peak swag. And speaking of Summer League, the kid impressed there too. I expect a big sophomore season for him (and a repeat dunk title) up in Minny this year.

But as I alluded to above, the Spurs stay winning this summer as they won the Summer League Championship last night. The week’s MVP was Kyle Anderson as high-flyer Jonathan Simmons won the game MVP and the Spurs’ win overall was a statement for Becky Hammon — the first NBA head coach at any level. Congrats to them. I’ve also watched this Kyle Anderson behind the back pass like 83x already today.

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Gowhere NBA Awards: Playoff Edition

Above: The 1-on-1 matchup of Round 2?

It’s about that time! With Round 1 in the books and still needing Sunday to digest how amazing game 7 of Spurs-Clippers was, I believe now that the Playoffs are really going to amp up. Of course that’s natural as we have 8 teams remaining in Round 2, but each series has its fascinating matchups and moments to look forward to, and it’s even harder to predict winners for now and beyond.

I’m not here to try and do just that, though I may offer a prediction here and there. For me, it’s more about looking at what unique takes and context to look forward to, with the help of some of my favorite new tunes of the last month or so. You may know how this works already, but if not, here’s the rundown to clue you in:

Gowhere NBA Awards: Playoff Edition

– “100K” Award for Team with the Most Urgency
“Darker Than Blood” Award for the Series with the Most Contrasting Styles
– “Adoration of the Magi” Award for the Best Sneaky Good Series
– “Talk About It” Award for Most Unfortunate 1st Round Result
– ‘SWISH’ Award for the Most Fascinating 2nd Round Series

And now the envelope please…

*** 

The “100K” Award
for Team with the most urgency goes to…
Los Angeles Clippers

clippers-gowhere

Naturally, I gotta start off where Round 1 concluded, right?

In an instant classic game between 2 teams so good that they should definitely not have been matched up in Round 1, the Spurs and Clippers battled through 31 lead changes and 16 ties to the final buzzer, where it was finally the biggest shot of Chris Paul’s career that gave the Clippers the Round 2 ticket. So good, it’s worth reliving.

As triumphant as the Clips’ first round win over the defending champs was (the best first round series ever, right?), isn’t this win not enough for Doc & Co.? Aren’t they the team that has the most urgency to win the title now?

That’s where the namesake of the award comes in: “100K” — the most lethal rap pump up anthem to drop this spring, and really this year, by unknown Chicago collective Goodbye Tomorrow.

The chorus boasts, “I need a hundred thousand dollars in my hand, right now (right now right now!) / Don’t nobody ever give it you just gotta go and get it (right now right now!)”

Those words, delivered at the slick break-neck flow, is absolute pure motivation to get on the grind. But as we’ve seen on Goodbye Tomorrow’s first 2 releases so far, there’s a deeper meaning behind the “100K”. In this case, I believe that chorus and the general motivational gems of the lyrics within the verses are a metaphor for really anything. In the Clippers’ case, they need that Larry O’Brien trophy right now, right now.

My logic: The state of their core, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin having been teammates now for 4 years. Chris Paul is entering the tail end of his prime and in a lot of ways, he needed a signature game like Game 7 to realign his career narrative. Blake Griffin has reached perennial all-star level, but likewise with CP3, his narrative is about to enter a breaking point: — is he good enough to win?

DeAndre Jordan will be a free agent after this season and the Clippers would have no cap room for a suitable replacement. JJ Redick had a career year. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford are also veterans entering the twilight of their careers. When you look at all of these elements together like this, plus last year’s disappointing exit to Oklahoma City, a deep playoff run is the bare minimum.

Looking ahead to Round 2: It will be a battle versus the Houston Rockets. James Harden plus his resillient supporting cast (including Dwight Howard looking spry) are strong enough to get the series win, but considered underdogs by the experts. I think it’s more of a 50/50 pick ’em considering the Rockets have home court and that Chris Paul is limping in with a strained hamstring into Game 1. There is no way to quantify just how taxing the epic 7 game battle with the Spurs, but it’s safe to say the Clippers’ gas tank is less than ‘F’.

One more icing on the cake to “100K”: This Blake Griffin line.

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That’s not even the sickest NBA reference in the track either, so give it a whirl above (or here, set to an animated Chicago skyline.)

 

The “Darker Than Blood” Award
for the Series with the Most Contrasting Styles goes to…
Warriors-Grizzlies

warriors-grizzlies-gowhere

And hey, with these 2, there may be some actual blood sometime this series…

The Warriors-Grizzlies 2nd round series tipped off yesterday to predictable results given Mike Conley’s face injury. The Dubs won at home again and looked in control the whole way. It’s unfortunate to watch these two teams battle when one isn’t at full strength. As the series continues, I believe the Grizz can only get the Mike Conley Return Game at home. They aren’t in peak form like back in December, when the Grizz beat the Warriors at home in a game that experts were lauding as a Western Conference Finals preview. (Oh we forget…)

Potential short series aside, Dubs-Grizz is still sure to be an entertaining one of contrasting styles. The Warriors’ pace-and-space guard heavy attack versus the famed Grit-and-Grind approach led by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies. The contrast was clear in Game 1 as the Warriors made more 3s (13) than the Grizzlies attempted (12).

The song that embodies this contrast in styles jumped to mind immediately: Steve Aoki’s new single with Linkin Park “Darker Than Blood”.

As longtime readers know, Linkin Park is one of the few favorite artists of ours that neighbor hip hop. I’ve (for the most part) been a fan of all of their albums, growing up on their music over the past 15 years — Duncan-esque longevity by the way. This collab with Aoki is LP’s natural attempt at keeping things fresh and current, especially on the heels of last summer’s more traditional rock heavy Hunting Party. While some may look at this collab as a farce, it comes across genuine to me. Hey, I like it. The clash of Aoki’s uptempo backdrop with Chester’s vocals works. Just like Dubs-Grizz will too.

Last point on the Warriors: Couldn’t you make the case that they have the most urgency to win right now? (And be rightful rulers of the prestigious made up “100K” Award?)

They put up a historical season with 67 wins and a top 10 point differential in league history this season. Just about everything broke their way individually: Curry, the official (and well-deserved) MVP of the league, Klay Thompson taking the leap to be a bonafide all-star, Draymond Green taking the leap as one of the most versatile and best complimentary players in the league, and Andrew Bogut protecting the rim and staying healthy for the most part *knocks on wood*.

The quick case against the Warriors not having the most urgency is that their core is young. They’re also likely to lock up Draymond Green this summer adding to Curry and Thompson with multi-years remaining on their deals. With the cap increase, the Warriors will eventually have the flexibility to replace the skillsets of aging veterans Bogut and Andre Iguodala, perhaps even in-house with extentions for Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.

It looks promising for the Warriors to extend their window beyond this year, but as we may be seeing now with Oklahoma City and Chicago, untimely injuries can bring that window sill from wide open to open just a crack. That said, with everything that’s happened this year, it feels like the Warriors have to win it all… this year. (FWIW, I think they do.)

OK, one more: Not a point, but I just haven’t gotten tired of watching this. I was at a sports bar amongst only about 20 people watching this comeback live. I’ll never forget the range of “Oooh’s” and “Whoa’s” to this shot.

Now imagine this in June…

 

The “Adoration of the Magi” Award
for the Best Sneaky Good Series goes to…
Hawks-Wizards

hawks-wizards

I have no idea who’s going to win this Wizards-Hawks series. The Wiz are peaking now, having won 5 straight in the playoffs and stealing Game 1 on the road yesterday in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Atlanta has had to overcome recent minor injuries to Paul Millsap and Al Horford as it tries to recapture their peak form from the undefeated January they had this season en route to 60 wins.

Both of these teams may not jump out at you from a star power standpoint or a contender standpoint. But on one side, you have John Wall, who really is a top-tier entertaining all-star that doesn’t get quite the mainstream pub he deserves. And for both teams, I wouldn’t be shocked if the winner continues to do just that and represent the East in the Finals over an injured Cavs team or an inconsistent Bulls team. That plausible end scenario makes this series even more sneaky good.

Also sneaky good, nay, sneaky great is what’s risen to become my favorite track off Tetsuo & Youth — Lupe Fiasco’s “Adoration of the Magi”. (NSFW below.)

First, if you haven’t yet experienced the greatest eureka moment in hip hop this year, listen to the hook of “Adoration” while reading the hidden allusions behind it here.

Then, if you missed it last week, read Grantland’s take on Tetsuo & Youth as a whole, and the idea that it’s intended to be an album played in reverse.

The section on “Adoration of the Magi”, plus Lupe’s co-sign of its meaning on Instagram brought to my attention in the piece, has even further driven home the message of the thought-provoking, and racy, NSFW visuals recently released above. Whoo! Flat out, “Adoration” is one of Lupe’s best masterpieces of many throughout his career. I’m not ready to say the Wizards-Hawks, and the winner’s eventual destiny, will be on that level too but both subjects here are simply too much under the radar. Needless to say, pay attention to both.

 

The “Talk About It” Award
for the Most Unfortunate 1st Round Moment goes to…
Kevin Love

love-gowhere

I’m a Bulls fan and even I feel kinda bad about this. Just as Kevin Love was turning the corner as the 3rd banana on the East-favorite Cavaliers, he gets his arm yanked by Kelly Olynyk and is not just out a few weeks, but the entire playoffs after surgery last week will sideline him to 4-6 months of recovery.

We can rehash whether or not Olynyk’s yank was intentional or not (in brief, I believe it was, but not to hurt the guy, just to bring him away from the ball) but I’d rather look ahead to what this mean’s for Kevin Love’s future. He has an opt-out clause in his contract to become a free agent this year and many wavered on whether or not he would use it, ultimately concluding that how the playoffs went would be the determining factor. And that still reigns true, but now is easier to predict since Love won’t be a part of the procedings.

I believe Love will stay for the final year of his contract and give it one more go around for the Cavs. I’m sure it’s unsatisfying for him to have to sit out the rest of the playoffs before fully realizing his potential alongside LeBron and Kyrie. If anything too, he’ll hit free agency this time next year when the 2016 salary cap explodes and he can make even more money.

What’s the scenario that has to happen for Love to bolt? Maybe if the Cavs still win the chip without him? Even still…

But it’s only fitting we recognize the unfortunate circumstances behind Love’s injury with the best R&B song to drop recently off Trey Songz’ new surprise 6-track EP — “Talk About It”.

The ‘SWISH’ Award
for the Most Fascinating 2nd Round Series goes to…
Bulls-Cavs

lebron-jimmy

In an earlier draft of this article, this was named the So Help Me God Award but Kanye literally had to go and change the album name to SWISH just yesterday. He added that he may change the album again, which may change the name of this Award for the Bulls and the Cavs.

But the reason it’s named after Kanye’s ever-changing named album is because I will expect nothing and everything for Kanye’s new album.

So far, we’ve gotten the emotional and personal “Only One” with Paul McCartney, the haunting “Wolves” (that hasn’t yet been dropped in CDQ form… my theory: Kanye’s still making subtle changes and adding additional layers to the production.), and the high-octane, premiere hype anthem “All Day”. All 3 songs cover a wide variety of range on the sonic and conceptual spectrum. And this is just 3 songs!

Just like there are still 3 rounds to go in the Playoffs!

Local bias aside, this Bulls-Cavs series has the potential to have the entertainment and intrigue that Spurs-Clippers just earned. There’s a rivalry buzz here, but given Love’s injury and the Bulls’ inconsistencies this season, the series is not the dominant storyline in the NBA right now.

The matchups are here though. Once we see it play out for a couple games, I predict the nation will get swept up in Rose/Kyrie, LeBron/Jimmy, and the physicality that’s sure to be there whenever Thibodeau’s Bulls face off against LBJ in the playoffs.

The series is another 50/50 coin flip as it’s simply hard to predict how the Cavs are going to come out without Love, J.R. Smith for 2 games, and on a week’s rest. Plus, the Bulls have been a maddening split personality team all year from game to game, even through last week’s Game 5 and Game 6 versus Milwaukee.

The key to the series will be the first 2 games. Can the Bulls take advantage of J.R. Smith’s temporary absence to steal a game in Cleveland, where the Cavs haven’t lost since in the all-star break? What Joakim Noah are we going to get? Will he be spry and backing up the talk that’s sure to come on LeBron? Just how much will Jimmy Butler be able to contain LeBron? Who will win that Rose/Kyrie battle, with Rose stepping up against elite point guards in the league, especially Kyrie throughout his career (and since Kyrie replaced Rose in the USA starting lineup last summer)?

I got the Bulls in 6 because I believe in the best version of them and because, hey, why not take the hometown team against our biggest rival (LeBron), what do I got riding on it? But if the Bulls take G1, then I think they’ll be in the driver’s seat to take it home in 6 or 7.

Whatever the case, this series is going long, and by the end, the mainstream will be like Taylor Swift watching these flame throwers.

Grizzlies-Spurs Clutch Highlights

Last night we were treated to the game of the year for the young season.

And this one might hold up the whole way.

The Memphis Grizzlies traveled to San Antonio, one night after ending the Golden State Warriors’ 16 game winning streak, and the teams battled through regulation and THREE overtimes!

Above are the full, clutch highlights. A gem of an edit from the NBA, piecing together all of the dramatic shots and buzzer beaters from each phase of the game. I won’t spoil it because I can imagine the first time viewer will have an excellent experience watching it unfold for themselves.

If that’s you… stop scrolling, stop reading and watch above! Wow. What a game.

Eye for an eye
Eye for an eye

Today in NBA Commercials

How about some hilarious NBA commercials to get you through the mid-week hump?

Foot Locker unveiled 2 new ads starring James Harden getting defensive above and Derrick Rose and Tim Duncan below. D. Rose shows off the range, acting-wise, and Tim Duncan gets excited, which is perfect.

Contributing to the fray is H-E-B with their trio of new 30 second spots with the Champion Spurs. Manu, Parker, Kawhi, Patty Mills, and Tim Duncan appear and showcase their personality in all these. I liked Manu in the 2nd one and this Toga spot especially. Enjoy!

Gowhere NBA Awards (Pt. 1)

Above: Tim Duncan celebrates his 5th championship… or his 1st Gowhere NBA Award?

The 3rd Annual Gowhere NBA Awards honor the league’s brightest superstars and elite teams… with fake music awards I made up to connect the two things I love most: hip hop and the NBA.

Seriously this is a thing. And it’s really the 3rd annual. Last season, for example, I dubbed the Golden State Warriors as the winner of “The TDE Award” for the team ready to take the next leap. As it played out, both teams didn’t make the next leap because of a 1st round exit and an absence of Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album.

See? I’m great at this.

And look! This year we even have trophies! I know, I know. Please, remain seated as I open the first (fictitious) envelope…

Tonight’s Awards are as followed:

– The Kendrick Lamar “I Love Myself” Award
– The ‘Kauai’ Award
– The Raury ROY Award
– The Drake “I’m not new to this” Award
– BONUS mystery award… (in suspense yet?)

This is part 1 of 2 of the Award Ceremony. [EDIT: Part 2 is now up here.]

 

The Kendrick Lamar “I Love Myself” Award goes to…
Russell Westbrook

144564042AB_Thndr_Lkrs_058a
Let’s start off on a positive note — the narratives of Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Lamar turning a new chapter.

As even the casual follower knows by now, last season’s MVP Kevin Durant has been sidelined indefinitely into December with a Jones fracture in his right foot. Durant said in a recent press conference that he plans to take his time with recovery, as he also takes his time ridin’ dirty around OKC practice in a scooter.

This leaves the OKC Thunder to fight for itself for the first quarter of the season without its superstar, and to be led for, really the first time, by its other superstar: the uber-talented, yet oft-maligned Russell Westbrook.

You know Westbrook’s game by now. He attacks the rim relentlessly in the fast-break or the half-court, utilizing his other-world athleticism to finish in breathtaking fashion or to simply get to the foul line. He combines this with a mixed bag of jump shots — either subpar 31% 3-point shooting on nearly 5 attempts a game or flow-killing, abrupt, pull-up mid-range jump shots that are either swishes or bricks with nowhere in between (here are the makes, set to the Lil Wayne “She Will” instrumental.) This is the reason why Westbrook is much maligned. Get ready for a steady dose of these…

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I love myself!

Hoops junkies caught wind of this stat the day Durant went down, which led Grantland’s Zach Lowe to predict that Westbrook is “probably going to lead the league in scoring and usage rate until Durant gets back.” He also says that, “much of the endless criticism aimed at him has been off base. He takes three or four terrible shots every game, sure, but he’s an unstoppable freight train going to the hoop, and he has made subtle improvements in his passing every season.”

Doesn’t that make you excited for Westbrook unleashed? Will he attempt 30 shots a game? Or show off improved point guard skills in a concerted effort to prove critics wrong? Considering Westbrook admitted during media day that he doesn’t know what a MEME is, I doubt he’s the type that takes any critic’s opinion beyond acknowledgement.

This is a MEME, Russell Westbrook. From your interview reaction, which is in the all-time interview reactions hall of fame.
This is a MEME, Russell Westbrook. From your post-game interview, which is in the post-game interview hall of fame.

Whatever the case, I am oddly more excited to watch OKC now with Durant injured, just to see what it would be like to watch a Russell Westbrook solo act for an extended period of time. Don’t get me wrong, I hope this only lasts for the first month, but the time is now for Westbrook to transform his narrative. Call me a doubter, but I think he’ll only strengthen it.

On the other hand, the namesake of the award is Kendrick Lamar’s first single to the long-awaited, hotly-anticipated, [insert other hyphenated adjective here because it’s that anxiously needed] sophomore album.

“i” centers around a theme that many first singles dare not circle: self-love. Any casual listener will gain at least one takeaway: Kendrick Lamar loves himself. Hopefully at least one more too: love yourself.

Kendrick’s single is still in my rotation and will assuredly be stuck in our heads as the NBA kicks off Premiere Week on TNT. I know I’m probably not the first one to make this comparison, but “i” reminds me of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and I hope it propels Kendrick to another level of stardom alongside what the rest of his sophomore album can potentially deliver.

Other Nominees: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant (who could take over this award by Christmas), and Swaggy P (who is actually a fan of the song, which makes me happy.)

 

The ‘Kauai’ Award
for the player who is adding the most to his game goes to…
Blake Griffin

blake-gambino
At the top of the month, Childish Gambino released a surprise double project, S T N  M T N / Kauai. The former was a free, rap-focused mixtape that found Gambino doing familiar things over the likes of “Go DJ”. The latter, Kauai, was an EP where the profits went to keeping the oldest Hawaiian island clean.

It was also the first project where Gambino was singing the whole time.

Now, Gambino singing is nothing new. He’s been harmonizing since the days of “Lights Turned On” (one of his catalogue’s best tracks, imo.) The singing has progressively become more prevalent with each album and started to inspire Drake comparisons, to which Gambino replied, “This n***a think he Drake.’ Nah, I ain’t Drake. I sing better, I do better, my s**t’s wetter.” in an in-show call-out of Drake, Kendrick, and Schoolboy Q this summer.

Regardless of who’s better, Gambino took an element of his craft and displayed it, with large success, on a whole other level with Kauai. That’s where the connection with Blake Griffin begins. Hear for yourselves first, and press play on my favorite track of the project, “The Palisades” (named after the L.A. district where Gambino rented Chris Bosh’s mansion for the summer).

In fact, the Gambino-Griffin connection began much earlier. Sometime circa 2011 after Gambino’s #1 Blake Griffin rap reference connected the two in person.

(INSIDE INFO ALERT: Gambino’s 3-year crown for the most powerful Blake Griffin rap reference in hip hop is about to be thwarted… more on that when that song is released…)

The element of Blake Griffin’s craft that took a large leap forward last year was his jump-shot. It led to a career year in scoring, highlighted by his 27.4 PPG when Chris Paul missed 18 games in January. His jump shot from 10-16 feet improved from 36% to 40%, his jump shot from 16-23 feet improved from 34% to 37%, and even his 3-pointers from 17% to 27% (albeit on less than an attempt a game,) per Basketball Reference.

So, like Gambino’s singing, the jump-shot is now a known part of Griffin’s arsenal. Look for it to take a Kauai-level jump this season, if the preseason is any indicator.

Midway through the first quarter of the first pre-season game, Griffin swished a corner 3 in rhythm, en route to hitting his first 6 shots. I was watching it live and had the big eyeball emoji going. The performance inspired a superb, detailed investigation about the improved balance of his shot by SB Nation’s Mike Prada.

The one game case study was backed up in the rest of the preseason, culminating in Griffin’s 21 points in 25 minutes this past Friday vs. the Blazers. With a lot of these Clipper games on NBATV, I was able to easily track the consistency of Griffin’s fluid, no hesitation jumper. The points have been there, the jumper passes the eye test, and though the Clippers announcers may be biased, it’s also noteworthy that they are also genuinely impressed at Blake’s improved jumper after watching his career’s every game.

I think the jumper will carry over to the season and propel Griffin in the MVP race as my #2 candidate behind LeBron James. If the Cavs falter, I don’t think it’s out of the question that between Griffin’s improved individual success and the team’s chances at a top 3 seed, Blake can be the league’s MVP.

On top of that, Griffin is already the #1 MVP candidate of sketch comedy. Strong pre-season from Griffin, to say the least.

The Raury ROY Award goes to…
Elfrid Payton

elfrid-new
Elfrid who? Raury who?

The junkies know who I’m talkin’ about. If you’re neither a hoops junkie or a hip hop junkie, that’s OK. I’m here to educate you that Elfrid Payton may be the next Rookie of the Year and an eventual perennial all-star point guard out of the east. And that Raury may be music’s Rookie of the Year already, who’s drawn all-star comparisons to fellow ATLien Andre 3000 that the man himself calls “fair”.

Perhaps coolest of all: both came out of nowhere this summer.

Elfrid Payton’s story is really just one chapter in, compared to the two or three Raury’s is thus far. The lead chapter already indicates bright things ahead in future pages. Payton is a 6’3″ guard who played at non-descript Louisiana-Lafayette, but did enough to impress scouts and land at the #10 overall pick in this year’s draft by the Orlando Magic. He is not even 21 years old yet, but is prime to start the season opener and lead the Magic backcourt in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s injury.

On the new Grantland Basketball Hour show on ESPN, Bill Simmons likened Elfrid Payton to a rookie Russell Wilson, in the vein that he’s the young leader that the team has already gravitated towards. Simmons even went as far to bet Jalen a lobster dinner that anyone but Jabari will win Rookie of the Year, with Elfrid Payton being his pick. I think Jalen’s getting that free meal come April, but that speaks more to Jabari’s NBA-level talent and opportunity with the Bucks than it does Payton.

Damian Lillard became the bench mark for point guards coming out of a small school, so naturally Payton will be compared to him in the early stages of his career. While Payton’s jumper isn’t nearly as sweet, I do predict a culture-changing impact rookie season as a launching pad for the future. He’s already possessing the speed and strength to get into the lane and hit floaters while he’s there. Plus, Elfrid cares not for practical jokes against the rook and even has Kirk Hinrich-level grit:

Around the time of the NBA Draft, the mainstream was not only getting to know Elfrid Payton, but Raury, the Indigo Child, as well. The video release of “God’s Whisper” dates back to April, but it wasn’t until a photo this summer of Raury with Kanye West drew thousands more views to the fitting first impression of the 18-year old star in the making. It was “God’s Whisper”, possessing a hip hop production similar to ‘Ye’s Graduation work, that garnered Kanye’s attention.

In fact, the Kanye effect was how I found out about Raury. I digested the full Indigo Child project on the August night of its release, after watching “God’s Whisper” for the first time. I was impressed with Raury’s perspective beyond his years and how his heart and positive intentions spilled out onto the art. Accompanied by well-done visuals, the project has sat with me these past few months, with a handful of the tracks remaining in my rotation.

Though Raury shows his rapping skill across songs like “Armor” and “Superfly”, I think the greater potential in his career is when it’s just him singing with an acoustic guitar. “Superfly” is the song that best balances the rapping, singing, and guitar and is the one song with the most universal lyrical appeal too. Perhaps its inclusion here, in a discussion of how he and his NBA parallel prepare to take flight, is most fitting as well. I can’t wait to see where both Elfrid & Raury are at the end of the 2015 season.

The Drake “I’m not new to this” Award goes to…
Toronto Raptors

toronto-raptors-gwhh

When you think of Drake and basketball it’s 1 of 2 things:

1. The Toronto Raptors
2. “I been Steph Curry with the shot.” (here are some fire Steph Curry highlights mixed with “0 to 100”.)

Ok, 3 things:

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I’m not here to make fun of Drake’s airball… Kevin Hart already did. “#iHopeHeDoesaSongBoutHowStupidThisWas” 

I’m here to dissect Drake’s Raptors for this season… and beyond.

Last year, the roster collectively got their first playoff experience with an intense 7-game series with the Brooklyn Nets, who proved their equal since the series literally went down to the last second. The loss is not without its silver linings, however. Basketball is back in Toronto as “We The North” has doubled to personify the city’s feelings of being overlooked and galvanize national pride. For the team itself, one can first feel comforted that NBA history clearly shows baby steps are necessary in the climb towards the championship. Bitter playoff defeats usually create a clear hurdle for a team to jump it the next year, if they retain a young, growing core.

That’s just what the Raptors did this off-season. The roster is largely the same, after answering the summer’s big question mark with the re-signing of point guard and team leader Kyle Lowry. GM Masai Ujiri curated two improvements too: the signing of James Johnson to replace John Salmons and the sneaky good acquisition of one of the league’s top bench heat-check guys, Lou Williams. The Raptors will ride this improved depth, as Grantland’s Jared Dubin dissects, and continued internal development of contract-year starters Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to win the Atlantic Division again and earn a top 4 seed.

My favorite line from one of Drake’s 3 new tracks this past weekend, “6 God”, is when he breaks into song with “I’m not new to this” (x 3).

I’ll admit it, I’ll admit it, I’m imagining the Raptors starting 5 blaring this aloud in the locker room throughout the season and into April as their playoff anthem.

The Raptors are now NOT new to this, however. The expectation is to advance in the playoffs. And Masai has one “How Bout Now” moment he can create by the trade deadline.

Toronto has $28 million in expiring contracts, as pointed out via The Starters, and can use a combination of those players to trade for an impact player. I can’t predict who that may be, but as things always twist and turn during the season, a player may present himself as a welcome fit/injury replacement to bolster the Raps. Ujiri has proven he’s the aggressive type to make that move.

 

BONUS: The Majid Jordan Award
for under the radar backcourt duo goes to…
DeMar DeRozan & Kyle Lowry

lowry-derozan-gwhh

Well, this award just blew up your Gowhere NBA Award Pool. I know it. Adjust your scorecard because the Toronto Raptors do indeed possess the highest total of Gowhere NBA Awards.

Alas, in the much debated, highly entertaining “Best Backcourt Duo in the NBA” discussion at the start of training camp, the Wizards’ John Wall & Bradley Beal first made their claim publicly. Dion Waiters said he and Kyrie are the best and provided proof in the form of: “Men lie women lie BUCKETS DNT” and a YouTube video of his 24 point performance over said Wizards. Steph Curry & Klay Thompson didn’t say anything, just posed with their Gold Medals, as experts almost universally anointed them as the Best Backcourt Duo. While I’d agree with the Splash Brothers pick, I also noticed that many forgot DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry should seriously be in the discussion.

DeRozan earned his first all-star selection last year that felt interchangeable with his backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, who just started to emerge as the Raptors’ fuel to the fire post-Rudy Gay trade. Lowry played better as the season went along, putting up career numbers with 17.9 PPG and 7.4 APG. I hesitate to predict he’ll improve on those numbers, but that’s more a testament to his large jump to get to those numbers — the first time he was able to be that consistent over one full season. I don’t, however, hesitate to predict more improvement from DeMar DeRozan, given his youth and the Team USA effect. He has had all of the tools to become a dominant scoring swingman and for the first time in his career, DeRozan starts the season as the clear #1 scoring option for his team. Last season saw 22.7 PPG on only 43% shooting, 30% beyond the arc. Look for a slight uptick in his efficiency.

So to me, DeMar & Kyle are more under the radar than not, when seen in the scheme of the entire league. This also holds true for the namesake of the award in the music game: Majid Jordan. Plus, how can you not appreciate the (contrived) parallel to keep everything OVO x Toronto?

Unpopular opinion alert: Majid Jordan is the best OVO artist to drop since the summer. The statement has nothing to do with Majid Jordan being poorly received either. I have really only seen positive reviews in my scope and research, in fact. But it’s clear that the masses would prefer their PARTYNEXTDOOR or say, iLOVEMAKONNEN, given the digital hysteria over the two solo R&B artists since August that has translated to both separately headlining the legendary SOBs in New York City in just the past week.

Prior to PND & Makonnen’s deserved splash, Majid Jordan dropped what time has proven to be my favorite R&B project of the yearI explained why this past July at the time of release of the 5-track A Place Like This EP. Simply put, I highly suggest the quick 22 minute stream below. I also highly hope for a creative live show along the vibe of the “Place Like This” video and another project from Majid in 2015 that I don’t doubt will make their blip even brighter on the radar.

* * * *

That’s it for Part 1! Thank you for making it this far. If you did, you’re as pumped for the NBA Season as I am. Pt. 2 is [EDIT: right here.]

You can expect some awards (once again, fake awards) handed out to Kobe Bryant (so he doesn’t death stare me), the Western Conference contenders (yup, all of them), and my hometown Bulls (of course.) I’ll also have more Playoff predictions, more music for your playlist, and more attempts to make you laugh.

Now let me hear your predictions! In the meantime, create a quick profile and drop a comment in our NBA Talk message board.

Salute!

2014 NBA Champions: San Antonio Spurs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs a tribute post here on Gowhere. This was probably the most in-depth I’ve ever followed the league as a whole, beginning here on Gowhere with a pre-season preview (that’s a fun re-read), a pre-Playoffs preview, 1st Round recapand NBA Finals preview (these all contain music btw… humor me and click at least one :D). My point being: the San Antonio Spurs clinching The Finals last night, redeeming their heartbreaking loss to last year’s Heat, was as satisfying an ending to a great season for me personally, save for Derrick Rose hoisting the NBA Title in Chicago.

I feel what drew any casual NBA fan to this year’s Spurs was a combination of traits to be admired. For one, the aforementioned narrative of redemption and letting go of past, heartbreaking events to triumph above and achieve one’s goals. Secondly, the Spurs were the consummate team. The dream team for basketball purists: a team that relies on no superstars, plays team defense, and is the best passing team on offense (averaging 3.0 passes per play in the last 3 games in The Finals, for instance.) One of the many fun stats that is further gratifying: “In what may be a testament to the Spurs team philosophy, Tony Parker led the team in scoring this postseason with just 17.4 points per game. According to Elias, that’s the fewest playoff points per game by a championship team’s leading scorer in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55).” You get the point, I can go on. But lastly, it’s the much-talked about and easily-seen class of the organization from top to bottom. The ownership, Coach Pop, and Tim Duncan exude humility and respect that they are known for around the league as much as winning championships 15 (!) years apart. All of this was on full display during the Spurs’ joyous post-game trophy presentation when Pop and chairman Peter Holt took to the background while the team mobbed Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili was left near-speechless describing his “true team”.

So without further ado, enjoy some of the visuals that the end of the season brings… images all parts epic, elation, and hilarious below and if you hadn’t press play already above: an amazing unofficial NBA Playoffs Recap video that is better than any official one to drop in the future. Approximately 4.5 months until the start of the next NBA Regular Season. *nods head*

BONUS: Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard: Winning NBA Title on Father’s Day has ‘special meaning’

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(not from last night, but… clearly I need no explanation)

Heat-Spurs II (as told thru song)

With the 2014 NBA Finals underway tonight, I feel it’s only right to write some words on Heat-Spurs II, especially after my previous soundtracks to recap a 1st Round for the Ages and Playoff Preview. While the latter link contains some now-laughable predictions, I can at least hang my hat on the correct one that matters: Spurs vs. Heat. I wrote the Spurs would be celebrating to “Trophies” back then in April and I won’t be changing my pick now since after seeing the Spurs at their best the past 2 rounds has only made me more confident they stop the Heat Peat.

So that means you can stop reading right now, right? Wrong! What new song embodies the Spurs and Heat this June? Before I reveal, a movie-style trailer above to get you amped up for Game 1.

heat-spurs

I can’t remember when I was this excited about a rematch in which I had no horse in the race. Maybe that’s in large part because the NBA Finals rarely boasts rematches: the last one was Bulls-Jazz in ’97 and ’98 and I clearly had a horse in that race. Before that it was Pistons-Lakers in ’89 and ’90 and I was 3 years old. I should note though that the Celtics-Lakers Finals in 2 out of 3 years has a similar to vibe to the Spurs this time hosting the Heat.

Alas, there is one new song that instantly jumped to mind for various reasons to personify the most complete team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.

Common’s new single “Kingdom” is an exemplary record of depth and substance that looks at the harsh realities of urban life, set to a monumental, ominous church sound. Com Sense links up with producer and longtime collaborator No I.D. for the first single to Nobody’s Smiling, and together, they team up for a raw hip hop gem on par to the quality of their collabs 20 years ago on Ressurrection or even before that on Com’s 1992 debut, Can I Borrow a Dollar?. It’s just that “Kingdom” has that cutting-edge 2014 raw sound just as Common’s first two albums were cutting-edge for the early 90s.

So needless to say, you can see where I’m going here right? Common and No I.D. are the Duncan and Popovich of hip hop: both duos excelling and adapting their craft today as all-star veterans after establishing such rapport and success together as rookies in the game. And if Com & No I.D. are Duncan and Pop, then think of Vince Staples as the Kawhi Leonard of “Kingdom” as he infuses his youthful energy and thought-provoking perspective into the single. If Staples didn’t bring his ‘A’ game to bring the song full circle with the concluding line, “make the best from the least on the quest for them keys, to the kingdom,” then Common’s single wouldn’t be a championship-level record.

The analogy applies for Kawhi who has improved since last year’s Finals to become a deadly two-way threat, capable of slowing LeBron James down and making him work defensively. His emerging confidence, and health, along with Ginobili’s improved health and play compare to this time last year are enough to swing my prediction to the Spurs, especially with Tony Parker looking like he’ll be OK to start out the series.

But on the other side, there’s LeBron James and the Miami Heat and there ain’t no better song to describe them than Drake’s newest record this past Sunday, “0 to 100”.

0 to 100 real quick

This comparison is a little more self-explanatory. For the past four seasons really, the Miami Heat have had the quickest on/off switch in the league. When the Big 3 are clicking, or LeBron, Wade, and a role player or two, the Heat are unguardable. That usually goes hand-in-hand with forcing timely turnovers and letting LeBron loose in the open court. Therefore, the most fascinating matchup will be the Spurs-league leading assist offense versus the Heat defense. I’m curious to see if LeBron will be jumping those passing lanes and if he does and is successful, watch out.

Speaking of LeBron, isn’t he due for a dominant legendary Finals? Jalen Rose brought this up in yesterday’s Jalen Rose Report: LeBron hasn’t yet had the Jordan-esque game-to-game series yet in his previous 4 trips to the Finals. With LeBron fully in his prime and experience in the clutch, a LeBron-led Heat series win in 6 would not at all be surprising. After all, noted Drizzy fan Bron may be rapping this line from “0 to 100” during tonight’s Game 1 warmups.

If I ain’t the greatest than I’m headed for it!

*nods head* Perfectly applicable.

That said, Spurs in 6 in perfectly poetic fashion in Miami.

***

And having said that, I can’t help but resist a couple bonus tidbits today:

What were Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant doing the night of the eve of The Finals? Why, having dinner together reports TMZPerhaps they were talking about their respective Finals anniversaries today… (albeit Jordan’s a tad bit more iconic)

OH, A SPECTACULAR MOVE, BY MICHAEL JORDAN!

(As pumped as I am for tonight, those were the days.)