Al Horford game-winner vs. Wizards

Al Horford just put a cap on a wild finish in Atlanta, providing the game-winning tip-in with 1.9 seconds left to put his Hawks up 1 and win the pivotal Game 5 versus the Wizards.

Leading up to the tip-in… first, this John Wall block is on the short list for the subjective Block of the Year.

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With 15 seconds left, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll executed the most beautiful/pressure-packed 2 on 1 in, quite possibly, NBA history.

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(At posting time, this Warriors 2-on-1 is just as beautiful, for different reasons.)

Then, the Truth made up for his turnover by being The Truth.

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Then finally the buzzer beating tip-in with Al Horford coming out of nowhere to snare that board. (Another great block by Wall, btw.)

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The Atlanta atmosphere was superb all night, even during replay reviews when organist Sir Foster played “All Day” for a good 2 minutes. So when they won, it was appropriately crazy. I loved that 2 Chainz dapped up his NBA doppelgänger DeMarre Carroll, but that’s currently not in GIF form. Carroll’s dap from T.I. is though…

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But it’s Memphis Grizzlies fan Juicy J with the tweet of the night that tops even that…

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Paul Pierce buzzer beater vs. Hawks

Apparently, the banks are open across the entire Eastern Conference.

As we still catch our breath from Derrick Rose’s heroics, it’s Paul Pierce adding to his long list of career heroics today…

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On top of that, this shut the door on Atlanta’s miracle comeback — down 21 with 8 minutes to go, which was keyed by their bench and a game-tying 3 from Mike Muscala (who?! Roseville, Minnesota’s pride and joy).

Then Pierce’s unbelievable shot caps off an unbelievable fourth quarter.

Then he dropped a truth bomb for the walk-off interview… and then walked off.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Derrick Rose vs. John Wall Duel

Prior to Lillard vs. Westbrook, another point guard duel took place in Washington D.C. Former Calipari alum Derrick Rose and John Wall squared off, especially in the 4th quarter.

Wall carried a 12-0 run with 10 of those points to give the Wizards the lead with a few minutes remaining. The behind the back gather before one of those fast-break layups was the fastest I’ve ever seen that executed. Naturally, it was pretty cool.

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D. Rose responded and had 8 straight points of his own, including a step-back J over Wall to essentially ice the game and inspire a rare post-shot celebration. Rose obviously needs work in that department as his prolonged skipping resulted in an accidental smack of assistant coach Andy Greer. I can’t stop watching it.

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Rose ended with 25 points and Wall had 18 points and 9 assists in the losing effort. Bulls 99, Wizards 91.

Bradley Beal buzzer beater vs. Magic

There was another Taco Bell buzzer beater in the L tonight and it was the Washington Wizards who hung an L on the Magic in dramatic fashion above. 0.8 seconds left and Bradley Beal gets it done.

Fitting too that I had Taco Bell tonight (it was after the gym, no shade please.)

John Wall Full Highlights vs. Celtics

Let’s show John Wall some love after tonight’s 2OT thriller versus the Celtics. On the court, he dominated the game with 28 points and a career-high 17 assists.

Little did we know, what gave Wall the extra boost was the memory of 6-year-old D.C. native Miyah Telemaque-Nelson, who passed away on Saturday losing her battle with leukemia. Earlier this year, Wall befriended Miyah during her battle and even fulfilled a dream of hers to meet Nicki Minaj.

With the way the Wizards won, and the way Wall played with this hanging on him in the background, it was simply awesome. When Wall was asked about his emotions at the end of the grueling victory, he broke down in tears. It’s ok to shed some thug tears too. Definitely got a little misty watching Wall’s interview below.

Bulls 1st Preseason Game Observations

We all know the adage… “It’s only preseason.” So I know my observations from the Bulls first preseason game last night may seem too excited and may ultimately look overblown as early as tonight when the Bulls play again at Detroit, but whatever… basketball is back! I knew it was a great last-minute decision to head to the UC in person when longtime foe Paul Pierce and Joakim Noah almost came to blows within the first 4 minutes of the game. After all, the near-fight invalidates the adage just a little bit, right?

As you continue reading… listen to the new Bulls Show as Nillz & Ricky discuss last night’s game too.

Derrick Rose looked great. And controlled.

The big asterisk before any Rose pre-season thoughts was how unstoppable Rose looked in last year’s preseason. Seriously, the stats were other worldly. Once the regular season started, however, Derrick Rose looked like Derrick Rust as he ended up with 15.9 PPG and 35% shooting in the 10 games before his season-ending knee injury. With 2013 still fresh in mind, I have no expectations about Rose’s stats or efficiency for the first one or two months of the season. I think I speak for many Bulls fans when I say that I’d take a healthy, explosive Rose that plays every game in that stretch and improves as he goes along, even if he’s not filling up the box score at 2011 MVP levels.

In last night’s game, so far, so good. Rose scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting in 14 minutes, looking agile and never once having to press the NoS button. Not even while navigating to the hoop on his one fast-break drive that finished with a breathtaking layup after his signature running back cradle.

So, a nice first game from Rose, which further instilled confidence from his teammates, per Bulls ESPN beat writer Nick Friedell. There is not too much else to dwell on after the first game for Rose. Let’s just huff on our collective magnifying glass for the rest of the preseason to see how he continues. After all, the former MVP’s health and performance is more key than anything to these new-look Bulls, even given all of the exciting new additions…

The “2014 Plan” looked impressive.

Much was speculated about the famed “2014 Plan” in Bulls Nation since 2012, when our season came to an abrupt halt after Derrick Rose’s torn ACL. Two full years of predicting what the roster would look like for the future when the Bulls would reach maximum financial flexibility after marginal contracts expired and the Boozer amnesty levied. It felt like a 24/7 discussion during the season after Luol Deng was traded in, essentially, a salary dump, and of course again during the first 10 days of July when the city was on pins and needles about Carmelo Anthony fulfilling photoshopped dreams at the United Center.

Plan B ended up being the signing of former all-star and NBA Champion Pau Gasol, bringing over 2011 draftee and “best player not in the NBA” Nikola Mirotic, trading multiple draft picks for record-setting college scorer, rookie Doug McDermott, and fulfilling the small shoes of undersized Bulls point guards of Thibs Era past (John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, and D.J. Augustin) with the addition of Aaron Brooks.

All four of these players started off the preseason strong. I first had to rub my eyes to make sure that was indeed a 7 foot post-up threat with a Bulls uniform on, trying jump hooks over Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Though Gasol was largely unsuccessful at post-ups last night, the mere motion of it was exciting. One thing to look out for this season is if Gasol’s low-post game will be an effective, go-to option for an offense that desperately needs another one. Sure, it wasn’t last night, but the weapon could add a nice dynamic to our half-court offense, especially come playoff time. At the very least, Gasol showed again he can sink the face-up jumper with range, knocking his last basket of the night from a couple feet in front of the 3-point arc.

Defensively, though Gasol may lack the foot speed to stay with quick guards on a pick-and-roll, you can’t teach length. Gasol’s long frame will naturally yield a few blocks now and then, as it did last night with 3, and those few blocks are more than the zero that his incumbent Carlos Boozer ever really attained. Perhaps a sign that Gasol has already embraced Coach Thibs’ defense-first mentality was the way he was fired up when he forced Marcin Gortat off the dribble and into a 24 second shot clock violation. I’m just as fired up, in general, and we weren’t even treated to a Gasol-to-Noah high-post pinball pass sequence just yet. That’s surely remained to be seen too.

***

The star of the game for the Bulls was, surprisingly, rookie Nikola Mirotic. I say surprisingly because for most Bulls fans, this was our first experience to see Mirotic in a live game, let alone in person. We’ve heard all the reports and comparisons from everything to Toni Kukoc and Dirk-lite and after one game seeing him in person… these at least can’t be immediately dismissed.

Here’s what Mirotic did last night… led the team with 17 points (all in the second half, all off the dribble or at the foul line), hit 3 3s including a pull-up like he was a point guard, attempt a Dirk-style pump fake/jump into the defender 3-pointer (photographed above), and nail 2 intense post-3 celebrations towards the Bulls bench. I’m a fan. See: The texts I sent to a fellow Bulls fan.

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Smooth start for Nikola as we continue to watch him grow and hopefully earn some playing time during the season. I was surprised at how spry and skilled Mirotic moved for a big guy, especially off the dribble and with his first step. One aspect of his game to watch going forward: his rebounding. A few attainable boards didn’t go his way last night and this, plus the learning curve of NBA team defense, may keep Mirotic on the pine.

As for our other rookie, Doug McDermott, the first game revealed he has the Kyle Korver playbook on offense. This surely brought back warm memories to the time our second-string offense was stagnated around Korver juking on the baseline and eventually up towards the arc after a down screen. Dougie got his fair share of down screens and though he missed or passed up a shot or two off a curl, he also hit a couple of jumpers with a hand over his eyes. I’m just happy we can have the feeling again that a shot is going in every time a player releases it, and Dougie and his quick trigger ignites that joyous emotion for these 2014-15 Bulls (I honestly tried a few times to reword this, but gave up. I know how this sounds, but you know what I mean.) Now let’s see how Dougie & Mirotic mesh with some of the starting 5, namely Rose. I’m sure we’ll get more glimpses than last night as October progresses.

And finally, Aaron Brooks. An NBA die-hard already knows his game over his last handful of years in the league, but it was also great to see a contested, irrational confidence 3 hit nothing but the bottom of the net from our small point guard. He had no minutes alongside Rose last night as that’s a combo I also hope to see this preseason.

Jimmy Butler was Jimmy Butler last night — do we extend him?

Another storyline of October is the eligible extension starting 2 guard Jimmy Butler can receive by October 31st. Last night’s effort embodied Jimmy Butler’s season last year. He only shot 1-7 from the field but compounded it with 8 attempts at the free throw line. His low marksmanship was contrasted by his superb on-ball defense, exemplified with the defensive play of the night — a block on Bradley Beal that got me out of my seat like I was Joakim Noah on the bench here.

Butler’s energy on the defensive end was a 100 emoji last night as the 2nd-team All Defensive Team swingman showed why he earned that title last season. I predict a better year from Jimmy both offensively and, why not, defensively too. With another full-time starter year upcoming, and an increasing rep around the league as an elite perimeter defender, why couldn’t Jimmy make All-Defensive 1st team? The Bulls will have plenty of national stages this year for Butler to lock down and limit a superstar *side-eyes LeBron* and above all, this standout skill warrants a contract extension.

Offensively, I can’t imagine his shooting being as bad as last year with a healthy Rose and better offensive balance creating him more looks (and less shot-clock dwindling forced shots that Zach Lowe pointed out last month). Hopefully somewhere between the 40%/28 3P% of last season and the 46%/38 3P% of the season prior. I’d bet on a young, hard-working Butler to keep improving and given the latest NBA TV deal, his contract, even if it’s north of $11 million a year, won’t harp on the salary cap in later years as relative to next year.

TL;DR: Extend him, we need someone to guard LeBron!

If you made it this far…

You can see how excited I am as a Bulls fan for this upcoming season and experiencing last night’s game at the UC showed some on-court examples why and hinted at the overall potential of the team come spring, 2015. This lengthy read should also hint at future long-form NBA articles to come, but for now, I must say being back at the United Center with the NBA (pre)season underway is an exciting feeling in and of itself. Seeing the beautiful new LED screens on the United Center exterior, and the newly completed Advocate Practice Facility across the street, only adds to these new-look Bulls. It’s only remained to be seen how far the Bulls can travel on the road to June, and as I always get excited about the idea, I just as much remind myself to do as the team does: take it one game at a time.

In conclusion, last night was only 1 of 90 before the Playoffs, I know, but isn’t it a good sign that I won the season’s first Dunkin Donuts race?! Who’s with me for midday bagels?? Let me know if you’re down (um, seriously?) or drop a comment with any of your Bulls ’15 thoughts here.

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