Fresh Friday: Reminiscing R. Kelly and Prepping for the “Buffet Tour”

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This Saturday, April 30th, I will be seeing R. Kelly perform at the Sprint Center in Kansas City as he will be promoting his newest album “The Buffet”. While I have only listened to a couple of tracks here and there from his new album, this concert is a bit of a culminating lifetime event for me, as R. Kelly has been an active part of my musical listening life since I was in 3rd grade. Yes, that sounds odd for a R&B artist who is known for singing sexually provocative songs to be booming through the earbuds of a 9-year-old Pinoy kid, but believe me, R. Kelly is sacred to me. R. Kelly (along with Bone Thugs and Harmony) was responsible for introducing my young ears to the world of R&B and Hip Hop, and even to this day, R. Kelly has always been considered one of my music staples.

So, to get ready for the concert, not to mention this weekend in general, I will be examining two R. Kelly songs that I have the closest ties to. Furthermore, they’re dope throwback jams (which come at different points in R. Kelly’s career), and they’re worth listening to in your car or in your place if you got company or are getting ready to go out. These two songs are not only R. Kelly classics, but in my mind, they are essentials in the modern R&B world as well.

“Down Low” featuring the Isley Brothers (1995)

Down Low was my first exposure to R. Kelly when I was in the 3rd grade and just discovering Hip Hop on MTV. I was living in Spokane, Washington, which is a cool town (I went to Gonzaga University, which is also located in Spokane, so obviously I did not hate the place if I decided to spend four years there to get my academic degree) but to be honest, is very white and for a while, was the biggest city in the state of Washington that was mostly Republican (that has changed a bit over the years, as more Gonzaga graduates are staying in Spokane, hence changing the Blue-Red spectrum). My only really exposure to R&B and Hip Hop was through MTV Music Videos, and while Down Low was not the first (That belonged to Bone Thugs’ “Crossroads“), it was probably one of the more profound and impacting songs/music videos I listened to that got me transitioning from grunge rock to R&B and Hip Hop.

To be honest, one of my reasons for the musical transition was at the time, I knew my family and I were moving to California, and I looked up to my cousins on my Mom’s side (the Filipino side) and they were all about Rap, and I wanted to associate myself with as much Hip Hop as humanely possible so I wouldn’t look like an ass hole who “didn’t know jack about music” in front of my cousins, not to mention my soon-to-be California classmates wherever I went to school to (which, considering I went to a Catholic school that was mostly white, proved to be fruitless, as not many kids in my class ended up listening to hip hop; they mostly were the punk and metal rock crowd, and I had my brief period of time with those genres as well). So, whatever I listened to that mirrored Rap, I was into, and R. Kelly, in my pre-pubescent mind fit in that category. It had the same kind of beat as Rap, though a bit slower and softer, and better yet, I could buy the albums because they didn’t have the parental advisory label on it.

When I moved to California the summer after 3rd grade, and was hanging out with my cousins in Vallejo, we went to the Wherehouse where they were trading and buying albums. Since they were a combination of 8th graders in middle school and freshmen in high school, and had parents who didn’t give a “F” what they bought musically, they bought all the cool stuff: Bone Thugs, E-40, Wu Tang Clan, etc. I could not buy that stuff because you know, I was nine years old and not only would the cashier not sell me a “36 Chambers” album on cassette, but my parents would flip their shit if they found out I was jamming to “C.R.E.A.M.” in my room (though as I got older and visited my cousins more often, they were able to sneak me cassette copies of their albums, and I was able to listen to them on my cassette Walkman; damn those days were great). So, as they bought “the good stuff” I decided to buy the R. Kelly self-titled album because a.) I had seen the “Down Low” music video on MTV when I was in Spokane and b.) it was the closest thing to rap I could get because it didn’t have a parental advisory sticker on it (the more I think about it, I have to imagine that the Wherehouse cashier was like “WTF????” when I paid the money to buy that tape).

Now, going back to the “Down Low” music video, when I watched it initially when I was nine, I loved it because I loved the beat, I thought R. Kelly was cool as shit, and the whole music video had this elaborate story with some serious production values, which catered to a wild-imagination kid like myself who also liked mystery stories and action films. But holy crap, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT KELLY WAS TALKING ABOUT OR DOING WITH LILA HEART IN THE DAMN VIDEO!!! I mean, the ripping off of her shirt; setting her on the kitchen island; the making out with him on top of her while she was only in her red lace bra (though I didn’t really know what a bra was at the time let alone lace); Isley getting all pissed off when he finds Kelly in bed with her (and taking off his sunglasses and whipping his ponytail back in the most dramatic fashion); Isley and his crew beating the shit out of Kelly (and eventually Lila to death…though you never see it); and finally, leaving him in the middle of the desert and him grabbing a bloody Kelly by his tanktop and yelling “LOOK AT ME!!! I DID THIS TO YOU!!”

Yeah. I didn’t really understand any of that as a 9-10 year old. And to be honest, I really thought Isley was overreacting. In my mind, I was like “What’s he so mad about? Yeah they kissed and stuff, but they were just taking a nap! Why the hell was he flipping out?”

(Then again, I also thought the girl originally was his daughter when I first watched this, which got me all confused, because Disney animated movies (mostly Aladdin, which also came out at the time, and involved a dad trying to hook Jasmine up with a variety of suitors; so to me Aladdin and Kelly were like the same person) taught me as a kid that all dads wanted their daughters to find good dudes to marry. And I thought Isley was just trying to be a protective “father” in the opening scene of the music video (I also came to realize later that older guys could date younger women). This brand of naivety also came into play with AZ Yet’s “Last night” as I thought the verse “Last night, I was inside of you” was talking about a baby being born; they were talking about a baby, but more about making one than giving one, which I found out later in my teenage years.)

But then years later, I found out that Lila was Isley’s “woman” (never specifies whether she’s a wife, girlfriend or “side” of his), Kelly was having sex in secret with her at her request, and Isley was pissed because Kelly worked for him and trusted him (like a “bro”) and that’s why he flipped out and tried to leave him in the middle of the desert to die “Casino”-style (though he somehow not only gets to the hospital all right, but also the same hospital as Lila; this really was under-explained and deserved more…and yes, this is me demanding more from a R. Kelly music video, which sounds like sacrilege after “Trapped in the Closet”). I realized that this song was referring to having an affair and keeping it quiet, which in my teenage years sounded like the craziest concept ever, especially since I was pretty sheltered as a kid by my parents and anything beyond a monogamous relationship at the time sounded not only so against the grain, but also unfathomable because I assumed all marriages were “happy” partnerships. “Down Low” and R. Kelly exposed me to the underbelly of “secret” relationships, and in a rhythmic and entrancing way that encouraged me to push down the walls of “cloistered-ness” that I grew up in. That isn’t saying I got into a “Down Low” relationship or wanted one, but it made me realize that this “secret” world existed and as bad as it sounded, good music could come out of it.

And yes, this realization all developed in my middle and high schools years. R. Kelly had me examining the “morality” of infidelity through his 1995 hit song, all because I wanted to listen to hip hop. That is some Socrates shit right there, and in addition to a new realization of relationships, I also delved into R&B hardcore. Because of “Down Low” and R. Kelly’s self-titled album, I went on to buy other albums from artists like Keith Sweat, Blackstreet, AZ Yet, Boyz II Men and even Toni Braxton (though that was more my mom who loved “Unbreak My Heart” for whatever reason…I’m not going to ask her on that one).

And I did this all before I graduated middle school.

 

“Fiesta” (Remix) featuring Jay-Z, Boo and Gotti

The “Fiesta” remix came out in 2001, right when I was becoming a freshman in high school. The song was absolutely dope, as it was a hot track that was widely played on 102.5 and 103.5, two hip-hop and R&B based radio stations in Sacramento. To be honest, my listening to R. Kelly and R&B waned in my late middle school years, as I went through this weird metal phase where I listened to Limp Bizkit and Rob Zombie (I instantly regret and try to forget this period of my life musically). However, after being exposed to the “Fiesta” Remix, I was back all-in on R. Kelly.

During the Christmas Break of my Freshman year, I got a Borders Bookstore certificate and went to the music aisle to buy some CDs (because Borders had music, so why the hell would I buy books when I could by music instead? My parents hated me for this and stopped giving me Borders gift certificates as gifts when they realized I wasn’t buying it on books). In the “Top Hits” section, I found the TP-2.com CD which had the song “Fiesta” on it, and since I loved that song, and had fond memories of it from my younger days, I decided to use my gift certificate money on it.

There was one problem: it had a parental advisory label on it.

I remember taking about 10 minutes debating whether I should buy it or not. I looked at it, thought about going to the cashier to buy it, then I changed my mind, put it back, went to another aisle, saw some Matchbox 20 or shit like that, realized that I was compromising, and then would go back and stare at the TP-2.com CD some more. It was very similar to how I approached girls at dances in high school, with the only difference being that unlike the album which was still there on the rack, either a.) the girl would be dancing with another dude by the time I made the second pass-by or b.) they would be creeped out and wouldn’t want to dance (Yes, I didn’t date much in high school consequently).

After much deliberation, I grabbed the CD and decided to buy it. I remember sweating bullets as I gave it to the cashier, who looked to be a dude in high school or college. I thought he was going to ask how old I was or if I had ID, like I was buying beer or cigarettes or porn. But much to surprise, all that anxiety and worry came to naught. He rang it up, I paid with my gift card, he put it in the bag and I was on my way. He didn’t mention a damn thing about the parental advisory label.

And boy, I remember strutting out of that Borders with all the damn confidence in the world. I had just bought the TP-2.com and my first parental advisory album. It was like I just grew my first armpit hair or had sex for the first time. That’s how elated I felt as I gazed at R. Kelly in his white beanie, sunglasses and fur coat on the cover when I got home in my room with the door closed,  right before I popped it in to my CD Walkman (notice how I remained loyal to the Sony Walkman brand after all these years).

But there was one problem: the album didn’t have the “Fiesta” Remix! It had the original “Fiesta” song, which was cool, but it wasn’t the version with Jay-Z and Boo and Gotti.

I felt like I had just gotten a number from a girl at a dance, only to find out she had given me a fake (not to say that such a thing happened…sigh…okay it did…like I said, I didn’t have a lot of dating experience in high school; sue me).

After some time with the album, I grew to appreciate it. The original “Fiesta” song, though not as good as the remix, still had its moments, and I enjoyed the “I Wish” song more than most, even though it is really a depressing song that no 15-year-old freshman should be listening to. But the “Fiesta” Remix in my opinion is one of Kelly’s best. It’s at a time in his career when Kelly revamped his style and  blended his sound and writing skills into the hip hop genre. While LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest obviously came before when it came to the “Rap Ballad”, Kelly’s “Fiesta” was one of the major “R&B Hop” songs that fused an R&B song with a Rap flair. The song is flexible in all kinds of scenarios: You can put it on at a party, you can jam to it in your car, you can put it on when you’re hanging out with that special someone, and guess what? It’ll still be appropriate and match the mood. That is how great the “Fiesta Remix” is and what cemented Kelly with me as one of my favorite artists in the R&B genre, even to this day.

Kelly has had some highs (“Happy People” is one of my guilty pleasures; though lyrically it does sort of suck) and lows (“Trapped in the Closet” probably remains one of his most embarrassing and ridiculous ventures) in my musical experience with him. However, Kelly has always struck a chord with me when it came to how I developed my musical taste, and if it wasn’t for Kelly I wouldn’t have appreciated R&B music like I have over the years. R&B to me is like that girlfriend who you keep breaking up and getting back together with time and time again. Just when I think I’m going all House music, I am listening to Avant. When I am convinced I’m an Indie Folk guy, I am downloading The Weeknd’s mix tapes. R&B and me are forever twined, and R. Kelly is responsible for that, mostly thanks to “Down Low” and “Fiesta” Remix.

April 30th is going to be a big day. At midnight, I will be turning 29 years old, one year shy of 30.

It seems fitting to celebrate such a day with someone who has been part of my life for nearly 20 years.

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Can the Warriors Survive the Second Round Without Curry?

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What are the chances the Warriors will be upset in the second round without Curry? The Clippers and Blazers will prove to be interesting challenges.

With Stephen Curry at least out for two weeks due to a sprained MCL, the big question on Warriors and NBA fans’ minds is whether or not the Warriors will still capitalize on their record-setting 73 win season and finish with a NBA title. Or will the Warriors have the biggest letdown in NBA history and not even make the Finals, let alone win the championship?

With their reigning (and possibly repeating) MVP possibly out for an extended period of time, there is major concern in terms of how the Warriors will fare in the coming rounds of the Western Conference playoffs. Though it is not over, the Warriors should close out the Houston Rockets will relative ease, which brings the focus to the second round of the playoffs. Yes, I know everyone is looking ahead to the Western Conference playoffs where a Spurs-Warriors “Super-Matchup” looms (though don’t count out the Thunder who are playing great “F***You” ball right now (especially Kevin Durant, who was all kinds of salty and spitting straight fire to Mark Cuban after their Game 5 win) after dismantling the Mavericks after a Game 2 let down), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Every round counts, and there are still two possibly dangerous (though flawed) opponents waiting in the second round that could give the Warriors trouble, especially sans-Curry.

So, with that being said, let’s take a look at the possible matchups for the Warriors in the second round and how big a threat they pose to the Warriors from making into the Western Conference Finals.

 

The Los Angeles Clippers

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A week ago, this matchup would have had the Warriors and Warriors fans sweating. Without Curry, the Warriors would be depending on Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston matching up against CP3. Add that problem along with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, not to mention a playoff-experienced (though insufferable) coach in Doc Rivers, as well as some fiery history between the two franchises, and the Clippers seemed poised to pull off an upset for the ages in the second round.

However, that has all changed in the past couple of days. Blake Griffin was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs, and then Chris Paul broke his hand in Game 4 against the Blazers, ruling him out until the NBA Finals should the Clippers get that far. That means the Clippers will be relying on DeAndre Jordan, who is only a shade better than Andre Drummond when it comes to shooting free throws, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Green to carry them to victory against the still-loaded Warriors. Losing Griffin is a tough blow, but in all frankness, the Clippers got through most of the regular season without him. Losing Paul however is a death knell. To not have their floor general and main facilitator, and replacing him with Austin Rivers is a MAJOR downgrade. Livingston and Barbosa should not be able to just handle him, but they most likely will outplay him extensively on the offensive and defensive end of the ball.

Now, this could be a breakout series for Jordan. After all, he nearly left the Clippers because he wanted to be the “main guy” on the team and didn’t want to be in the shadow of anyone (hence a dig at Paul and Griffin until they came over with some Raising Cane’s and mended the turmoil in one hilariously chronicled night on Twitter). Ironically, Jordan will now get the chance to do what he could’ve in Dallas (be the main man), though I’m sure that’s not what he expected when he re-signed with the Clippers this off-season. Jordan will need to be a beast on both ends, and go up and above what he normally contributes to give the Clippers a chance in this series. Redick and Crawford are good, but Redick is more of a complimentary player, and Crawford is a streaky player who can rescue a team one night and sink them the next.

What keeps me from thinking though Jordan will reach “Superstar” status and help the Clippers upset the Warriors in this series though is his free throw shooting (or lack thereof). Yes, Drummond of the Pistons replaced him as the “Superstar player you can’t play in the 4th quarter because he is so dog crap with free throws.” However, Jordan still is pretty sub-par in a pretty essential category, as evidenced by his 43 percent FT percentage this season, and his 619 free throws this season were a career-high, which is evidence that teams have caught on to his glaring weakness, and fouled him in key moments to give themselves an advantage to stay in games or preserve leads. I don’t see Jordan turning around that miserable stat in the second round, which means that the Clippers might not have anybody on the floor at times in the 4th that they can really go to with any confidence in crunch time. That’s a huge detriment to their team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the reasons why the Clippers fail to get out of the first round against the Blazers.

If Paul and Jordan were in this series, I would be worried about the Warriors without Curry. But not only will the Warriors be able to neutralize Rivers, Redick and Crawford without Curry, but the Clippers’ biggest strength (Jordan) will also be neutralized by the Warriors’ depth in the post with Andrew Bogut, Mareese Speights and Festus Ezeli. Bogut and Ezeli will be able to bang with Jordan down low, and Speights can stretch Jordan out of the paint with his outside mid-range shooting, which will clear the lanes for the Warriors’ perimeter players, especially Green and Thompson. And if worse comes to worse, James Michael Mcadoo can come in, foul the crap out of Jordan without regard (I mean he has six fouls for a reason, right?) and give breathers to the trio above as they watch Jordan apply for membership to the Bricklayers Union at the line.

And remember…Cole Aldrich is the Clippers’ backup center.

Yikes.

Projection if it’s the Clippers: Warriors in Four (Five at the most, if the Warriors shoot like a crap house in one game).

 

The Portland Trail Blazers

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This series is definitely the more intriguing second-round matchup for NBA fans, and probably a lot more worrisome for Warriors fans. Unlike the Clippers, who will be relying on Jordan in the post to succeed in the playoffs from here on out, the Blazers biggest producers come from the guard positions. While Rivers should be easy to contain for Livingston and Barbosa, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be much tougher tasks, as they are the main focus of the Trail Blazers offense. Furthermore, the Blazers also had one of the more dynamic wins against the Warriors, as they beat the Warriors 137-105 in spectacular fashion at the Moda Center on February 19th. To show how big Lillard and McCollum were in that series, Dame and CJ were responsible for 72 of the Blazers 137 points (with Lillard scoring 51) and 46 of the Blazers’ 97 shot attempts. And that is with Curry on the floor. It is frightening to think what the Blazers will do without Curry in the lineup this series.

However, there are a couple of things to consider this series that will work in the Warriors’ favor:

  1. The Blazers lack depth, especially in the post. The Blazers play a nine-deep lineup, and the lack of Meyers Leonard this series is going to hurt them. Ed Davis is a good physical hustle player and Mason Plumlee is a serviceable starting center, but he should be neutralized against the Warriors trio of Bogut, Speights and Ezeli. And though Noah Vonleh has stepped up in Leonard’s absence, I don’t trust the second-year player to do much damage, especially considering he has showed issues with keeping his composure at times on the floor. If there is one thing the Warriors do very well, especially in the post, is that they “dirty” it up much more than one thinks. The Warriors have a reputation as a “finesse” team because of Thompson and Curry, but when you go beyond the duo, the Warriors actually are one of the more physical teams in the league, especially in the post. I can see the Warriors frustrating the hell out of the Blazers’ post players, and I don’t think the Blazers will be able to combat that, especially considering this Blazers team is pretty green when it comes to deep playoff experience.
  2. I think the Warriors hold multiple advantages beyond the guard positions. As big a surprise as Al-Farouq Aminu has been, I don’t know how he will do against Draymond Green, who is such a versatile and physical player. Furthermore, I think Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless and Gerald Henderson will have their issues, not just against Green, but against Klay Thompson as well. And, as crazy as it sounds, while I think Dame will get his share of point (as well as big time moments) in this series, I think the Warriors will really focus on shutting down McCollum this series with a combo of Thompson and Green (with them alternating matchups with Aminu). While Dame has had his highs against the Warriors in their season series (Dame also scored 40 in their first game with the Warriors this season), McCollum hasn’t hit the 20 point mark in any of their four games this year. Add that with an much more intense playoff atmosphere, and I doubt he’ll crack 20 in the playoffs, which I think is needed if the Blazers realistically think they can win four games this series against the defending champs. I think Dame will have a big game, and he may win a game or even two in this series by himself. But the Blazers will need McCollum to really shine above and beyond for the Blazers to pull the upset, and I don’t see that happening. I think the Warriors perimeter players, knowing they will need to step up without Curry on the floor, will focus even more so on the defensive end in terms of stopping McCollum, thus making the Blazers more of a one-man show, which will not be enough.

This possible second-round matchup will definitely be a more entertaining series than the Clippers one (especially considering the Blazers’ willingness to push the pace). However, even without Curry, I think the Warriors’ depth will simply be too much for the young Blazers to handle. The youth is just too much of a detriment, I don’t necessarily see the Blazers matching the Warriors’ physicality, and though Terry Stotts has proven himself as a mainstay in the NBA, his record is pretty suspect when it comes to the playoffs (he has never gone beyond the second round). The Blazers will put up a hell of a fight, and I think Lillard will showcase why he is one of the more underrated superstars in this league, but I think the Warriors hold too many advantages in other positions for the Blazers to pose as a threat.

Prediction: Warriors in Five (maybe six if they get two CRAZY games from Lillard). 

Fresh Friday: Remembering Prince Through “Purple Rain” and…”Batman”?

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It was a somber afternoon today, as it was announced legendary musical artist Prince died today in his home at age 57. While this is obviously a huge blow to music community, as well as his legions of fans, this also hits me a bit personally. I have always been sort of a closet Prince fan of sorts. I had three of his “Greatest Hits” albums that I acquired for free from one of my uncles while I was in high school (I convinced him to give it to me as a gift before he put it out for a garage sale), and I used to jam to them sometimes during my morning commute to school. The Dave Chappelle “Prince Playing Basketball against Charlie Murphy” skit remains my favorite Chappelle’s Show skit over time, even trumping the more famous and popular Rick James and Charlie Murphy one. And when I first moved to Kansas City, the first concert I went to was a Prince cover concert at the Uptown Theater. So, this unfortunate passing of Prince, such an influential artist in the RnB and even Hip-Hop community, really has swirled up all kinds of thoughts and feelings of nostalgia in me.

So here are a couple of Prince Songs/Music videos that I am posting on this blog in honor of the legendary, though somewhat eccentric (the Carlos Boozer subletting story remains one of my favorite “WTF” stories of Prince) artist.

“Purple Rain Live at the American Music Awards”

I really wasn’t alive when the “Purple Rain” bonanza hit: the song, the film, all of it. That was really before my time, but that didn’t stop my cousins from familiarizing me with this greatness in my early years. Whenever I hung out with my cousins, there were really five things they exposed me to on a regular basis: Hip Hop, Video Games, Professional Wrestling, Van Damme Movies and Purple Rain (all very typical 90’s young Pinoy things when you think about it). I must have seen Purple Rain 4-6 times before I was the age of 13 (though my parents never knew it) and it became a regular part of my watching rotation ever since then. Even one of my exes and I bonded because we both had fond memories of Prince and his father scenes in “Purple Rain.” (Though in reality, that proved to be one of the “only” bonding moments we had in our relationship…hence why we are no longer together; but big ups to her for her love of “Purple Rain.”)

If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on something glorious. Yes, it is a bit over the top, but for it’s time, it really was revolutionary, the first kind of Black “Rock Opera” of sorts that really broke down barriers from the typical White “Musical” we were all kind of used to (“Grease”, “Xanadu” etc). The songs were awesome, Prince was unabashedly raw and passionate in his portrayal of himself, and the story put an urban spin on a tale that was relatively reserved for white, blue-eyed leads. Purple Rain was the Jazz Singer, but blacker, cooler, better music, and supercharged to the point where you almost felt the cast was hopped up on something before each and every take. As a young Filipino trying to figure himself out, Purple Rain didn’t just open the door of my curiosity into the world of RnB and later, Hip Hop, it kicked it open and splintered the doors in true “Prince” fashion.

But the song “Purple Rain” is amazing to listen to even after all these years, especially when you watch “live” versions of it on YouTube. This video embedded on this blog is from the American Music Awards in 1985, but it is similar to other performances posted online: Prince just kills it, letting it all out in his performance, putting his trademark emotion, heart and passion into every word of every verse of the six-minute song. Prince was a weird cat at times. My most recent memories of him (i.e. memories I experienced personally in the moment) when he was in the limelight was in my teenage years when he changed his name to “the Artist formerly known as Prince” and he was more known for his weirdness as well as his ambiguous sexuality and preference than his music. (In reality, it probably would not be such a big deal now, but in the 90’s, with the AIDS epidemic still sort of a fiery topic among people, this really was a huge topic of gossip discussion, not to mention a somewhat confusing issue at the time for a pre-teen like myself). Despite that whirlwind phase though, Prince will always be “Purple Rain” to me, even if I didn’t live in the moment like my older cousins did. The song above and everything related to it, will always be one of my more lasting memories of him as time passes after his death.

The Batman Soundtrack and “Partyman”

While my cousins introduced me to Prince and “Purple Rain”, Prince’s contribution to the Batman soundtrack is where I really went into depth into Prince and truly appreciated who he was. As a kid, Batman was my favorite superhero hands down, no questions asked. I had a ton of Batman comics, I watched the Batman Animated Show regularly, and the first Batman movie remains sacred to me to this day. Even with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, I still prefer Tim Burton’s original “Batman” from 1989. I love Michael Keaton as Batman for his more subdued performance of the Caped Crusader (in comparison to the “changing voice” Christian Bale). Jack Nicholson’s slapstick version of the Joker struck more of a chord with me than the more popular Heath Ledger version (on repeated viewings, it becomes harder to see why Ledger won the award for best supporting actor; he did a fine job, but I just liked Nicholson’s more “comic” version more). And as a kid, I had serious hots for Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and any role she has been in has involved me saying “But I liked her better as Vicki, the babe photographer who covered the Corto Maltese crisis.” Even some scenes that Nolan and Burton sort of shared favored the 1989 version more, with the most poignant and obvious comparison being when Batman in a vehicle is charging at Joker, only to result in Joker somehow veering Batman off course.

Here is the Nolan version:

Pretty cool. Pretty intense for sure. But here is the Burton version:

Oh fuck. I need a cigarette or something. There’s no question that the Burton version is better by leaps and bounds. I mean, he draws a gun with a long-ass barrel out of his damn pants and knocks out the Batwing with one shot which ends him back a couple of feet. Even Nolan knew he couldn’t match that kind of shit. So amazing.

But greatness of the Batman movie aside, it wasn’t until college where I really dug into the 1989 Batman even further (mostly due to the release of the Dark Knight my junior year) and discovered the soundtrack and realized how many Prince songs there was on it. Yes, Prince was the main artist on the Batman soundtrack. Yes, Batman, a comic book hero, and Prince was the featured artist. And in true Prince fashion, he did his share of music videos to help promote the movie including the much maligned, but cult-favorite “Batdance” and the video I posted above, “Partyman” which is featured in the movie.

And how is it featured? Well, the song comes on  after Joke gasses and kills everyone in a museum except for Vicki (whom he sends a gift of a gas mask before he does the act) and before he sits down for a dinner convo with her, he proceeds to jack up all the paintings in the museum with “Partyman” in the background. Take a gander:

And if that scene isn’t enough, the music video to the song is classic Prince: strong music with a good, classic Prince beat, and an utterly fucking nuts scene highlighted with true, passionate, typical Prince theatrics.

“Purple Rain” will always be his main legacy in the world of music and film. But his underrated contributions to Batman in a way that will never replicated again. Superhero movies take themselves too seriously these days, and in no way, shape or form would studios give that kind of creative freedom to complement a film like they did in Batman in 1989. Thankfully, if anything, Prince only helped add to the long lasting legacy of Burton’s Batman with his music and music video artistry.

So if “Purple Rain” is exhibit A of Prince’s contribution to film, then Batman should be a close exhibit B.

Or at least in my mind anyways.

Rest in Peace Prince. The music world misses you already.

Tom Thibodeau is in Minnesota..and It’s the Best Coaching Situation Possible

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On Wednesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled the coaching coup of the off-season, inking Tom Thibodeau to be the new head coach of the T’Wolves next season with an alleged 5-year $40 million deal that will also include President of Basketball Operations duties.While the Timberwolves are also supposedly hiring Scott Layden to help with general manager duties, owner Glen Taylor has made this much clear: the Thibs era is beginning up north, and he has been given full reigns to the ship for the foreseeable future.

And to be honest, Thibs and the NBA in general couldn’t have asked for a better situation possible.

The season started about as rough as it possible could be for the TImberwolves, starting with the passing of GM and head coach Flip Saunders, who lost his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 60. Assistant and former Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell took over in the interim this year, and though the young T’Wolves showed glimpses of promise (they finished 29-53 this year, with a Pythagorean record of 31-51), it was pretty clear that Mitchell was merely a temporary stopgap this year until the T’Wolves found a more long-term solution once the 2015-2016 season concluded.

In steps Thibs, who’s been out of coaching for a year after being let go by the Bulls after the 2014-2015 season, and certainly had his pick of the litter when it came to possible coaching destinations, with the Knicks, Suns, Wizards, and Kings being the immediate options, and rumors of openings with the Rockets, Grizzlies and Lakers also being possible after the playoff season. But early in the coaching search, Thibs and Taylor struck a deal, and it couldn’t have been a better match. Thibs is the coach that this young Timberwolves roster needs, and Taylor needs the kind of leader that can capture the magic Saunders had when he was the head man of the Timberwolves over a decade ago.

So why does this marriage seem so good on paper? Here are a few reasons why this agreement will work out not just for the Timberwolves and Thibs, but also for the NBA, which really will benefit from Thibs back in the league.

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From L-R: Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and Karl Anthony Towns are young talents who should thrive under Thibs next season.

Reason #1: Thibs will address this team’s most glaring issue: Defense

If you look at the T’Wolves on paper, they actually were a pretty good offensive team. They ranked 12th in the league in offensive efficiency, and have a strong core of offensive talent returning and primed to get better. Karl Anthony Towns was hands down the best rookie of this class, and looks to be to the Timberwolves what Anthony Davis is to the New Orleans Pelicans: a young, athletic big man with superstar potential. Fellow No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins also improved across the board, becoming a more efficient offensive player (his PER rose from 13.9 to 16.5) as well as a more impact player, as evidenced by his 20.7 ppg and 4.1 win shares total, 4th best on the team. Zach Lavine also noticed improved growth, especially after being moved to the shooting guard position, and Ricky Rubio arguably had one of his best seasons in the league yet, as his 17.6 PER was a career high. Add that with valuable young bench guys like Shabazz Muhammad (who has proven to doubters that he has a place in this league) and Gorgui Dieng (who is probably one of the better sixth-seventh man post players in the league), and one can understand why the Timberwolves improved from a year ago, and were forces on the offensive end.

However, defensively, the Timberwolves had their share of issues. They ranked 28th in the league in defensive efficiency, and despite strong athleticism and depth, they lacked cohesion and consistency when it came to defending the basket. Thibs, a defensive coach first and foremost, is going to change that culture. He is going to work tirelessly this off-season and during this first season to really make his system work, and he has the kind of horses that will make it successful in Minnesota like it was in his tenure in Chicago. Think about it: though Rubio is not known for his defense, neither was Derrick Rose when he came out of Memphis and yet he had Rose and other point guards by committee (Kirk Heinrichs and Nate Robinson being prime examples) mesh well with his system. Furthermore, the T’wolves’ active bigs sort of mirror what he had in Chicago with KAT and Dieng most likely being the anchors (in a Joakim Noah/Taj Gibson way) and Nemajna Bjleica (not a defensive player, but could mesh in the system like Nikola Mirotic or Pau Gasol) and an aging Kevin Garnett (who knows his system from his Boston days) complementing Thibs’ aggressive ball-screen hedging-heavy defensive scheme.

Mitchell certainly did his share on the offensive end, but his lack of commitment to a defensive style, or ability to get his T’Wolves to assert themselves defensively on a night in and night out basis, prevented this team from really reaching their peak. Thibs is going to change that, and considerably so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the T’Wolves crack the Top-20 in defensive efficiency next season (especially if Thibs and Layden can bring in some more complimentary pieces through free agency and the draft) and go beyond that in year two. And if that’s the case…well…it will not be a question of “if” they will make the playoffs, but what “seed” they will be.

Reason #2: The Timberwolves will add to the Western Playoff drama in a good, refreshing way.

I have to say this: The Timberwolves will make the playoffs within the next few years, with my guess being in year two. They have the right core of talent now, and Thibs will maximize their talent and bring a much needed jolt of rigid discipline that they really have been craving the past few years. Youth and talent is huge in this league, especially with the right core and coach (of course, it can backfire, as evidenced by the dumpster fire in Philadelphia the past three years). Look at the Portland Trail Blazers. They lost four starters from a year ago and made the playoffs again despite most people thinking they were bound for the lottery in the pre-season. Why? Because they had that young superstar in Damian Lillard and that strong young core that fit into what Terry Stotts wanted on the court. If you’re looking for a Trailblazers-like story next season, look no further than Minnesota.

And to be honest, while that is obviously good for the Timberwolves and their long-suffering fan base, it is more important to the Western Conference, which saw a bit of decline in quality after years of dominating the league in general. This year, we are seeing more parity in the Eastern Conference, as the Pacers upset the second-seeded Raptors in game 1 of the playoffs, and the Pistons gave the Cavs everything they could handle despite being the 8 seed. In the Western Conference though, the parity is painfully lacking. The Rockets look like a for sure early exit, even with Stephen Curry possibly out for the remainder of the series. Furthermore, they  could be making massive player (Dwight Howard most likely will be gone), coaching (don’t expect Bickerstaff back) and perhaps organization (Darryl Morey could also be gone as well) changes in the near future once the season ends, meaning they could be back in rebuilding mode as early as next year. The Grizzlies look more like the Iowa Energy featuring Zach Randolph, and don’t appear to have a bright future with Marc Gasol’s health and Mike Conley’s status on the team (he’s going to be a free agent) in jeopardy. And the Mavs and Thunder? Well, the Mavs really are playing with house money, overachieving even though they probably on paper are a lottery team (seriously, this team depends on Javale McGee to get minutes) and the Thunder continue to show that despite their talent, they have a tendency to underwhelm and under-produce on the big stage, which most likely will have an effect on whether Kevin Durant stays or leaves this off-season (a first round exit and he’s most likely gone).

So when it comes to the 5-8 seeds (and possibly even 4), there is a strong need in the Western Conference for someone to step up and who better than the Timberwolves? They have been terrible for years, and a change in the W-L standings would rejuvenate the fan base in a positive way, much like Toronto a few years ago, who were bad for a long time despite some success in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. They would offer young marketable talent on the biggest stage in the playoffs, and that would be good for the league to see “young” superstars in the postseason rather than retread teams like the Grizzlies and Rockets who would be automatic “one series and done” groups and would kill the ratings in their playoff matchups. And lastly, Thibs would be having these guys play all out in the most intense fashion possible. Yes, Thibs probably overworked his teams in the regular season, but Bulls playoff series under Thibs were always entertaining affairs where his players seemed to run through brick walls despite disadvantages in talent and luck (see Derrick Rose first ACL injury when the Bulls were a No. 1 seed). The Eastern Conference is benefiting from exciting series’ in the first rounds, especially from their 1-8 and 2-7 matchups this year. Something similar in the Western Conference would only help the NBA’s brand, and the Timberwolves seem primed to do that in the next couple of years.

Reason #3: Thibs and the Timberwolves will play a style of ball that will offer much-needed variety in today’s game.

With the Warriors winning the title, the trend now is to build teams in two ways: increasing tempo and relying more on the 3-point shot. Yet despite the Warriors’ success with this method, their copycats haven’t fared well so far in the early returns. New Orleans hired Alvin Gentry to make the Pelican a more “Warriors-like” team offensively, and they tanked despite making the playoffs the previous year under Monty Williams. The Kings and Vivek Ranadive wanted to bring a “fast pace” to the Kings and hired George Karl to do it. Well…the Kings led the league in tempo, but it still resulted in the Kings being in the lottery once again. And even the Bulls tried to put a stronger emphasis on tempo and offense, not just by firing Thibs, but hiring Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State, who ran an up-tempo style with the Cyclones. Well guess what? The Bulls missed the playoffs and struggled with team chemistry issues this season that made the ones under Thibs seem minute by comparison.

Yes it’s true: success breed copycats. But that being said, there hasn’t been a whole lot of success so far from other teams who have tried to copy Golden State’s blueprint to winning. Thankfully, under Thibs, Minnesota isn’t going to falling into the same trap as New Orleans, Sacramento and even Chicago.

Under Thibs, basketball fans can expect a slower pace and less emphasis on offense and the 3-point shot. That is how Thibs’ teams in Chicago rolled and guess what? Despite their “anti-analytics” scheme, they were a consistent participant in the playoffs. Sometimes, going against the grain is what is key to teams experiencing turn-around success. That is what Billy Beane does on a constant basis with the A’s: one year he’s getting high OBP guys who don’t have athleticism; the next year he’s getting fielding-first guys who may have low OBPs. For small markets, it’s finding those players or that style the market is ignoring and exploiting it for all its worth. Minnesota is not a destination place. It’s not LA or Miami. They need to exploit some kind of inefficiency to win in the NBA. That used to be 3 point shooting and pace, but with Golden State winning, that has become more valued. What is being ignored? Slower tempo, half court approaches on offense, and physicality on defense. Those are all things in Thibs’ coaching wheelhouse he can exploit on opposing teams, and utilize  with this Timberwolves team. And to be honest? The Timberwolves are already built for such a style, as they ranked 20th in the league in pace. This isn’t like a New Orleans or Chicago situation where they were going from one style radically to the other, and that should be a sign for Minnesota that they can experience success sooner rather than later with Thibs.

Yet, not only is the difference in style good for the Timberwolves, but for the league as well. Yes, the league is better than it has been for a long time, but the league gets boring when everyone tries to emulate one kind of style for success. We saw that in the 90’s when everyone tried to replicate the Knicks’ “physical” style of ball. We saw that in the 2000’s when everyone tried to mimic the Triangle in some way after the Bulls and Lakers’ success under Jackson. Now we’re seeing it with Golden State. Thibs won’t do that. He’ll unapologetic-ally implement his own system no matter how against the grain it is to current state of the NBA (and do it in a successful way, unlike Byron Scott, who does it like an arrogant jackass with the Lakers by burying young players like DeAngelo Russell and Julius Randle in crunch time).

And that’ll be good for the NBA. The league will have variety in the Timberwolves, and variety breeds better competition as well as new interest in the league from other fans.

So for those basketball fans who think the NBA has gone soft by relying too much on shooting and isn’t as physical as it was in the 90’s, well guess what? You have a new team to cheer for near the Great Lakes and it isn’t the Pistons, Bulls or Bucks.

You better start writing those “Thank you” notes to him now.

 

Will Barcelona or Lokomotiv Take the Last Final Four Spot?

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After today’s slate of games, we now know who three of the four Euroleague Final Four participants will be on May 13th: Fenerbahce Istanbul, Laboral Kutxa (Spain) and CSKA Moscow. All three squads swept their opponents (with each one winning the decisive game on the road) in their respective series, and can begin the celebration and preparation for the Final Four event in a couple of weeks.

However, there is still one spot to be determined and that is being decided between long-time Spanish power FC Barcelona and the relatively Euroleague novices Lokomotiv Kuban from rural Russia. After their 82-70 Game 3 win in Spain, Barcelona is one game away from punching their ticket to Berlin for a chance at the Euroleague championship, but don’t count out Lokomotiv, the higher seed going into the series, who holds home court advantage should they be able to equalize and win on the road in Game 4 on Thursday.

Let’s take a look at each team and what is on the line for the in a crucial Game 4 later this week.

 

Barcelona Looking to Finish Strong

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Barcelona has had one of the weirder seasons in their history this year, as they haven’t found much consistency in terms of wins and losses. Statistically speaking, Barcelona has been one of the strongest teams, as they are the fourth-best team in the Euroleague this year in terms of net rating over the full season (6.8), but only had a 14-10 record through the Regular Season and Top 16 to show for it. Despite some big wins in the year over teams like Lokomotiv and a Top 16 season sweep over Spanish rival Real Madrid, they also had head scratching losses to Pinar Karsiyaka in the Regular Season opener and to Brose Baskets Bamberg during the Top 16 (a team they later beat by almost 20 in the second to last game of the year). In fact, due to all this inconsistency (they finished the Regular Season with three straight losses and lost five of their first seven in Top 16 play), it took until the final week of the Top 16 for Barcelona to clinch a playoff berth, as their win over Lithuanian power Zalgiris Kaunas on the road (and they were down at halftime) earned them one of the final playoff spots.

However, despite their meager record, this Barcelona team is loaded and peaking at the right time, though they certainly have their issues that could rear their head in the Final Four should they win on Thursday. First off, Barcelona has playoff leadership and experience with Juan Carlos Navarro being their primary option on the perimeter, along with complimentary wings players like Alex Abrines, Tomas Satoransky and Pau Ribas, who have been effective as of late, especially in the Top 16 and Playoff rounds (Abrines shot 6 of 10 from beyond the arc and scored 25 points total). In the post, Justin Doellman, a former Xavier product, has proven to be an excellent stretch 4 type, and they have depth in the post with Ante Tomic, Samardo Samuels and Joey Dorsey, whom they acquired during the Top 16 round. Dorsey especially has given Barcelona a physical presence, as his ability on the glass (his 16.8 percent offensive rebounding rate is second best in the Euroleague this year behind only Trevor Mbakwe of Maccabi Tel Aviv) and ability to body up opposing teams’ centers has made him an invaluable member of this Barcelona squad despite his relative lack of experience with the team and in Europe in general.

However, Dorsey hurt himself in Game 1, and his status seems to be questionable going forward as he missed games 2 and 3 in the playoffs. This hasn’t hurt Barcelona too badly, as their post depth, hot outside shooting, and the lack of a physical presence in the post or much post player depth in general from Loko has helped Barcelona be effective in his absence. That being said, the 3 final four teams have excellent players in the post, especially Fenerbahce, which is seeing a resurgence from newly acquired Ekpe Udoh, who has stepped up after Jan Vessley was lost for the season due to an Achilles injury in the Top 16 round. If Barcelona makes it to the Final Four and doesn’t have the services of Dorsey, it could make things very difficult in terms of having a serious shot at the Euroleague crown.

Another issue with Barcelona is their point guard play, as the squad hasn’t relatively gotten much from Carlos Arroyo, who was expected to be a playmaking catalyst for this squad. Arroyo only played little over 5 minutes in Game 3, and he only averaged 14.6 minutes in 7 games during Top 16 play, a downgrade from the 18.6 mpg he was seeing  during the 10-game regular season. This puts more pressure on Satoransky, who is the team leader in assist rate over the full season, and Ribas, who was 2nd in assist rate during the Top 16 round. Both those two are effective, but they do not have the dynamic athleticism that other Final Four teams have, and that could present issues, especially if Barcelona cannot transition their hot shooting from the playoffs to the Final Four (should they close it out).

Head Coach Xavi Pascual has done a phenomenal job considering the circumstances his team has faced this year, especially early on when they looked like they would miss the playoffs. He has a methodical, half-court oriented approach, as evidenced by their 70.3 pace this year, which is the slowest rate of any Euroleague team this season. However, that has been effective in the playoffs, as they have gotten Loko to play out of sorts in the slower pace of the last three games. Furthermore, his defensive plan has worked, as he has held the 3-point chucking Loko squad (their 0.48 3PT/FGA rate was highest in the Euroleague this year) in check, as evidenced by their 21.7, 33.3 and 28.6 percentages from beyond the arc, which are all below their season 3-point average of 36.6 percent. For Barcelona to close this out on Thursday, Barcelona has to continue to follow Pascual’s plan of relentlessly hounding Loko’s shooters and force them to win in the post, which is not exactly a strength of Loko’s on the offensive end.

 

Loko looking to make a comeback

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Loko has been one of the most balanced teams in Euroleague play this year. They are the top team in the league in net rating at 11.4, higher than even fellow Russian squad CSKA Moscow, who has been far and away the most dominant team over the course of the entire season. Loko’s heavy 3-point attack on offense, and risk-taking and aggressiveness on defense (their 10.8 steal rate leads the league) has been a key reason why Georgios Bartzokas’ squad went 17-7 in the regular and Top 16 season combined.

Bartzokas can thank the two-headed combo of point guard Malcolm Delaney and Forward/Center Anthony Randolph for Loko’s success, especially during the Top 16 round. Everything runs pretty much through those two, as they lead the team in possessions per game with 15.89 and 15.8, respectively (the next highest rate is Chris Singleton with 9.25, and Singleton primarily comes off the bench). When those two are on, Loko has proven to be one of the toughest teams to play in the Euroleague on a nightly basis.  Delaney is the classic hybrid point guard, who can score at will as well as create offense for his teammates. His 2.08 assist to turnover rate is tops on the team, and over half of his shots come from beyond the arc (0.52). Add that with a strong true shooting percentage (60.1 percent) and a surprising defensive rebounding rate for a point guard (10.9) and it makes sense why Delaney is so crucial to Loko’s success. Delaney plays all out and is their engine on the floor on both ends, which makes sense why he leads the team in minutes during the playoffs (106). In the playoffs, Delaney is certainly doing his share to will Loko to a Final Four berth, as he leads the team in minutes, and is showing his effectiveness on the offensive end by scoring 1.03 PPP and posting a highly respectable 5.00 Assist to Turnover rate.

Randolph is second on the team in minutes, and is also a unique talent who has been critical to Loko’s success. Randolph isn’t always efficient: his 45.2 effective field goal percentage is not good, especially when you consider his 32.2 usage rate, which is tops on the team. Furthermore, a knock that has dogged him from his days at LSU is Randolph’s inconsistent motor on the floor, and that continues to be an issue. Randolph doesn’t bang down low with opposing bigs (his 2.8 offensive rebounding rate really is just flat out pathetic for a near seven-footer), and he has spurts where looks unfocused and disinterested, which leads to lapses on defense and the killing of ball movement and spacing on offense. With Dorsey out, one would think Randolph would be making his bread on the block and with his back to the basket to take advantage of Barca’s less physical post players. Instead, he settles in the mid-range and tries to create offense off the dribble, which seems to bail out Barcelona’s defenders, who don’t have the physicality of Dorsey.

That being said, Randolph, when he’s on, is not just the most dangerous player on Loko, but perhaps in Europe. On the defensive end, he is Loko’s best post defender, as evidenced by his 4.2 block rate. Offensively, he has a decent and versatile touch around the rim (though he probably settles for fade away mid-range shots too often), but he can also step back from beyond the arc and shoot with some effectiveness, as he did game 2 where he shot 40 percent from beyond the arc. He is also an effective free throw shooter, as his 76.8 free throw percentage is pretty solid for a big man, and his 10.3 assist rate shows that he can also create offense from the post for his teammates. Randolph has the tools and skills to really dominate in this series, but he has to flip on the switch and get more physical, or Loko will be most likely heading back home for the Euroleague season after Thursday.

Loko does have some good supporting players that can help turn things around for Bartzokas’ squad. Singleton, who started out the regular season as a starter before Randolph arrived in the Top 16 round, is very much like Randolph, though a bit less skilled (however he makes up for it by being more physical than Randolph, especially on the offensive glass). Also Ryan Broekhoff and Victor Claver are effective “glue” stretch players (not quite guards, but not quite pure posts) who are highly efficient despite their relatively low usage rates, as they lead the team in Points Per Possession at 1.14 and 1.09, respectively. But make no mistake, if Loko wants to win two in a row and punch a historic first trip to the Final Four, then they will need more effective production from Delaney, and especially Randolph, who has to take advantage in the post with Dorsey either absent or not 100 percent. If Randolph can do that, and if Delaney can continue his hyperactive production as the team’s  main playmaker, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Loko can win two in a row against Barcelona.

Final Verdict?

I am pulling for Loko, though having to win one in Barcelona to force game 5 seems like a tall task. As much I respect Pascual for the job he’s done turning this team around in time for the playoffs, Barcelona has been to the Final Four before countless times. While that may be good for Spain, who would like to have two teams on the big European stage May 13, I do not think Barcelona is built all that well to compete for a title against the likes of Fenerbahce or CSKA Moscow. A healthy Dorsey gives them a better shot, but I do not think they can keep shooting like they are against Loko in the Final Four and I don’t know if their post players can compete with Fernerbahce nor do I think their guards could compete with CSKA Moscow.

Now, does that mean that I think Loko will do much better? No, not at all. In fact, I think Loko would be an auto 4th place finisher should they make it to Berlin. However, they have been a nice story this year, as they were regulated to the Eurocup, Europe’s second-tier league, a year ago, and have really impressed in Bertzokas’ first year at the helm. Yes, they are a bit too dependent on Delaney and Randolph, but they are an entertaining squad, and it would be good to see them on the big stage, especially considering they are one of the more rural teams in the Euroleague, and their contests have a “small town” feel to them. Them making the Final Four would be akin to Hickory High in “Hoosiers”…

Unlike the Huskers however, Loko would not win it all. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good story though, not to mention a foundation and marketing tool to build on for next year in terms of upgrading their talent for the future.

Who You Should Cheer for in the NBA Playoffs: Western Conference

Yesterday, I did a post on who you should cheer for in the Eastern Conference. Today is the Western Conference edition. So you know the drill: no stats, no analytics, just highly biased fan-opinion. Let’s get it on!

 

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

Let’s face it. Houston doesn’t have a chance. They have an interim coach in JB Bickerstaff who most likely will be replaced this off-season by a much bigger name. James Harden went from trendy 2015 MVP pick to classic “I don’t play defense and I make crappy turnovers” James Harden of previous years. Dwight is Dwight with all his on and off court issues, and the supporting cast has been tremendously disappointing this year after being key to the Rockets’ Western Conference Finals run a year ago.

But I can see why people would cheer for the Rockets. The Warriors have set a NBA record with 73 wins. They are looking to make history and truly beat the Bulls for the moniker of “greatest team of all time”. That doesn’t happen if they don’t win a championship. But a loss in the first round? That would be something of epic proportions. I mean…that would be the single greatest upset of all time in any sports, no bones about it. And the Rockets have…somewhat of a shot…right? They have Harden and Howard. Those two certainly would give the Warriors a better shot than anything the Jazz would have brought (come on…Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors? Please).

And to be honest, I have soured a bit on the Warriors the past few years. You see, I grew up a Warriors fan during the lean days. I grew up with Antwan Jamison, Bob Sura and Erick Dampier. I saw them waste the potential of a Gilbert Arenas-Jason Richardson-Jamison core. I reveled in 2007’s “We Believe” team, only to see cheap ownership and overly egotistical Don Nelson (egotistical but lovable nonetheless) ruin the core two years later. When the Warriors broke through with Stephen Curry (who I was a huge fan of when the Warriors drafted; people forget that not everyone was in favor of the pick at the time), it seemed right. All the painful waiting had been worth it. Those days of Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson as our premiere 1-2 combo was a thing of the past.

However, then all the bandwagon fans jumped in. Suddenly the Warriors became the OKC Thunder: everyone’s suddenly favorite team. Family that used to talk Lakers now suddenly were “All In” on the Warriors. I grew tired of that bullshit. I grew tired of having to defend my Warriors fandom to a bunch of bandwagon fans. And thus, I started to cheer for the Kings. They sucked sure, but at least I wouldn’t be dealing with the insufferable bullshit of all these “newly minted” Warriors fans.

Despite this though, we (myself included) should be pulling for the Warriors, and not just in this series, but in the playoff in general. We could see history and no team has captured basketball’s attention like this Warriors bunch. Yes, the Bulls won 72 games. But they won it in a time where there wasn’t constant media scrutiny. They won it despite the game being much different. They won it where the talent level between the top and the bottom teams was a lot more lopsided than it is now. And they won it with a lot of veterans who were expected to be great. This Warriors team is still relatively young. Yes, there are vets like Iggy and Bogut, but Draymond, Curry, Klay and Barnes still are relatively early in their NBA careers. The Warriors don’t have the potential to be just the greatest team of all time this year, but for the next 3-5 years. That is crazy, and as a basketball fan we should revel in that potential and greatness and not see it spoiled by an inferior bunch, which Houston is.

Yes, I know the “Hipster” thing would be to cheer against Golden State. But don’t do it. Let’s see the Warriors let this ride. Let’s see them dispatch the Rockets and the rest of the Western Conference.

We’ll be all glad to say that we witnessed history when it is all said and done.

 

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trailblazers

Chris Paul, Damian Lillard

 

No team has been more entertaining this year than the Blazers. Remember: this team lost four starters from last year’s playoff squad. FOUR!!! And they’re back in the playoffs and arguably more fun than the team a year ago. CJ McCollum and Damion Lillard have been one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, up there along with Curry and Thompson. Mason Plumlee has made everyone forget he was a Dookie. Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh have been an interesting and athletic duo that have given the Blazers all kinds of versatility in the post. The Blazers are young, they’re fun, and they play hard night in and night out. This is the kind of Blazers teams Portland fans have been hoping for years, and not only have they been successful this year, but they have set themselves up for a bright future in the next five as well.

And, the Blazers are going against a team that is so easy to hate. This is a Doc Rivers coached team that has Chris Paul, who may be the most chippy player in the league. They have insufferable players like JJ Redick (who continues to be an example of a hate-able Dookie) and Austin Rivers, who I’m still surprised is in the league. They have DeAndre Jordan who basically played all kinds of drama this year in terms of his free agency decision just so he could play a mom in a State Farm commercial. Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin and new owner Steve Ballmer is a lot less racist, but a lot more annoying not to mention sweaty. And for god sakes…look at those damn uniforms!

Unless you were an original fan of the Bill Walton-led Clippers, I don’t know how you can enjoy this team. Especially when they are playing a team like Portland. Portland is scrappy and overachieving, while the Clips are entitled and seem to always pale in the big moment. Terry Stotts is composed on the sideline; Rivers is always in the ass of some ref complaining over every little call. Trail Blazers fans have been with this team through thick and thin and the Sebastian Telfair-era. Clippers fans couldn’t even name who Loy Vaught is.

Seriously. If you’re cheering for this Clippers team, you are an ass hole. I know Portland isn’t a good matchup against this Clippers team, especially with a healthy Griffin. But God…I want them to pull the upset. I want Dame to go nuts. I want Mason Leonard to be streaky, crazy Leonard, like he was in the playoffs last year. Why? Because a first round exit and Kevin Durant going to the Lakers next year would devastate this Clippers fanbase beyond belief, and we’ll see a sharp regression in LA fans sporting those terrible jerseys in the Staples center next season.

Seeing less of those jerseys would be a victory for mankind people. Plain and simple. Go Blazers.

 

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

Just FYI: I don’t like Mark Cuban. I think he’s self-centered and an overblown personality who imbues all the qualities of the “rich venture capitalist who shits all over the little guy, but convinces people that he is good for the economy because he wears jeans instead of expensive slacks.”Nothing was more glorious than seeing the 2007 Warriors totally shut Cuban up in the playoffs after Cuban’s Mavs teams had the best record in the NBA and was coming off a runner-up finish in the NBA Finals the previous year. Many people felt sorry for Cuban and the Mavs. I didn’t. He was tampering anyways before the free agency period, and of course, Cuban gets no serious kind of punishment, much like his insider trading on Wall Street.

But…I can’t get behind this Thunder team. Maybe I don’t like Oklahoma. Maybe I have ill-feelings about the Thunder stealing the Sonics. Maybe I secretly hate Steven Adams because he ripped off Adam Morrisons’ look and nobody is getting over his ass like they did with Morrison. Maybe I don’t like Billy Donovan and want his NBA career to look closer to Rick Pitino than Brad Stevens. Maybe I want Kevin Durant to walk and go somewhere in a bigger market that deserves and would utilize him more than the small market of OKC.

So, plain and simple, I can’t get behind this Thunder team. I love Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka isn’t the player we thought he would be, but he’s still damn impressive. If this were the Sonics, I would be riding behind this Thunder team all day. But it’s not. It’s the Thunder. With their boring uniforms and lame mascot. Beyond the players, there’s nothing to really like about OKC.

Dallas on the other hand has been an enjoyable mish-mash to watch this year on League Pass. They really shouldn’t be all that impressive. Their starting center mixes between Zaza Pachulia and some dude I can never remember, though I know he is Lebanese or something. Their star player is Chandler Parsons, a third wheel in Houston. They have Raymond Felton and Deron Williams, both over the hill, running the show. And Charlie Villanueva, somehow in some damn way, gives them productive minutes.

This Mavericks teams shouldn’t win. On paper, the Kings look better.  But the Mavericks win. Dirk keeps defying age and keeps doing Dirk things. And Rick Carlisle continuously shows that he’s one of the best coaches in the league, up there with Pop from San Antonio. Seriously, other than Pop, who else could make the playoffs with this kind of talent?

I know Westbrook and Durant are fun, and I know Midwesterners might want to pull for OKC because they represent the Midwest in fan-appreciation and city size. But don’t. Let’s see Durant walk. Let’s see the Thunder implode. And let’s see the Mavs and Carlisle, despite their rag-tag collection, upset a team that really should have won 1 title by now, but hasn’t due to injuries, bad coaching and dumb personnel moves.

The city of Seattle will thank you with a free latte for doing it.

 

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

I love Grit n Grind, but this is Grind n Wheeze. Gasol? Out. Conley? Out. Grindfather. Barely walking. All this team has is Z-bo and a bunch of guys from the Iowa Energy. Memphis has no chance. Give Dave Joerger credit for getting this team to playoffs. But when it comes to competitiveness? Holy Cross had a better chance of winning in the first round than the Grizzlies.

So this is about San Antonio, arguably the second-best team in NBA history. Seriously. In any other year, the Spurs would be discussed as having one of the best seasons of all time, and unfortunately, the Warriors go out and win 73 games and steal all their spotlight. Just see anything with the Spurs out there and it’s always prefaced with the statement: “But the Warriors…”

And that is what makes the Spurs-Warriors Finals possibility so exciting. It’s the de-facto title game, really. It is going to be Kings-Lakers 2002 all over again in the sense that whoever wins this series is going to win the NBA Finals. And we need to see this. We need get immersed in this possible scenario where the Spurs and Warriors slug it out for seven games. It’s going to be the greatest Western Conference Finals in history and you should cheer that nothing gets in the way of it. Not the Grizzlies (not that it would happen anyways). Not the Clippers. Not even the Blazers, should they pull off the upset. The basketball world deserves Spurs-Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Leonard and Curry. Pop vs. Kerr. The Bay Area vs. the Southwest. The new dynasty vs. the old guard. The storylines are endless.

So yeah…cheer for the Spurs. The Grizzlies would want you to anyways. They want this damn season to end as soon as possible. And we don’t need to see Matt Barnes celebrate anything either.