Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Russell Westbrook is not going to save us. He can barely save himself, and he had to turn out an all-time playoff performance down 3-1 on Wednesday night to do so. The man who captivated us for all of last season, his stat-stuffing bonanzas bordering on joyous incontinence, who posted a triple-double average again, proving that context actually does play into the MVP award, finally combined with Paul George (and without Carmelo Anthony) to sail past the Utah Jazz in one of the most remarkable second halves the playoffs have ever seen. Still, he faces imminent danger.
A year after capturing the basketball zeitgeist, examining it closely and then firing it directly into the sun, Westbrook has led a re-tooled, if not altogether “better,” Oklahoma City Thunder team back to the playoffs. For most teams, this is, at worst, a modest success, something upon which to build no matter the outcome. For a Thunder team that did exactly this a year ago and then went out and got Paul George and the Tupperware container inside which the rotten remains of Carmelo Anthony live in the back of the refrigerator, however, a second consecutive first round exit would be nothing short of disastrous.
All artwork by Brian Kraker/Tuesdays With Horry
Having literally birthed the Cool during sessions toward the turn of the decade, Miles Davis subsequently descended into hell, fighting depression with a legendary heroin addiction. After a lengthy battle to kick the addiction, the trumpeter took his quintet to the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1955, putting on a comeback performance capitalized by a performance of “Round About Midnight.” By that October, Davis was at a crossroads in his already esteemed career and had to act quickly to form what would become his first great quintet, one featuring the landscape-altering saxophone wizardry of John Coltrane. Together, Davis and Coltrane, along with Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers and, later, Gil Evans, created some of the decade’s, and jazz’s, most enduring music, culminating in the era-defining modal record Kind of Blue.
After nearly breaking the core apart before it achieved anything, the Utah Jazz matched the Charlotte Hornets’ offer sheet for Gordon Hayward in the summer of 2014. Prior to this season, the team re-signed rim-protecting center Rudy Gobert through 2021. Along with George Hill, Derrick Favors and a resurrected Joe Johnson, as well as the contributions of heady, heavy vet Boris Diaw and Australian swingman Joe Ingles, the Jazz have charged their way into a second round date with presumptive title favorites the Golden State Warriors, slaying a maligned dragon on the way to becoming fan-favorite underdogs.
Long held to be a tragically uncool locale – the Warriors are sad not to be able to take advantage of the Los Angeles nightlife, for example – Salt Lake City suddenly has the hippest game in the NBA. With critically acclaimed but crucially underrated art from Brian Kraker inspired by the classic records from labels such as Impulse!, Atlantic and Blue Note, let us walk back on Utah’s journey to the brink of excellence, two basslines conflicting and confiding in one another.
Wake up, dust off your finest Jordans, throw on a pair of sunglasses and tell the world to deal with it, because the NBA is finally back on your television tonight. Three games featuring five playoff teams from a year ago, including the defending champion Golden State Warriors, return us to the hardwood. So much has transpired this offseason, it can be easy to get caught up in it. Such is life in the 24/7/365 NBA, if you allow it to be.
We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.