NBA Playoffs Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

Refused - The Shape Of Punk To Come (1998)

there is no prestige in your title / we are after your head / the destruction of everything is the beginning of something new

When Refused played a friend’s basement in Virginia not even halfway through their 1998 American tour to promote The Shape of Punk to Come, they all knew the end was near. When the police pushed their way to the front of the crowd to pull the plugs from their amps and end the show, they knew the end had arrived. This was the destruction of everything for Refused, and they didn’t realize it yet, but it was also the beginning of something new. How they would ultimately feel about the legacy their band and that record would leave behind would surprise them.

At the close of the 2010-2011 season the Oklahoma City Thunder offer a bard’s tale of the evolution of a young basektball team, one full of sound and fury, signifying blah blah blah. Since being stolen from Seattle, the Thunder suffered through a miserable innagural season followed by a remarkable and exciting turnaround in the 2009-2010 season. Expectations were extremely high leading in to this season. Kevin Durant, last season’s MVP runner up, was expected to be crowned MVP in the wake of LeBron’s image-destroying “decision.” And the team was expected to improve upon its 50 wins enough to land atop the Western Conference.

Why shouldn’t the Thunder be considered among the conference leaders leading in to this season? Their turnaround the year before was surely remarkable, especially on defense. The team went from awful to one of the league’s strongest defensive teams last season with the addition of Ron Adams as assistant coach. And the Thunder took the Lakers to a thrilling game six in the first round of the playoffs, holding their own with the defending champs. They looked tough to beat. They looked like they were the future of the NBA. Their savvy and forward-thinking front office and the young talent on their roster was a glimpse at what was to come.

Refused started out in Sweden as a pretty run-of-the-mill chugga-chugga hardcore band. Run-of-the-mill or not, they were still the darlings of Sweden’s not-insignifigant hardcore scene. They played to larger and larger crowds there, and they took the band and themselves extremely seriously. Their music was charged with all of the left-wing political causes the hardcore scene of the nineties embraced. Each record they put out saw them tinkering with their musical style. From shouting lyrics to screaming them, from chugga-chugga to thrash and grind. From hoodies with band names on the sleeves to hair products and white belts. With each successive change, Refused were both apeing and defining the fads and sensibilities of their scene. And they were growing in popularity. The expectations on the band heading in to recording The Shape of Punk to Come were high. They knew it, and they relished it. As the title suggested, they set out to record a record that would define the direction of hardcore.

The Thunder didn’t relish the high expectations placed on them by fans the same way. They didn’t spend the offseason chasing LeBron James (or any other big-name free agents). Sam Presti instead chose to focus on what helped them turn around the season before: youth and fundamentals. He used cap space to sign extensions with key players and built in space to pick up other contracts as the season progressed. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Why tinker with a good thing?

One problem he didn’t anticipate, however, was that his defensive savant Ron Adams would bolt and head back to Chicago. And he must have taken the defensive playbook with him, because in the first half of the season the Thunder dropped pretty dramatically in every defensive category. Meanwhile the Bulls’ defense improved considerably on his return this season. The Thunder tried to play the same defense they played last season, but it wasn’t working. They were suffering on defense and were letting games get away from them that the otherwise should have won on impressive offensive efforts.

it could all be so simple / we would all stand baffled by the precision and accuracy / our jaws would hurt from dropping so hard, fast, and unexpectedly / it would be the perfect metaphor / be the perfect song we’d be singing

And the Thunder had offense to spare. Kevin Durant was scoring better than ever, nothing flashy just efficient. Westbrook was developing as a slash-to-the-basket threat. The team was hitting shots at a high clip and putting up big numbers on opponents. And while a lack of defense was costing them some games they should have won, their offensive efficiency was allowing them to continue to win. Despite the lack of defense, the Thunder were still kicking ass. It got a some people in Oklahoma wondering, what if we had a big guy in the post? What if we could play defense under the rim? We’d be the total package. We could go all the way.The expectations were rising about as high as they could rise. A championship. In Oklahoma. It could happen.

Refused recorded a damn good album. And they knew it was damn good. They started to believe that they really were at the vanguard of rock and roll. They were sure that once people heard this record nothing would ever be the same. They planned an American tour. They imagined big crowds turning out and the band putting on a sublime performance. They imagined that people would talk about this record and the time they saw Refused play for years and years to come. Even their lyrics, all Situationist-styled revolutionary platitudes and grandiose rock and roll proclomations, seemed to reveal how hyper self-aware the band was about their own importance. They packed up this hubris with their instruments and headed off to the United States. All that was left ahead of them was a dozen shows and eternal greatness.

Then they got to Atlanta. And North Carolina. And Virginia. From bar to basement, they more often than not found themselves playing to handfuls of people who were either indifferent or unimpressed. The tour was turning out to be a disaster. The band was miserable, angry with one another, homesick, at-odds, and holding back their resentment and contempt for one another. The revolution would have to wait. The Refused were imploding.

The record they made was a good, if not great, record. The songs were well-written and the music was tightly produced. The craft was there, but the music built on influences. Their latest iteration of hardcore gimmickry and trend-setting involved Nation of Ulysses-styled imagery and attitude, Born Against’s energy and anger, Ink & Dagger’s ambient electronic interludes, and Antioch Arrow’s wail and chaos. The output was something heavy and sharp, with all the screaming and stop-start timing that was the signature of late 90s hardcore. They created something entertaining, something that worked, albeit something not alltogether original. And while their tour would do them in, the record would fulfill its own prophecy. And just as Sam McPheeters would express regret at influencing Refused, Refused would likely disown their own role in influencing bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, or at New Noise being used in the movie Crank or as baseball players' entrance music.

we’re all scared of dying, so sick of not trying / scared that we might fail, we’ll accomplish nothing -summerholidays vs punkroutine

The important lesson for the Swedish rockers was not that the world wasn’t ready for their revolution. It was that theirs wasn’t a revolution at all. They weren’t doing anything new. They were recycling the better stuff from everything everyone liked in the 90s, and they were doing it efficiently, they were doing it well. But at some point they mistook being a good band for being important and iconic. Their tour to promote their record brought them back down to Earth. The disappointment that came with the realization that they weren't at the vanguard of teeming rock masses would bring them down even further still.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are a young team, an efficient team, a good team. Somewhere along the way this season they no longer were content with merely being good, sticking to the plan, and patiently developing their key parts into better and better players. Somewhere along the way this season they decided that they could go all the way and win a championship. At the trade deadline they brought in Kendrick Perkins to play at center. So far the trade seems to have worked out well on both ends of the court, and the team has been on a roll. The question remains, were they right to not stay patient and stand pat? Will they spark a revolution in the NBA and shock the world with a championship? And if not, will the Thunder let the disappointment bring them down?

David Hill is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. He once owned a hoodie with the band name on the sleeve. He likes Denver in six.
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NBA Playoffs Preview: Indiana Pacers

Racebannon - Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In (2002)

There's no reason to preview a team that won 37 games and backed into the playoffs in a pathetic East battle for the 8th seed that featured Charlotte trading away their best player to save money, and a dreadful (Cthulhu-level dread) Bucks offense. Fans were even figuring out what the Nets needed to do to make it after sweeping Toronto in London to get to only 20 games under .500. At one point, Detroit GM Joe Dumars talked about the team making a run for the post-season... after half of his players walked out of a shoot around in protest of embattled coach John Kuester. The Pacers won the race to the bottom, or did they lose it? Not sure how that works.

Let's be honest, who has made it through an entire Pacers game from beginning to end since the Malice at the Palace stripped any exciting players the team once had? Quinn Buckner and John Cougar Mellencamp? No one has ever listened to an entire Racebannon LP either, not even Johnny Cougar. In fact, Racebannon is the anti-Johnny Cougar. Their discordant noisy jams and raw, unhinged vocals confounded punks and emos alike. They found an audience by being perhaps the strangest band to be grouped into the "screamo" genre, achieving peak weirdness with a rock opera called "Satan's Kickin Yr Dick In", quoth Pitchfork:
It's the story of Rodney, a musician whose material is piss-poor and can't draw a crowd. In desperation, he makes a deal with Satan, who turns him into a gorgeous chanteuse named Rhonda Delight, as whom he wins fame, riches, and decadence-- everything his heart desires-- until his inevitable fall, when celebrity takes its toll, and Satan returns to drag him to hell.
If the Pacers made a deal with Satan in order to go 8 games under .500, that would be horribly sad. But I wouldn't put it past a desperate Mike Dunleavy, who played 600+ regular season games without tasting the playoffs, and saw his brother in losing Troy Murphy suddenly get a cush spot as the 9th man on the Celtics. Will it be worth going to hell (i.e. the Charlotte Bobcats) to get blown out by the Bulls in front of 12,000 strong at Conseco?

It's hard to deny the supernatural aspects of the Pacers' 54 point quarter against the Denver Nuggets back in November. The Pacers went 20-21, a Josh McRoberts desperation heave at the buzzer away from the perfect quarter. That's some Angels in the Outfield shit. Kadeem Hardison and Marlon Wayans already signed on to star in the feature film about it. The only clearer case of a deal with the devil in Indiana was Butler getting to the NCAA championship game and then shooting 18% from the field. That's straight out of a Rod Serling screenplay, except it would somehow be about boxing.

On second thought, Butler just sucked.

Though I could never hang with Racebannon, they did win me over with a very good cover of the Captain Beefheart classic "Electricity". This has nothing to do with the Pacers but I've already bored myself thinking about them more than I have to. Bulls in 4. RIP Don Glen Vliet.

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NBA Playoffs Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Hot Cross - A New Set of Lungs (2001)

We all felt a little racist for like five minutes last weekend.

While the response to our ridiculous playoff previews series has been near-unanimously positive (someone even dared to call it "strangely moving!"), an attentive reader wrote and obliquely accused us of racism for "overcoding" what is -- let's face it -- a sport dominated by African-American players by discussing it in the context of a dead genre of music dominated by white guys.

Naturally, we sat on the lawn and workshopped it forever while Anasarca played in the background and we wondered what the guys from boysetsfire. would think, do, say, and so forth... just like we learned how to do at More Than Music Fest.

It seemed like a lot might hinge on what the word "overcoding" even meant and although I went to grad school at a landlocked land grant school I've heard others call "Deleuze country," whatever I once knew about Deleuze and Guattari has since been replaced by... oh, let's call it "less theoretical knowledge," leaving only a substrate-level wish one day to be the kind of person who reads A Thousand Plateaus on the train on the way home from my marketing director job and thinks "my god: now HERE's a social media strategy!" when he reaches that one chapter in which Professor Challenger lectures for eighty pages to an empty room about social media strategy.

So naturally I turned where anybody would turn to find a definition of "overcoding": to one of the first relevant Google Search results:
"Overcoding is defined in A Thousand Plateaus as the expression of the capitalist axiomatic, resulting in “phenomena of centering, unification, totalization, integration, hierarchization and finalization.” But far from being just a linguistic phenomenon, overcoding works through the built environment, which must be conceived as inseparable from its many language machines (billboards, speakers, televisions, computers, etc.). The desire to formulate collective enunciations through participation in deterritorializing flows is an attempt to speak another kind of language, and more than a language. It’s here that Guattari rejoins Deleuze: in the engagement with experimental literatures and their geopolitical deliriums, expressed in the books they wrote together. In their assemblage, resistance to the sociological problem of cybernetic behavior-patterning rejoins the deeper philosophical problem of resistance to cognitive science paradigms, or what Jean-Pierre Dupuy has called “the mechanization of the mind,” emerging from cybernetics and information theory – and present in the linguistic structuralism of Levi-Strauss and his followers (including Lacan). However, Guattari in particular would always insist that semiotics extends beyond language, to embrace all signifying systems, whether visual, affective, gestural, volumetric, musical, etc. Thus his call for the creation of truly complex machines, simultaneously aesthetic and logical, pathic and rhizomatic: paradoxical vehicles of an embodied attempt to escape the overcode."
Got it???

I realize that I totally used the "Got it???"-following a-big-quoted-block-of-text joke in my preview of the Atlanta Hawks. You know where else I used it? In some of my first grad school seminar papers on Deleuze or Lacan. Only later did I learn that Real Theory Research "exfoliates" long unintelligible quotes by appending long semi-intelligible explications. Sometimes it even uses basketball references, as John McGowan's pretty great book on Hannah Arendt does when it compares politics in Arendt's thought to a game of pick up basketball. And don't think for even a moment that I'm above one day posting some quasi-learned thing about that bit of McGowan's book -- after, of course, I write another post on Scorecasting and loss aversion (e.g. never).

Is this still a basketball blog by the way? I can't even tell. Anyway: if I learned one thing at grad school it's that Deleuze is very important. If I learned two things, the other's to dislike memoir (I forget why; the answer's in one of the theory books I donated last year.) All the more telling, then, that this entire playoff preview comparison verges on memoir-ish!

So... are you ready?

1. My first years in the land grant grad program corresponded with the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 NBA seasons... otherwise known as the first two seasons Miami had a realistic chance to win the title. Negative Dunkalectics devotees will recall that I'm semi-begrudgingly still a Miami Heat fan since I grew up in south Florida and so when the Heat made the finals in 2006, I rooted for them alone about 1200 miles from Miami when they played... the Dallas Mavericks. I had no feelings either way for the Mavs until they won the first two games of the Finals and the city of Dallas then started planning a victory parade.

Then the Dwyane Wade almost singlehandedly won the next four games, the Heat won the title, they revealed that that "15 Strong Pool" was just filled with like family notes and pictures, Alonzo Mourning drank champagne even though he's medically not allowed to, and I thought about buying a Dwyane Wade jersey while celebrating alone in the middle of nowhere. Although I didn't ever get a Dwyane Wade jersey, Antoine Walker got a ring, and the Mavericks got cursed! Recall that in the Mavericks' very next playoff appearance, they lost in six games to 8th seeded Golden State. And Baron Davis wore a fedora adorned with bullets.

In my mind the Mavs' 2007 meltdown issued directly as a kind of curse from their hubris (oh, let's just call it what it is!) in allowing the victory parade plans to be made public before they'd closed out the series. While I'm thinking about it: it's possible... just possible... that the Miami Heat cursed themselves similarly last summer. It would explain why even though I've clicked through it about three dozen times, I've still never been able to get the Heat to win the title in's NBA Playoff Simulator. I did, however, once see a Magic-Grizzlies finals, an outcome which David Stern would probably like to curse.

But it's hard to hate the Mavs and this season they've belatedly put together a pretty strong contending team. I use the word "belated" here because when watching them one does get the sense that their group of aging former stars may have missed their window to win the title, yet it's also possible that they're keeping that window open much past when it should have closed. They're a darkhorse pick to make the Finals and -- for obvious reasons -- I would love to see the Heat play them for the title again.

2. "Belated"'s also a good word to describe Hot Cross, a screamo band formed from Saetia and You and I who released records up through 2007 that sounded like they should have appeared a decade earlier. One other dimension of attending grad school in the middle of nowhere's that you get cut out of the hip music loop and so in some ways my musical tastes got stunted back in 2003 and then when I started listening to new music amidst the cornfields of another land grant school circa 2009, it was because my Wilco-and-George-Harrison-loving friends there had found some great new alt-country band or whatever. Anyway: Hot Cross was always pretty important to me for two reasons.

First, I like to write in cafes wearing noise occluding earbuds and I like how Hot Cross's loudness cancels out whatever awkward first date conversation's taking place one table over. Hot Cross was a standard go-to when I was writing my thesis and didn't want to hear, like, two bearded grad students use the phrase "kind of apocryphal" to describe whatever free jazz record Ken Burns did in fact mention, but just barely.

Secondively, because I was castaway for x years, any new Hot Cross records that came out always gave me the comforting sense that the outside world was still much the same as it was when I had left: viz., that people still cared about screamo and that my record collection was going to be worth beaucoup bucks on eBay one day. Little did I know.

Both the Mavs and Hot Cross have as their focal points lanky white dudes, so at least this post is a little less overcoded than that time last week when we tried to pretend we'd unearthed J.R. Smith's old picture.

Go Heat!

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NBA Playoffs Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

The Weakerthans – Fallow (1997)

Way back in the day, when the green eyes of neo-liberalism beamed along with a wide-eyed grin, and as headlights on trucks carried the first loads of consumer products from maquiladoras in border towns, John K. Samson was chilling in western Canada, recording modest songs with his acoustic guitar on a four track recorder, between days off from shows which took place across that northern prairie, in the minor hamlets and old industrial towns, still existing today in one form or another, which dot the landscape like tiny islands in a great sea of native grains and industrial agriculture.
He left the band he was known for, a well-known punk outfit, soon after recording those first cassettes in 1994, but their political tenets – social equality, ideological veganism, a vow to resist and expose exploitation of others – very much remained a part of his philosophy as he moved onward. He started a publishing company, then a band. The sound of Samson’s music changed over time – some of the rawness from the early work segued into smooth, delicate forms – but in Fallow, Samson’s first recording as the Weakerthans, we can see all of it coalescing together, and it is a great record because of that awkwardness.

For Gerald Wallace, his change came more as an unpleasant surprise than a gift of liberation from earlier, less inspired works. “I felt betrayed,” he said to reporters from Charlotte when his old team came to Portland for the first time in early March. He was unsure of himself, unsure of coming off of the bench, uncertain of the power forward position that Nate McMillan had asked him to supply more often than his traditional spot at small forward. Could he “crash,” as his nickname appropriately indicates an inclination for, with much larger and stronger people than in years past?

What Samson did when he left Propagandhi makes sense – maybe he realized that a great deal of persuasion is rooted in the heart. He still sings political songs on Fallow, but instead of the bluntly ham-fisted rhetoric of his former band, the lyrics are personal and introspective. In the upbeat “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist,” Samson expresses a life of optimistic, riled-up poverty, allowing his wry narrator to speak of progressive activism through the prism of being young and poor. In a frenzy, Samson shouts out a list of daily exercises, which includes checking out unwashed teeth and “enlist our cat in the upcoming class war.” He was just scrapping, working his way into things, in these tunes.

Betrayal is a strong word, but his usage of it seemed appropriate considering the finagling that the spend-thrift Bobcats did to toss their consistent franchise player out of town after eight hundred years of the team’s up-and-down mediocrity, in exchange for a hurt big man’s expiring contract. But the Bobcats were always a waste of time for Wallace, even if he is only seeing it now through the eyes of the second or third best player, working in much more pleasant working conditions. Things are new and different and it takes time to adjust – but Gerald Wallace seems to be a very quick learner.
It is a change, and like most unexpected things for the Blazers this season (like Brandon Roy’s destroyed knees), it seems to be working out better than expected. Despite his reluctance to shift positions, Wallace provided a burst of energy and unpredictability in what is normally a calm, precise team, expressing himself in ways that seemed to have gone by the wayside when his relationship with his superiors in Charlotte soured. He is shooting better than he had with his old team, and providing wing and post defense superior to the alternatives in a Portland lineup that was already defensively adept.

What Portland will do in the playoffs is not certain, beyond just "winning at least a game or two," obviously: they are facing a thorny opponent in a very strong Dallas squad, and Wallace’s primary opponent will be another pair of stalwart defensive players – Shawn Marion at the wing and Dirk Nowitzki down low. But what Wallace must do to defeat them is the same thing that Samson’s work on Fallow documented in his own evolution as a songwriter: he must be true to his own abilities, play on his knack for unpredictability, and occasionally, swing into some calculated brutality recalling his roots.

Negative Dunkalectics editor Chris Sampson's list of the best Weakerthans records: 1. Left and Leaving 2. Reconstitution Site 3. Reunion Tour 4. Fallow. Follow him on Twitter here. For more Emo Spring NBA Playoff Previews, click here and wallow in your weird combination of nostalgia and embarrassment.

NBA Playoffs Preview: Boston Celtics

Mineral – The Power of Failing (1997)
It would be simple, maybe even appropriate, to say that the Celtics were the most classically “emo” team that have made the NBA Playoffs this season. But even to utter that term, rooted in recent times in the enclosure of a generic derision – a gentle but affective mock, loved from ages eight to ninety-eight – describes a team as profoundly complex as Boston as a collection of awkward, angst-ridden young adults, who are bound to their guitars and the inclination to fall over during performances in sob-drenched piles of melancholy.
But no, the Heat are the team more apt for infantile reactions to adversity, whereas the Celtics clearly have preferred to brood down this last stretch of the season, tormented by their losses of heart and stature in the East. They are no wilting youngsters, suffering from the kinds of stuff of wimpier teams or post-hardcore/emo bands.
What I would propose as an alternative is that the 2010-11 Celtics be viewed through what they once were a lens of what they once were, as well as what they are: a team whose personality hinged on strong defense, personal growth and team chemistry. Remember the squad that burst out of huddles with a mantra of “ubuntu” in their championship season three years ago? The remaining members recall that warm time, even their brotherhood at the beginning of the season, and treasure it, and that makes them underline their faults as they’ve erupted on paper during this gray New England spring. Simply put: their spiritual center is in ruins, thanks to the raw power of Troy Murphy's analytical worth overvaluing the ill chemistry “intangibles” of Nate Robinson.
The most vivacious song on Mineral’s debut LP was this tumbling ode to the band’s own creepy spirituality, entitled “Gloria.” In the peak of my teenage years when I first discovered The Power of Failing, on a superficial level I thought those songs were about the kind of stupid junk that singers of “old emo” bands dealt with: heartbreak and disaffection and selfish things of that ilk. Of course, I was wrong, as many of those mid-late 90s bands (like Mineral, as well as countless terrible bands on Tooth and Nail Records) exorcised their demons by writing about their cornball spirituality in their song lyrics.
Mineral’s principal songwriter, Chris Simpson, was at least kind enough to make his warbling fairly metaphorical in nature, referring obliquely to God as a person whose stuff he just had to deal with or whatever, and since the vocals were largely mumbled or moaned, I guess I didn’t figure out how bad it was at the time. I just figured he had a bad breakup with a terrifying person who he still loved.
In retrospect, the first verse in “Gloria” seems very appropriately tied to the sentiment that the Celtics had begun the season with: “A brave morning / Thoughts flap their wings and fly / and I can still taste / defeat on my lips.” Putting together a 41-15 record through the trade deadline, their memory of Game 7 of the 2010 Finals remained tied to the interior power of contenders in years past.
But at some point, somebody – possibly people who just looked at box scores – discovered that you could let Dwight Howard score 40 points and the Magic would still lose, or that the Heat’s centers were horrible (except when your centers somehow play worse), and they lay wrecked in mid-April as a result. After the trade of the increasingly missed Kendrick Perkins and four other role players, the team’s chemistry collapsed, and the mantra of the team seemingly became, as Simpson put it so movingly, “Tomorrow just won't be the same / without you here.”
So what to do now? Leading into the first round matchup against a surging New York team, these fellows – referring in particular to Rondo and Ray Allen, who has seen his shot attempts drop dramatically since the team began to struggle – seem helpless and frail, having decided to “rest” their starters after a thrashing in Miami over the weekend. Unfortunately, they need to recapture some of their own myth in order to win games; otherwise, this will be a very difficult summer and their championship hopes with the aging bodies of Allen and Garnett will likely be finished. I don’t see this kind of spiritual rejuvenation coming from anywhere besides the four benched starters, who (besides Glen Davis) are now the longest tenured members of the team. Boston has been feared for practically mystical reasons in the past, and it is up to the players who are suffering the most to rediscover their faith in themselves before all of their efforts during the season are lost.

Negative Dunkalectics editor Chris Sampson was not the principal songwriter of Mineral, but his name is pretty close. Follow him on Twitter here. For more Emo Spring NBA Playoff Previews, click here and wallow in your weird combination of nostalgia and embarrassment.