With the National Basketball Association’s regular season ending triumphantly on Thursday night (Apr. 26), the real fun begins — at least it does for the 16 teams left standing in the playoffs (and maybe for the Nets, who get to leave New Jersey behind and rise, phoenix-like, in the Brooklyn house that Jay-Z created). It’s been a wild, lockout-shortened regular season, and we’re still getting to know some of the teams that will be striving to make the Finals. And what better way to help us understand some of these playoff squads than assigning them each a popular song that represents their current season?
To get ready for the 2012 NBA Playoffs, check out these 16 songs that correspond to the teams still left standing. Warning: the basketball nerd-speak is about to increase ten-fold.
San Antonio Spurs – Radiohead, “Everything In Its Right Place”
The Spurs are a well-oiled machine that is not affected by age or injury. Coach Gregg Poppovich is a basketball genius and can get the most out of his role players, whether they’re fairly anonymous (Danny Green) or malcontents (Stephen Jackson). Most prognosticators counted them out of contending in this year’s condensed season — and they ended up with the best record in the Western Conference, again. Who better than inscrutable geniuses Radiohead to rep this consistently immaculate Spurs squad? Compared to the 4-time champion Spurs, all other teams are the basketball equivalent of “Amnesiac.”
Chicago Bulls – DJ Khaled feat. T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross, “All I Do Is Win”
Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ star and reigning league MVP, missed more than 20 games this year due to injury. Master rebounder Joakim Noah looked lost this season. Did these things matter? Nope, the Bulls kept stockpiling wins and once again finished with the top Eastern Conference record. Fittingly, their anthem is DJ Khaled’s team effort to never, ever losing. Put your hands up, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik — and they stay there.
Oklahoma City Thunder – fun., “We Are Young”
Everything went right for fun. to score an out-of-nowhere Hot 100 No. 1 hit with “We Are Young,” just like everything has recently gone right for the Thunder by drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, three high-energy superstars that have been in the league for less than a half-decade. After making it to the Western Conference Finals last year, can those youthful Oklahoma City rabble-rousers set the world on fire this year? (Side-note: we almost slotted DJ Khaled’s “Take It To The Head” in here, but didn’t want to make light of the fantastically bearded Harden’s recent injury.)
Miami Heat – Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory”
Miami came tantalizingly close to a championship in its first year with the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but came up short against the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s Finals. James in particular has been dogged by questions regarding his crunch time capabilities — but if the Heat win it all this year, all of those questions disappear. Can the 2012 playoffs be to the Heat what an epic saxophone solo was for Lady Gaga’s third “Born This Way” single? It’s a question that most Heat fans (and Lady Gaga fans) have long wondered. The edge of glory isn’t enough for the NBA’s most scrutinized team, not again.
Los Angeles Lakers – Maino, “Hi Hater”
Between Andrew Bynum sometimes being a bonehead (watch out, JJ Barea!), Metta World Peace often being a volatile physical being (feel better, James Harden!), and Kobe Bryant being the icy, unstoppable villain known as Black Mamba, the Los Angeles Lakers have accrued their share of critics. And yet, the club keeps winning, shrugging off a thin bench and once again finishing with over 40 wins. You can keep hating on the Lakers, but they’re just going to wave at you and “let a hater hate,” like our main man Maino.
Indiana Pacers – Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Dogg feat. Bruno Mars, “Young, Wild & Free”
Out of all 16 teams in the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers might have the least amount of pressure on them heading into the playoffs. After all, their young, cheap roster was markedly better this year, overachieving to a No. 3 seed after snagging a No. 8 slot last year. These guys have a fruitful future ahead of them, so for now, they get to play loose and relaxed, just like Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg on their stoner duet.
Los Angeles Clippers – Rihanna, “We Found Love”
You know who else found love in a hopeless place this year? The downtrodden Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise with a disastrous history and penchant for bad luck. All that was wiped away when they traded for ultra-talented point guard Chris Paul, who teamed up with second-year dunk monster Blake Griffin to create a dynamic duo. Maybe they won’t have yellow diamonds on their fingers at the end of this postseason, but with CP3, things for the Clippers have never been more hopeful.
Boston Celtics – Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
The Celtics have faced their fair share of adversity this season, from the tragic heart ailments of Jeff Green and Jermaine O’Neal to persnickety trade rumors swarming Rajon Rondo for the first half of the season. In a surprising resurgence, however, the Celtics shot past the Sixers and edged out the Knicks to capture the Atlantic Division crown. If Kelly Clarkson has taught us anything, it’s that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and the C’s have transformed from the team that everyone had written off to a legitimate title threat. Some teams wait a lifetime for a moment like this — and the aging Boston squad can’t let this mid-season renaissance go to waste.
Memphis Grizzlies – Waka Flocka Flame, “Hard in Da Paint”
Memphis knocked out the top-seeded Spurs in last year’s playoffs due to the sheer force of power forward Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph and Marc “The Other Gasol” Gasol. Now they’re back for more, ready to chew up the key and manhandle less physical teams. An obvious anthem for the Grizz is Mr. Flocka Flame’s epic banger “Hard in Da Paint,” which celebrates the art of tearing ish up in the painted area. Maybe Z-Bo doesn’t have to start yelling “BRICK SQUAAAAD!” after each dunk, but it’s definitely worth considering.
Atlanta Hawks – Alicia Keys, “Where Do We Go From Here”
Hawks fans, presumably, have to start feeling tired about always finishing in the middle of the playoff pack. Always a good team, never a great team, the Hawks have been standing on a foundation of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford and (more recently) Jeff Teague for years, but seem to continuously reach a ceiling of the second round. So what’s the next move? Do they stay the course and risk never rising to an elite level, or sell off their parts and rebuild? Alicia Keys put it best when she asked, “Where do we go from here? Follow the tracks of my tears.” Keep your chins up, Hawks fans; these playoffs might yield a few surprises.
Denver Nuggets – Wu-Tang Clan, “Protect Ya Neck”
Since the midseason departure of Carmelo Anthony last year, the Nuggets have had an all-hands-on-deck mentality, with 9 players averaging at least 9 points per game this year and guys like Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo and rookie Kenneth Faried carving out niches for themselves on the crowded roster. It’s almost like the current Nuggets are taking a cue from the most selfless of posses — the Wu-Tang Clan, who exploded onto the scene with “Protect Ya Neck” by giving everyone a chance on the mic. We’re not sure if the Denver clan and the Wu completely correlate, but veteran point guard Andre Miller is definitely GZA in this scenario.
Orlando Magic – Kanye West, “Power”
In his “Dark Fantasy” single, Yeezy’s declaration is simple: “No one man should have all that power.” This is something the Orlando Magic are finding out the hard way, as their superstar center Dwight Howard is out for the playoffs after playing coy with the Magic organization and refusing to sign an extension, then opting in for next season, throwing his coach under the bus and missing the playoffs due to injury. Now, the Magic have to fend for themselves and consider a future without D12 in uniform. Reality is catching up with them, and they might have to jump out the window and let their star player (and consistent win total) go. Magic fans — the next few years could be a dark fantasy indeed.
Dallas Mavericks – T.I., “King Back”
Sure, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t had the most thrilling regular season, after winning their first championship ever last June. But they’re still the champs, and they’re back in the postseason, with Dirk Nowitzki once again guiding them. There’s not much at stake this year for the Mavs after finally getting that monkey off their back last year, so, like T.I. over a Just Blaze beat, the boys in Big D are confidently spitting game and reminding everyone where the crown is currently sitting. Tip may be the king of the south, but more at least a few more weeks, the Mavericks are still the kings of the NBA.
New York Knicks – Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give Up”
How many seasons have the Knicks had this year? 4? 5? It certainly seems like it: after a mediocre start, Jeremy Lin injected the Knickerbockers with new life… until they came back down to Earth, fired coach Mike D’antoni, put interim coach Mike Woodson in place… and sprang to life once more! Like “them old stars” Jason Mraz tips his fedora to on his new single, the Knicks simply won’t give up on the 2011-2012 season, and remain a dangerous lower-seeded opponent in the first round.
Utah Jazz – Ma$e, “Welcome Back”
The Jazz hit the “rebuild” button once legendary coach Jerry Sloan and team MVP Deron Williams abruptly left in town in the middle of last year, and promptly fell out of the playoffs. But with the right mix of scrappy wingmen and big bodies like Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap, coach Ty Corbin has orchestrated an impressive season and wrapped up an eighth seed. Clap along with Ma$e, Jazz fans, as the Harlem bad boy welcomes you back to the postseason and preaches the importance of “livin’ la vida, without the loca.” All of Salt Lake City will need to do the Harlem shake to help the Jazz climb over the Spurs in Round 1.
Philadelphia 76ers – Dr. Dre feat. Eminem, “Forgot About Dre”
Nowadays, everybody wanna talk like the Sixers have fallen off their hot start to the season due to the lack of a superstar who can close out games. Andre Iguodala certainly isn’t that superstar, but the veteran forward is still a (newly crowned) All-Star who’s a triple-double threat every time he touches the court, and he can sometimes get hot from beyond the arc, too! The Sixers don’t have much of a chance in the 2012 playoffs, but, as Eminem so thoughtfully reminds us, don’t forget about ‘Dre, his sick-nasty slams or his court vision — even as the off-season trade rumors persist. Iggy needs to address the haters inside and outside Philadelphia, declare “F— y’all, all y’all,” and just tear it up on the court.