The Utah Jazz provided the biggest surprise last season, taking advantage of a second half schedule that ranked as the easiest in the league to go on a remarkable run and finish as the 5th seed in the West. More importantly, they knocked out Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony from the first round of the playoffs with their usual gritty, defense-first style. The emergence of Donovan Mitchell as a potential NBA star, vast improvements in the pick-and-roll chemistry between Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert, and a roster that has been carefully molded to fit the system lends for plenty of optimism for the Jazz to build on last season’s success. It won’t be easier, however, as a number of teams in the West improved in the offseason. With that said, there should be plenty in the tank for the Jazz to walk away from the regular season looking forward to playoff basketball once again.

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12 months ago, the biggest criticism of the Washington Wizards was a lack of roster depth, and this season offers a similar outlook. Out goes the Polish hammer, Marcin Gortat, and in comes Dwight Howard, in an attempt to create some of the pick-and-roll magic which brought the Wizards team from one of the worst in the East to a perennial playoff team. The heartbeat of the team still revolves around John Wall, and if preseason is anything to believed, we can look forward to an uptempo Wizards offense led by the former All-Star looking to push the pace, flanked by an excellent wing combo of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. Can Washington’s big three thrive with the arrival of Howard? History suggests no, as the last three teams Howard has played for have all seen a decline in the win totals. The East might be depleted this season, but for Washington to maintain the status quo, it must rely heavily on it’s starting rotation and pray for good health.

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I enjoy playing poker. Am I good at it? After 30 minutes, I’m still looking for the sucker. Anyways, a common scenario I often see play out is this. Player, which is sometimes me, pushes all the chips into the middle of the table and says, “All you can eat, baby!” Either the chip stack get bigger or said player takes the walk of shame to the ATM. That’s what I thought about the Raptors offseason. They are either making it to the Finals or taking that rebuilding walk of shame. Respect.

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I love videogames and have played them ever since I was a little kid. Most games have some sort of level up feature. Win enough battles and collect points or currency to buy new gear or powers. The more items you accumulate, the stronger your character gets until you’re able to beat the Big Bad Boss. The thing is, this Process take time. The 76ers, after years of executing the Hinkie Manifesto, are now in beat the Big Bad Boss territory.

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I live in LA, so rain is not a common occurence. According to the Google machine, LA averages 36 days of year with measurable precipitation. Last night, though, we experienced thunder and lightning. That’s akin to most people seeing Haley’s Comet. The way lightning lights up the sky is kind of cool. Just don’t think about the 300 kilovolts it delivers when it touches the Earth. Thunder by itself is scary, as it rumbles, stumbles, and bumbles. In unison with lightning? A smorgsabord of emotions that make the most diesel of men shiver and quiver. That is your Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are amazing basketball players individually, but when the two combine forces….Thunderstruck.

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Entering last season, most of the focus was on how the Bulls would adapt to the post-Jimmy Butler era. Given the current laugh-a-minute situation in Minnesota, it seems like the return of Lauri Markannen, Zach Lavine, and Kris Dunn has resulted in a big win for the Bulls. The team will be looking for big contributions from all three, as well as their marquee free agent signing of Jabari Parker and first round draft pick Wendell Carter Jr., to build upon a lackluster 27 wins from the previous year and, more importantly, show flashes of progression. The East is now Lebron and DeRozan-less, so the Bulls will be looking towards that 8 seed as a realistic target.

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I’ve always been fascinated by pelicans. They have to be the most versatile, yet DGAF bird predators out there. Not only do they have a long beak, but a large pouch to go with it. That allows them to eat a variety of foods: fish, birds, and invertebrates. It also allows them to hunt food shotgun-style, as they can scoop up water and eat whatever happens to be in there. As for DGAFing, pelicans have no teeth, so there is no chewing. Instead, they let their prey settle in their pouch until they shimmy down their throats….alive! The same can be said for the basketball version of the Pelicans, as they can attack an opponent in a variety of ways and will push the pace and ball down the other team’s throat DGAF-style.

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This Bucks team reminds me alot of the early Shaq/Kobe Lakers teams. Those Lakers teams won plenty of games, but could never get over the hump. Then Phil Jackson came along and….KaPow! Back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Oh, what could’ve been. Anyways, I’m not saying that the Bucks are going to win the title or anything, but replacing Jason Kidd with Mike Budenholzer is an obvious upgrade and could make the Bucks serious contenders in the East.

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Life is often murky and gray, as in the lines between good/bad, right/wrong are often blurred. But when confronted with danger, there are only two responses: fight or flight. Well, we see this playing out before our eyes in Minnesota right now, as Jimmy Butler is, coincidentally, fighting for his right to flight. The other guys? They definitely are not fighting. How can no one step up to him? “At one point, Butler found himself guarding Towns in the post. After Towns received the entry pass, Butler yelled, “He can’t do {expletive} against me!” Towns ended up passing the ball out, sources said.” That’s the sign of someone who can lead a team to the promised land?

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Sid Meier’s Civilization is a game that is near and dear to my heart. Not a minute of those countless hours spent playing were wasted. So good. So much fun. Anyways, the basic premise of the game is to build a civilization from scratch. You start out with a small group of settlers and survey the land to establish a permanent home. From there, you ascertain resources, knowledge, and provide infrastructure so that the colony can advance intellectually and grow in physical number. All of this leads to the ultimate goal of world conquest. In my pursuit of global domination, I’d often over-extend myself and be susceptible to counter attack, which would force me to retreat and build up my forces once again. This is how I view the Memphis/Vancouver Grizzlies. Founded in 1995, the team was a fledgling outfit, winning fewer than 20 games each of the first four years in existence. Then progress happened over the next four years, as the team won 22, 23, 23, and 28 games. In 2003, Hubie Brown led the team to a 50-win season and first playoff appearance in franchise history. After two more playoff appearances, the team went back to the 20-win Dark Ages for three seasons. But that was just a brief retreat, as it set up a 7-year Golden Age in which the team made the playoffs every season. It all came crashing down last year, though, as injuries decimated the squad. Are we heading back to the Dark Ages or was last season just a blip on the radar?

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