“They’ve been tryna stop the wave, but the wave don’t stop,” Meek Mill raps on “Uptown Vibes” from his new drop Championships, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do here as we pause a quarter of the way through the NBA season to match each team with a lyric from Meek’s recent album.
Following his release from serving time for a parole violation earlier this year, Meek hit the ground running as an advocate for criminal justice reform. At the heart of his new album are his experiences with police and criminal justice system. “My judge black don’t wanna see me do well / It’s either that or black people for sale / Gave me two to four years like, ‘f**k your life, meet me in hell’” Meek raps on “Trauma.” For a sprawling 19 tracks, Meek raps from the rooftops about political hypocrisy and race, and his successes and failures this year.
The result is one of the most emotional and skillfully rapped albums of the year, with tracks like “Uptown Vibes,” “Trauma,” “On Me,” What’s Free,” and “Oodles o’ Noodles Babies” that will be bumping in locker rooms and headphones across the NBA.
Now that we’re slightly more than a quarter of the way through the season, let’s use lyrics from Championships to asses how each team’s season is going so far. We’ll start at the top of the league standings and make our way down.
Toronto Raptors (20-5): I just keep spinning, only to make ’em nauseous / Dimelo, mami, like salsa, we could dip – Uptown Vibes
Once you get past the inclusion of Kawhi Leonard and the surging Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam’s spin move is the talk of Toronto. The broadcast has even given him the nickname is “Spicy,” which is delightful (spicy like salsa, for those who aren’t following). The Raptors look to be far and away the best team in the NBA right now, and a lot of that is thanks to the development of Siakam, who is turning his athleticism into being Toronto’s third two-way star along with Leonard and Lowry. That’s right, star. Siakam is going to be really, really good.
Denver Nuggets (16-7): Trust me, at the top it isn’t lonely / Everybody actin’ like they know me, dawg – Going Bad
The Nuggets have been near the top of the Western Conference standings nearly all season so far. They have a top-10 offense and a top-five defense, a superstar in Nikola Jokic and a scorer who went for 50 in Jamal Murray (wait, he didn’t go for 50? Oh, right, he only had 48) and yet this team has played in a nationally televised game exactly zero times. They’ll have to wait until Dec. 14, when they play the Oklahoma City Thunder, for a prime time slot.
LA Clippers (16-7): Remember, nobody never believed in us / When they see us now, they can’t believe it’s us, no – Oodles O’ Noodles Babies
The Clippers are tied for the most wins in the Western Conference to start the month of December, and nobody is quite sure how they’re doing it. People are surprised, but the Clippers aren’t.
Milwaukee Bucks (15-7): I ain’t grow up playin’ ball, but I’ll show you how the f**k you gotta do it – Going Bad
Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up playing soccer and didn’t start playing hoops until later in his childhood. Now he’s changing the way people think about positions, shooting and physics. He’s putting up Shaq-like numbers in the paint and is squarely in the MVP race.
Oklahoma City Thunder (15-7): Pipe down, throwin’ up shots / First we shut them down, then we open up shop – Uptown Vibes
The Thunder are No. 1 in the league in defensive rating and 25th in true shooting percentage. The above lyric is ripped right from their gameplan.
Philadelphia 76ers (17-8): Guilt free, still me / And expect me to not feel a way to this day / You would say y’all killed me / Sucker free, no shuckin’ me, I don’t jive turkey – What’s Free
Having entered the season with a few big personalities already, the 76ers traded for the explosive Jimmy Butler and have perhaps the best trio in the Eastern Conference. They’ll let you know it, too. This is a group of straight shooters. Just being honest.
Golden State Warriors (16-9): Been a top dog, that’s before the K-Dots – What’s Free
Didn’t know Draymond Green was a ghostwriter for Meek Mill.
Detroit Pistons (13-8): You don’t want these problems, Lil Scrappy – W.T.S.
With the fourth-best record in the East, the Pistons are sort of good. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond make a mess on the court, and games in Detroit can be a slog. The Pistons won’t make the conference finals, but they’re scrappy.
Los Angeles Lakers (14-9): I set you up so you could level up / But you was used to being average – Slipped Up
This is the story for LeBron James and the Lakers so far, just hovering above the line of demarcation for the playoffs in the West. Sure, you can question LeBron’s overall engagement or hijacking of the offense, but he’s made a GOAT career of setting up teammates to be better. So far, the other Lakers just haven’t done it.
Memphis Grizzlies (13-9): Try to kill me, I come right back, Arnold Schwarzenegger / AP terminator, gon’ make me burn a hater – Pay You Back
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are healthy, and the Memphis Grizzlies are right back in playoff position. Conley and Gasol have been playing together for a decade, and they’re still among the best duos in the league.
Indiana Pacers (14-10): They gave us pork and pig intestines/ S–t you discarded that we ingested, we made the project a wave – What’s Free
A summer ago, the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo, who many considered a bust on a bad contract, and Domantas Sabonis, an unspectacular big who the Thunder took at No. 11 the year before. On the Pacers, both of those players have turned their careers around. Oladipo is a bona fide superstar, and Sabonis may well be on his way to being an All-Star type player. That trade is looking better and better for Indiana every year.
Boston Celtics (13-10): I almost fell in love with a thottie / My dawg said “You got too many bodies” – Slipped Up
The Celtics have been the most disappointing team through the first 20 or so games of the season. As they try to work in several key players, they seem to be going through growing pains. The good news is that Gordon Hayward may be making a turn.
Dallas Mavericks (12-10): I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at hammers / Ready to go bananas – Championships
This is how Mavericks fans must feel, right? Looking at the roster and just knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the roster is built around Luka Doncic. Only then will the Mavericks be ready to make another title run.
Portland Trail Blazers (13-11): How many times you send me to jail to know that I won’t fail – Trauma
The Trail Blazers have made a habit of going through ups and downs throughout the regular season, only to finish on a hot streak and make the playoffs a seed or two higher than you would have thought in, say, January. Already Portland has had periods of winning six of seven games and losing six of seven games. They’ve had two streaks of three-or-more wins and two streaks of three losses.
Sacramento Kings (12-11): We finally made it out them trenches n***a, hallelujah, whoa – Intro
De’Aaron Fox is a sensation. Even as the Kangz may burn the building down around him, he’ll still be whizzing his way to the basket and running high pick-and-roll with prowess to keep the team afloat.
Orlando Magic (12-12): Every day, I keep a ruler / Just me, I don’t need no shooter – Tic Tac Toe
The ruler is for Mo Bamba.
Minnesota Timberwolves (12-12): For the rain and all the pain that we been through / If you don’t feed your wolves they gon’ put you on the menu / That’s why I be with family and some bulls that I been knew / If money determined loyalty, we’d cut you with a Ginsu – Respect the Game
These bars hit all the main points from the Jimmy Butler trade saga: He was on the Timberwolves, he used to be a Bull, he put Minnesota through pain and he wants to get paid and judges the organization’s loyalty on their willingness to pay him.
Utah Jazz (12-13): We too rich to look like this – Intro
The Jazz are too talented to be all the way down here.
New Orleans Pelicans (12-13): Woah, don’t you, baby, hey / It won’t matter, baby / Don’t you know? / Don’t you know? / Woah, don’t you, baby, hey / It won’t matter, baby / Don’t you know? / Don’t you know? – Cold Hearted II
The writing is on the wall…
Charlotte Hornets (11-12): You feel the vibe, it’s contagious / Look in your eyes, s**t is dangerous / Grateful I had all the patience / I know you going through some changes – Dangerous
Kemba Walker is having a first-team All-NBA guard type of season. At 28 years old, he’s never been better, and you can credit his work ethic and the organization’s patience for that. He’s single-handedly keeping the Hornets in the playoff hunt.
Houston Rockets (11-12): I don’t got time to be wasting my time / Too many bad b*****s waiting in line – Stuck In My Ways
It seems more and more likely that last season was Houston’s championship window. They’ve started the season with one of the worst defenses in the league, and even the un-retirement of Jeff Bzdelik hasn’t drastically helped matters. Yes, they still have James Harden and Chris Paul, but Paul isn’t getting any younger and teams like the Nuggets, Jazz, Clippers and Lakers are on their heels to become the chief competitor to the Warriors.
San Antonio Spurs (11-13): Wish I rapped in the 90’s ’cause this 2k s**t full of weirdos – Pay You Back
With DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, no team in the league takes more mid-range shots than the Spurs. For all the stepping out DeRozan did in his last season in Toronto, he’s reverted back to doing his bad Kobe impression in San Antonio. I’m starting to think the Spurs have built this team out of spite.
Washington Wizards (10-14): Since most of my n****s won’t ever work together / You run a check up but they never give you leverage – What’s Free
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all got paid, but clearly, the three can’t work together anymore. Maybe Ernie Grunfeld is finally starting to realize what everyone already knew.
Miami Heat (9-14): I seen all these shots and they brick, brick, brick – On Me
No team misses more easy shots than the Heat. They’re making less than 35 percent of their shots in the paint, despite leading the league in drives per game.
Brooklyn Nets (8-17): They ain’t have no sympathy for me when I was broke / Amen, amen / Lord forgive me for all my sins / Took so many riches just to get a Benz / Pray for my n****s, all my friends / In the trenches, warring with killas, we been getting it in – Intro
Everyone laughed for years at the Nets as they forked over pick over pick to the Celtics. Finally, that’s all behind them, and they seem to have a pair of nice players in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
New York Knicks (8-17): I went from selling out arenas, now s**t, I’m on sale / Them cold nights starting to feel like hell, uhh – Trauma
The Knicks will always attract fans, but fans aren’t going to Knicks games to see any stars play for their team. Not with Kristaps Porzingis still out. New York used to sell itself to free agents. The glitz, the glamour, the nightlife. Thanks to dysfunctional management and ownership, that recently hasn’t been the case. This summer, the Knicks will be hard selling free agents like Kevin Durant.
Cleveland Cavaliers (5-18): Rule number three, save you some of that money, s**t you better stop splurgin’ / ‘Cause when it’s all said and done and you back at the bottom, they gon’ treat you like you worthless – Respect the Game
Doesn’t seem like the Cavs listened to rule No. 3 after inking Kevin Love to that extension. From the top of the East to the bottom after LeBron left, there’s just not much left on the roster to be excited about. Thanks to some costly contracts still on the books, Cleveland is still a couple of years away from a full rebuild.
Atlanta Hawks (5-19): I just wanna ball a hundred summers – 100 Summers
Didn’t know Vince Carter was a ghost writer for Meek Mill.
Chicago Bulls (5-20): I got plans to cut you off, I know that you won’t like it / I knew that it would come to this, I seen it like a psychic – Almost Slipped
Fred Hoiberg’s hot seat was the worst kept secret on the coaching carousel.
Phoenix Suns (4-20): ‘Cause relationships turn into situationships – Almost Slipped
Groan. The most unfortunate lyric on Championships for the worst team in the league.