2014-2015 NBA Eastern Conference Predictions

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If you’re looking for a story filled with parity and incredible competition, with teams battling and cannibalizing each other throughout the season, kindly close your computer, put on your jacket and go take a walk. This one just isn’t for you. Sorry, bub. The Eastern Conference is about as top heavy as Christina Hendricks driving an early 90’s Jeep Wrangler. In fact, the majority of the teams east of the Mississippi would be on the outside-looking-in come playoff time if they were out west. However, yes, there are some nice teams, and due to the myriad of off-season transactions made by the Cavs, Heat, Hornets, and Bulls, the door is wide open, and the tide is ripe for some shifting. A lot of this is due in part to the Pacers shattering (pardon the pun), with Paul George out for the year, Lance Stephenson jetting to Charlotte and Roy Hibbert slowly transforming into Greg Ostertag. At any rate, mark my words: there will be a new team in the Eastern Conference Finals, most likely two.

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1) Cleveland Cavaliers
I’m still shocked at what the Cavs were able to pull off this summer. I mean, this is Cleveland we’re talking about! Cleveland! Home of heartbreak and Comic Sans. But I digress.

LeBron took his talents home, Kyrie Irving is healthy and signed a lofty extension, and Kevin Love joins the team to create a new “big three.” Mike Miller and Ray Allen (eventually) are nice off-the-bench acquisitions that can put up points in the blink of an eye and have championship experience. First year head coach David Blatt brings with him a plethora of offensive schemes and knowledge that should create plenty of “oh-my- god-I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw” (KEVIN LOVE OUTLET PASSES TO LEBRON OMG!!!!!)  moments, and plenty of sleepless nights for opposing teams. After losing in the finals last year, LeBron will be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. All we can do is pray for everyone else, or hope his shoulders collapse while carrying the entire state of Ohio.

The biggest questions surrounding this team are defense and chemistry. Offensively, the Cavs could find themselves at the top of the NBA. Defensively, the Cavs still don’t have a reliable rim protector and lack overall depth. Varejao, Love and Tristan Thompson should gobble up all the rebounds, but if you think you’re getting 82+ games out of Andy, I have a beach house in Iowa I can sell you.

With a new coach at the helm, ushering in a new system, and a bunch of new players, can the Cavs gel quickly in order to earn the #1 slot? Will Love and Kyrie be cool as the #2 and #3 options? Can Dion Waiters  take a back seat to the big three? It wouldn’t shock me one bit if the Cavs ended up moving Waiters for some front court depth before the trade deadline. Overall, I think they’ll be just fine. People forget the 2010 Heat were 9-8 the first month they played together. I’ll keep putting my money on Bron-Bron until I’m proven otherwise.

One more thing to consider: this could very well be the fifth consecutive year that LeBron plays in the NBA Finals. Neither Kobe nor Jordan ever accomplished that.

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2) Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls kept themselves busy this summer, but the biggest addition to this team will be a healthy Derrick Rose. I’m still skeptical and will continue to be until Rose can prove he can stay healthy. God, this breaks my heart. I love Rose’s game, but it simply isn’t smart to bank on a Bulls team that relies so heavily on him. There’s just no telling what kind of player he’ll be over a full season, or if he can even make it through a full season.

Signing Pau Gasol was a huge get for the Bulls. Even if he’s no longer in his prime, he still takes a boatload of pressure off Rose while adding depth at the power forward position. Pau and Joakim Noah should form a formidable front court, and having Taj Gibson coming off the bench is downright terrifying. Adding Aaron Brooks was a sneaky good signing, while drafting Nikola Mirotic and McBuckets to play alongside Mike Dunleavy gives this team some much needed scoring. Oh, and Jimmy Butler continues to get better. Double oh, Tom Thibodeau is still the coach. Triple oh, this team still defends its ass off.

On paper, the Bulls have the best overall roster in the East, and if they can stay healthy, they’re the only true threat to Cleveland.

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3) Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Drakes (as they will now be referred to until the end of time) weren’t supposed to do a damn thing last year. That notion didn’t last,. After the Rudy Gay trade, nothing was the same. The Drakes went 42-22 and locked up the #3 seed in the East, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Nets in the first round of last years playoffs. Now, the team did their best “we’re getting the band back together” routine, with their top seven scorers all back in uniform.

Kyle Lowry played out of his mind last season, and should have been an All-Star. Demar Derozan earned a spot on the All-Star team and spent the summer gaining invaluable experience playing in the FIBA World Cup. Same goes for rising big man Jonas Valanciunas. Picking up Lou Williams from Atlanta was a sneaky good move, as he should provide a spark off the bench along with some nice backcourt depth.

The Atlantic Division has regressed, and barring injuries, there’s no conceivable reason why the Drakes can’t win it for the second straight decision. In return, this means securing home court advantage and the third seed in the playoffs. And this time they should be out for blood, with a cohesive, improved, and matured roster. I fully expect this team to go beyond a game 7 in the opening round and give either the Cavs or Bulls a slug fest of a series in the second round.

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4) Washington Wizards
Washington will be one of the best teams in the East this year, despite having the stupidest logo and uniforms in the league. As soon as Bradley Beal gets healthy, the Wiz will roll out the East’s best back court duo. Nene and Gortat will once again dominate the paint and could be the most physical duo in the league. Adding Paul Pierce was fantastic. He won’t completely fill the void Trevor Ariza left, but he’ll be a nice wing partner with Beal, and Washington’s offense should improve on the perimeter significantly. He also brings savvy veteran leadership, a fiery competitive streak and a knack for coming through in the clutch.

The Wizards are also a deeper team than they were last year. Something they sorely needed. Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. should get plenty of minutes. Dejuan Blair and Kris Humphries aren’t stars, but they can do some nice things, and should fill the role left by Trevor Booker. Martell Webster could provide a nice spark off the bench, provided he’s healthy. However, the success on this team still lies firmly on the backs of Wall and Beal. I expect them to make the jump and take this team to new heights this season. If my predictions go right, that Cavs/Wiz match up in the second round will be a can’t miss. Start prepping your popcorn now.

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5) The Miami Heat
Now that LeBron is gone, will the Heat be able to maintain their era of Easter Conference dominance (they’ve won 12 straight playoff series)? Or will they become the scorned ex-girlfriend, clad in Ugg boots and sweatpants, downing Chardonnay and Ben and Jerry’s by the gallon? One thing we know for certain, the post-LeBron era will definitely be interesting.

It’s easy to forget that in the shadow of LeBron’s departure, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and the corpse of Rashard Lewis are all gone as well. Two out of those three played significant roles for the Heat throughout their title runs. On the other side, re-signing Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh keeps the core intact. Both have championship experience, have carried teams in the past, and are top-five players at their position. Signing Josh Mcroberts gives the Heat some needed toughness, floor spacing and scoring ability. But replacing LeBron with Luol Deng is kind of like putting a bandaid on an axe wound, though he’s still a hell of a player who should fit in well within the Heat’s system . And if Danny Granger can have anything that resembles a return to form, he should provide the Heat with some firepower they need off the bench. Also, don’t forget that Spoelstra can coach his ass off.

This team isn’t without its problems, though. Their point guard situation is a shit storm, they don’t protect the rim or rebound well, and their front court is thinner than a coked-out Kate Moss. What’s more, can all these new additions play cohesively? Can Dwayne Wade’s knees withstand another deep postseason run before they inevitably turn to ash and dust? Do they have the resiliency to bounce back after what San Antonio did to them last year? Does Bosh have it in him to carry a team? I have my doubts.

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6) Charlotte Hornets
Oh man, it brings me so much joy just to be able to write “Charlotte Hornets.” Seeing the purple and teal back where it belongs puts a Titanic sized shit-eating-grin on my face. Now, if only they could bring back Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning (pre Madison Square Garden brawl, of course).

The Bobcats were one of the feel-good stories of last season. After being a perennial cellar dweller, they finally broke out, going 43-39 and earning the 7th seed in the playoffs. Yes, they were swept by the Heat, but the season marked vast improvement and ushered in some new found optimism for the future.

MJ was busy this summer, doing something other than golfing and wearing terrible clothes. He lured do-it-all swingman Lance Stephenson away from the Pacers, along with Marvin Williams from the Jazz. Paired with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson, the Hornets have both athleticism and depth at the wing. Williams proved last year that he’s capable of playing a stretch four, and along with Noah Vonleh and an improving Cody Zeller, should be able to fill the void left by Josh Mcroberts.

Kemba Walker could very well make the All-Star team this year, and has proved he has the clutch gene going back to his Uconn days. Al Jefferson is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 22 points and 11 boards, while improving his defense. Add that to everything I’ve already mentioned and you have the makings of a pretty solid squad. If the Hornets can gel and continue to improve, then I may have ranked them too low.

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7) Atlanta Hawks
Last season, the Hawks made the playoffs without Al Horford. Last season, the Hawks found themselves in a game 7 against the top-seeded Pacers without Al Horford. This season, Al Horford is healthy. I really like Al Horford, guys. Pair him with fellow All-Star Paul Millsap (I miss you so much, Paul) and you have a duo that should flirt with double-doubles on a nightly basis. Both can shoot, rebound, pass, defend, and together, they should be able to play the high-low game with relative ease.

The Hawks also have Jeff Teague, a top-10 point guard. Only the Spurs averaged more assists than this team last season. Kyle Korver is the league’s best three-point shooter, Thabo Sefolosha, Demarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore bring defense and athleticism to the wing. Pero Antic is terrifying. Head coach Mike Buldenhozer worked alongside Gregg Popovich. They brought back the Pacman logo! In short, there’s plenty to be optimistic about in ATL.

Even with Horford in the lineup, this team is undersized, and will most likely struggle rebounding the ball. Horford has also missed 116 regular season games in the past three seasons, so I question his durability. Moreover, The Danny Ferry fiasco certainly didn’t help a front office that’s had a history of turmoil. Also, the Hawks bench isn’t anything to get excited about. In fact, I’d be surprised if the Hawks didn’t try and pick someone up via trade or waivers to add some depth. It’s going to take something special for this team to get out of the first round of the playoffs this year, but I do see the Hawks as a team on the rise.

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8) Brooklyn Nets
It wasn’t too long ago that KG, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce were Brooklyn bound. Joining forces with Brook Lopez, and Deron Williams to form a basketball Voltron and crush the Eastern Conference and bring a title to New York. My have the mighty have fallen. This year, with new head coach Lionel Hollins at the helm, the Nets will try and claw their way back into contention.

On the bright side, the Nets have a nice stable of capable big men with Garnett, Lopez and Miles Plumlee. Throw in former Swiss-Army knife AK47, and the Net should be able to win some games on size alone. If Deron Williams can stay healthy, he can still play at an elite level–same goes for Joe Johnson who’s battling Father Time. Croatian rookie Bojan Bogdanovic is a player to keep an eye on. Pairing him with Mirza Teletovic and Jarrett Jack could give Brooklyn some great shooting off the bench. They also have the best uniforms in the game.

On the dark side, this team just can’t seem to stay healthy, and with that, depth becomes a huge issue. Williams, Kirilenko, Garnett and Lopez missed a combined 148  games last season. Brooklyn continues to get older, and will have a tough time keeping up with super athletic teams like the Cavs, Raptors and Wizards. Also, rebounding is a huge concern. With all these glaring issues, I would expect Mikhail Prokorhov to shell out some more of his billions trying to sure up this team. If they want to compete, he’s going to have to.
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Even after writing and analyzing all these teams, I still don’t see anyone advancing to the finals outside of Cleveland or Chicago. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, even though I’m an admitted LeBron fan boy. Parity is always a good thing in sports, so are teams that come out of nowhere and shake everything up. Here’s hoping both of those things happens.

I need a beer.

Tom Morello to Rush Limbaugh: “Hey Jackass, Stop Using Our Music!”

I woke up early this morning and while going through my daily morning routine, I saw this gem plastered all over my twitter timeline (@Johnny_UT, btw.)  I have always admired Tom Morello; from his musical talent to his outspoken support towards social injustice and the myriad of other causes he has backed.  This is the icing on the cake though, hats off to you Tom for standing up and speaking out.  Your courage is admirable.  Rush Limbaugh is everything wrong with America and people like him are what’s destroying America.  The recent hot water Limbaugh has got himself in lately is just one of many examples of Rush’s hypocritical, racist, misogynistic and hate-fueled behavior.

The partisanship in this country is a major reason for its dis-function and Rush Limbaugh is at the forefront of it all.  He uses his radio show as a platform to plant his dangerous ideologies to anyone withing listening range.  I had a conversation with the girlfriend not too long ago about how I wished Rage Against the Machine was still making music, especially in these tumultuous times.  They were an important band (and one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen) and I feel like they could still do a lot of good if they were still together.  Here’s hoping for a reunion.

Leblog James’ 2011-2012 Mid-Season Awards.

With the lockout-shortened NBA season officially at its halfway point, here are my picks for the league’s top NBA performers.

 

Most Improved Player:  Jeremy Lin.  Linsanity has been the second best story in sports this year and I only say that because I’m a New York Giants fan.   Yes, Lin’s sample size is relatively small, but both he and the Knicks were starting from scratch.   As a completely unknown player, with no Melo or Amar’e, Lin put an entire franchise on his back and put up All-Star numbers in their absences.   Lin has taken a team that was once 8-15 and has them talking about making the playoffs again.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Bynum.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard.  When D-12’s career is over, his defensive capabilities will be compared to Olajuwon and other great defensive big men.  Amidst all the trade rumors and distractions, Howard has still put in the dirty work that has distinguished him as the best center in the association.  The Magic are in the top 10 in field goal percentage allowed (43.2 %,) his blocks are down but he still swats 2.12 shots a game (5th in the NBA,) while leading the league in rebounding (15.3 – a career high.)

Honorable Mention: Andre Igudoala.

 

Coach of the Year: Gregg Poppovich.   Manu Ginobili goes down with an injury and Poppovich still has the Spurs as the #2 team in the Western Conference.   Tim Duncan is a shadow of the player he once was, yet Popps continues to win with players like Danny Green and Gary Neal playing significant minute.   The Spurs have seen resurgence due to a new talented, young, core with players like Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Dejaun Blair, as well as Tony Parker spearheading the attack and playing like an MVP candidate. Gregg Poppovich is the best coach in the NBA and is proving it once again this year.

Honorable Mention: Doug Collins

 

Sixth Man Award: James Harden.   Fear the beard.  With perennial All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant at the helm, Harden is still putting All-Star like numbers while leading an Oklahoma City bench that’s without Eric Maynor.  OKC is the best team in the Western Conference and the bench is thriving due to Harden’s ability to distribute, score and to get to the foul line.  Harden could and would start for the majority of teams in the NBA, but the bench role seems to fit him perfectly.

Honorable Mention:  Lou Williams.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving.   Proving to be the class of the 2012 draft, Kyrie Irving is playing like a seasoned vet and future all-star.  He’s a complete point guard, who can shoot, penetrate/create, pass and defend.  His combination of efficient shooting (48.5 %,) scoring (18.3 ppg) and passing has given Cleveland hope in the post-Lebron era.   The Cavs are currently 13-19 on the year and are poised to have more wins than they had all of last year (19) in a shortened season – a lot of that can be attributed to Irving.  Cleveland has found their floor general and with a few more pieces added, could be poised for another playoff run.

Honorable Mention: Ricky Rubio.

Most Valuable Player:  Lebron James.  Lebron is the best player on the league’s best team.   There is only so much he can do in the regular season to silence his critics, but what  he’s done so far is nothing short of amazing.  Despite being criticized unlike anyone in sports, he is having a career year.   While posting incredibly gaudy numbers – 27.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.8 apg, 54.8 % fgp and 39.3% 3pfg, he is the anchor of a defense that reminds me of the Chicago Bulls in the late 90’s.  Additionally, he had people questioning whether or not Dwayne Wade was necessary during the Heat’s 8-1 stretch with him out.  Anything less than a MVP and a NBA title for Lebron and the Heat will be a huge disappointment.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant.

Jeremy Evans in the Dunk Contest.

Much to my delight and due to Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert dropping out, the world will finally be introduced to Utah Jazz second year man Jeremy Evans.  As a die-hard Utah Jazz fan, I have seen the brilliance of Evans (although in insultingly small doses) over the past two seasons.  Dare I say that Jeremy Evans has as much bounce as any player in the league (yes that includes Lebron and Blake Griffin.)  He is an absolute athletic freak!  Jeremy’s field goal percentage is off the charts because all the kid does is DUNK – Whether it be on a lob, a break, drive through the lane or straight over the defender, he elevates and detonates on a regular basis.

I doubt that Evans will actually win the dunk competition, because over the years it has increasingly become a popularity contest.  However, mark my words; the world will know who Jeremy Evans is by the end of the night.  I know it’s wishful thinking, but I hope that Jeremy Evan’s new found popularity will transfer into more minutes on the floor.   I’m really hoping that he is creative, but that is what it’s going to take for him to be successful.   Otherwise, I see him getting the same treatment Demar Derozan received a year ago.

Hats off to both Matt Harpring and Utah Jazz nation, as they’re pleading is a huge reason as to why he is competing.  The #letjeremydunk campaign on Facebook and Twitter definitely paid off.   My money is still on Paul George though.

On a side note, shout out to both Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors for their respective performance in the Rising Stars game last night.  Both had great outings and represented the Jazz well.  The future is bright with both of those kids.  Also, the Jazz were snubbed in the All-Star Game, both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson were eligible candidates and one of them should have been lacing up to play on Sunday.

Here’s a Jeremy Evans mix that should give you all a preview of what to expect tonight.  I do apologize for the corny editing and sound.

Here’s a mix of Jeremy at the Impact Summer league during the NBA lockout.  Check out some of these put backs!  This kid is a monster!

New Music: Dean Risko Trouble EP + Video

I met Dean Risko a few years ago through some mutual friends and became instantly impressed by him as a person.  He’s intelligent, quick-witted and genuinely one of the nicest guys I have ever come in contact with.   The Johannesburg, South Africa born, Salt Lake City, Utah raised and now Echo Park, Los Angeles residing has released his “Trouble” EP.  Throughout the three songs, Dean weaves together soulful, quasi electro-pop melodies with clever and on point lyricism.  The result is like Motown Records being involved in a head on crash with Def Jam.

One thing that has always resonated with me about Dean is his undeniable hunger for the masses to hear and enjoy his music.   His talent resides in his balance.  Dean is able to stabilize the sing-songy flow without making it sound corny (I’m looking at you Flo-rida, Nelly and Drake) while staying on topic and remaining captivating.

If I had to compare Dean to other artists, it would be a blend of Andre 3000 (circa The Love Below), Justin Timberlake and Mike Posner (only with a better persona and emcee skills).  Plus, he has fantastic taste in production which only helps to elevate his music (the whole EP has a jazzy, electro bounce feel to it)- making it that much more commercially viable.

The first two songs off the Trouble EP were produced by Wesley Thompson (twitter.com/wesismore), another good friend of mine, and a production genius in the making.  I was talking to Wes the other day at a Wale show and he was explaining to me how they spent the better part of a year perfecting this project.  This type of meticulous dedication and hard work has certainly paid off.

Dean’s best attribute is that he has found his own style and voice – an accomplishment 99% of musicians never achieve.  His songwriting is top notch and he has the “it” factor in regards to being able to create a hit song.  Trouble is filled with stories of love, heartbreak, and the roller coaster that is relationships and the chase of that desired woman.  With his aforementioned hunger to succeed and an incredible EP under his belt, it’s only a matter of time until Dean Risko makes that happen.

I’m proud to be able to call Dean my friend; few things make me happier than seeing my friends succeed.

Here is the video for Dean’s lead single “Trouble.”

You can download the Trouble EP at http://deanrisko.bandcamp.com/

Follow Dean Risko on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/#!/DeanRisko

Dean Risko on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/DeanRisko

The Airplane Theory – Help Yourself, First.

A few years ago, I went through a complete life remodeling.  I was in the middle of a divorce with my wife and throughout the breakup, had lost the majority of my possessions.  I was in my last semester of college and was working for the family business while desperately looking for employment in my line of study.   Due to the economy being in the toilet and my lack of experience, I wasn’t having any success.  My emotions were running the gamut from fear and anxiety to depression and self-loathing.   I wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours a night and was becoming increasingly less healthy.  I couldn’t focus on any particular thing and was constantly feeling overwhelmed due to the myriad of emotions and trials I was facing.  I was stuck and had nothing in regards to an exit strategy.

This was of course, until I met my best friend (who has been my girlfriend of over two years), and she shared with me a premise that changed my life.  We call it “The Airplane Theory.”

Now, most of us have been on an airplane.  Before the flight takes off, there is usually a short instructional movie or a presentation given by the flight attendants that explains basic airplane protocol, acceptable behavior and what to do in the event of an emergency.  One of the topics covered in the presentation is what to do if there is a change in cabin pressure – an oxygen mask will drop from the overhead panel.   It is always encouraged to make sure to secure your own mask before trying to help anyone else with there’s.  This same practice is applicable in life.

As a human being it is nearly impossible to help others when your own life is in disorder.  If this is the case, it is imperative to take the necessary time to get yourself healthy and well.  This is not a selfish act; in fact, it’s the best thing that you can do for yourself.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing yourself to become stable once again.  A problem in our society these days is that we spread ourselves too thin and don’t allow for the necessary time to completely recover.  It is important to love and care for yourself and to remember that regardless of everything else, you have to put yourself first.

Coachella 2012.

Last year was my first Coachella experience, and needless to say, it was mind blowing.  Regardless of the heat, being able to immerse myself with friends and that much musical talent was incredible.  The result were some of the best memories of my adult life.  Since I left the Polo Grounds in Indio, California last year, I have been anxiously wanting to go back.

 

A few days ago the 2012 Coachella lineup was announced, there are a lot of bands I have never heard of, but one of the great things about this festival is being able to discover new music.  I’m excited to be able to find out who these bands are, and if there are any suggestions any of you have in regards to bands I should check out that are on the bill, I’d love to hear them.

Bands/emcees/dj’s I’m excited to see: The Black Keys (I saw them last year and was disappointed.  Here’s hoping they put on a better show), Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, LA Riots, R3hab, Afrojack, Swedish House Mafia, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, A$AP Rocky, Santigold, Manchester Orchestra, Miike Snow, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Company Flow, araabMUZIK, DJ Shadow, The Hives, Calvin Harris, Florence and the Machine, At the Drive In, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (I’ve seen both years ago at the Up in Smoke Tour, but this will be epic.  Hopefully this will be some sort of prequel to an actual Detox album).

The festival is full of surprises, and with this kind of bill, I’m anticipating a few.

There are a few surprises in regards to people I thought would be on the bill – The Beastie Boys, MIA, Danny Brown, Kid Cudi, Lana Del Ray, Bloc Party, Jay-Z and Kanye (especially with both emcees headlining the festival the last two years), Sleigh Bells, The Killers, Chromeo, Ratatat, Tyler the Creator, Skylar Grey, Major Lazer, Little Dragon, Slaughterhouse and Queens of the Stone Age.

Here’s hoping for another mind blowing experience.