Sunday, January 25, 2009

Random thoughts on the NBA League Pass Free Preview

This past week, I caught three bonus Cav games, thanks to the NBA League Pass free preview. Considering what a great season it's been for the Cavs so far, injuries and all, I was thankful for the bonus TV coverage.

Some things I didn't like:
  • No HD coverage. Yes, I've become a spoiled little beeotch with this HD thing. Sue me! But it's addictive, and once you've seen Mike Brown's little old lady glasses in HD, a lower resolution is simply not acceptable.
  • Corporate sponsorship is wildly out of control. Quicken Loans Arena is tough enough to swallow, but things are so sponsor-crazy right now that random replays and/or keys to the game lists are fodder for sales spam. Among the many such abominations: the Cleveland Clinic Heartfelt Moment (Bron-Bron's game-winning buzzer-beater at Golden State), the SafeAuto Drive to the Bucket (Bron-Bron's ridiculous posterization of that cheap-shot POS Matt Harpring), the First Merit Bank Reality Check (the sublimely hilarious Mike Brown insisting that even the FSN Ohio announcers buy into his "No Excuses" mantra). At this point, I'm fully expecting to see the Cavs' coaching staff wearing NASCAR-like advertisements on their suits / foreheads.
  • Finding out that Carlos Coozer was still out with an "injury," and thereby being deprived of the opportunity to curse at the TV whenever Coozer was on-screen. I did get to curse at his Turkish sodomite teammate Ohkur, so it wasn't a total loss. Furthermore, now that Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller has had both legs amputated because of severe complications from diabetes, Carlos Coozer has a chance at a rare double-double: he screwed over a blind owner in Cleveland, and now has a chance to screw over a crippled owner in Utah.
  • Wally Sczerbiak's defense, which is downright offensive. He can still shoot, but he cripples the team with his cement feet and overall white clumsiness. Luckily, his expiring contract has enormous trade value. I hate to see him go, as he's a likeable, decent chap who plays hard and is loved by his teammates and coaches, but on the defensive end of the floor, opposing players abuse him like the proverbial rented mule. If the Cavs want to make a deep run in the playoffs, I don't think they can afford to have a guy on the court who basically invites the opposing team to score against him at will, nice guy or not.

Some of the many things I really, really liked:
  • The FSN Ohio broadcast team of play-by-play man Fred McLeod and colour commentator (and former Cavs great) Austin Carr. In my opinion, having an enthusiastically goofy homer and an equally goofy former local player do the announcing is a guaranteed winning formula. McLeod and Carr are cut from the same great mold as some other great Cleveland duos like the Tribe's Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan (and before, with the late, great Herb Score), the Brownies' Jim Donovan and Chris Spielman, or the Channel 19 local Cavs broadcast team of Joe Tait (WHAM! With two hands!) and Jim Chones. McLeod has an absurd fondness for puns based on the other teams' players' names / cities / arena names -- during the Utah game, played at the Energy Solutions Center (more corporate whoredom!), he threw out so many hilarious and, at times, downright ridiculous energy references ("Cavs synergy at the Energy Solutions Center!" was my fave), that I'm surprised and quite disappointed that he left out the First Law of Thermodynamics. As for Carr, his malapropisms are astounding. Following a hellacious pick set by Ben Wallace, where poor Deron Williams was left woozy, Carr described it as a "mastoid-rattling hit" (!!!!!) then went on to explain the term by describing the internal workings of the human ear and their ties to balance for McLeod. Of course, McLeod ate up the mastoid reference and dusted it off every chance he got while Carr chuckled goofily. Man, they are a delightfully dorky pair.
  • Rookie J.J. Hickson, who plays hard and fast, and obviously relishes the opportunity to get meaningful minutes on a juggernaut team. He's got some nice post-up moves, rebounds like a fiend, and is earning the trust of his teammates, who, at least on this particular set of games, repeatedly fed him the ball in the post, with excellent results. That monster rebound dunk he threw down following a Bron-Bron miss was spectacular, as was the little 18-foot jumper he nailed off a Bron-Bron desperation assist. I don't think I'm alone in loving this kid's zeal -- every time he came through with a big play, the whole Cavs bench erupted in joy. I'm very excited at the prospect of watching J.J. throw down alley oops for the Cavs in the years to come.
  • Shooting guard / emergency point guard Mo Williams, whose high-energy, always-positive attitude, instant sharp-shooting offense, and sure-handed ball-handling skills have basically turned him into the anti-Larry Hughes. Where Hughes was a lackadaisical sap who seemed more worried about putting up stats than helping the team win, Mo is all about winning, and his post-game interviews where he looks and behaves like a crazed kid at a candy store are just phenomenal. During the Portland, Golden State, and Utah games, Mo's first-half shooting was pretty poor, but he kept hustling on defense, penetrating and kicking out the ball, throwing perfect alley-oop assists, and doing his "I'm all hopped up on the crack cocaine!" jumping chest-bumps, without showing even the slightest sulking trace of the "when am I gonna get mine?" attitude that has permeated the entire league -- hell, the entire sports world. Of course, karma (and a great shooting touch) rewards those who try hard regardless of results, and Mo absolutely lit it up during the second half of all the games, hitting some huge clutch 3-pointers and basically proving that when the team's hitting on all cylinders, even missing two of the five starters isn't that much of a problem.
  • The Cavs offense, which, up until this year, used to consist of a formation I like to call "One on Five" (one guy holding the ball for 20+ seconds while the other four watched passively, followed by a desperation fadeaway), is now a dynamic, pick 'n' roll, give-and-go, fast-break delight. Even the set plays that are run to get Ben Wallace the obligatory couple of mercy hoops are a thing of beauty. Sure, having the best passing forward (Bron-Bron) and center (Big Z) in the league helps, but it's not like these talents were used properly over the past few years. Kudos to coach Mike Brown, old lady glasses and all, for implementing a fun, disciplined offense while still managing to have the team play tenacious, suffocating defense.
  • Andy Varejao, or, as McLeod likes to call him, "The Mop-Haired One," has suddenly become a reliable option on offense. He's setting picks, he's hitting open jumpers, he's executing the pick 'n' roll with Bron-Bron to absolute perfection, he's finishing off drives with acrobatic, twisting lay-ups... verily, Sideshow Andy has blossomed into a very valuable cog, on both ends of the floor.
  • And last, but certainly not least: Bron-Bron's ascent to "Best Player on the Planet" status. It's not even remotely debatable at this point. He's shored up his weaknesses by improving his outside jumper and free-throw shooting, and has become a lights-out defender, generating turnover after turnover and relentlessly contesting and blocking pretty much every shot in his vicinity. As if that weren't enough, he's driving to the hoop with much more regularity and authority than before. One night after his cool and collected game-winning buzzer-beater at Golden State, during the game against Utah, Bron-Bron got the ball from Andy at the top of the 3-point arc, immediately got double-teamed, drove left & stopped on a dime, and when the two defenders bumped into one another for a nanosecond while trying to switch, Bron-Bron just exploded past / through them (there's no other word to describe his initial burst of speed -- he explodes into motion), barreled through the two guys who came over to help, and laid it in off the glass while the great Jerry Sloan was almost reduced to tears of frustration. I've seen this move over and over, and it never ceases to amaze me. No one that big has taken it to the hoop with such force and quickness; maybe James Worthy comes close, but Big Game James [Worthy] could be thwarted by collapsing defenders, whereas Bron-Bron has passed it to wide-open teammates for bunny jumpers over and over. I'm convinced that the only reason he doesn't lead the league in assists is because he's such a forceful finisher that he doesn't need to pass out of penetration the way Magic Johnson or John Stockton did. He literally can't be stopped when he's on. Throw in his fierce rebounding craze (I don't know where it came from, but I'd gush about it for another three paragraphs if I weren't so lazy), and Bron-Bron's a threat to throw out a 30-10-10-5 every time he takes the floor. He always had the potential, but this year some sort of intensity switch went on, and he's fulfilling that potential, in spades.
All in all, it was a very satisfying week. I can't remember even the great 80's Cavs teams going 3-1 on a murderous West Coast swing when nearly half of their starting line-up was on the DL. Keep'em crossed and avoid the jinxes, because this team looks really, really good!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year in Vincent and Darlene Home

My second or third New Year's Eve in the United States, way back in the early 80's, was celebrated at my Uncle Vasken's home. It was a boring and unremarkable affair, with two exceptions: my Uncle Julian, visiting from Uruguay, had just purchased a VCR that he was going to take back home; and, as luck would have it, my Uncle Vasken had just purchased a videotape recorder. At my Dad's behest, Uncle Vasken set the recorder up to film the family dinner so we could ship the tape off to Uruguay and have all the relatives who presumably missed us terribly catch a live-action glimpse of our opulent and happy existence in the country we now called home. All this would have been well and good had it not been for the fact that the camera was set up on a tripod, aimed at the dinner table, and God only knows why, not moved for the remainder of the evening.

The resulting video was an excruciatingly boring two-hour extravaganza where we all ate, then remained at the table carrying on isolated conversations that were practically inaudible until the tape finally ran out. Uncle Vasken slapped on a label, wrote "New Year in Vasken Home" on it and handed it to Uncle Julian as my Dad beamed with pride. Once Uncle Julian made it back to Uruguay and bribed some customs POS to not appropriate his VCR, the tape became required viewing for any family member who happened to visit Uncle Julian & Aunt Wilma. Hell, I think even their unsuspecting neighbours were subjected to the torture of watching two hours of people acting weird because they were being filmed for the first time in their collective lives. How bad was Uncle Julian's "come see the family video" compulsion? My cousin Dide once told me that she'd been force-fed the now-legendary "New Year in Vasken Home" tape some twenty times, and her then-husband Carlos argued that it was more like thirty times.

Why do I bring this up? Because up until a couple of weeks ago, that was my most remarkable New Year's Eve/Day ever... and then came "New Year in Vincent and Darlene Home." The highlights:

  • When I showed up at Lee's so we could carpool to Vince & Darlene's (they live on the East Coast), his smoke detector was beeping loud and insistently, with nary a spare battery in sight. We left it that way, and Karma would pay us back later that evening.
  • Once of Vincent's co-workers (his name escapes me, since I really suck with names) was kind enough to invite the whole gang, including Darlene's super-cool Frenchie parents, over to their place for an open-bar New Year's Rockin' Eve party. Bad idea! Even Tee-totaler Bitter Clevelander slammed down a dozen or so Margarita / Diaquiri concoctions.
  • The heavy drinking led to a few bizarre moments, including a graphic and very loud group conversation among the FuckGCU crowd on the merits of masturbating in one's office as opposed to in one's home, which I capped off by stating that I'd rather be caught jerking my gherkin by my girlfriend / wife / whatev than by Lupe the Cleaning Lady. I think Vincent's co-worker & his friends are still traumatized.
  • Our hosts were extremely gracious, welcoming, and made even my anti-social arse feel right at home. However, they have not one, not two, but THREE filthy dogs, and excepting yours truly, pretty much everybody and their mommas spent the night oohing and aahing and touching the flea-ridden buggers, then walking around and dipping their dog-hands all over the food and drinks. Dis-fuckin-gusting. As if that weren't bad enough, the restroom had no soap, so in addition to dog-hands, I can guarantee that there were plenty of pee-, shit-, and cock-and-ball-hands flying around the joint. I always carry liquid soap (and situations like this one ALWAYS vindicate this precaution), but that did nothing for my peace of mind over everyone else's filth, so I eventually took matters into my own hands and rudely ransacked the house, hunted down some soap, and triumphantly placed it on the bathroom sink. I hope they used it. Ugh.
  • One of the dogs is a frisky puppy that basically tried to start fights with the other two dogs at all times. This led to quite a few yelping, snarling, barking, and vicious biting incidents that were pooh-poohed until I yelled something about New Year's Eve at Michael Vick's rape stand. That earned me a few dirty looks from Vincent's friend's friends, but it also put a stop to the dog shenanigans -- they were banished to the backyard. Good riddance.
  • Our hosts' friends included the host's brother, who was really nice and very funny, some wannabe surfer dude who was a real douchebag, and two or three other couples. One of these couples included some cop dude and his skanky red-headed girlfriend, who made a lot of noise about women being great drinkers and offering to down a huge Erlenmeyer flask of beer only to puss out after four sips, thereby discrediting her whole gender. The host's cool brother finished off the flask and didn't brag or rub it in her face -- did I mention he was really nice?
  • We watched the New Year countdown on whatever network Dick Clark was on. Shockingly enough, not only is Dick Clark still around, but he's finally aged, and all at once. He looks like a cadaver that's being moved around by practical jokers, kind of like Weekend at Bernie's, and sounds like Lawrence Tierney on Valium. Still, it's always reassuring to see Dick Clark doing the New Year countdown. I guess I have no point.
  • When the cop and "Skanky Red" left and said their good-byes, Skanky Red proved to have a vice-like, crushing handshake. I kinda pity the cop, her grip was bruising -- I shit you not. As they were walking out the door, they invited Darlene's dad Bernard to go with them, promising him authentic Cuban cigars as enticement. I can't even begin to explain how surreal and creepy the vibe was; I almost expected them to bring out the sex swing, a mechanical dildo, and even "the gimp." As it turns out, the cop lived right across the street and had heard that Bernard loved cigars, so the gesture was a kind one. Still, I felt palpable relief when a grinning Bernard returned with a few Fidelitos in tow.
  • We ended up making it back to Vincent & Darlene's at around 3:00, where we woke up Darlene's mom, who'd stayed home with the flu. She exacted vengeance an hour or so later by waking us all up with a violent vomiting session. It figures that the only person who didn't drink him / herself into a stupor was the one who ended up puking into the wee hours. Poor thing.
  • Roughly an hour later, I awoke to the sound of shrill beeping. I thought I was dreaming about Lee's smoke detector, then realized it was an alarm. It took me a while to figure out that it was probably Lee's cell phone. I debated whether to get up off the air mattress and shut it off, or whether I should pick the phone up and throw it at Lee as hard as I could (he was on the couch), or whether Lee actually meant to get up at five f*cking thirty in the morning on New Year's Day. I was still in a grumpy, cursing, indecisive, sleepy haze when Lee finally turned the piece of crap off.
  • On the ride back to the West Coast, Lee and I both lamented the dearth of hotties at the New Year's Eve shindig (Darleenie-Weenie doesn't count, even though she's adorable & cute as a button, 'cause she's like a sister). I confessed that towards the end of the soirée, I'd actually started stealing glances at Skanky Red Ballcrusher, and wondering if her knockers were real... exactly the kind of "thinking" sequence that leads to one going to bed at 2 with a 10 and waking up at 10 with a 2. But Lee assured me that thanks to all the other women there, he himself found that Skanky Red's looks improved as the night wore on and the alcohol piled up, and that by the time we were all leaving she was, and I quote, "looking pretty fucking spectacular."

Ah, the New Year is off to a rocking start already. May we meet plenty of other drunken skanks over the next twelve months!