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!

No comments: