Denial

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At the moment, the only sense I have of the Cavaliers championship celebration was the second of jubilation I saw just before I grabbed the remote control with sweaty palms, with my stomach beginning a three-day plummet into the depths of disappointment, my face totally hot with disbelief and disgust. I only got the briefest moment of exposure to the joy and elation of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and all who pledge allegiance to their cause, before I turned the television off for the rest of the night. It was enough. I saw the black-shirted wraiths beginning to bloom from the bench; an unidentifiable Cavalier pumping his fist in the rhythm reserved for professional athletes beginning to live out one of their earliest dreams: a championship at the highest level of competition. That was enough. That was plenty. I watched a second of their celebration, and then turned the television off.  And in the silence, there was a stark, jolting certitude about what had occurred. In the silence, there was a conclusion to a season that always seemed surreal; always seemed just a little too good to be true.

I know it’s over. There’s nothing left to brace for; no need to find anything else in, on, or around my body to gird. I wouldn’t wish the NBA Finals on my worst enemy. Do you understand me? I wouldn’t wish the NBA finals on my worst enemy.  It settles over your entire life, usurps everything that you hold dear. It turns sumptuous food into gummy slop, bland piles of puff that you push back and forth on your plate. It transforms your favorite activities into arduous chores; tedious tasks that must be completed before tip-off begins. Work days become staccato affairs as surreptitious glances at smartphones draw dirty glares from colleagues. Intimate moments with loved ones are punctuated by sharp, impatient quips, or watered-down by blank stares, as the mind shifts gears from hardcourt proceedings to real-world events. The NBA Finals become a stock template to organize both external behaviors and internal thoughts; all individuality is muted while the games are occurring. For the feeble mind of a fan, it is both terrific and terrifying; each moment a new emotion, each second nearly unbearable.  So I need you to understand me. I would not wish the NBA finals on my worst enemy.

Because you see, the weight of each possession was agonizing, especially when it all went to hell.  With each clank off the back rim on wayward hoists from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, on shots that fell so easily in the regular season, and at absolutely the worst time possible, there was a feeling of hopelessness and puzzlement. With each missed defensive rebound, and subsequent second-chance field goal from a lanky, bull-driving Cavalier, came a pain, which rose from a dull hum in game 5, to a full-throated roar by the end of game 7. Every one of the Warriors minor weaknesses, brilliantly masked by the tremendous abilities of Curry and Thompson, were suddenly put on full display by a smart, capable, and fully in-control Cavaliers team. A Cavaliers team that, as the series unraveled seemed to grow bigger and stronger with each possession, to the point where they seemed almost physically overpowering. A Cavaliers team that knew that beating the Warriors involved gaining a decisive psychological advantage. For 12 horrific quarters, the Cavaliers doled out punishment on multiple fronts. They launched successful assaults on the bodies and minds of the Warriors. It took 12 quarters – 144 minutes of dismantling; 8,640 seconds of throttling – to undo a joyride that was unspeakably exhilarating and dreamlike.

Basketball is continuing, and the Warriors didn’t disappear from the face of the planet after they lost Game 7. But I don’t know it. There is no Twitter on my phone anymore. I swipe the apps on my phone right and left in a repeating sequence; my thumbs not quite sure what to do with themselves now that there’s no timeline to troll. The Warriors drafted somebody. They may have drafted somebody else, as well. I’m not sure. The Warriors are probably interested in signing available players free agency. There are probably reports about Kevin Durant. It’s entirely possible that the other 29 teams are doing things as well; tucking in their shirts and rolling up their sleeves for another go at fixing everything that ails them in a few short summer months. I’m not sure. At the moment, I am in denial about the offseason, growing hot and sticky with each passing day. The pulsating throb of the NBA finals still drums endlessly on; my brain waiting for a best of 9, or best of 11 series. But I know it’s over. I know the focus is not on internal reflection and correction, but rather, external additions and situational augmentations. The 73-9 Golden State Warriors, a team that was sought after like the grail, now belongs to the historians and the haters. Those Warriors are now a was and and a were; they can no longer can bask in the radiant glow of is and are.

I would like to find a rhythm again. I’d like to be galloping; I’d like to be be soaring; I’d like to be be well on my way to new heights. But I cannot find the center. It’s the way it is, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I swear it. I’m not supposed to be frowning like this, trying to find some sort of basketball catharsis by typing into a text box on a small, dying corner of the internet; trying to avoid every hint that the Golden State Warriors fell short of their goal. I’ve lost myself. I see wraiths. This isn’t supposed to be happening. This isn’t the summer I had in mind.

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I Don’t Turn Off Games

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No, I don’t turn off the games. I haven’t in a long time. It’s the fat-man-on-the-couch’s equivalent of never leaving the arena early; never succumbing to the first world thrill of beating traffic. But I was damn close tonight; all out of dramatic sighs and disgusted grunts as the Warriors lost 118-94 in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It wouldn’t have changed the environment I had set up for myself; the television on mute as Russell Westbrook strutted about the court, the Thunder crowd rocking and rolling in a corybantic frenzy. I would’ve been free to do other things, I think I would’ve been excused. But I stayed on the channel, somehow trying to absorb some of the beating myself. When you know you should be doing something else, but you stay since you really don’t have anything better to do. Believe it or not, a lot of Warriors fanhood is rooted in that idea. So I stayed. It’s the Western conference finals after all. Even if they’ve taken a turn towards the terrible, it’s a terrible that only comes every few decades. I’ll stay and take my unique beating.

I guess I’d better write something in the fucking blog, was the thought that popped into my head, once it was over. I had figured I should write something in the fucking blog for a few days, as the weight of the situation befalling my preferred basketball team slowly crept into my everyday life. I’d better write something in the fucking blog. But what to write? The Warriors lost the basketball game. There are many different losses in the NBA; many different shapes and forms a dismantling takes. Even in my insulated living room, with the television on mute, with Twitter closed and texts piling up, this loss screamed through the television. The Thunder eviscerated the Warriors; rejected every advance. Nearly every assumption the Warriors wrote into their game plan was met with stern rebuke. Anthony Roberson hit threes. Steven Adams was unaffected by injury. Enes Kanter played stout defense. Randy Foye — Randy Fucking Foye, man — was a net positive. The players who were supposed to sink have soared. The Thunder were superior in nearly every single way. Man, this feels great. This is writing in the fucking blog.

The Warriors were not great. They have not been great for the vast majority of the series. And if you want my opinion why the Warriors are not armoring up for another go at an Eastern conference foe; if you want this really great postulation I’ve formed while I screamed at a television and stomped around my living room for months on end, I’m happy to tell you that I don’t know what the fuck is going on with the Golden State Warriors. I feel like the best answer I could give you would be straight from the Shit-Ass Mid-Stage Millennial Bible, and say that the Monstars stole their powers, and the Warriors have just gotta drink some of Michael’s Secret Stuff. It’s a sense of vulnerability with far too much exposure; a defense that essentially falls in the category of “well we won all those other games, so I’m not sure why we’re not winning this one.” Their once airtight offense has become bland and ineffective against the Thunder’s defensive dynamos. Their once suffocating defense has buckled and collapsed under the onslaught of the taller, stouter and, up to this point, vastly superior Thunder. Watching it has involved that certain sense of “pain” that a fan feels; a petulant, anxious unhappiness primarily fed by the the desire to exert power over variables that are resistant to control.

Let me be clear: this is not the good night, good luck, thanks for all the memories post. Truth be told, I’m not sure I have that post in me. I’m pretty sure I can’t even get a thousand words out about basketball at this point; I feel like I’ve basically said everything I’ve wanted to say about the National Basketball Association. But I do need to confess something, to someone who might have some sort of reaction to a deep confession about the game I love: I don’t know how the fuck this happened. I don’t know why Steph Curry’s shot is gone; a miraculous joy totally muted and stifled. I don’t know why the turnovers have returned; basketballs ricocheting off of outstretched fingers or soaring harmlessly — almost gracefully, really — into the stands. I don’t know how basketball has ruined my day; ruined my week. I don’t know why this shit matters so much to me. I don’t know why I don’t just shrug my shoulders and say, well, fuck, maybe next year. The only reason I have cable is because of the Golden State Warriors. I don’t turn off games.

I need a fifth paragraph here in order to make the post seem complete, but there isn’t much left besides muttered cuss words and exasperated sighs. Tomorrow I’ll wake up, and my brain will reload the events from tonight, and I will frown into the unkind darkness that only 5:15 a.m. can deliver. I will type-and-delete countless snarky replies on social media, and offer short, stilted texts to communicative partners. “Sucks.” “Not great.” “Thunder are good.” “Gotta play better.” There’s not much more to say. Summer is coming. It’s getting hot. There isn’t much basketball left to play, anyways.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Friday, April 22, 2016.

I feel pathetic. Read these pieces. I’ll be in the bathroom, sobbing.

Bill Walton’s Long, Strange Tale of NBA Survival
Sam Anderson
The New York Times

I’ve become a pretty staid NBA fan over the years. The human interest stories aren’t interesting. The deep dives are fairly shallow. But mark my words: I will always smile when I read about Bill Walton. To hear that he’s still doing what he does best: being an eclectic mix of public intellectual, hippie, jock, artist and stratosphere-bound spirit. If you’ve kept even the smallest amount of attention on Ol’ Bill, you could probably guess how he’s doing — living the best version of his life in San Diego, California. Sam Anderson attaches excellent prose to the Bill Walton Experience; barely containing his excitement to be rolling around town with the gentle giant, listening to Grateful Dead and talking about basketball from the mid-to-late 20th century. I smiled throughout this read. Bill Walton is a treasure that we must protect at all costs.

While the Grizzlies’ Grit ‘n’ Grind is Perfect Branding, it May Also Be the Team’s  Most Fatal Flaw
Kevin Arnovitz
TrueHoop

At the moment, the Grizzlies are swimming hopelessly upstream in a lopsided playoff series against the formidable San Antonio Spurs. There seems to be little chance that they will win; their team has been totally gutted by injury over the course of a beleaguering regular season. Yet, even in sure defeat, there is something glorious about their on-court product. It is informed by their dedication to “Grit ‘n’ Grind,” a phrase uttered by Tony Allen that has become the essence of the franchise. Kevin Arnovitz provides readers with a short history of grit ‘n’ grind: how it came to be, how it operates, and its overall relevance for the Grizzlies during their competitive era. There are several interesting tidbits in this piece, ranging from the insistence from team brass that players use the words “grit” and “grind” as much as possible, to the tension between Dave Joerger and the front office over the type of talent that should be retained by the team. I really enjoyed every word of this, and always dig what the Grizzlies are doing. Next year they’ll be back to their tricks, and it will be excellent to watch.

Whatever You Think of Sam Mitchell, the Way the Wolves Fired Him Was Disrespectful
Britt Robson
MinnPost

Tom Thibodeau is now the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It will be on him to continue the developmental gains achieved by Sam Mitchell, who served as the interim coach this season following the untimely death of Flip Saunders. Britt Robson provides a small look into the last day of work for Mitchell, who was let go at some point during the day he coached his final game. Robson takes a close look not just at the way Mitchell interacted with other individuals associated with the organization, but also how they regarded Mitchell, himself; as a coach who inherited a young team with a bright future, who had a longstanding relationship with the famously nepotistic owner, and whose on-court philosophies seriously conflicted with the general direction of the league. Robson concludes that Mitchell’s exit was disrespectful, given what he accomplished with the team. Importantly, Robson discusses the influence race may have had on the ousting of Mitchell (as Milt Newton, the general manager), and the implications therein. This is definitely worth the read, and I agree: Sam Mitchell was the brunt of incredible criticism; criticism we’ve seen leveled at several other black coaches in the past.

The Bulls’ Beat Writers Spilled the Beans on the Bulls’ Dysfunctional Locker Room
your friendly BullsBlogger
Blog A Bull

Finally, I wanted to include this roundup compiled by Blog A Bull, consisting of spilled beans from various Bulls beat writers. The Bulls did not have a good season, and the pieces linked here provide a tortured look into a season marred with jealousy, infighting and what sounds like a lot of passive aggression. The anonymous commentator, shielding his real name like a mid-2000′s basketblogger, dropped a few lines that made me snort pretty loudly. The image of the Bulls’ front office “barfing all over themselves at a rushed presser” is worthy of some sort of award. Does anyone say “barf” anymore?

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Tweak

I used to cover my eyes each time Stephen Curry hit the floor. As his slight frame went crashing to the hardwood, I’d suck my breath in sharply and promptly squeeze my eyelids shut. I would use Jim Barnett, the team’s color commentator, as my cue as to whether I could open my eyes and get back to it. If Jim’s voice remained calm and level, I would slowly open my eyes, just in time to see Steph bouncing up, no worse for wear, his mouth-guard mashed between determined teeth, ready to rejoin the fray. But if Jim didn’t play along — a tortured moan emerging from his body, his voice high with panic as he would exclaim that “this doesn’t look good at all!” – I would immediately slip and fall into a deep chasm of fan despair.  As Steph would hobble up, favoring an appendage, wincing and grimacing as he’d limp down the court, I would throw my hands into the air and squeal pathetically to an empty room. My panic would deepen as Steph would head to the bench, and trainers would surround whatever piece of his body he had damaged. Sometimes the trainers would walk away, and Steph would eventually return to the court. But sometimes, he would slowly rise and head to the locker room, and I would join the chorus of other Warriors fans, wherever they may have been at that point in 2013 or 2014, thumping the sides of their heads with frustrated, balled-up fists and  using their strained voices to wail a shrill lament.

I easily remembered the steps of that dance this past weekend, at the 2:10 mark of the second quarter in the Warriors blowout victory against Houston Rockets. Though the event itself was unique, the features were horrifyingly similar; dark reminders of a not-too-distant past. Steph’s landing after his missed layup was somewhat awkward; nothing about it particularly caught my eye. But then his gait shifted; I noted him shaking his leg in an attempt to correct something that had become misaligned. I could feel my face getting hot as the situation degenerated by the second, and Steph’s condition began to worsen in the world’s full view. Before long, Steph was dragging his leg, struggling to keep up with the disjointed Rockets as they hurled the ball at their basket. My fists were already pounding the table by the time he reached the bench, pulled off his increasingly iconic Underarmour shoes, and presented his ankle for the team’s trainer to look at. As he rose slowly to head to the locker room, I had stopped caring whether he would return to try and play through his troubling injury. In fact, he did briefly try and return during the third quarter, but a combination of a sufficient Warriors lead, a discombobulated opponent, and a clear limp lead to him staying on the bench, close to the watchful eye of Steve Kerr. I had long stopped caring about win number one. I had joined everyone else on their own respective islands of despondence; the blue splendor of a historic season suddenly shrouded in leaden skies.

We know fairly little about what happened with 2:10 to go in the second quarter of game one. Part of this is part to the Warriors’ peculiar penchant for highlighting-and-deleting the diagnoses they release to the media, a practice they have mastered since Andrew Bogut revealed his own secret microfracture surgery to reporters in 2012. Steph’s injury has been variously called a roll, a slip, and, most sinisterly, a tweak. I am unsure if “tweak” is the medical term — Webster’s defines “tweak” as “twisting or turning something sharply” — and regardless, it provides little comfort for anyone who is searching for an answer about what to expect from here on out. Watching Curry suffer a non-contact ankle injury is enough for even the most arrogant fan to self-consciously put the champagne away and save the vacation day they had set aside for the championship parade. Even the newest, most inexperienced Warriors fan knows that Steph is the celestial body the rest of the team orbits around, and that without him, the Warriors are deeply compromised.

Most fans of any given team can point to a season where  injuries seriously altered the outcomes they had hoped would occur. Fickle ligaments and brittle bones can be found on both good teams and bad, and the snap or pop that alters the course of history can come at any time. Any Bulls fan frowns darkly as they remember Derrick Rose rolling around the floor of the United Center, a potential championship team fully disarmed as their most important weapon wrapped his body protectively around his ruined knee. More recently, Cavs fans can point to the images of Kevin Love sprinting towards the locker room, cradling his shoulder, his arm dangling askance from the socket, or Kyrie Irving, slamming his jersey to the floor as he limped off the court to start the long process of recovering from a broken knee. Even Warriors fans who, shall we say, waited out the bad weather from 1995 to 2013 to belatedly bask in the sunshine, can point to the 2013 team, which fell short against the San Antonio Spurs while simultaneously managing injuries to Curry, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. They could even point to the 2014 team, who fell in seven dramatic games to the Los Angeles Clippers while trying to cover-up Andrew Bogut’s massive absence in the pivot with Hilton Armstrong, a tall man who wore the number 57. In this regard, nothing about what happened to Steph is unique: this is an injury that he has suffered before, in a league that, collectively, suffers many injuries of a similar nature. Certainly it will not end his career. But in tournament where — yes, gird yourself, Warriors fans — luck plays a meaningful role in the outcome, this is not an event to be taken lightly. In many ways, everything has been tweaked; wrenched sharply in an unnatural direction.

Others are far more skilled at predictive prognostication, and as such, I’m the wrong person to ask about what might happen in this series. Obviously a great deal rests on whether Curry can perform at a level at-or-above an MVP level; if he is to return in this series at all. And while the Rockets certainly remain a threat to exploit a wounded Warriors team, the Warriors have beaten the Rockets without Curry; a scrappy, aggressive game that represents one of the most satisfying wins of the Kerr era. The Curry-less Warriors are long, lanky and positionless; Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston lead a a different sort of assault. They clog passing lanes and endlessly switch on defense, they steadfastly work towards creating their own unique but effective shots on offense. They are a formidable outfit, without doubt. But they are vulnerable without Curry. Without the individual that accentuates everything at which they excel, there is little more to do but watch with clenched fists, and hope that nothing else need be tweaked from here on out.

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A Steady, Dangerous Arrogance

Let’s get this out of the way right now, so that there’s no confusion: even if the Golden State Warriors lose to the Grizzlies tonight, and are denied their 73rd win, this season has been, and will always be, an unimaginable success. Any individual who turns their nose up at 72-10 should not be accessed regularly for opinions on professional basketball; they should take their talents of prognostication elsewhere. Even in the event of an unlikely loss — the Grizzlies are down by 23 to the Clippers as I write this — the Warriors will be tied with the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls as the most accomplished regular season team of all time. I will let you search elsewhere for all of the records the Warriors have notched in a season that likely will never be replicated, by this team or any other one.  After all, we are talking about a team that started 24-0; a team that was 48-4 at the All-Star break; a team that owns the longest home winning streak in NBA history; a team that had to win 70 games just to secure home court for the rest of the playoffs. No, I will not suffer any opinion otherwise. I will not hear out your points to the contrary. In the not too distant past, I used to speak hesitatingly about the Warriors’ place among the elite teams in NBA history; brushing off questions about how comfortably they would sit alongside those units. I do not harbor any of that self-consciousness any longer. The Warriors are truly magnificent.

At the same time, let me share this with you: I do not recognize the Warriors at all. They are everywhere, on everyone’s commercials and at the tip of everyone’s tongues. They are the subject of discussion topics once confined to internet message boards and video games; potential seven-game series against the Chicago Bulls, angry discussions about how Steph would get his shot off against an impossibly lankly double-team from Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. They are a collection of commercials, hawkers of water filters and slippery Chinese basketball shoes. They are $335 tickets for the worst seats in the house (and that’s not even a playoff ticket, yet). They are the most palatable product of unbridled capitalism; the actualized vision of venture capitalists. Their owner boasts about losing millions of dollars in card games, and can barely contain his excitement about moving the team out of Oakland, to an arena with fewer seats for the have-nots but many more luxury boxes for the have-it-alls. They invite the ire of others; critiques which center on colonial themes of surveillance and hegemonic destruction, to sighing lamentations from fans whose teams haven’t fared well against Golden State. There is certainly a feeling of saturation that comes with this team now; all the games are filled to the brim with, well, stuff.

I haven’t felt much of a need to add to all this Warriors stuff over the last few months. This is a crowded space now, a cacophony of clattering noise and jostling bodies. The games have all bled together at this point; hundreds of hazy basketball miracles that just seem to come as a part of the entire experience. The hallmark half-court heaves and game-winners, which come with uncanny frequency for this team, have all become blurry; commonplace events which make a mostly surreal experience feel both solid and valid. The Warriors are big; they command your attention and demand to be noticed. And God, has it worked. The Warriors have blown up in every way; their value, their aura, and their entourage. And as countless of new participants in the Warriors experience stake their relative claims on this once pastoral land — the new lovers and new haters alike; both crammed shoulder-to-shoulder on their relative bandwagons– there is a hoarse feeling of congestion, and a deepening sense of claustrophobia. It feels like a wild ride every night; from trying to figure out how Steph Curry hits the shots that he takes, to how the average fan will ever find a reasonable seat on StubHub ever again. In nearly every way, it feels like we are being driven by forces mostly beyond our control.

There is a steady, dangerous arrogance that radiates from this team. It is symbolized in the rhythmic chew of a mouth-guard; of a raised finger in celebration before an airborne three even goes through the net. It is delicious and intoxicating, a strong cocktail that you can taste through the television screen and whose sinister warmth you feel deep in your belly. Any lead seem erasable, any opponent seems conquerable. It is a notion that seemingly is reinforced multiple times a week, as wins of all different shapes and sizes — absurd blowouts, teeth-gnashing comebacks, pitched shootouts and slogging grinds — come somewhat easily for the Warriors. The script always seems to be written in the team’s favor: the comeback completes itself automatically, the other team’s timely collapse aids in the cause. If Warriors fans seem arrogant as they enter a second round, it’s because they are following the lead of the team; bearing witness to the same absurdities the general populace is beholding. Because none of this makes sense, even now, on the precipice of the 73rd win of the season. There are no experimental designs that would replicate the results of this year’s team; no method to recreate the mastery. And while it is hardly beyond understanding, it is certainly above common forms of explanation. It is an object that simply produces slack jaws and dumbfounded grunts, a common refrain among both old and new fans alike: “the fucking Warriors.”

Certainly I do not dwell on “the bad days,” nor do I talk about them much anymore. Any chuckling remark about Chris Cohan or Robert Rowell is used mostly as an informal test to see when the person I’m making small-talk with started following the team. It has been four seasons since the Warriors were non-competitive, and I have happily put those days behind me. Similarly, while I occasionally consider the ways the Warriors could falter, those brooding thoughts don’t clutter my mind. I could be convinced that the Warriors remain a vulnerable outfit, despite the very favorable trends established in the regular season. The 4-0 mark against the Clippers, Rockets, Jazz, and the 3-1 mark against the Blazers, Mavericks, and, yes, the Spurs, enables Warriors denizens to rest relatively easy, at least at this point. I could panic, for sure. And I might just yet; the playoffs are long, and it’s a precipitous plunge to the bottom. But on the eve of what could be our 73rd win — and, without a doubt, the conclusion of a season that will end no worse than 72-10 – I find myself resting with relative ease. I assume the newest denizens of the Warriors experience are sleeping rather soundly, as well.

Yes, that discussion about the playoffs can wait. We don’t have to have it now, and frankly, I don’t intend to. The Warriors opponent is not even known; it could be either the stout but untested Utah Jazz, or the talented yet perpetually troubled Houston Rockets. At this point in the proceedings — on the doorstep of history, but facing a game of even more importance this coming weekend — the emotions are merging onto a fucked up Bay Area freeway at the heart of rush hour; mashing their fat little fingers on bleating horns. At this moment in time, it is best to just consider the reality of what has occurred, rather than the things that can’t be known until they actually occur, or the things that will continue to exist unanswered; forever obscured by the gnarled fabric of space, time and circumstance.

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Games of the Week: December 14-20, 2015.

Finals this week. Which is to say: see you all next week.

Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on NBA TV)

In my highly informed opinion, the “one of their guys made a dirty play against a player on the other team!” battle cry is pretty flimsy ground upon which to prop up a rivalry. But here we are in 2015, and justifications make everything easier to swallow, even if the justification is pretty weak. So take it in tonight: Cavaliers versus the Celtics; a rematch of a fairly forgettable sweep from last season, made memorable only by Kelly Olynyk’s wrestling-style box out on Kevin Love that separated his shoulder. We’ll all get to see Avery Bradley grab onto whomever he is guarding by the jersey, and hold on for dear fucking life. Tommy Heinsohn will say, “good defense, Avery!” I know better, Tommy.

Wednesday: Memphis Grizzlies at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on ESPN)

At this point in the season, I usually hone in on teams that are still turning the key in the ignition, trying to get the damn thing started. These are the teams that I am most interested in; the rebuilding units can be checked in on a bit down the road, and the sure-fire playoff teams are basically known quantities. It’s those other mixed-bag outfits that really pique my interest; the ones who will show up in a foreign NBA city with fire on their fingertips and ferocity in their eyes, but will then play like snails on strike when they get back home. Both the Bulls and Grizz fit that bill: they can’t string together consistent performances on a nightly basis, and no one really can understand why. Truth be told, both of these teams still have that shell-shocked sheen they took on when they fell behind in their respective playoff series last year; that look of “man, this squad ain’t gonna win shit when it actually matters” plastered on all their handsome(ly paid) faces. If the far-off stares of men realizing their best chance at winning a ‘ship may be falling apart in front of their eyes is your kinda jam, I’ll see you on Wednesday!

Thursday: Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on TNT)

The storylines are coursing through this game like a heartworm in your dying pet. We’ve got KD and Russ going up against LeBron and K-Love; a very nice compliment of stars. We’ve got the potential return of Kyrie Irving on the horizon. We’ve got the ever-compelling trial-by-fire of Billy Donovan, who hasn’t quite modified the Thunder into the multi-pronged war machine some expected him to. But mostly, we’ve got DION WAITERS GOING BACK TO CLEVELAND. That’s worth the price of watching, right there. He’ll find his way to his favorite spot at the Q, put both arms up in the air, and wave them around while he hopes that someone passes the ball to him. Forget LeBron, KD and Russ. Dion back in the Q’s the real reason this game is worth watching.

Friday: Milwaukee Bucks at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the whatever-man-I-don’t-even-care-about-the Milwaukee Fucks…er, Bucks. No, I’m not mad. Nah. Not at all. I’m not mad our 82-0 season got ruined by a team named after an animal built to be mangled by a semi-truck careening down some frozen interstate in the middle of America. No. The Bucks played admirably against the Warriors on Saturday. They beat my favorite team at their own game. And true, I think any true fan of the game is impressed by what they did. But I’m not really a true fan of the game these days. I’m a true fan of finishing the season 81-1. No more losses! Especially not to the Fucks. Ha! Fucks! Get it? Ha! Ha! Fucks!

Saturday: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)

It’s my second Bulls game of the week. I think I may be a bit depressed. But that’s okay, since I’ve been jiving with the Bulls lately. I see the way they scowl at one another after a missed defensive rotation. I note the way they throw their hands up exasperatingly after the ball fails to swing to the other side of the court. I enjoy the morose eulogies that flood from the locker-room after another stillborn effort manifests itself the box score. The Bulls are brutal. The Bulls are struggle. The Bulls are art. The Bulls are on Saturday. They’re playing the Knicks.

Sunday: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

I mean, I don’t know shit, obviously. But from the couch, I can tell that the milk has gone completely sour in New Orleans. That team just smells bad. You can detect the distinctive scent of decay through the television screen. The ball movement always seems stilted and reluctant. There are a lot of Ryan Anderson bricks. Anthony Davis — when healthy — never seems to touch the ball. No sir, I don’t like it. And maybe there was never anything to like, in the first place. Maybe they only made the playoffs because the Thunder were hurt last year. Maybe Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik and the aforementioned Anderson were never going to coalesce into a regular playoff team. Maybe Monty Williams should have been given a chance to see his squad through. I guess we will never know. The West would have been more fun this year of the Pelicans were good.

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Games of the Week: December 7-13, 2015.

Both Amar’e and I wish you a happy Hanukkah.

Tuesday: Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers (7:00 PM EST/4:00 PM PST on NBA TV)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS going for 23-0 against the tricky-as-hell Indiana Pacers. Much has been made of the Pacers’ successful transition into the world of modern-day small ball. At the moment, the Pacers look like the closest thing the Eastern conference has to the Warriors. The Pacers boast the league’s 7th best offense (up from 23rd last season) as well as the 5th best defense (up from an already-elite 7th last season). They also feature another magnificent talent in Paul George, the reigning player of the month for the Eastern conference. Once you add career-year C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, who loves to exact revenge on his former squad, and the ever-valuable George Hill, you got a bit of a problem on your hands. It’s also worth mentioning that the Pacers have played the Warriors brutally over the past two seasons. They managed to win a home game (that Steph was resting in) last season, and gave the Warriors a tough three quarters when they came out to Oakland (though they ended up losing 117-102 in the end). Who knows? If the Pacers end up being the one in 81-1, it will be an easy enough pill to swallow.

Wednesday: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns (9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Last night’s unexpected comeback against the Bulls sealed the deal for me: the Suns have regained their positions as nightly League Pass lovelies. True: they’ve gotten a bit worse each year that Jeff Hornacek has been in charge. They’ve gone from 48 wins in 2014, to 39 wins in 2015. At 9-12 (as of Tuesday), they don’t look much better than their disappointing iteration from last season; perhaps even a few degrees worse, even. Also true: the whole “drive, kick, and play free!” movement seems to have lost a lot of its prestige the further the team drifts away from the playoffs. But there seems to be less acrimony this year, and they have some really fun players to watch. Brandon Knight could make a case for being the most underrated player in the NBA. P.J. Tucker is the version of Draymond Green you get from Nordstrom Rack. Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren are entertaining young players. Alex Len isn’t going to be a bust. And who knows why Jon Leuer is so entertaining to watch? I sure don’t. Like, how is he good? I don’t get it. I guess I don’t need to. I’ll be happy to give them a gander as I also take a closer look at the Magic, who are having a nice 11-9 season of which I have not watched a single blessed minute.

Thursday: New York Knicks at Sacramento Kings (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)

What an odd TNT game. Not only does this nationally-televised game feature two sub-.500 teams (though the Boogie-Rondo partnership is becoming must-watch League Pass), it’s also some rare Knicks After Dark presented to a huge audience. My question is: will anyone on the East coast be awake to watch it? It’ll be 10:30 PM in New York when this game starts. That’s, like, bedtime. At least for me it is. This is why I’m pleased I do my NBA-watching from the comfort of California, where the games (that I don’t really care about) start at 4:00 and end at 6:30, which allows me a chance to watch the end of the 5:00 games, and the entirety of the 7:30 game. I can’t imagine my basketball night starting at 7:00 pm, and having to wait until 10:30 pm to take a look at my team. I’d probably never watch basketball. I’d also probably have more of a life. Oh well. I actually think this will be a fairly entertaining game, if anyone can stay awake through it.

Friday: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz (9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Gird yourself, bud: games sorta suck this Friday. The national offerings look pretty limp; the only person who really cares about Heat/Pacers or Spurs/Lakers should let 2000 go. And I suppose there’s a bit of appeal with Cavaliers vs. Magic, but I have plans to watch the Magic on Wednesday, and I’m taking a break from the Cavs drama for a week or two. That leaves us with Thunder versus Jazz; the best game left on the schedule. You know what you’re gonna get: the regular KD and Russ offerings, met sternly by the long, limby Jazz, and their rapidly improving cast of two-way position-less players. That’ll do for a Friday night. And as an added bonus, we’ll probably get an Enes Kanter sighting. No arena crowd conjures that uncomfortable angry mob feel quite like Energy Solutions Arena. You can really feel the hate through the television screen. It’s impressive, in a lot of deeply disturbing ways.

Saturday: San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Basically each time the Hawks are on national television, I feel obligated to watch them. Why is that, you ask? It’s because EVERY OTHER GAME OF THEIRS IS BLACKED OUT IN MY MARKET. As far as I can tell, the Hawks are the only team that presents this predicament. I can see any other team from any other device. I can even watch the D-League! But not the Hawks. No way. Only time I can see them is if they’re on TNT, ESPN or NBATV. It’s a shame, because I’d probably watch them a lot. But now I can’t. I hope the Spurs throttle the Hawks. I hope they ransack them. Never trust the Hawks, man. Never trust the Hawks.

Sunday: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder (7:00 PM EST/4:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Back in the day, NBA Live used to have a feature called “Grudge Match.” If you lost a game, either against a real life opponent or the computer, you could click on the “Grudge Match” button and immediately play the same team again. It was often pressed as a reflex; a frustrated growl and an angry button-mash on the controller. Based on how things go on Friday, either Jazz fans or Thunder fans will have an option to give it another go, and try again against the team who will have beaten them just a few days prior. The Grudge Match doesn’t happen terribly often during the regular season, so I’ll make time to check it out. Also, there aren’t really any good games that day. Maybe the NBA just schedules Thunder vs. Jazz when there’s literally nothing else you’d want to watch that day.

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