Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spikes and Circuses

This is ok now, right?
So the No Fun League has decided that, after talking to ex-players who can still form sentences, that perhaps crapping all over post-touchdown emotions was, um, a poor idea. So now you get to use the ball as a prop, roll around on the ground, and celebrate with your teammates! Almost as if you were grown men with free will!

I hate to tell the powers that be how to do their gig, because some part of me would rather spend that time on acts of endlessly satisfying petty vandalism to their suits and cars... but, um, in the grand scheme of all that's wrong with pro football, the fact that you've been tightasses about spikes is about 50th on the list.

Here's a thought for matters of higher precedence: figure out what a catch actually is. Then explain it to the rest of us in ways that don't take an engineering degree or a background in interpretive dance. Then figure out what pass interference is, both on the offense and the defense. Then, miracle of miracles, call it consistently, whether it's on the road team, the home team, or the teams from New England and Dallas.

Got that taken care of? Great, now let's move on to the fact that you so underserve the market with an absurd amount of commercials, horrible games on nights that should never have football or or continents that don't have teams, and you don't relegate / promote to stagger games over the course of the year and create Real Drama at both the top and bottom of the standings. (The reason why you don't do this, of course, is that you are robber baron anti-capitalist thugs who secretly hate the free market, because the free market would take the utter and complete fish away from your table, and you wouldn't have a decade and a half of beating up on the Jets and Racial Slurs to prop up other franchises. You cowardly, cowardly tools. But I digress.)

Gotten rid of Terrible Night Football and the worst thing in the UK since Trump's last visit? Great, now let's move on to your broadcast crews, most of whom make decent people spit. I don't know anyone on the Earth who wants to hear a damned thing that Phil Simms says, and he might not even be the worst people working. (He probably is, but let's just avoid the wallow.) You routinely treat the audience as if it were as brain-dead as the ex-players, when in reality there's an enormous bucket of nerds who would happily stat out to all of the things they think about, especially if they've got a wager or six on the games.

Fixed all of that? Wow, you've had a busy day! Now you might want to move on to the rampant sexism and homophobia that permeates the place, the still-present racism that makes it unlikely for blacks to coach and spectacularly unlikely that they'd ever get the chance to own, the continuing thumb in the eye of decency that is the DC Team Name, the naked theft of teams from their markets...

Oh, but you don't actually want to fix any of that, do you, Roger? Because fixing any of that would take effort, and possibly money, and you are just looking for, well, empty gestures.

So by all means, spike the ball and dance, folks. It's the farthest the NFL is going to go to "fix" anything.

Because to them, nothing is really broken, or will ever be.

Must be nice to live in cocoon of money and privilege, right?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Year When The NBA Regular Season Was More Fun Than The Playoffs

The Eater Of Hope
Tonight in San Antonio, Golden State ended any possibility that the Finals could be anything other than Cavs-Dubs in a ho-hum win over the Spurs. The home team actually led for brief moments in this game, which puts them in a relatively rare class of Dub playoff victims this year, and got a throwback game from 40 year-old Manu Ginobili, who can still ball, especially when his minutes are properly managed. But without downballot MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and his fragile ankles, the Spurs are something like -80 over 2.5 games, and there's no sign that trend is going to change, or that Leonard is going to return. If the series doesn't end on Monday, it will honestly be shocking. And having watched all of these games in public areas surrounded by Dub fans, I can tell you for a fact that they worried about the Spurs... not at all. You'd have thought Game 3 tonight was a February mid-week game, not Essential Win #11 on the road to 16.

At least the Spurs weren't run off their on court in a manner that made the second half pointless, the way the Cavs did the Celtics last night. TNT had hours to come up with comedy GIFs and did not disappoint, with my personal favorite being the Tom and Jerry paddling GIF where LeBron James spanked the Celtic leprechaun over and over and over again. It was the Celtics' 4th home loss of the year and one of the worst in their history, with star guard Isiah Thomas going down for the year, such as it is, with an injury. If Boston was seen as the lEast's best hope for dethroning the Cavs in the near term, such hopes are more or less DOA now, no matter what kind of bang they get from the #1 pick in the draft.

The Finals start on June 1, which is to say, in 11 days and 3 more crushing wins by the obvious finalists; these should wrap up by mid-week at the latest. And sure, those games will be epic and intense and likely feature the first match-up of 12-0 teams in NBA history... but that's not how the playoffs are supposed to work. We get 15 playoff series a year; 8 in the first round, 4 in the second, 2 in the third and 1 in the fourth... and honestly, there might be 3 this year (Celtics-Wizards, Jazz-Clippers, and Cavs-Dubs) that will be in the least bit memorable.

Compare that to the regular season, where we had 82 games of Russell Westbrook challenging Oscar Robertson, and James Harden maybe even having a better year than him. Thomas whipped the Celtics to the 1 seed. The Sixers had Joel Embiid for enough stretches of the season to be the most fun team in the league, mostly because he made them the best defensive units. The Wiz were strong in the second half and finally healthy in the back court. Miami almost made the playoffs after a terrible start. Utah had their best year since Stockton to Malone, and the Clips did their annual sucking in the fan base before getting hurt routine. Plus the Cavs and Dubs.

We're never going to get to a place where casual fans care more about the regular season than the playoffs; that would require a smaller playoff field and promotion / relegation.

But in terms of actually watching hoop with drama, games that didn't always have garbage time, and a general feeling that the whole thing was an unpleasant waste of time?

Well, the regular season was a better place for that.

And so long as the Cavs and Dubs are this much better than everyone else, it's not going to be the last time that happens, either...

Monday, May 15, 2017

The One Game Series

Today in Oakland, San Antonio started the Western Conference Finals like, well, how they ended the previous round. On fire, methodical, deadly with superior bigs, and just turning a dynamic offensive opponent into mush.

By the second quarter, they were doubling up the Warriors and holding a 25 point load. Oracle was dead, the announce team was pleading for some kind of run before the half to make the theoretical possible, and while things got a little better for the home team, it was still 20 at the break.

And then the series changed, and likely ended, with a turned ankle. The Spurs' downballot MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard, who was having the best day of anyone on the court, landed awkwardly on a corner three, and had to leave the game. The Dubs picked up actual defensive intensity, and Stephen Curry joined Kevin Durant in the flow of the game. Draymond Green bounced back from his worst half of basketball in the playoffs. Slowly but surely, the lead eroded, until the Dubs finally took a lead late. And while it was still a one possession game at the close, and the home team never looked all that great or comfortable, it was still the result that everyone expected. Warriors 1, Spurs 0.

And I don't mean to put to much into this, because playoff hoop is all about putting too much into one game, but... it's hard to see the Spurs winning this series now, because this was so their game to have in Oracle. The Dubs were wildly out of pace and practice with court rust. Klay Thompson missed threes that I don't think he's ever missed. Durant and Curry looked utterly sympatico by the close of the game, and LaMarcus Aldridge has never been a good choice for go-to-guy, let alone go-to-guy because of injury. Sure, Patty Mills isn't likely to be this terrible again, and the Spurs are capable of bouncing back from any kind of early series loss, but there isn't going to be an easier game for them to get than this one.

As for the Dubs, they know they got away with a B game in this one, and that they've got major work to do to get back their air of inevitability after nearly getting punked in this one. But if Leonard's on the bench for any extended period of time, this series doesn't go five, let alone the Texas Way. The plus/minus from this game alone will tell you that, along with your own eyes.

Game Two is Tuesday, and Dub Nation will likely be a little late to start it, considering that national television is requiring a rush hour start time out here. Games cost an arm and a leg, so you'd think that people would just take the vacation day and be sure not to miss any of the game, but that's not how rich Bay Area people roll, honestly. Seven more wins for them, and you'll think the Bay Area took over the mantle of most hated fan base away from Boston...

But don't you believe it, because the real fan base -- who I observed in their natural habitat, which is to say in a strip mall sports bar less then five miles from the Orena, because that's where I'm living this week -- is still as bought in and leveraged out as always, because living out here means you just have to ignore income disparity as a survival skill. The fan base knows the Warriors are too good for them, and also know that the toothpaste is out of the tube for good, with the team leaving for SF in the near future. They won't lose anyone in the here and now because of it, but in the there and later?

Well, all eras end, and Curry and Thompson aren't the same players they were just a year ago, because the NBA is a meat grinder for, seemingly, everyone but LeBron James. Every team has a window, and the Dubs may have seen theirs stay open with the Game One comeback. Cavs-Dubs may seem and be inevitable, but for 2018 and so on? Not so much.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

NBA Conference Finals Picks

The case for Golden State: Home court, and will have three of the four best players on the court in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. As healthy as they've been all year, and with an 8-0 mark in the playoffs, probably playing their best ball. Durant gives them a bailout in half court sets when things get difficult, as if they didn't already have damn near unstoppable options in Curry and, when he's on his game, Klay Thompson. They are also getting some of the best ball of JaVale McGee's life, which gives them a safeguard if Green has foul issues. Bench has been much better lately, and the entire outfit has very high degrees of confidence and playoff experience. Extremely rested.

The case against: Losing head coach Steve Kerr for Mike Brown puts them at a disadvantage in the only place where they were already under the gun against the Spurs. Home court hasn't been as good as past years, because the faithful have become so used to domination. Green's histrionics aren't made better in the harsh glare of the playoff spotlight, and the backcourt has definitely slipped from their historic levels, particularly when it comes to percentages from distance. The eternal issue for this outfit is turnovers and indifferent play with a lead; both could come back to bite them in a game or two in this series. As good as Green and McGee have been, this team can be had against dominant big man offensive play. Might have rust in Game One from the long layoff.

The case for San Antonio: Utterly humiliated Houston, without their best player, on the road to close out the previous series. Could put a serious hurting on the Dubs with superior rebounding, especially if Pau Gasol turns back the clock for two weeks. LaMarcus Aldrigde is playing his career best ball, and Kawhi Leonard, especially if he's healthy, could (could) make Durant inefficient. This is definitely a team that's good enough to win a championship. Home court has been very good for them against the Warriors for many, many years. Have a winning record against the Dubs this year.

The case against: As good as the Spurs are, they just don't have top tier talent, especially in the backcourt. Losing Tony Parker to injury doesn't help, even if Parker isn't the player he used to be. There's a sense that their "A" game just isn't at the same level as other teams, and when they lose, they lose big. As good as Popovich is, at this level of the NBA playoffs, talent usually wins out... and the Spurs just aren't as talented.

The pick: If San Antonio is going to win this series, they are going to have to do it with a road win, and the layoff makes Game One their easiest target. It's far from impossible, and I honestly think that either of these teams will win the Finals. But home court and the Dubs margin for error are just too much to overcome. Warriors in six highly entertaining games.

The East: While we'd like to thank the Wizards and Celtics for providing some of the only entertaining hoop seen in the NBA in the past few months, it's all meaningless in the long run, especially with the Cavs (and LeBron James, who needs it the most) getting maximum rest.

The pick: Cavs in five.

Record to date: 10-1, need the Wizards to win Game 7 in Boston to go to 11-1.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sweep and Snooze, Fitfully

Dub Fan, Probably
So I'm back in the Bay Area for the first time in 11 years for work -- long story, not germane to sports, and also why post rate has gone down -- but it's put me back in the warm cocoon of the Bay Area. I can't tell you how great and powerful the weather is to make your day better and to make all of the shoddy real estate in the area tolerable, or how nice it is to be in a place where NPR is mainstream, rather than left wing...

But the purest moment of Bay Area Bubble? It's watching Warrior Fan in his native habitat.

You see, this is the only part of the country that thinks Kevin Durant is just the best, that Draymond Green is lovable, that Stephen Curry doesn't look kind of like a beautiful soul gone bestial with that weird little beard of his, that JaVale McGee isn't a career malcontent who is finally good now just to make the rest of the NBA gnash their teeth a little more in frustration. And so on. They aren't completely unaware that America rejoiced when Cleveland won last year, and thinks their beautiful hoop team are somehow the Monstars while also being the Globetrotters, but they forget about it easily enough.

It's also officially odd, I think, that the NBA playoff ratings are up this year, even with the paucity of close series. Everyone seems to be clearly aware that it's going to be Cavs-Dubs for the third time in a row, and that the Cavs have been playing possum for months now to conserve their energies... but that hasn't translated into folks tuning out of the games.

But what it creates, honestly? An utterly conflicted fan base. I don't have cable in my current living condition, which has meant that my game viewing has been in bars and gyms... and Dub Fan? Watches intently, but not with a great deal of passion, and wants to see his team as little as possible.

And honestly, do you blame them? The eight games of Blazers and Jazz have rarely been competitive, and Durant's knees and Curry's ankles and HC Steve Kerr's tragic back make every minute of every game a matter of Please Don't Get Hurt and End This Already. The Dub bench isn't as good as it was a year ago, and the entire year has been a waiting pattern for seeing what happens in June.

Which hardly seems like must-see TV, but the numbers say otherwise...

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