Friday, May 29, 2009

Can't Finish

These are two words, pulled from the endless litany of the English language.

Harmless apart. Deadly together.

Can't. Finish.

Grab a hammer. Pound the headstone. The epitaph for the Nuggets' ultimately successful, but endlessly soul-crunchingly disappointing, 2008-2009 season will read: "Can't Finish."

Accurate. Succinct. True.

Literally it's correct. Nene can't finish down low, K-Mart can't finish down low, Melo can't finish down low (and certainly not on his birthday). Chauncey can't finish down low. J.R. Smith can sometimes, but not when he can't. The ball won't go in. The ball don't lie. If Kobe or Gasol flip up a wild shot, or shoot a contested turnaround, the ball wants to get to the bottom of the net, wants to penetrate the hoop in a sacred act of basketball sex. When push comes to whistled shove, however, Nuggets shots do nothing but rub against hard metal, scrape against bone. They don't seek the soft embrace of the net. They seek the touch of the opposing team. They burn for the others.

Figuratively it's correct. The Denver Nuggets can't finish. The fourth quarter is mom at home, telling them father is going to get back from work with a belt and an itch to use it. They bitch about calls, they argue with the refs, they get unnecessary technicals, they miss open shots. They get in their own way, they think before they act when they shouldn't, they don't think before they act when they should. They can't see the forest for the trees. Which is sad, seeing how their logo has a goddamn mountain in it.

The trees in the West, tough, are long. Thick. Worthy of an effort.

The Enver Nuggets had no D tonight, or in the series.

There's also no "C" in Denver Nuggets.

For Championship.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Outside the Aviary: "What Burns Never Returns."

In watching the Celtics last year and the Magic (thus far) this year-- have they proven that underrated talent rises when they are put to the impossible task of beating the best player in the world? Sure, D-How was nice in the OT, but this was Rafer and Rashard like it was Posey and Pierce. No one expects Cleveland to lose, but this team keep finding ways to beat them, like the Celts last year. Is this a weakness of LeBron? Is it a team weakness? Is Orlando the latest "hot team" to take down a giant at the perfect time? Is Cleveland, as a sports city, doomed?


The Cleveland Cavaliers lost three games doing exactly what they should be doing defensively: leaving Rafer Alston alone, hoping to stop the rest of the team. Alston is the sole player on the floor at any given time with a glaring weakness: he'll take any shot despite being a less-than-average shooter. The Cavs lost while relying on LeBron down the stretch. He played an amazing number of minutes and peppered mistakes with incredible shots. The Cavs lost while fouling Dwight Howard in crunch-time. You have to do that and they did. Dwight hit free throws. No one would have expected that.

The Cavs lost because their big men were insufficient, their threes weren't going down, and they made mistakes. Since the breakup of Shaq and Kobe and the deterioration of the Spurs, the NBA now has the most fallible sets of championship contenders in the league's history. Think about the list: an old Celtics team, a Magic team that lives and dies by the three, the Lakers who have a myriad of problems with role players, point guards and big men who aren't getting the chance to assert themselves against smaller lineups. The Cavaliers went into the season as the favorites for the one or two seed. Beyond that their fallibility had to be lurking somewhere, right? Just not against teams who were as disjointed as Atlanta and Detroit.

I don't think that many people were counting on the Eastern Conference Finals being a cakewalk until Kevin Garnett went down. However, Garnett going down benefited Orlando way more than Cleveland. When Dwight Howard saw Garnett go down, his eyes were transfixed on insane double-doubles. There is no pother big an capable of stopping him in the East. Conversely, the Cavs big men had no reason to celebrate the absence of Garnett. Ilgauskas is a jumpshooter, Wallace is a defender/hacker and Varejao is a scrapper. None of them are accomplished scorers which leaves the interior defense hungry to bang LeBron around and keep him from going hard to the basket. They won some and they lost some and Orlando will live with that. Possibly long enough to get to the finals.

All this while Rafer Alston plays above his own body and Mo Williams is playing with the lowest confidence level he can possibly have. He is passing up open shots, letting Delonte and Lebron run the point more than ever and missing his open looks more often that I have ever seen. Delonte is his own problem and the Pavlovic-Sczerbiak connection has done absolutely nothing thus far. The problem of production continues to rear its ugly head. If the guards stretch the defense, the Cavs have a chance. If they do not, the Cavs are doomed.

So, that leaves LeBron. LeBron has done it all imperfectly, then perfectly and again, last night, imperfectly. Like a bedbug looking for a blood meal, he searches for ways to bump into the lane and create with no space and little help. The picks aren't helping, the passes aren't getting to made shots and the plays aren't effective. Yet, they have been a shot away all three losses. Not to be lost in the din of Orlando's triumph is James' imperfect brilliance.

How did we not see this team's fallibility before? The problem doesn't lie in the players, it lies in their design. This is a team of strange pieces, and for the second year in a row, this team looks poised to falter with the greatest player in nearly any sport. Mo Williams was brought on to take the pressure off of the team-- not even off of LeBron but the team itself. He was the piece with enough smarts to control the Cavs destiny outside of LeBron. The shooting percentage, the moves and the fluidity to give them a viable second option has been neutralized.

And so too have the Cleveland Cavaliers. As LeBron forces instead of flows, the team does the same. LeBron is not the problem. Cleveland is not the problem. The defense is not the problem. Mike Brown isn't even the problem. The problem is a team that looks to a leader and expects him to deliver. He can and will, but not every time. No, at some point he has to be helped, like we all do. And this still doesn't seem to be the team to do it. Problem is, so few of saw this coming and we should have.

Friday, May 22, 2009



Too much will be made of J.R. Smith's venture through the circle on the Gasol vs. Billups jump ball late in Game Two. Was it a violation? Of course. Did the Lakers get a ton of calls throughout the game (and Game One)? Ohhhhhhh, you bet your ass.

Some seem to think that David Stern and the NBA, in their not-so-subtle way, want to see Kobe vs. LeBron in The Finals. We know where Nike stands. But what about everyone else?

Leaving the Game Two recaps and analysis to other, more capable blogs, let's look (wishfully) ahead at why Nuggets-Cavs is more compelling than Lakers-Cavs (assuming, of course, Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals was an abberation).

1. Melo vs. LeBron - Why does everyone assume Kobe and LeBron would go head-to-head? Kobe is an aging superstar quickly losing his legs. Sure, he explodes to the hoop for dunks every now and then, but those are few and far between. A capable defender - Shane Battier, or a vastly improving Melo - can force him into a fairly deadly jump shooter. Kobe on LeBron is a gnat on a semi windshield. Melo has shown that he has the tenacity, temerity, quickness and strength to guard the all-around best player in the game. Or, you know, at least try.

It would also make for endless columns about which 2003 top draft pick is going to join D-Wade in the VIP Champions club behind the velvet ropes. And considering the effort the Lakers put forth in last year's Finals, a young, hungry club making their first Finals appearance against a young, hungry club making just their second would be huge.

2. Nene vs. Sideshow Bob - Ok, not quite as compelling as 1. But two big Brazilians with interesting hair going toe-to-toe? One of them with a vast array of low-post moves, the other with a vast array of low-post flops? Just the promise of any hot Brazilian chicks in the stands is good enough. But this matchup is a microcosm of...

3. The Irrestible Force vs. The Immovable Object - The Nuggets may not have had the "best" offense in the league this year, but it's fairly obvious that they have the most balanced attack, and are certainly the most explosive team left in the playoffs. The Cavs were basically one of the top two defensive teams in the league this year. They say defense wins championships. Well, wouldn't this be a fascinating and likely entertaining case study?

4. Denver vs. Cleveland (with apologies to Toby) - The Drive. The Fumble. Two things here: A) Doesn't matter if it was a different sport. B) Cleveland has NOT forgotten. Trust me on this. Never has, never will. Those two AFC Championships, in back-to-back years, were soul-crushing. You think fans in Cleveland - not to mention, oh, EVERYFUCKINGBODY WHO CAN TYPE OR SPEAK INTO A MICROPHONE - will fail to bring this up all the time? And that it wouldn't add an extra level of pizazz?

Am I biased? Of course. But I dare any neutral fan to give me any other matchups, besides the tired Kobe-LeBron hype-a-palooza, with as much flavor as the one I really, really, really hope happens.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

C'est La Vie

It's 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. My knee is bleeding. My shoulder hurts. My forearm is sore. I opened a 40 at 1 a.m. I should be going to bed now, but instead I take my four-year-old laptop out and start it up, wait for the bugs and processes and crumbling sounds to subside, watch the excruciating post-game highlights, and lie back so that I can type out this sentence -


We lost 10-4 tonight. I hate losing. I'd rather swallow Chinese stars than lose. We lost 10-4 tonight. I hate losing. I'd rather move to Kansas and abstain from sex than lose. We lost 10-4 tonight. I hate losing. I hate losing. I hate losing. I hate losing. I hate losing. I hate losing.

Oh. And I broke my brand-new bat. Got one opposite-field single and a walk out of it, then splintered the shit out of it. On a foul ball.

And then I promptly grounded out.

I hate losing.

I trekked home and turned on the game. DVR. Essential. Before I could settle in and eat one half of one half of a $5 footlong, the Nuggets jumped out to a quick lead. They were defending, making the extra pass, knocking down the open shots. They looked incredible.

And yet...

The other shoe would drop. They would outplay the Lakers, outshoot the Lakers (well, maybe not from the foul line), outhustle the Lakers, outbasketball the Lakers, and somehow they would give this game away, just roll it up in a "1985 2: More Tattoos" screenplay and hand it on over with a Zippo to Jack and Donald Sutherland, in his stupid white sunglasses.

There were free throws, there were numerous pissed-away possessions, there were stupid fouls.

And yet...

There was Carmelo Anthony, finally realizing the poetic basketball Adonis he can be if he just fucking wants to. There was Nene, cutting to the hoop for those dunks that start and make you think "he can't finish that with a dunk" and then he throws down a thunderous, one-handed Braided Brazillian special and you think "Well, he is one testicle lighter" before you say "Shit, he fouled out and was ineffective in the second half." There was JR Smith, playing Lord-awful ball, then seemingly turning a switch and hitting some big second-half threes, and then you think "he won't be that bad again." There was Kenyon Martin, making the aforementioned bad fouls, but also being physical, limiting Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to virtual afterthoughts.

Fuck Trevor Ariza.

It was one play out of many, but it was the NBA Jam-esque "nail in the coffin." A steal of an inbounds pass, late in the game, is a playoff staple. Just as Kobe's shots will always find a way to rattle and bounce in. Derek Fisher will always find a way to hit that momentum-swinging three.

It was a horrific, brutal, soul-crushing defeat. And, needless to say, the fitting end to my shit-storm of a day.

But it is not over. This series is not over. I am not an optimistic person, and in fact I happen to think things happen better for my team when I daydream and wish the worst.

And yet...

The Nuggets can play with the Lakers. They can beat them.

And they better. Because I fucking hate losing.

But I hate not finishing an open 40 even more.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Seven years.

It's been seven years since one of my Sad Four played for a conference title. Those Avalanche lost 7-0 to the hated Red Wings in one of the more forgettable games I ever remember watching. By my fifth or so beer I wished it was sulfuric acid spiked with cobra venom.

But after finally disposing of the Mavericks, the Lakers loom on the horizon. The defending Western Conference champion Lakers. The Lakers led by Kobe, presumably doin' work. The Lakers run by Phil Jackson, he of the nine titles. Nine.

That's fucking absurd.

This may have come up before in these parts, but if not I'll reiterate. Growing up, I vaguely remember the Doug Moe run-gun-and-fun Nuggets that routinely put up 130, 140 a game (while also giving up nearly that many). The last time the Goldens went this far, I was six. Not exactly in my basketball prime.

By the time I got into my teens, the Nuggets became a laughingstock. My dad and I would watch the games just so we could crack jokes about Blair Rasmussen's hair or Bill Hanzlik's nose. Then 1994 came along, and they became the first #8 seed to beat a #1. Denver got wrapped up in Nugget-mania. And in the second round they met ... the neighboring Utah Jazz.

I remember trying to will the Phons, Dikembe, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (ne Chris Jackson), Robert Pack and the rest back from a 3-0 hole. They almost did, too, taking Utah to a seventh game.

But something funny, and painful, happened after that.

The Nuggets turned to shit.

Having finally gotten on the basketball kick, and getting to an age where I could appreciate a good drop-step or close-out as much as a ginormous dunk, I wanted to see good basketball. So I started following the Stockton-to-Malone pick-and-rolls, the fluid ball movement ending in a Jeff Hornacek three. So the Nuggets became an afterthought.

Did I ever become a Jazz fan? I don't know. I'd like to say I didn't, but I remember owning a Jazz hat. So that's a part of my past, and I can't change it.

But I know that I never stopped being a Nuggets fan, even when they turned into jogging punchlines. And they may fall in the next round - I think they can take the Lakers, to be honest - but even if they do, the Nuggets have had a fantastic season, and are the only positive thing in my sports-rooting life. The Sad Four is now the Sad Three.

They are exciting, they are explosive, and they are fun as fuck to watch. And as of right now, the Nuggets still have a chance to be champions.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I knew it! I'm surrounded by a**holes!

"Sir! We're tracking something on Mr. Radar. It's moving fast. It's going right past us, and it's heading for Earth."

"What is it?"

"We don't know, sir. Radar is picking up the outlines of ... a baseball team."

"A baseball team?"

"Yes sir. It appears to be ready to crash in a desert."

"Then get down there and comb the desert. Do year hear me? COMB THE DESERT!"

[Hours later]

"Find anything yet?"

"No sir."

"How 'bout you?"


"What about you guys?"

"Man, we ain't found shit!"

[Minutes later]

"I'm getting a strong feeling ... over there."

"There's something here ... in the sand! There appears to be an ugly uniform. It was camouflaged in, sir. And there's an insignia! Look - it's an SD!"

"San Diego. Oooh, I hate San Diego! Even with the good weather!"

"What shall we do, sir?"

"Ready the ship. We're leaving. This whole place has gone from suck to blow."

"Well, they did start out 9-3, sir."

"This team once won nine out of twelve games? That's ludicrous."