By Jake Appleman 

Hey all. It’s been awhile. Missed me? Of course you maybe did or did not. I’ll be with you all the way covering this series. For those scoring at home, that’s 5 first round playoff games (Cavs play down to their competition once for good ole times sake), and 37 calendar days.

But seriously, what’s there to preview?

Actually, in all honesty, I’m trying to get two, maybe three, posts up by tomorrow evening (one a massive recap of my 11 day trip to Spain), AND I’m going to a screening of my brother’s critically acclaimed Indie flick (soon to take over the entire world) in a half an hour, so I’ll be saving all analysis for the upcoming games. Oh, and there’s a huge LeBron column in there somewhere which should be different from all the hatorade you’ve been reading on the web this season.   

Peace, Love and Cruzcampo,  

Jake

PS – Since you know I love you, I’m leaving you with my Cavs-Wizards Game 1 recap from last year, live baseline courtside (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?!) at the Q. Enjoy. I certainly did.  

You saw the flashes of Magic. You saw the flashes of Michael. As much as it would be interesting and time-consuming for talking heads to anoint him Jagic Mordan, a space age robot of near basketball perfection sent to the NBA from the planet Ak-ron, we should probably just chill and recognize that LeBron James is simply the new blend of unstoppable, highlighted by whizzing no-look passes and an uncanny finishing ability, and leave it at that. The kid is only in the process of developing into what he can become, which is especially scary after a triple double playoff debut that occurred while battling a cold and dealing with the tragic loss of a woman he considered to be a second mother. As fun as they are, comparisons aren’t necessary. The past needs to be left alone and the present appreciated. (It is also worth thanking the Wizards for a lack of defense that makes the blurring of hyperbole and reality all the more acceptable.)

The high-arcing runner off the top of the window that led to a three point play and the dazzling no-look pass to a streaking Flip Murray helped solidify the first installment of LeBron’s playoff legend. The raucous Q Center crowd seemed to alternate between a state of pandemonium and a state of LeBron-inspired jaw-dropping that might have actually defied science and resulted in permanent lockjaw for some. However, the most impressive thing that LeBron did may not have shown up on any highlight shows.

With 2:39 left in the second quarter, Murray grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to the LeBron. Both teams were in organizational disarray and LeBron could have probably found a seam, driven the lane, and gotten himself to the line. He didn’t, holding the ball for a moment as the capacity crowd blew a collective diaphragm in appreciation. And then he did the unthinkable: he dumped the ball into Anderson Varejao, who had inside position on Brendan Haywood and the reputation of a non-existent post game. The floppy haired Brazilian, feeding off of the electricity of 20,000 screaming Ohioans and LeBron’s confidence in him, hit a hook shot that put the Cavs up 14. That LeBron had the instinct to slow the pace down and make the creatively correct decision says more than any highlight could.

The play, Varejao’s first bucket and Bron’s seventh assist, was endemic of the young King’s performance; he kept going to Donyell Marshall after a bungled a no-look pass, and Marshall ended up next to LeBron at the podium after the game. That’s no coincidence.

As for the Wizards, a lack of depth and poor shooting nights from everybody not named Jared Jeffries or Antonio Daniels did them in. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison are better than 15-37.

But the story was LeBron, and there’s no comparing him.

Game Notes:

–The atmosphere in Cleveland is incredible. There’s some sort of carnival/fan festival going on outside with blown up slides. There are “free massage” booths on the concourse. It’s really interesting to see fans that haven’t seen the playoffs in eight years getting worked on (yes, that’s proper muscular therapy terminology).  It appears to be the free version of the legendary ten dollar New York street massage. The crowd is buzzing with anticipation, and by buzzing I mean frothing at the mouth. It’s like 20,000 hungry raccoons are suddenly rabid because they realize that they don’t have to sift in regular season garbage anymore. And many of them are clad in one of the countless Nike “Witness” t-shirts that are being thrown into the stands at an alarmingly awesome rate. 

–Zydrunas Ilguaskas’ beard is jet black. It almost appears that he dyed it. Hmm…

–Chris Brown sings the national anthem. Good for him. I’m sitting baseline courtside at the end of “photo lane”, sardine-squishing with assorted television cameramen and photographers. I ran around the arena looking for my seat, only to realize that a photographer was sitting on the sticker with my name on it. Photographer whose butt concealed the location of my seat: I see you, but also recognize that it’s probably more important for you to take unobstructed photos than for me to take unobstructed notes.

Had I actually sat in my designated seat, I would’ve gotten baseline TV time on every other possession, which would have shot my Q rating through the roof. I’m one of the few guys in my row not sitting in a Crazy Camper, which is bad news for my back, but is some of the best news the note-taking journalist in me has ever received. Obviously, being mere feet away from the action is much more important than slight back pain. When the flames shoot up during the intros, I can tangibly feel the heat; actually, since heat is defined as the absence of cold, I can tangibly feel the absence of cold. (I learned six things in high school. That was one of them.)

–Eric Snow rattles in a jumper to start the scoring. This IS going to be different.

–Both teams are unsure of themselves in the early going. Larry Hughes seems to be measuring his shots.

–LeBron airs his first shot. Fortunately, for the consistently awed spectators, this foreshadowed ABSOLUETLY NOTHING.

–Jared Jeffries is most composed guy on the court. His career high is 20 points.

–Arenas drops in a gorgeous jump hook. His offensive repertoire is almost as vast and awesome as his personality.

–Arenas gives LeBron baseline and gets crunched by a Z screen. LeBron uses the space created to hit an open E Snow, who drains a three. Maybe all Snow needed was the playoffs. 9 ½ minutes in, the Cavs are up 18-17, and their leading scorer is Eric Snow.

–LeBron bounds through the lane and takes a pounding from Antwan Jamison before hanging in the air and somehow flipping it in. Seeing him get hit from a few feet away brings a whole new perspective to his explosive forays to the basket. It’s obvious, but also worth reiterating that LeBron’s athletic frame belies how strong he actually is. After grabbing a defensive rebound on Washington’s next possession, King James is fouled and goes to the line, calmly sinking two free throws. The game has changed.

–Antonio Daniels and Flip Murray have both checked in. It doesn’t appear that the Ex-Sonics have talked about feeling bad for Ray Allen yet.

–When you find yourself thinking, “Man, Jared Jeffries needs some help out there,” things definitely aren’t going Washington’s way.

–With the first quarter winding down, Anderson Varejao draws a foul on an offensive board that yields .3 seconds on the clock. The Brazilian power bar is all over the place, doing his thing, completely un-intimidated by the limelight. The situation becomes even more interesting when Ira Newble checks in. I remember hearing once that human beings need at least .4 seconds to shoot a basketball; the shot .4 second shot being more of a volleyball set than an actual jumpshot. So we can deduce Mike Brown inserting Ira Newble for LeBron James to the following mathematical formula:

.3 seconds of game-time rest, no more than a minute in real time, for LeBron > Ira Newble’s pride. The funny thing is that this has been going on for a while now.

–He’s not playing very well right now—right now being the end of the first quarter—but some interesting statistical perspective on Gilbert Arenas:  In just two years he’s bumped up his scoring average ten points per game, shot nearly 5% better from the floor and improved over 7% from the line. I’m not saying he’s dating ESPN stat guru, John Hollinger, but I would like to confirm their marriage. I saw the 29.3 karat ring. Wizards fans better hope that nobody (Arenas) violates the statistical sanctity of this marriage.

 –Flip Murray cuts across the lane and LeBron, directing traffic, hits him stride. AND1.

–Mike Brown barks out something followed by the number “42”. I can hear him across the court.  

–Larry Hughes blows a left-handed dunk, but the Cavs get the ball back thanks to a fortuitous bounce. And then the Wizards fail to run out at Donyell Marshall, who buries a three.

–Prodigy—the English techno group, not the rapper— song “Breathe” plays over the loudspeaker during a timeout. With the Cavs up nearly 20, that’s not the Prodigy hit that should be playing. A clue: it starts with “Smack”.

–Steve Javie awkwardly bumps into Brendan Haywood on down the other end of the floor. Foul on Javie. That’s his first, team’s third.

–Eric Snow, leading the break without the help of his trailing teammates, hits a remarkable twisting layup. And 1. This is the best I’ve seen Snow play since Philly. There’s something to be said for veteran calm and clutch play, both of which Snow is providing in excess.

–Billy Thomas (!) bricks a jumper. Nets could have used him on Sunday.

–After a few shot clock violations help the Wizards inch a little bit closer, Mike Brown decides that due to his squad’s fear of shooting the basketball, Damon Jones should check in. Jones checks in and doesn’t register a single shot in over 3 minutes of action. Haha, Mike Brown, the joke is on you.

–Donnell Taylor, having just checked in, hits the side of the backboard on a 3, which is a really good way to introduce yourself to the NBA playoffs.

–Drew Gooden and his sore groin hop on the exercise bike.

–Larry Hughes finally scores on an awkward play. At the line, Gilbert Arenas asks Javie—and I’m paraphrasing him here because I couldn’t hear exactly what he said—how it wasn’t traveling when Hughes got stripped but then regained possession midair, only to hold the ball before landing on his feet and rising again for a jumpshot.

–The ABC cameraman sitting next to me tells me to move over because he’s trying to get a crowd shot right behind me. Originally, I thought he was trying to shoot this kid sitting behind me because the kid’s father had earlier asked the guy to get a shot of his son’s sign. However, I was wrong. At the end of third couple an elderly couple decided to leave. Sitting more or less behind me in their vacant seats me was none other than part owner of the Cavs, the “Yeah” himself, Usher, and a friend of his. We talked for a little while, and I asked him what he thought of the new Ghostface album, Fishscale. (You may be hearing what I think of this album in much greater detail very soon.) He said he thought it was alright, but only really liked a few songs. I told him it was my favorite album to come out in about three years. Usher’s friend noted that his last album dropped two years ago. I smiled.

–The game is officially out of reach. With 2:07 left and the Cavs up big, LeBron is called for a ticky-tack foul and the crowd explodes. More importantly, why is he in the game?

Postgame:

–LeBron and Donyell Marshall address the media at the podium. A good time seemed to be had by all. Just sitting there made me realize how far this franchise has come.

–Gilbert Arenas commands the attention of a horde of about 15 or so media members. He sounded calm and collected in doing so.

–In the Cavalier locker room, Eric Snow basks in the limelight and attention after his stellar 14 point performance.

–Anderson Varejao and I agreed that Ronaldinho is the best athlete on the planet. Varejao spoke about what it playing for the Barcelona basketball team before entering the NBA, and hanging out with guys like Belleti, Motta, and of course, Ronaldinho. I quietly re-enacted the incredible goal that Barcelona’s #9 set up for French striker, Ludavic Giuly, in last week’s Champions League tilt against AC Milan, though I probably could have explained it better to him in Spanish. 
 
You all saw the witness t-shirts. Now, if the only the Wizards’ big three can yank their jumpshots out of the witness protection program, we’ll have a series.