The Optimist

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Hola, hombres! It’s just your friendly neighborhood Optimist – checking in from the Team Bus, locked and loaded for the Left Coast.

Needless to say, protracted journeys aboard the Team Bus aren’t what they used
to be.

As a simple example: when our former Lithuanian center would soak his elongated feet in the ice bucket, his piggies were so pristine that you could not only drink the beers in the cooler, but eventually the melted water around said brews. These days, so many rookies soak their dogs in the bucket, I barely feel comfortable brushing my teeth in it.

Am I saying things are worse now than they were back then?

Quite the contrary.

Although it can be painful, change is a good thing, and – no pun intended – I feel that change is afoot along this here West Coast trip.

I feel that it’ll do the fellas good to get away from The Q for a few days. The Cavaliers have undoubtedly the best fans in the NBA, but I could’ve sworn I heard a smattering of boos near the end of Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors. I’m going to write it off as some “Airing of Grievances” left over from the Festivus holidays.

But I also realize our beloved Cavaliers are an overtime win over the Knicks from a 19-game losing streak. You citizens are cheesed – and I can dig it.

So why in the wide, wide world of sports would I think a five-game trip through the untamed West – with the Wine and Gold down several key players and the road paved with some of Uncle Dave’s most notorious outlaws, bandits and desperadoes – would be a good thing?

Because when a team is on the road, all they have is each other. It’s Cavaliers v. the World and it’s amazing how often that brings out the best in a ballclub. It’s a nine-day, five-game team-building exercise – and it will translate into wins.

I’ll check in next week from somewhere out West – most likely from Tinseltown – but until then, here’s a little primer on the five-game roadie …

1. Golden State Warriors – Oracle Arena is easily my second-favorite arena in the NBA. And the reason is because Warriors fans are as rabid as Cavalier fans. They get up for every game, every opponent. And the Cavaliers-Warriors matchup has been producing fun late night contests since the Run T.M.C. days.

The Cavaliers come to Oakland down three starters – Andy (right ankle), Boobie (left ankle) and Anthony Parker (back). These are exigent circumstances. And I see a trio of rookies making their mark.

The dark arts of Math and Science see a solid effort from Manny, another incremental improvement from Eyenga and a coming out party for the squad’s young tight end, Samardo Samuels.

The Warriors are a proud bunch. They’ve won a World Championship in the early 70s, they ousted the 60-win Mavericks in the playoffs and they made it back from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island.

Beating them with a shorthanded ballclub won’t be easy. But it’ll definitely be fun.

2. Phoenix Suns – As you readers know, the annual winter trip to Arizona is nothing new for me. Even before working for the Cavaliers, I’d regularly attend Indians Fantasy Camp at Hi-Corbett Field. I batted .279, but the real highlight is still hanging with Joe Charboneau – opening beer bottles with our eye sockets and drinking them through our nose with a straw.

Sunday’s matchup with the Phoenicians will be another tall order, sans Boobie and (likely) Anderson. The Suns aren't the squad they used to be, but it’s never smart to bet against Little Steven and his Disciples of Sol.

Nobody done ever accused me of being smart, so I’m going with the Cavaliers again in this one. The Rookies come back to earth on Sunday, so veterans like Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison have to combine for 63 points in the win.

3. Los Angeles Lakers – As many of you know, even though I bleed Wine and Gold, I did win a Ring with the Lakers earlier in the decade. And I was thoroughly insulted when Mark Cuban called Phil Jackson “Jeannie Buss’ boy-toy.”

This is a man who’s won a dozen NBA Championships as a player and coach. A man who could move a puck across an air hockey table using only his will. What the cuss has Cubes ever done besides make $1.2 billion dollars?! I don’t even know if I want to go fishing with that dude this summer. And neither does Chris Daughtry, Jeff Probst or super chef Bobby Flay.

But I digress.

Coach Byron Scott makes his first return to Los Angeles as Cavaliers coach, and it’s a memorable one. He flummoxes Kobe Bryant with a toxic cocktail of Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Christian Eyenga.

The Black Mamba manages just three field goals in the second half and J.J. Hickson’s 24-point effort helps the Cavaliers shock both Jack Nicholson and the basketball world – knocking off the Lakers, right there on their home floor in front of everybody.

With the road trip off to a spectacular 3-0 start and a day off before the Team Bus splits for Utah, I see me and FSO sideline reporter Jeff Phelps, spoiling ourselves with mudbaths on Rodeo Drive, although it’s doubtful that I’ll convince him to join me later in Hef’s grotto.

4. Utah Jazz – From the home of fun and sun and supermodels strolling their shih tzus, the Cavaliers travel to the birthplace of jazz – Salt Lake City – for the first of a tough back-to-back to close out the junket.

If Oracle Arena is the NBA’s most fun gym to play in, Utah’s gym is the league’s toughest.

It’s tough enough going against one of the greatest coaches in NBA history along with All-Optimist Second Team staple, Big Al Jefferson, and Deron Williams, maybe the best point in the league. But try doing it with 19,911 Mormons breathing down your neck.

That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t faze Ramon Sessions, who coolly drops a double-double on the Jazz – leading the Wine and Gold to the four-point win and a 4-0 start to the trip.

For the losing Jazz, Jerry Sloan – as usual – orders postgame ladder drills for the entire squad. Nearly half the arena sticks around to cheer on the winner (Andrei Kirilenko).

5. Denver Nuggets – It came to me in an epiphany. When the Cavaliers had Numeral 23 over the past seven years, they could never seem to get past Carmelo and his Nuggets Wit Altitude. And I thought: now that the Wine and Gold has gone in a different direction –moving him in a sign-and-trade over the summer, I think our fortunes might just change.

Hey – I know that a 5-0 road trip is a tall order. And it might seem unlikely to you folks right now that Anderson Varejao will return to dominate his countryman, Nene, and that the Wine and Gold will hold Carmelo Anthony scoreless in the final eight minutes. But that’s why I ask for your faith at the conclusion of every column.

The Wine and Gold are going to find out about themselves out here. They’re going to find something good. I don’t know if it’ll be on Friday night by the Bay or in the final minutes of their win over Denver. But when it does, it’s gonna blow y’all’s minds like the Hammer of Thor.

Keep hoping for better, because hope is what we have. And you might as well hope for the best because, as I always say: You gotta wake up tomorrow. Or, to quote someone who’s really important, Winston Churchill: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

I better see (or hear rumors about) some big-time enthusiasm on Friday night back in Cleveland.

If need be – make sure to get yourself a nice long nap in before tonight’s contest. I can’t have you nodding off midway through the fourth quarter. So, as always, tell your boss that you’ve got to knock off a few hours early to rest up for Cavaliers West Coast action. You’re just mucking about, clock-watching anyway. Just tell him (or her) that I said it’s cool.

Buckle up for Friday night in Oakland and beyond, amigos.

For the next nine days, I trust that you’ll honor your pledge to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Your colleague,
The Optimist