Friday, April 17, 2015

NBA Playoff Predictions

The NBA seemingly had a lot more “anyone can win” drama than ever before this season.  As we enter the playoffs, however, the field has narrowed down to the usual collection of 2-3 teams that look like legit title favourites, 5-6 teams that would be surprises if they won it all, and eight teams who would be among the most unlikely championship teams in any sport ever if they went on a crazy Cinderella run.  (Fun fact: five of these teams play in the horrible Eastern Conference.)

* Golden State over New Orleans in five
Then again, maybe the “anyone can win” stuff was overstated since the Warriors have been destroying teams all year.  It’s just that since they’re still unproven in the postseason, people are holding off crowning them as the major favourites.  The Warriors shouldn’t have too much trouble in the first round, though Anthony Davis is great enough to steal at least one game by himself.

* Memphis over Portland in six
In the tough Western Conference, the closest thing to an ‘easy draw’ was the fifth seed, since it meant that you’d be matching up against the injury-decimated Trail Blazers (who were locked into the #4 seed since they won their division.)  Memphis was doubly lucky since they’re pretty banged-up themselves, so this series should provide them a chance to rest up before facing G-State.

* San Antonio over Los Angeles in six
I simply can’t pick the proven losers over the proven winners.  I also simply can’t pick one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the league over a team with an excellent starting five and then a 76ers-quality bench.  I also simply can’t pick against Tim Duncan in the first round, and possibly not at all since he’s the man.

* Dallas over Houston in seven
Here’s my upset special of the first round.  Rick Carlisle is a good enough coach that I think he’ll find a way to outflank Houston’s free throws-and-threes strategy; the only question is if the shaky Mavericks have the talent to actually do it.  Both these teams hate each other, they know each other well, so this one goes the full seven bruising games.

* Cleveland over Boston in five
This is as good a place as any for the annual game of ‘how many West teams would win the Eastern Conference?’  The difference here is that the Cavaliers actually are pretty good, and the Hawks can win a lot of matchups.  My take is that Golden State and San Antonio beat everyone, Houston is a tossup, Clippers are a tossup leaning towards losing to both, Memphis I actually think beats Cleveland but is 50-50 against Atlanta and…that’s it!  Hey, there are three whole Western Conference playoff teams I don’t think could win the East!  That’s a start!  Of course, the real test between the two conferences would be to ask ‘how many East teams make the playoffs if they’re in the West,’ and really, I’d only be confident in Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago.  The West is still the best.

* Chicago over Milwaukee in six
Part of me wanted to pick the Bucks since they’ve got a lot of good young talent, ’Fear The Deer’ is fun to write, and I’m naturally predisposed to pick any team from Wisconsin over any team from Chicago in a playoff scenario.  That said, the Bulls are clearly the better team, so I won’t get silly.  If Jay Cutler suddenly starts playing point guard for the Bulls, all bets are off.

* Toronto over Washington in seven
Weird matchup here before two teams who were red-hot in the first two months of the season and have basically played like garbage ever since.  Any result here wouldn’t shock me, and you can’t help but wonder if both franchises would actually be better off with a loss — a first-round exit gives the Wizards an excuse to fire their coach, and in the Raptors’ case, you wonder if they’d explore firing Casey or overhauling the roster.  The difference is that with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ have a potential ceiling of a championship with a few more pieces and a good coach in place; even if the Raptors are firing on all cylinders, you’re not going to win a title with Kyle Lowry as your best player.  On the plus side, the winner of this series gets to avoid facing the Cavaliers until the East finals.  Not that Atlanta isn’t a heavy favourite over either, but at least there’s a slim chance the Raptors could upset the Hawks, whereas Cleveland would probably sweep them.

* Atlanta over Brooklyn in five
I’m being generous with the five, just because the Hawks have a few injuries to deal with.  I’m hoping it’s a sweep just to enforce Brooklyn’s candidacy as maybe the worst playoff team of all time.

* Golden State over Memphis in six
* San Antonio over Dallas in seven
* Cleveland over Chicago in seven
* Atlanta over Toronto in five

* San Antonio over Golden State in seven
* Cleveland over Atlanta in six

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavaliers in six.  I simply can’t pick against the champs the way they’re playing right now.  It would also be kind of ironically fitting if LeBron makes his big return to Cleveland only to again lose to the Spurs in the Finals (though his team will make it much closer than they did in 2007).  Duncan and Popovich get their sixth rings and I thoroughly win an argument with my friend Malcolm due to his ridiculous “I would rather have Kyrie Irving than Kawhi Leonard” stance.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stanley Cup Predictions

* Ducks over Jets (7): This series has seven games written all over it, and it’s written in chalk.  Anaheim will win all four of their home games but the Jets will win their three home games since there is no doubt the Winnipeg fans will be going absolutely nuts at their first taste of playoff hockey in almost two decades.  A Jets upset wouldn’t really surprise me at all, and not just because of the home-ice thing; Anaheim was middle of the pack in Corsi percentage while Winnipeg was top-eight.

* Flames over Canucks (6): Well, why not.  Nothing Calgary has done over the last six months has made any logical sense, so they might as well steal a playoff round while they’re at it.  It helps the Flames that they’re facing a pretty meh opponent in Vancouver, to boot.

* Blues over Wild (7): Many folks are picking this as the obligatory first-round upset, though I’m zigging while others are zagging and picking St. Louis to indeed win, albeit in a seven-gamer.  I realize that picking STL against a) the theory of goaltending momentum, b) the Blues’ long and proud tradition of playoff choking, c) my personal enjoyment of the state of Minnesota, and d) the Wild’s awesome deep green alternate jerseys.  I’m going to stop listing reasons before I decide to change my pick.

* Blackhawks over Predators (6): This one’s kind of a tossup, though in the end, I’m bowing to Chicago’s vast playoff experience.  I did pick them to win the Cup in preseason (under the “flip a coin between the Hawks and Kings” logic) so the least I can do is predict them to take a round.  For Predators fan, you can take consolation in the fact that my parents recently visited Nashville and enjoyed the city, so really, isn’t that worth so much more than a measly Stanley Cup?

* Senators over Canadiens (7): Aha, now THIS is my first-round upset.  Montreal is a borderline playoff team that owns a top seed by dint of the fact that Carey Price played like a boss for six months and is going to win the Hart and Vezina with ease.  If Price’s play dips even a bit, the Canadiens are in big trouble, and lo and behold, they happen to be matched up against a team with another red-hot goaltender in the awesomely-nicknamed Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond.  This is where I see Ottawa’s stunning Cinderella run continue, and Habs fans continuing to complain about their not winning a Cup since 1993.  (As a Leafs fan, cry me a river.)

* Lightning over Red Wings (5): Steve Yzerman is so beloved in Detroit that his team is going to roll over the Wings and the city won’t even be mad.  I may be underrating the Red Wings’ chances here, though part of me is hoping that a first-round blowout loss will inspire Mike Babcock to leave and join the Leafs.  Then the Leafs will win the draft lottery for McDavid.  Then Borje Salming and Daryl Sittler will announce that they discovered the fountain of youth while on a fishing trip and are coming out of retirement.  #PipeDreams

* Rangers over Penguins (5): More fun with Corsi statistics, as Pittsburgh finished fifth in the league while New York was only 20th.  This is a case where the numbers don’t reflect how the Penguins have absolutely staggered across the finish line, however.  It’s possible Crosby and company could quickly discover what ails them, but it’s probably a better bet that the Rangers advance without much trouble.

* Capitals over Islanders (7): Probably the biggest tossup of the first round.  There’s a certain dramatic aspect to picking the Isles in their last season on Long Island and so it sets up a wonderful New York/New York rivalry series in the second round, but that’s just too easy.  Washington plays yet another seven-game series against a New York team but this time comes out on the winning side.

* Ducks over Flames (6)
* Blackhawks over Blues (6)
* Lightning over Senators (6)
* Capitals over Rangers (7)

* Blackhawks over Ducks (6)
* Lightning over Capitals (5)

* Lightning over Blackhawks in six games to win the Stanley Cup.  Is this just me hedging on my preseason pick?  You bet!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Game Of Thronez!

Is anyone else fired up for the Game Of Thrones season premiere tonight?  Oh, everyone in the world is?  Excellent!  To set the mood, here's the Sesame Street parody, full of little in-jokes and "Grover Bluejoy" only slightly more clueless than the actual Theon.  Hmm, if those two characters end up matching, Grover is in for a rough future.

And finally, Seth Meyers invites life-of-the-party Jon Snow over for dinner with friends.  The crazy thing is, amongst the GoT characters, there are literally 60-70 far worse choices than Snow to have over for dinner.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Illogical Insults

Why is "I'll fix your wagon!" a threat?  If I had a broken wagon, I'd really appreciate if someone fixed it.  Is the angry person implying that they'll do a shoddy repair job?  Even if this was the case, they're still wasting their own time just by half-assing it. 

Somewhat along those same lines, why is "washed up" an insult?  I'd get it if it was "washed out," a la a piece of clothing that has been washed so many times the colours have faded or something, but "washed up" doesn't make much sense in a derogatory context.  Like, when you say, "ok, it's time to wash up" before you take a shower or something, then "washing up" is making yourself cleaner and generally improving your lot in life.  Switching the shower context of "washed up" with the insult context of "washed up" makes no sense.  "I was once good at something but then I got into the shower, and when I got out, I was suddenly subpar at the aforementioned activity."

Sunday, April 05, 2015

New Florence!

Back in the day, albums didn't "drop," they were just released.  It was a lot harder to find information about when one of your favourite musicians had a new record or single out, and thus it wasn't uncommon to just turn on the radio one day, hear something that vaguely sounded like their sound and suddenly realize "oh man, hey wait, this is a new song!"

I recently had that lovely pre-21st century experience while recently listening to the radio and realizing, "oh man, hey wait, this is a new Florence & The Machine song!"  And it was good!  And then a modicum of internet research revealed that the song in question ("What Kind Of Man") isn't technically the 'new' single since it's been out since February, whereas the NEWER single ("St. Jude") was just released a couple of weeks ago.  I'm very with it.

Not too crazy about "St. Jude" yet but maybe it'll grow on me after a few dozen listens. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Questioning Mark

About six years ago, I posted a notice here on this very blog saying that I wanted to become an advice columnist, and opened the floor to questions.  I received a few from some friends….and then completely forgot to write the follow-up post.  Oops.  So, better late than never, here is the first edition of Questioning Mark!  The bright side about waiting a whopping six years to answer these questions was that I was able to ask for follow-ups to see how things turned out.

You can send your own questions, queries and concerns for future editions, which I promise will be coming before the end of the decade.  This batch ended up all being about relationships, though I’m open to answering any problem you might have (since lord knows relationships may not be my specialty…uh, I probably shouldn’t have admitted that before getting to the questions….oh well, who cares, nobody’s reading this anyways.) 

Q: I recently signed up for a dating website and was surprised to find my friend’s girlfriend with an active profile.  They’ve been going out for at least two years and were happy as far as I knew, but according to her profile, she had last been on the site just two days earlier.  Should I tell my friend or confront her about it?

A: It depends which dating site you’re frequenting, but some of them alert you when someone visits your profile.  If this is the case for your site, then she already knows you checked her out, so be prepared for some awkwardness the next time you’re all hanging out!  I wouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions that she’s cheating or that their relationship is on the rocks; for all you know, she might’ve created that profile ages ago and only just remembered it was still active.  It’s not a good look to keep it up while you’re in a relationship, granted, yet maybe she put a lot of work into clever answers and doesn’t want to delete the whole thing.  Or, maybe she leaves it up as an ego boost to see how many other guys still message her.  (Not that this is always a good thing, given how creepy a lot of dating-website dudes can be….um, myself not included.)  Or, maybe she’s one of those weirdos who just creates a dating website profile only to find platonic friends, which I’ve never understood.  Surely there has been to be a less confusing avenue to find a buddy.

I’d bring it up to her in a “uh, this is kind of a weird question, but…” kind of way and see what she says.  It also depends on how close you are with this woman and if you’re semi-friends yourself or if she’s just Your Buddy’s Girlfriend and have never spoken to her one-on-one. 

2015 follow-up: “They broke up a lot time ago, so maybe she was looking for a new guy after all.  I never ended up talking to her about it.”

Q: My ex-boyfriend and I still get along really well and frequently hang out (no backsliding, ha ha!)  We were both out at a bar with some of my friends and some of his friends, including a guy J he works with that I’d never met before.  J seemed nice at first but as the night went on, he started pretty heavily flirting with me, always when my ex was away from the table.  I let him know I wasn’t interested and then he did his best to ignore me for the rest of the night.  My question is, should I tell my ex about this?  On the one hand it wasn’t a big deal and J wasn’t being creepy or anything, yet maybe he should know just for the sake of knowing?

A: I don’t see the harm in bringing it up.  As you noted, it’s not like J was doing anything truly untoward, though it is a dick move to hit on a friend’s ex (and seemingly only doing so behind his back) and more of a general dickish guy move to hit on a girl and then pretend she doesn’t exist after he gets shot down.  I’m presuming that, since you didn’t mention the possibility, there was no chance your ex was actually trying to fix J up with you, right?  I can’t imagine that would be the case, since while being friends with an ex isn’t unusual, I’d imagine it’s a much thinner Venn diagram of exes who try to set each other up.  

2015 follow-up: “I’d completely forgotten this happened!  I actually did end up telling my ex and he was surprised since he thought J was a pretty shy guy.  He was also a little annoyed that J would hit on me since J knew we used to be a couple….big guy code violation!”   

Q: Dear Abby….or, Mark: I have a choice of two schools for my PhD program.  One program offers me exactly what I want to study, but it’s on the west coast.  The other program is not quite a perfect fit (maybe 90% of the other one) but it’s closer to home and more importantly, the school is in my girlfriend’s hometown.  We’ve only been dating for six months but it’s already pretty serious and I want to give it a chance rather than go long-distance right away.  Your thoughts?

A: Heart vs. school, the ultimate battle!  Keep in mind that a PhD will take up at least a couple of years of your life, so to you really want to put all that time and effort into it without it being *exactly* want you’re interested in?  Also, while things are going well in your relationship now, it would doubly suck if you broke up in a few months time and then you’re stuck with the sub-standard PhD.  I’d bite the bullet and go to the better school — for one thing, you’re in a much cooler location out on the west coast, so that’ll be fun unto itself.  It’s easier to handle long-distance relationships these days anyway thanks to the internet, so it won’t be *so* bad. 

2015 follow-up: “I went to my first choice school, which led to us breaking up since she didn’t want to do long distance.  It wasn’t fun at the time, though I honestly haven’t thought about her in a while until I got your e-mail, so thanks for the painful memories, jackass!  :)  The school was a lot of fun and my PhD indirectly led to my job, though, so it all worked out.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Other People's Writing

* Stephen Rodrick of The New Yorker profiles casting director Allison Jones, one of the true unsung heroes of comedy over the last 20 years.  Her keen eye for talent will only be further proven once I finally get my audition reel together.  It’s 10 minutes of “what if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arnold Palmer were the same person?  I think it would go a little bit like this…”

* Since legendary documentarian Errol Morris directed a few 30-for-30 shorts for ESPN, Grantland celebrated him with an entire ‘Errol Morris Week’ series of pieces about his life and career, including this look at his advertising work by Mike Powell.  This was a pretty mind-blowing read…I consider myself an Errol Morris fan and have enjoyed a number of his films, most notably the incredible “Thin Blue Line” yet I had no idea that a) I’d been watching Morris commercials for much of my life and b) he’d directed such an incredible number of ads for such a variety of companies. 

* Grantland’s Bryan Curtis writes about the relationship between the Oklahoma City Thunder and their local reporters, which is sort of a microcosm of how every relationship between journalists and the athletes/teams they cover is changing in response to overall changes in the media landscape.  This was a particularly great piece from my own perspective as a writer, yet I’d be interested to know what others think…was it a little too naval-gazing, or did Curtis (as I suspect) excel at making a bit of an insider topic very accessible and relatable to all?

* More from Bryan Curtis, this one a wonderful tribute to the late Dave Goldberg, a long-time NFL writer for the Associated Press.  Goldberg wrote hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful pieces for the AP that went uncredited and a total pro about it, unlike my when I received my first Canadian Press assignment early in my career and excitedly told my mom to watch for it in the next day’s newspaper.  Much to my chagrin, when I cockily opened the paper the next day, my byline was nowhere to be found (wire stories only run bylines about half the time).  Sigh.

* Liam Neeson’s “action-dad” performances are ranked by Grantland’s Holly Anderson.  I’d argue that “Love Actually” is a glaring omission from this list; Liam spends that whole movie trying to help his young son literally get some action from his school crush!  Well, not actually “action” in the grown-up sense, maybe just a kiss or holding hands on the bus.

* More lists!  This one is from Grantland’s Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano, teaming up to decide the greatest fictional basketball player of all time.  I think Ripley got a bit of a raw deal here…based on that shot alone, she had to be at least top-five.  Sure, we never got to see how she’d fare at anything other than long range, but c’mon, after spending four movies battling Alien xenomorphs, I’m pretty sure she could handle a zone defense. 

* Even more lists!  The Grierson & Leitch film reviewing duo rank all of Will Ferrell’s movies according to “their maximizing of Ferrell’s essence.  Which movie best captures the Will Ferrell experience?”  By that token, their top choices are impossible to argue, though I’d say that by omitting his cameo appearances in certain films, they’re ignoring Ferrell’s utility as a comic microwave.  Just throw him in a scene, let him do something funny to perk it up, and he can quickly leave ‘em laughing.  (SNL used him in this capacity countless times.)  This list is also a bit of an eye-opener since, without cameos, it’s hard to believe that Ferrell has only been in MAYBE ten good movies in his life, yet those ten are all incredible. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Did you know that the whole idea of sleeping a full night is a fairly modern concept?  Until 400 hundred years ago or so, people used to have first and second sleeps; they’d still get roughly eight hours of sleep, but break it up into two chunks over the course of a night.  So it’d be four hours sleeping, then two or so hours of whatever (praying, eating, or the popular option, sex) and then back to bed for four more hours of sleep. 

I bring this up since perhaps my Shakespeare-reading is turning me into a resident of the 16th century, as I’ve been having some thoroughly weird sleeping patterns over the last few weeks.  I’ll go to bed, then wake up maybe 4-5 hours later completely rested.  I’ll get up, do my business, and then get extremely tired again in the afternoon and take an extended four hour nap.  How long is a nap before it’s “sleeping” and not just a nap?  Four hours has to be a bit over the cutoff point, no?

This habit has gotten annoying for a few reasons, namely that it’s wrecking my social schedule.  For instance, one recent day saw me go to bed at 2am and wake up fresh as a daisy at 5:30.  Try as I did to fall back to sleep, I couldn’t, so after an hour or so of tossing and turning I just woke up and hit the computer, did some reading, had a surprisingly full day.  My plan for that night was to go to a movie, but that was before the late-afternoon sleepiness kicked in.  Around 5pm I laid down for a quick catnap, only to wake up at 10:30pm, my moviegoing window thoroughly closed.  What the hell, REM?  As you’l note by the timestamp on this post, my problem is ongoing.

Hopefully I get this figured out before my work schedule picks up over the next few weeks and I have to start being places at specific times on a regular basis (you know, like a grownup).  Either that or else I fully embrace life in the 1600’s and just start using a chamberpot.  Nobody wants this to happen. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

History Of Hanks

I'm not sure if I'm cottoning onto James Corden's show, as in general, I do prefer chat shows that are actually chat shows (or, even better, 'conversational' chat shows like Craig Ferguson) rather than Fallon-esque "hey everybody, let's play games!" type of programs.  That said, this bit with Tom Hanks was pretty great.  Like a true pro, Hanks even went up an octave when voicing his early-80's roles.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Choir Choir Choir Sings Pride Pride Pride

Choir Choir Choir, Toronto's crowdsourced choral group, recently performed U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" on St. Patrick's Day.  It was lovely!