It's a shot in the face to the Clippers, but it is the truth. Dallas' win over the Staples Center tenant was a warm-up gig for their Thursday night showing against a white-hot Lakers team. And Dallas needed the tune-up. And warm-up.
Because though Eric Gordon looked out of sorts with his team's offense on his way to a 4-18 shooting night, the Clippers hung in there with Mo Williams fantastic first half, and Blake Griffin's oh-so-warming second half. Williams, we know, can play well (first half) and be incredibly emotional (second half, when he was ejected), but Griffin's work has us thirsting for more. And wondering if the league can just let the Clippers play a roundtable of four other teams on NBA TV following the regular season while the playoffs run on the more heralded networks.
Twenty-five points, 17 rebounds, four assists, three steals for Griffin. He's done this before; but watching him utilize a pivot and drop-step, or the way his elbow and four fingers were under the ball as he faced up for a long jumper? This was progress. This guy is going to have every tool in the book before long, if you'll allow for books that have tools in them, and the league is just going to have to deal with it.
In the meantime, the Mavericks have one of those guys. Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points. Ho hum.
Jose Juan Barea managed 22 points in 21 minutes, putting the Mavs over the top in the second half as Los Angeles countered with a fantastic Chris Kaman-DeAndre Jordan-Griffin frontline.
We can't give the Bobcats too much dap -- even a beat-up Bobcats squad should be taking care of a stripped-down Cavaliers team in Charlotte -- but it is great to see Charlotte playing out the string the right way. It's not likely, but that string could lead to another playoff berth, one that would be wholly earned even if the group rocks the worst record amongst the playoff bracket.
This game was slow, but every time I flipped over I saw very good ball movement from both sides, and some surprisingly good plays that started from the inside-out. Or, the inside-even-inner; you dig? Boris Diaw managed 26 points and 11 assists for Charlotte, and Kwame Brown had a series of nice finishes (6-8 shooting on the interior) on his way toward 16 points. Both teams flirted with 120 points per 100 possessions, which is a shocking amount considering the mitigating factors either squad brings to the table.
Ramon Sessions was Cleveland's dervish, finishing with 24 points, and Baron Davis has now attempted 11 threes (making four) in his return from injury. Baron, you're in pain. Mark Jackson should be your hero, now. Not 1999-era Jason Williams.
So this is what happens when Houston stops making its shots.
The Sixers defending the living hell out of that ball, late. Houston put up 106.6 points per 100 possessions, a solid-enough mark, but Philly's defense in the face of what has been the best NBA offense over the last five weeks was astonishingly good. Long arms and contested shots, as the Rox managed just 15 points in the fourth quarter in Philly. Working against a D like that, on a road trip like this? I can't blame Houston.
Philly was typically active and quite good offensively, as well. Thad Young contributed 22 and nine rebounds off the bench, while Jrue Holiday overcame his five turnovers to post 24 points and 12 assists. Double-figure assists for Andre Iguodala, too, a player that is clearly hurting.
Drew Gooden gets a cookie for doing what he was supposed to do -- 22 points (hitting 6-9 jumpers from 16-23 feet) and 11 boards off the bench -- and Brandon Jennings' seven made free throws made up for his 2-6 mark from long range in this Bucks win.
Toronto couldn't close out to save its life, from what I saw. It was almost Raptor basketball at its best, as performed by Milwaukee. Nine made three-pointers and a heap of long twos, and though Ed Davis blocked three shots, there was little resistance from Toronto's end.
Those Pistons, and I sometimes love 'em, made things interesting late. I had to flip over as Detroit made a run and nearly made this thing too close for comfort in the fourth quarter, but the team's poor defense and Indiana's sometimes-there shooting allowed a good enough cushion for the Pacers to pull out the needed (both Charlotte and Milwaukee won, on Wednesday) win.
The second quarter was the killer for Detroit, as the Pacers leaned on Josh McRobert's five points, eight rebounds, and two assists to pull away. A.J. Price ran a great show, and Detroit (with Rodney Stuckey missing four of five shots) just couldn't hang.
In nearly 18 minutes of play, Ben Gordon missed all three of his shots from the field, and turned the ball over twice. Which hurts, because there are teams that could utilize his talents (though limited) properly.
A disappointing turnout for the Magic, who had many chances to run against the Hawks, but instead chose to walk things up and attempt a predictable low post or screen and roll attack with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard. Howard's work wasn't completely mitigated by Jason Collins' superb defense on the Magic center, but he was nearly shut down by the plucky Hawk big men, and the Orlando offense just wouldn't cope. Not "couldn't," wouldn't. To this viewer, at least.
Howard made 9-15 free throws, but he also missed nine of 13 shots, and Jason Richardson clanged six of seven looks from the field on his own. Jameer Nelson came through with 20 points on 17 shots, but I didn't like his nose for the attack, and he missed a very makeable runner to end the game.
The Hawks were superb, defensively, and Josh Smith (26 points) just seemed quicker to the rim than anyone else on the court on Wednesday night.
I'm usually an appalling optimist, but I can't give much credit to the Heat in this win. LeBron James looked like he was a varsity baller playing against the sixth graders on his way to 12-16 shooting, and Miami's defense continues in a terrible slide.
Of course, I'm whining because this is the path you create when you flex and preen in July, months before playing a game with each other. But even forgetting that, I'm sorry, a team featuring the top-heavy talent that Miami boasts should be coming through with 135 points per 100 possessions against a Washington defense that just couldn't be bothered. The problem is that Miami had its head turned for most of this game, as was the case in the loss against the Cavaliers on Tuesday. Luckily for the Heat, Washington didn't have the focus that Cleveland came through with consistently.
Save for Jordan Crawford. Holy cow: 39 points, five made threes, 10 free throws. I don't know what the NBA is going to do with this talent from here on out, but even against Miami's terrible D, this is a man who just put up 39 points in an NBA game during his rookie season. I'll hand him a laurel and hardy handshake from here.
Also, if you didn't glean this from the preceding paragraphs, there was some terrible defense in this game.
Perhaps a closer examination will prove me wrong, but I thought this was a well-played game on both sides, considering the obvious limitations of the Knicks and Nets.
Brook Lopez can be a wee bit soft, on the interior. Carmelo Anthony doesn't usually see what we (wee?) see from the above camera angle, in terms of available teammates. Chauncey Billups goes for the three-point in the new-fashioned way all the time (and, on Wednesday night, he was bailed out by bad Nets D, getting hit on a three-point attempt), and New Jersey often comes through with some pretty dodgy shot selection of its own.
But considering what we know and expect, this was a fun game, and the Knicks should be happy with this win, even if they have an ungodly amount of internal development to try to attempt.
The Knicks gave up a pathetic 68 points in the first half because they seemed to collectively decide that Anthony Morrow's initially historic turn as possibly the best three-point shooter in NBA history wasn't much of a big deal, and Lopez (26 points) had some contributions of his own to plunk down. Anthony's face-up game and Chauncey Billups' 33 points brought the Knicks back, though. New Jersey missed several makeable shots down the stretch, and a 16-5 turnover disadvantage overall didn't help New Jersey's chances.
With Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia all winning, New York needed this victory. Whew.
It isn't an excuse, but the Portland Trail Blazers looked a little tired down the stretch of this win. New Orleans earned this win, they took care of the paint while managing to contest and dismiss initial perimeter options for the Blazers (Nic Batum missed all seven of his shots from the field), but I have to point the fatigue factor out.
Chris Paul had another strange game, not looking like himself for spells, but he also had his good moments that the box score (four steals, 15 assists) reflected. Emeka Okafor's presence on either end (15 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) was absolutely integral, and this super-slow game (79 possessions) was a treat to watch.
Despite all on-record indications, I don't think the Minnesota Timberwolves care much for their coach, and the Chicago Bulls (in a post you'll see tomorrow) clearly do. Even if Chicago's coach could be seen calling several angry timeouts in the late third and fourth quarter after the Bulls lead had "dwindled" to 18, down from 22. The Wolves didn't care to compete. Chicago, more than any other team in the NBA this season, does. The result was this lop-sided win, done without Joakim Noah.
Derrick Rose's 18 first half points were enough to tell both the fans watching, his teammates, and the Timberwolves that the Bulls were taking this mess seriously, and that things were going to end quickly. Carlos Boozer ended up with 24 and 14 rebounds without having anything forced to or from him, and where were the Wolves going to turn? Wesley Johnson?
Chicago's bench was brilliant, as usual.
The Warriors looked a little tired in the second half, and the Grizzlies looked a little better than the Warriors in the second half. The result was a 24-point advantage over the final 24 minutes, as Tony Allen's energy and Zach Randolph's ability to turn broken plays into sweet finishes gave the Grizz a huge win.
With Houston losing, Memphis is now three games up on Houston with seven to play, and though the Rockets have been terrific of late (losing to two very good teams in Miami and Philly), Memphis is showing no signs of slowing down. Even when they go slow. That's just more reason for Big Zach to take his mitts to the ball.
Twenty points, 13 rebounds, and six assists for Randolph. Sometimes, they do "get it." Keep the faith, cats and kittens.
Once Denver started hitting its shots -- and it was clear once the second half started that, yes, this little funk was about to end -- Sacramento didn't have a chance. It was an admirable butt-whuppin', one that even Sacramento had to bow to.
Had to admire the Kings' pluck as well, this team really worked hard on the second night of a back-to-back, in the thin Denver air, against a Nuggies team that had five days off before this game. This was designed for the Kings to fail, but they worked hard to the very end. Trust me, I had to watch it.
And to those wondering about a shortened Denver rotation in the playoffs? Well, George Karl won't run one, we suspect. Secondly, the team only played eight players double-figure minutes on Wednesday due to injury and illness, and they won quite handily. Of course, this was the Kings. Of course, I would have that laser.
In 28 minutes off the bench, Tyreke Evans (22 points, seven assists) looked fantastic. And healthy.
I've seen Vince Carter score points, rather effectively, since I was a teenager. So his 28-point outburst wasn't much of a surprise. I've seen him play terrible defense for over a decade as well, so that wasn't a surprise. But somehow, his terrible defense far outweighed his offense in this game, to these eyes.
Silly, right? His position doesn't mean much defensively, so give it a lick and a promise, right? Nah, watch this game. He was awful.
The Suns, overall, were just an angry team that knows its limitations and can't shoot its way out of those mitigating factors. Steve Nash often looks like his body is moving with each quadrant disagreeing with the others, and the Thunder just executed patiently and eventually pulled away.
130 points per 100 possessions for the Thunder, which is a screamingly-good number.
Thank you for reading.