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Ball Don't Lie

Behind the Box Score, where Memphis built up a burly win in the Bay Area

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Marc Gasol exults (Getty Images)

Memphis 94, Golden State 87

Even before the game, you sort of assumed that Golden State would come ready to bang in the team’s pairing with Memphis. If things hold up from here until April, the two squads will meet in the first round of this spring’s playoffs. On top of that, the Warriors are coming off of a blowout loss on Saturday to the Los Angeles Clippers followed by three days off between games — an eternity in the NBA. So why were the Grizzlies, coming off of two wins, the hungrier team in the first half?

Maybe it was the layoff, which may not seem like much in length but likely felt odd in the every-other-day NBA. Whatever the reason, it took until the third quarter for the Warriors to body up on Memphis and start forcing the team out of its offense, and as a result a delightfully entertaining game resulted. Not pretty, to be sure (perhaps the contest’s most pivotal player, Marc Gasol, missed eight of 12 shots) but certainly one we would mind revisiting seven times this spring.

It’s hard to tell what the difference was. The continually confused-for-each-other Jarrett Jack and Jerryd Bayless both struggled off the pine for their respective teams. Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur shot well off of Memphis’ bench, but Carl Landry broke out of a shooting slump to match their work. And overall, considering the opposition, each set of starters played well.

Rudy Gay hit the game-breaker late in the fourth quarter, a terrible step-back 2-pointer with his foot just about on the line that somehow went in. It was typical Rudy — he looked great all game, driving around and generally playing the visual role of the do-it-all stud, but he didn’t really change anything and in some ways was no help when Memphis’ offense stalled. He needed 19 shots to score his 18 points, and even if Gay weren’t making a massive salary right now you can see why the Grizzlies are attempting to deal him for someone that can both make and value a 3-pointer from the corner.

Beyond that, for Memphis? Big ball. Zach Randolph sweating his way through the paint. Gasol attempting to orchestrate things, especially in that first half. Sound work that gives you hope, as they attempt to round out this roster while pulling themselves out of a December swoon.

Denver 108, Orlando 105

The Orlando Magic continue to acquit themselves well. They play hard and truly attempt to compete athletically with opponents night in and night out, but this team just doesn’t have the spring to make it work. And even when the team does have the spring — say, Josh McRoberts flying to his right for a possible throwdown in the lane — it’s often mitigated by, say, Josh McRoberts attempting to force a behind-the-back pass to a teammate instead of going for that dunk.

Denver wasn’t great shakes themselves, but playing at home and working behind Kenneth Faried’s manic play kept the Magic at bay. Faried seemed to jump twice before the Magic or even his hoppy teammates could get off the ground once; his 19 rebounds may have been inflated by a few chippies of his own that rolled in and out, but he was the edge in a game that saw neither team really stay on track for too long.

And though Andre Iguodala continues to have a miserable year offensively — he missed nine of 13 shots in the win and is just over 60 percent from the free throw line this season — he still outplayed the player he replaced in Arron Afflalo. The difference here is that Afflalo (unlike Iguodala) was often asked to be the go-to guy late in this contest, and his familiar right side post-ups didn’t have much success against the longer and more athletic Dre Iguodala.

Toronto 90, Philadelphia 72

It was the last game of a long and tough road trip for Philadelphia, and it showed. The team wanted no part of attempting to execute offensively against Toronto on Wednesday, and while we credit the Raptors for pushing things on that end, Philly is due its share of the blame.

Credit Toronto for not only playing like a team that wanted to be there, but one that continues to give us something as fans trying to figure things out from a TV screen. These guys are enjoying themselves, and they made a midseason game against two teams that could wind up in the lottery a fun one. Extra passing, confidence in penetration and strong interior play led the way.

It’s true that the Raps had lost two in a row entering this contest, but there weren’t any slumped shoulders in this one. Ed Davis (17 points, nine boards) continues to prove he belongs, DeMar DeRozan broke out of his shooting slump to hit for 8-15 from the floor, and Amir Johnson seemed to be everywhere on both ends.

Nineteen points, 12 rebounds, five assists and just three fouls in 40 minutes of play for Johnson. This marks a step up for the big man, who has regressed this season in averaging 5.7 fouls per 36 minutes this year after improving significantly in that realm over the last two years. There’s still room to bounce back, of course. Johnson is having a very good turnaround year in 2012-13, and he won’t turn 26 until after the Raptors’ season ends this spring. Because they’re not making the playoffs.

Boston 87, Phoenix 79

Distressing signs again for Boston tonight — the team continues to play terrible ball on both ends without Kevin Garnett facilitating things, Jason Terry cannot be asked to play the role of a typical point guard even off the bench, and the squad looks old and unathletic — but there were just enough sound movements needed to pull out a smallish comeback win.

The story here is Jared Sullinger’s 12 points and 16 rebounds, fine work for the slowly improving rookie, and Terry’s timely scoring once Boston found a way to use him as more of a wing instead of a table-setter. Beyond that, it was a dreadful run for Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass. Both are basically asked to score and little else, until the playoffs hit, and together they worked up just 14 points on 18 shots in nearly 50 minutes of combined play.

Phoenix is reeling and tired, and Jared Dudley had a rough night in particular, missing four of his five 3-pointers and 11 of 17 overall. Buy low, Memphis.

San Antonio 108, Los Angeles Lakers 105

There’s no secret here, and nothing worth a massive column explaining woes away. The Los Angeles Lakers do not pay attention to detail away from the ball defensively, and that goes for both former All-Defensive team members (veterans whom we wouldn’t blame for being beat off the dribble, but whose high school-level breakdowns away from the dribble we won’t excuse) and their sitting center. Toss in the fact that Mike D’Antoni’s offense hasn’t featured Steve Nash enough, and you have a five-game losing streak and a San Antonio Spurs team spitting mad that they didn’t beat the Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol-less Lakers by 15.

Also, Mike, Steve Nash is a career 43 percent shooter from behind the arc. Kobe Bryant is a career 33.7 shooter from long range who has given us years worth of studies and data to back up the point that the shot you drew up for him in the final seconds (easily-defended hero ball) will almost always be a losing proposition.

Following this Spurs win, four different Western teams have either tied or bettered the East-leading Heat’s .697 mark.

Milwaukee 104, Chicago 96

I don’t like going down this typical, sportswriter-y route, but Nate Robinson was seen laughing on the court after the Chicago Bulls went up 15 points in the second quarter of this contest, and no Chicago Bull should ever chuckle at a 15-point lead in a Derrick Rose-less era that sees them struggle to put up 15-point quarters. The Bulls barely managed that in an ugly 16-point fourth, and Bucks guard Brandon Jennings responded to Robinson’s smirks and apparent trash talking by going on one of those runs we see every two weeks or so from Brandon — 35 points on 5 for 10 shooting from deep.

Robinson was clearly felled by cramps toward the end of this loss, but with Kirk Hinrich injured and Marquis Teague ineffective, he was on the court for most of Chicago’s second-half failures. The real culprit was inefficient offensive play from Chicago — the team stopped going through Joakim Noah as a facilitator offensively and as a result, Carlos Boozer (22 points and 11 rebounds) saw his production tail off. The Bulls treated Larry Sanders like the Garry Shandling-version and not like the guy who leads the NBA in blocks per game and percentage of shots blocked. Perhaps Marco Bellineli is aware of Sanders (seven blocks in the win) now.

Frankly, Jim Boylan’s offense looks … um, “uncomplicated?” Not a lot of structure, but on nights that Jennings goes off like this, it hardly matters. The problem is that Jennings just isn’t this type of player all that often.

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Roger Mason Jr. ... driving? (Getty Images)

New Orleans 88, Houston 79

One night after dropping 125 points on a rested Lakers team, the Houston Rockets barely made it into the fourth quarter of this win with half of that total. Then they topped that, somehow, by only scoring 10 in the fourth quarter of this loss. New Orleans just looked tougher and quicker in the win, and rode an unlikely hero’s touch to the victory.

Hornet Roger Mason Jr. had scored just 11 points in all of 2013 before exploding for 17 in this win, with 15 coming in the fourth quarter. He probably could have had a few more points in that ledger had he not put his foot on the 3-point arc for three of his makes.

This is beside the point: Roger Mason Jr. just outscored possibly the NBA’s hottest team by his lonesome in the fourth quarter, and also hey by the way Roger Mason Jr. plays in the NBA in 2013.

Too many extra possessions for NOLA — Houston turned it over 22 times, and the Hornets grabbed 16 offensive rebounds in the win.

Utah 112, Charlotte 102

Al Jefferson continues to make defensive mistakes, but the Charlotte Bobcats simply do not have the offensive contributors needed to take advantage of these sorts of potential advantages. Also, it helps that Jefferson took advantage of his positive potential advantages in this win, scoring 26 points on 15 shots. And I’m not sure if he had the ball in his hands for 26 seconds all night.

Thirty assists on the night for Utah, as the Jazz seemed to have found a workable formula in the wake of Mo Williams’ absence. Replacement Jamaal Tinsley notched eight dimes in this win, but he’s not dominating the ball and his teammates are quick with skip passes.

It’s nice to see Alec Burks’ minutes continue to stay in the double figures. It’s nice to see anything with the name “Alec Burks” in it. That name could have worked as a character in "The Thin Man."

Cleveland 99, Atlanta 83

It’s a cliché you’ll hear us use in July during the offseason, in October as we ready our season previews, or in June as we celebrate the end of the playoffs. “A random Wednesday in January in Cleveland,” in reference to those anonymous one in eighty-twos that are hard to get up for. The Hawks, in Cleveland on Wednesday, gave us the go-ahead to use that cliché for another year at least. The team could not handle Cleveland’s movement on offense, and actually seemed flustered against a lacking Cavs defense working without the injured Anderson Varejao.

The Hawks had their moments, an extra pass here or quick post-up for Josh Smith there, but by and large it was a fractured outing, with Cleveland setting the pace.

Kyrie Irving is a living, breathing moment that is worth the price of League Pass even if he misses a third of the season with rashes/Third-Nose Syndrome/Adam’s Apple Fatigue. The kid managed 33 points in 33 minutes on just 15 shots, turning the ball over twice in spite of playing yo-yo with it all night while adding three steals and four assists on a team that can’t shoot.

Dion Waiters shot poorly and may need the entirety of this season to get into both NBA shape while understanding that he has quickness enough to survive on this level. You can drive, Dion. They’re actually not allowed to touch you along the way. Even if you’re a rookie. Keep trying to get into that lane.

Tristan Thompson (11 points and 16 rebounds) continues to look aggressive, but Leonard Cohen after two Valiums and a double-brandy could have looked aggressive against the Hawks on Wednesday. In January. In Cleveland.

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Alexey Shved scored 18 points in the loss (Getty Images)

Oklahoma City 106, Minnesota 84

Don’t dismiss Oklahoma City’s ever-improving defense, but the Minnesota Timberwolves look terrible offensively without Kevin Love or a fully healthy Ricky Rubio, despite the pleasant spacing that continues to hold place in Rick Adelman’s offense. With plenty of missed shots to get the Thunder going, OKC could pull away on broken plays and transition chances. Even when Russell Westbrook was getting caught in the air or the spacing wasn’t right, the Thunder still had enough to keep the Wolves at arm’s length all night.

Pity, because given good health, this pairing could have been something special, a nice halfway look against a great opponent at a Timberwolves team looking to make the postseason for the first time since Oliver Miller played in Minnesota.

Los Angeles Clippers 99, Dallas 93

They’re all gutting, I suppose, but this loss had to really get to the Dallas Mavericks. Not only were the Clippers playing terribly by their own standards, with unforced errors and work on both ends that just wasn’t clicking, but the Mavericks were winning the game. Not just taking advantage of Los Angeles playing poorly, but causing the Clippers to collapse in all the wrong places.

Then the shots started drying up, some broken plays worked in Los Angeles’ favor and the Clippers cleaned up their act on both sides of the court. Another breezy win for the Clips, and another loss for a Mavericks team that may have to win 33 of 46 games to close out the season in order to make the postseason.

It seemed all about the broken plays for each team in this game. Dallas continually appeared to force the Clippers into the one-on-one play that has long been a bugaboo for Vinny Del Negro-coached teams, and for a while, the Blake Griffin post-ups and extra passes that may have resulted (going into the hands of someone like Caron Butler on a 4 for 13 shooting night) didn’t work out all that well. By the fourth, though, the onslaught was on, as the Clippers made quicker decisions with the ball and stopped turning it over (though I’m falling short of crediting one for the other; Los Angeles was just too daffy in the first half and I don’t blame that on isolation play).

Dallas’ work down the stretch was not as successful, with lots of missed shots from players with names you’ve heard for years and no real answer once Los Angeles took Darren Collison’s dribble penetration away from the proceedings. A disappointment, considering how close it had been, for so long.

Thank you for reading.

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