Ball Don't Lie

Behind the Box Score, where Minnesota in a loss still looks like some fun

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Ricky Rubio is in the NBA, now (Getty Images)

Oklahoma City 104, Minnesota 100

The Minnesota Timberwolves' spacing was, at times, awful in this game. Michael Beasley was clearly attempting to match Kevin Durant shot for shot, never a good thing, and the Timberwolves let a series of little things get between their deficit and a workable potential win. This could have been a solid seven or eight point lead for Minnesota throughout, were it not for middling parts that could have been fixed easily.

Doesn't matter. Minnesota is a different team. The players have grown, they're in shape, and they're listening to a coach in Rick Adelman that is worth listening to. Yes, it was a home opener. And, yes, Oklahoma City was playing on the second night of a back to back. Nobody should pay attention to that, though. Ya dummies. The Timberwolves might win twice in 66 attempts, but they're going to make great teams work damn hard on some nights. And it's going to be appointment TV, throughout.

It wasn't the finest finishing night for anyone on the Thunder not named 'Kevin Durant' or 'Russell Westbrook,' but those two managed to combine for 61 points, and OKC (major shocker, 'ere) made 29 of 31 free throw attempts. When things broke down, these two had an answer.

Minnesota had no such answers, and yet this was a close game throughout because the team absolutely kept the Thunder on its heels. Ricky Rubio was brilliant in his debut, even recording a charge with all those solid assists, and a sturdy-as-hell Kevin Love came through with 22 points, 12 boards and five assists.

I have to move on. League Pass is free until January 8th. 'Barney Miller' was canceled years ago. Watch both of these teams. You have no excuse not to, unless Hal Linden pops up again.

***

Sacramento 100, Los Angeles Lakers 91

I'd kill the Lakers at your own peril, after this. Kobe Bryant, to these eyes, took some stupid shots. But he also made some sound decisions in initiating the team's offense, and they were going up against a buzzsaw of a Kings crew that seemed desperate to start the season the right way.

The Lakers have few shot creators at this point. Bryant seems to doom himself every time he crosses back over for the fadeaways going to his left, but he was also patient at times and that worked for Los Angeles. The team wasn't running triangle sets, but they did have fantastic interior passing at times, and I'm coming off of this loss enthusiastic about the Lakers. All I could ask for is for Kobe to sit a week to rest that wrist in a part of the season that doesn't matter, fewer long twos, and a lyric sheet.

The Kings? The Kings wanted this bad boy. Marcus Thornton took some iffy shots of his own, but they went in. DeMarcus Cousins dominated both Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace offensively, and Tyreke Evans actually looked like he had two working ankles. Chuck Hayes is out of shape but the man has CD-ROM level footwork, and bad decisions from J.J. Hickson and Travis Outlaw were made up for by a stellar showing from the starting unit.

The Kings are going to be fun this year. The Lakers, I presume, will get there as well.

***

Portland 107, Philadelphia 103

I can anticipate a point, or several points, in the season where Portland's depth may not click. Monday night featured plenty of clicks, though, as the team seemed to be locked-in with its long jumpers, and there wasn't much Philly could do.

Both teams combined to hit 45 percent of their three-pointers, but Philadelphia's 20 turnovers were the difference as the Blazers held the 76ers at arm's length. Things were interesting throughout, and the Sixers had their chances, but the holes dug in the first two and a half quarters were too much for Doug Collins' crew to overcome.

Both these teams have a lot to overcome. Let's just hold off until they get a few weeks under their respective belts. Or, in Spencer Hawes' case, suspenders.

***

Charlotte 96, Milwaukee 95

Opening night isn't really the best time to pull off a "it's a long season, and we let this one get away from us" sort of game, but Milwaukee seemed to have no issue letting the Bobcats run things on Monday night.

The Bucks aren't exactly second (or even first) round material, and they're certainly not loaded with offensive firepower, but the team almost appeared to be toying with the Bobcats. And the Bobcats, clearly, wanted no part. Actually, Boris Diaw may have. Dude loves toys. I'd love to dangle a ball of yarn over that guy.

Same script from last year from Milwaukee, save for the part where everyone's much, much better at basketball. Andrew Bogut didn't see the ball enough (in spite of the fact that, by appearances at least, he can actually move his arms this season without grimacing), and Brandon Jennings (despite a solid game overall) made bad decisions with the ball and with his shots and come on guy it's been over two years and you're not going to drop 55 again with long bombs.

The Bobcats deserve credit for working as they should. Paul Silas used speed in the right places and attacked the Milwaukee middle. Last year that would have been a recipe for disaster, but all manner of Bobcat guards and wings seemed to be able to both run the baseline (in half-court or delayed transition) or get into the middle. It wasn't pretty, but the Bobcats worked damn well offensively, and earned this win.

***

Orlando 104, Houston 95

Elliott Smith should have sung the national anthem in this one, were he not unavailable because he stabbed himself to death nearly a decade ago. This was a sad time out.

Not because we're aware of what Houston could have been, or what Orlando (the front office, at least) thinks it might be. But because these two teams just aren't anywhere, yet. Jameer Nelson was the best player on the court for stretches, and yet he manages to make it all go away in an instant by looking off both J.J. Redick and Dwight Howard in a 3-on-2 and then turning it over eight seconds later with a bum entry pass to Howard.

Both these teams are coached by very smart basketball minds, and I'm a great fan of both rosters, but this was a harsh game to follow. Hedo Turkoglu was in the lane all night, and while I should be cheering his rebirth it's still hard to put up with considering the do-all forward's (not "do-it-all forward," but "do-all forward") limitations and Houston's spotty defense. Kevin Martin is now 3-22 from the floor (counting preseason games, which nobody but me and Robert Vaughn should ever do) over the last two weeks, and you wouldn't mind Jordan Hill on your team.

Solid win, Magic. Turn that frown upside down and let's talk in 2012.

***

New Orleans 85, Phoenix 84

This was another sadness game, I'll admit, with the purposely-depleted and rebuilding Hornets taking on the, well, purposely depleted but-we-swear-we're-not-rebuilding Suns. Still a fun night out, for all involved.

Dodgy decisions throughout for both sides, both crews were stretching to their limits defensively despite the low'ish (it's a lockout year) score, though the Suns did appear to pick up right where they left off last year. Makes sense, as the roster is about the same, and this group of veterans knows how to talk and explain. Even to a Lopez brother, and Robin Lopez looked quite literally 200 percent better in his 2011-12 debut, finishing with 21 points and seven boards in nearly 29 minutes. Even hit some jumpers, too.

Eric Gordon hit some jumpers. He hit on some drives and he hit the game winner and he looked like someone who could top 25 a game this year if his team ran and EG decided that he wanted to burn the NBA up. I'm not so sure either coach Monty Williams or Eric are down with either of those two ideals, though, at this point.

***

New Jersey 90, Washington 84

You lot know me, you probably know that I've only seen seconds of Kardashian shows on 'The Soup' re-runs, and that my glamour-obsessed hair-stylist wife (that is to say, the viewing eyes that the E! Network is shooting for) has seen even less of that mess. I don't bring up Kris Humphries because he was on TV and because I give a rip about him being booed in his season opener. I bring him up because, outside of a white hot Deron Williams for deciding stretches, he was the best player on the court in this win.

Nearly 39 minutes for Humphries, which is huge for the former bit player that used to reach at everything and chuck top of the key jumpers before getting pulled. 21 points, 16 rebounds (seven offensive), and the man was clearly in better shape than most. Williams was also brilliant in the Nets' comeback (not in the game, but in the comeback) with 23 points, eight boards and nine assists.

The Wizards?

They do not make good basketball decisions on either end of the floor. As Eric Freeman pointed out much earlier on Tuesday, Flip Saunders had this crew picking and popping like he had nothing but Kevin Garnett and Terrell Brandon on his roster and they were 50-games into a season. None of these teams have legs yet, so you can't rely on jumpers to bring you home, even if the spacing is nice. Washington raced out to an early lead because New Jersey was missing shots and the ball was leaking out, but the young team proved incapable of sustaining anything lasting once New Jersey started connecting.

***

Denver 115, Dallas 93

We can get into the psychology behind attempting to defend a title later. We can possibly touch on the hurt feelings of a squad that had to raise a banner without compatriots the players clearly thought necessary (Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, and Jose Juan Barea) later. We can get into why the Mavs are 0-2, if briefly, right now.

The Mavericks are ohfer deux because the team was scheduled to take on possibly the best team in the NBA on Sunday, and another fantastic team in Denver on Monday. They're winless because they replaced one center that just defends and rebounds with another that just defends and rebounds but happens to defend and rebound in a completely different way than the one that is working in New York right now. The Mavs have yet to win because they have yet to figure out what to do with Lamar Odom. Or, we suspect, vice versa.

The Mavs are 0-2 because who gives a rat's ass there are 64 games left to play in this season.

The Nuggets? They run, and they run deep. And in the half court, they're still quicker than you at most positions. And while Al Harrington may not connect as he did on Monday or Ty Lawson may not usually finish like he did on Monday, they'll work what they managed on Monday more nights than not. You are going to have to prepare for the Nuggets, because as it was last March, they will come at you in waves. This is a regular season team, and this is the regular season.

Heads-up, NBA.

***

Golden State 99, Chicago 91

Ah, yes. For the 14th season in a row, I've forgotten that I'm supposed to be objective about things. That I'm not supposed to rant and rail when things don't go Chicago's way, and that I'm not supposed to rave unendingly when things come up all crimson-happy. This is where listening to a Marc Maron podcast and yelling at the cat about Billy Hunter and Adam Silver won't help. Actual games, for better or worse.

On Monday night, the Chicago Bulls destroyed their own chances at a win by turning the ball over 12 times in the first half (to go along with several near-swipes on cross-court passes). Because the Warriors were allowed to run all over a Bulls defense that had no time to set up, Chicago could not work its usual trapping mettle in the face of a W's team that wanted to make up for a sluggish Sunday night loss to the Clippers.

None of this would have been a problem had Derrick Rose just approximated his usual brilliance, but something was off with him in the loss. When his legs are spread too wide as he approaches a screen and roll, and he loses that pitter-pat quickness, Rose turns into a step-slow shot-misser, and the Bulls fail as a result. It's not a function of laziness or inability, and certainly not a lack of basketball IQ. The guy just didn't have it. We all have our off days, and this was one of those days for Derrick. Silly us, we'll take 'em.  And him. M-V-bloody-P.

Golden State did not have an off day. Every player was on point, with Monta Ellis backing off and Stephen Curry running things on both ends. Kwame Brown acted as a needed defender off the bench, while David Lee and Andris Biedrins' ham and egg approach worked wonders at the start of both halves. Mark Jackson meddled well, calling out suggestions when things slowed down and making sure those ends of quarters didn't finish with Chicago rolling after dropping the deficit to 12, and it was … testing of my objective voice.

***

Toronto 104, Cleveland 96

Toronto didn't dominate, but for the first time that we can remember (mainly because we can't remember many Toronto games from last season), it seemed to have answers whenever the other team made a run. And while we don't enjoy ticking off Cleveland as it willingly (and smartly) submits to a rebuilding year, the Cavs weren't exactly rife with answers of their own.

Kyrie Irving looked like a rookie point guard, and far less (sadly) than a heralded rookie point guard. From what I saw, he showed little of the promise that we saw from all the other hotshot PGs we've had a pleasure to have known just a few minutes into their rookie year, and you need to forget this paragraph three and a half seconds after you read it because we're being stupid and silly and stubborn. It's so damn early. He'll be fine. He just had a rough go of things, on both ends (not just because Jose Calderon put up nice stats) in his first professional game that meant anything.

Toronto still had issues defensively, but they got after it. More impressive to me was the team's movement and quickness, even whilst utilizing the same parts we saw under Jay Triano's run with this roster. I tried to make a point to pass on fawning over Dwane Casey this season, but he's making it hard. Even in a win over Cleveland.

***

Indiana 91, Detroit 79

No team should really be scared of the Indiana Pacers. The crew will be in a dogfight to make the playoffs, the entire year, and a championship run isn't really in the offing. Nobody on this team is going off for 50 points, and none of these guys are going to shut your best player down. You wouldn't even want to trade your second best for their franchise guy, whoever that is.

It doesn't mean you're going to beat the Pacers, though. For the rest of the season, regardless of whether or not they're playing in Indiana or on the road, this team is going to be in games. They're going to make you earn it. They're going to be fantastic.

They're going to look like this, like world-beaters against a pretty awful team from Detroit. Indiana wasn't exactly clicking in this win, but all the signs were there for a fabulous March. It depends on whether or not Danny Granger sees his shadow, I suppose.

Three double-doubles from the Pacer frontcourt in this win, which I suppose we'll see a lot during this lockout season (plenty of missed shots, but a faster style of play as opposed to 1999). Roy Hibbert (16 and 14, three blocks), David West (11 and 12, missed a ton of shots but the cat was into it), and Tyler Hansbrough (15 and 13, fresh off of Acura's 'December to Remember' Sales-a-Thon) just seemed to lord over the Pistons.

The Pistons are a bit of sad right now. Rodney Stuckey ran his usual with 17 points, and Jonas "Ders" Jerebko got the start and 17 points despite looking a little less bounce than he did before his season-killing injury from 2010-11, but the Pacers just seemed primed for something special in this win. Gotta get down to that gym, soon. There's something happening with Frank Vogel's team. Nice to see.

***

San Antonio 95, Memphis 82

The 2010-11 Memphis Grizzlies, make no mistake, did show up in this loss. The Grizzlies started their season in October of 2010, they weren't just some product of January of 2011 onward, and they made plenty of mistakes on their way toward nearly the third round of the playoffs. Zach Randolph was ignored, at times. Marc Gasol had frustrating evenings. Tony Allen got the ball in places he shouldn't get the ball (assuming there is a place where he should get the ball). And the Grizz can waste good chances (like, say, Tim Duncan in cheap-o foul trouble all night) as much as they can take advantage of them.

What was great to see was the Spurs taking advantage of a Memphis team on its heels. I never got the feeling that the Spurs were full of revenge fantasies, taking on the squad that downed them in the first round of last year's playoffs. It just felt as if the Spurs were doing what they were supposed to do, shock horror, and the sprightly legs from Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were a welcome sight. I've a crooked smile just writing that. It was nice to see those guys a step ahead of defenders, or (Ginobili, especially) taking care of things defensively.

Thank you for reading. It's good to be back.

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