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Ball Don't Lie

Behind the Box Score, where the Thunder went in with a purpose

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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OKC

Oklahoma City 101, Denver 94

The best part about a game like this is that, while it wasn't as close a contest as we'd hoped, this was still a needed workout for two teams that are still growing and learning by leaps and bounds, even with just a week left in the regular season.

Oklahoma City clearly wanted to go out swinging, even if the shots weren't falling, denying themselves a chance to stew over a lack of effort should things go the wrong way. They didn't go the wrong way. Denver appeared to have no energy in this loss, which is strange because the team was playing at home, following a night off, following a matinee win on Sunday.

Oklahoma City's brand of small ball, and the zone they went to for stretches seemed to confuse the Nuggets, who it should be pointed out are a new team that didn't come together with the benefit of a training camp, while working in its second full month. Toss in Kevin Durant's 10-21 shooting with 11 made free throws, and a nice run from Eric Maynor, and you've got a tough conundrum to work through.

I still think new Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins is out of step with his new team offensively, he doesn't know when to juke when they want him to jake (or "jark," or whatever the opposite of "juke" is), but defensively he's fit right in, moving his feet and funneling defenders into either perimeter helpers, or the help machine that is Serge Ibaka. The result is just 97 points per 100 possessions for a Nuggets team that has been amongst the league leaders in offensive efficiency since trading what many cable TV analysts have called "the best pure scorer in the NBA."

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***

Sacramento 104, Houston 101

The irony is too cruel not to point out, but the Sacramento Kings have turned into out and out road warriors down the stretch of their miserable season. The young crew is playing terrible basketball at home in Arco Arena, a building that used to boast the best home court advantage in the NBA. And yet they can't stop winning on the road against good teams while readying themselves for a move away from Sacto to start the 2011-12 season. I'd love it if it weren't so cruelly depressing.

The Kings defended expertly and played their tails off again on Tuesday, limiting a white-hot Rockets team to 101 points per 100 possessions, which is a terribly low number for a Houston offense that has been amongst the best in the NBA over the last month and a half. Going small has worked for Houston of late, but Kyle Lowy and Courtney Lee combined to shoot 8-28, and the team couldn't buy a thrill from long range (7-25).

Sacramento wasn't much better in missing 10 of 11 treys, but the bigs finished well and Marcus Thornton dropped another 21 points.

Memphis lost as well, but all this means is that Houston and the Grizzlies are trading misses with the Grizz up two possessions and time running out in the fourth quarter. Memphis is up three games in the West with four to play. Houston has to win out.

***

Los Angeles Clippers 82, Memphis 81

I can't tell you that the referees in this game cost Memphis the contest. I can just tell you that the Tony Brothers-led crew featuring Violet Palmer was terrible throughout, and especially toward the end of this messy game, when the trio came up with a convoluted jump ball call after failing to recognize whether a shot clock violation had occurred before or after a block/charge call that they still couldn't figure out whether or not was either a block or charge call.

Whew.

Nine points in the final half of the fourth quarter for Clippers guard Mo Williams, as the Grizzlies just couldn't find a consistent rhythm offensively, rarely stringing back-to-back bits of good execution together. Not exactly a function of Los Angeles' defense, but not far off either. Ugly game on both ends, as the two teams combined to miss 18 of 23 three-pointers (without much of a transition attack to follow), and netting just 65 percent of the free throws tossed up in this contest.

Fourteen points, 15 rebounds, four steals and three blocks for Marc Gasol in the loss.

("He's big!" — Michael Smith, Los Angeles Clippers analyst.)

(No shot. I like Smith a lot.)

***

Chicago 97, Phoenix 94

An interesting game for both sides. I know that Chicago has its issues scoring, but Phoenix actually appeared to be really going after it defensively, especially in that second half. Chicago's effort never let up, but the shot selection was dodgy at times, as was the team's quickness on offense. The Bulls are quicker than the Suns at every angle, but they let Phoenix load up.

It wasn't enough for Phoenix to pull out the win, though. Luol Deng finished on several broken plays and Derrick Rose hit a couple of key buckets down the stretch after nearly shooting Chicago out of it for the initial 90 percent of the game, and the Suns were finished off by a baffling attempt at a two-pointer with just a few seconds left and the Suns down three points. The shooter? Dr. Cerebral, Steve Nash. Strange.

Twenty-three points on 22 shots for Vince Carter, not all that great considering all those shots, and yet it looked like his best game in months.

***

Boston 99, Philadelphia 82

The Celtics really impressed in this win, they got back in transition and expertly handled Philly's attempts at a screen and roll attack. This was a strong, strong home win for the C's.

Rajon Rondo is getting some good pub following the game for his 16-point, 13-assist line, and that's nice, but this was truly a team effort on both ends. 29 assists on 40 field goals for Boston, and it seemed like every time I flipped over the Celtics were just missing out on chalking up another assist as a jumper rimmed out.

We can't get too down on the 76ers, either. This team worked, but it was beaten by a smarter Boston offense with loads of options and back-screens, and the Celtics just annihilated the76ers whenever they tried to run.

Twenty-one points and five assists for Evan Turner in the loss, as the rookie looked smooth and in rhythm throughout. Very good to see. Not unlike Gordon Hayward in Utah from Tuesday, he looked like a completely different player.

***

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Wiz

Washington 107, Detroit 105

I'm not going to get too giddy over it, not with that season-long sample size to dissuade me, but the Wizards have been playing harder and smarter of late. John Wall is also boasting the sort of swing and hop that we saw from the kid before injuries derailed his season, he made 14-16 free throws in this win, and had the game on a string for most of his 46 (!) minutes.

No such fun for Detroit. Rip Hamilton missed 10 of 11 shots, while the rest of the team struggled to stay in front of the Wiz. Greg Monroe did manage a nice line of 22 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and four assists. The Pistons had their chances late, but it felt as if Washington outplayed them all evening despite the close score.

***

New York 131, Toronto 118

Don't take away New York's considerable offensive gifts, the team's range, and the team's quick thinking offensively in this win. But you also know exactly what went down in New York on Tuesday. Toronto couldn't be bothered to either cover off of a screen and roll, in transition or delayed transition, or on a drive and kick game. The Knicks put up 131 points because, dangit, they're supposed to put up 131 points in this situation.

Nice, gaudy stats for everyone. 23 points apiece for Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudmire on 16-28 combined shooting. 28 points for Toney Douglas, 56 percent from deep for the Knicks, 57 percent overall.

Toronto wasn't far off, because the Knicks held up their end of the "don't check anyone" bargain, but they didn't have the firepower with Andrea Bargnani only playing eight minutes due to a dodgy ankle.

***

San Antonio 97, Atlanta 90

I know that they're the Hawks, and we can make fun of them for being mercurial and losing games that they shouldn't, but the Hawks still do boast a pretty good team, and for that reason I think this was a pretty special win for San Antonio.

For one, it allowed for the reminder that Tony Parker can take this Spurs team on his back offensively if he needs to. Hawk guard Kirk Hinrich was up in this guy's grill throughout that second half, and yet he still came through with eight points in the last half of the fourth quarter, and 10 needed points in the third with Hinrich draped all over him. 12 fourth quarter points for Manu Ginobili, as well.

Jamal Crawford scored 20 off the bench for Atlanta, and Joe Johnson came through with some nice moves when he wasn't missing all five of his three-pointers. The Hawks were without Josh Smith due to knee inflammation, though, and Jason Collins went out with a turned left ankle in the first half. Not good news.

***

New Jersey 107, Minnesota 105

This game didn't appear on my dish package, though I can safely say that I wouldn't have seen much of it in the midst of a ridiculous 13-game night.

17 turnovers for Minnesota, to just nine for New Jersey, though the Wolves did make up for that by making 8-15 three-pointers and dominating the boards even with Kevin Love on the sidelines. 21 assists, as I'm sure you're aware, from Deron Williams. And DW won't even play in the next game due to injury.

If someone can tell me why Mario West (three points, three rebounds in 29 minutes) is starting an NBA game, kindly proceed to not tell me why Mario West is starting an NBA game.

***

Cleveland 99, Charlotte 89

The Bobcats are beat up right now, they weren't that great a team to begin with, with both injuries and payroll-driven deals decimating the roster. But that noise only goes so far -- Cleveland kicked Charlotte's butt last night because the Cavaliers wanted it more.

The Bobcats once prided themselves on defense, but they weren't especially ready as the NBA's second-worst offense piled up 34 first quarter points on the visitors. That was essentially enough for the win, as the two teams traded even blows for the last three quarters.

Nine points and nine boards in the first quarter for J.J. Hickson, and 16 and 19 overall. Nicely done.

***

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JN

Orlando 78, Milwaukee 72

An ugly game with poor decisions offensively from either side. I understand that both Milwaukee and Orlando are knockout defensive units, but this was a pretty week showing, even with Orlando's hot start (the Magic began the game on a 14-0 run) and Milwaukee's eventual comeback.

Brandon Jennings missed six of seven three-pointers because he just doesn't get it, and how the Bucks managed just four offensive rebounds despite shooting 36 percent and missing five free throws is beyond me.

Hedo Turkoglu also essentially won the game on a fadeaway long two-pointer with his foot on the line, going to his left.

***

Golden State 108, Portland 87

Every so often the Trail Blazers just seem to have their feet caught in quicksand, and while we shouldn't take away from what was a pointed and aggressive Golden State attack, Portland will be playing in three weeks, and we first need to point out that the playoff team here is susceptible to the slow-paced blowout.

Golden State attacked, man. Even on broken plays or improvised delayed-transition sets. Every time I flipped over I saw the Warriors moving their feet and moving the ball. David Lee's 29-point, 20-rebound mark actually does help tell the story, as he got to the rim off of drives and slid his way around defenders for strong finishes. He even went right. I swear I saw it.

Portland just couldn't get it together. The team wasn't exactly dribbling the ball off of its foot, just 10 percent of the team's possessions ended in a turnover, but nothing was coming easy, and Brandon Roy (2-11 shooting) just had one of those nights that we're just going to have to get used to from him every so often.

The playoffs, with all the time off between games, will hopefully be a different story.

***

Utah 86, Los Angeles Lakers 85

Your typical "this is how the Lakers lose" game.

When the ball went inside-out, the team was impossible to defend. When it attempted to go outside-in, even when Kobe Bryant gave up the ball (doing things like dumping it to Pau Gasol for a baseline jumper at the end of the shot clock, a shot he never hits), the Lakers fell flat. And though Utah didn't go great guns offensively, down the stretch the Laker defense just hoped that the game and the needed defense would just work out on its own.

This is an issue for Los Angeles, and you've seen it down the stretch of their last two losses. This is a long, athletic team with an often dominant front line defensively. But too often guys like Gasol and Lamar Odom will just hope that their presence will be enough to deter a shot, or allow a teammate to get a rebound. This stops them from making that one extra step over and into an area that makes it tough for a team or player to score. The bigs were moving their feet after the All-Star break, but they've stopped in the last two games, and the Lakers have lost two close ones as a result. And once again, Kobe wasn't much in the clutch.

Still, two close losses. Even really embarrassing themselves on the glass, defensively, and with that obvious offense, the Lakers still had a chance. This speaks to this team's talent. Now, let's speak to effort on defense and intelligence on offense and win a third straight championship.

Credit Utah, finally. The team was moving throughout and looking really good on the baseline, a place that Phil Jackson likes to send driving guards. Without Devin Harris to run the show, Gordon Hayward had to make several inbound passes, and he was totally down with the Bobby Gross role, setting up Al Jefferson in the post and Paul Millsap cutting from an angle. Just five assists for Hayward, but trust me, he was stirring that drink. Those 22 points, mostly scored in the face of terrible defense from Shannon Brown, didn't hurt.

Twenty-three rebounds from Andrew Bynum, but in a game where both teams missed exactly 51 shots? And 16 combined free throw clangs? You're supposed to get 23 boards, my man.

Thank you for reading.

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