Behind the Box Score, where the Wolves have Utah's number

Kelly Dwyer



Minnesota 110, Utah 108

This isn't a fluke, or some nutty letdown by the Jazz. The Timberwolves have talent, and when they utilize that talent properly and take in multiple good games from multiple good players (because they have multiple good players), they're going to win nearly as many games as they lose.

It just so happens that Minnesota is 2-0 against Utah, and 2-21 against everyone else.

Not to say that the Jazz shouldn't have prevailed - they're the better team, and they're at home - but this isn't worth getting worked up over, even if Utah did down the Spurs, Lakers and Magic last week. You don't miss 16 free throws in a two-point game and escape blame, even if the winning team missed 11 of its own.

But Minnesota worked to dominate the glass, it worked to try and spring Jonny Flynn(notes) early in possessions, and it stayed patient offensively down the stretch, trying to get the ball inside to Al Jefferson(notes). Kevin Love(notes) got to watch this team fritter and flail away for over a month before coming back from that fractured hand, he's seen what went wrong, and he's doing his best (entry passes) to change the shape of things.

Jefferson clearly isn't totally back, but he did just drop 23 and 12 without being "totally back," so you'll take it. Flynn nailed the game-winner and scored 28 points, Corey Brewer(notes) had it together long enough to score 22 points on 15 shots, and there were still some triangle cuts and screens on the strong side that I recognized. Minnesota is still trying.

Utah took in a borderline dominant performance from Deron Williams(notes), who scored 38 points on 20 shots and only turned the ball over once in over 41 minutes. That's insane. To put up 20 shots, get to the line 18 times, dish 13 assists, and just make one mistake with it? Nuts. Two steals, though he did clang the potential game-winner as the clock expired.

***

Orlando 106, Indiana 98

Good, workmanlike comeback for the Magic in this home win. Stan Van Gundy's team is probably 25 points better than the Pacers at home these days, so even with Indiana's early 17-point advantage; it isn't too much of a stretch to see the Magic come back over the next 41 minutes or so.

The Pacers raced out to that early lead by hitting everything. Just nailing shot after shot despite Orlando's best efforts, while hounding Orlando's backcourt of Jason Williams(notes) and Mickael Pietrus(notes) into 0-8 shooting and Dwight Howard(notes) into missed shots and turnovers.

The Magic developed a counter before too long, though, developing better spacing as the night went on by continually going to Howard in the middle, and even if the results weren't pretty (Howard missed nine of 22 free throws and six of ten shots), Orlando prevailed.

21 points and 23 boards for Dwight, with four blocks, while Vince Carter(notes) worked well all contest, finishing with 23 points. Mike Dunleavy Jr. barely topped his team-mandated minute limit, scoring 28 points in just over 33 minutes, and the Pacers dug themselves a hole by only earning 10 free throws all night (making seven).

***

Philadelphia 117, Golden State 101

Miserable effort by the Warriors in Philly, it was clear from the outset that they were going to mail in the final game on the team's road trip, and it's a wonder the 76ers didn't score 140 points.

It's not even worth pointing out Golden State's individual accomplishments in this recap, as nearly every person on this roster is just gunning for theirs at this point. I'm not trying to be cute when I say that D-League call-up Chris Hunter(notes) was the only guy rotating on defense or looking to set screens on the other end, but he played fewer than six minutes, missed his only shot, turned it over twice and had a foul but no rebounds or points.

Philly had 24 assists, which is a ton for them, as Thaddeus Young(notes) managed 26 and 14 rebounds and Allen Iverson(notes) scored 20 points on a tidy 10 shots. And only against the Warriors can a team that had lost 12 in a row beat a team by 16 with its best player missing 16 of 20 shots.

***

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Boston 110, Memphis 105

Little mistakes add up. Taken in full, they're the difference between scores being even down the stretch, or acting as slightly out of reach. And though the Grizzlies gave a hell of an effort against the Celtics at home on Monday, they couldn't get past spotting the C's an advantage or two or five along the way.

It was shot selection, more than anything. Sure, Memphis gave up 125 points per 100 possessions (a ton, especially for the Celtics), but that's just going to be the end result of playing against a talented team that can make the extra pass, thinking 24 seconds at a time. No, it was that 1-10 mark from long range that hurt Memphis. Bad shots, especially from O.J. Mayo(notes); a fine shooter who clearly didn't have it going on Monday, but kept it up from behind the arc anyway.

And by "anyway," I mean "just two bad threes in the second half, the only ones he took after halftime." Again, these aren't big things. But two little, "let's see if my slump is over" shots add up. Two fruitless possessions. Another long rebound for the C's to work with.

25 assists on 42 made baskets for Boston, six guys were in double figures (with Eddie House(notes) just a point away), the spacing was good and the movement was patient. Great performance for a team finishing up a road trip.

One worry - Rasheed Wallace(notes) missed five of six 3-pointers to take his shooting percentage on the year from long range down to 30 percent. And yet he's still shooting five a game off the bench. That's more than Ray Allen(notes) shoots as a starter.

***

Denver 102, Oklahoma City 93

Ugly game, but potentially a promising one if you're a Nuggets fan.

Holding the Thunder to a tough night offensively isn't the hardest thing in the western world to pull off, but the Nuggets still came through with a sterling defensive effort in the win. Oklahoma City managed just 95 points per 100 possessions in the loss, turning the ball over on a fifth of its possessions and shooting below 40 percent.

Solid news for Denver, who has been slowly improving over the last week to 14th in defensive efficiency.

Carmelo Anthony(notes) managed 31 points with just three turnovers while playing solid D on Kevin Durant(notes) (Durant scored 32 and doubled Anthony up in the rebound department, but he shot 45 percent and turned the ball over five times). Chris Andersen(notes) came through with some sound energy (and defense to match the shot-blocking and rebounding) off the bench, and Chauncey Billups(notes) ... came through with his fifth night of scoring just one field goal over the last four weeks.

The Thunder did a good job to nearly match the Nuggets in the free throw department, but they had a hard time running, and were just hounded too much on offense to really put a close game together.

***

Dallas 94, New Orleans 90

I suppose Dallas did cough up a ton of turnovers, letting the Hornets back into this game in the first half, but I'm not looking at it that way. New Orleans - the team's bench, especially - forced heaps of miscues in making a game of this. Good thing, because the Mavs weren't playing well enough to earn a blowout.

It was a solid performance from both sides, though. Dallas attacked open seams in New Orleans' D all night, and if that meant going away from Dirk Nowitzki(notes) (just 11 points in the win), then them's the breaks.

And New Orleans should feel good about its bench. The teams' two rookies and Hilton Armstrong(notes) came through with some solid minutes in a second quarter comeback, and Chris Paul(notes) (20 points, 16 assists, five steals) looks as savvy (if not as sprightly; that may be a week away) as ever.

The Hornets couldn't stop the Mavs from finding the nets with jump shots, though. Jose Juan Barea(notes) had some issues defensively but finished with 23 points. Jason Kidd(notes) made three of eight from downtown, Josh Howard(notes) had another good game off the bench (14 points and eight rebounds in fewer than 29 minutes), and Kidd finished with 13 assists.

Not going to point out the turnover situation for each of these players, because each of them had major issues handling the ball. Over a quarter of Dallas' possessions ended in a turnover, but because the Hornets couldn't sustain things offensively, New Orleans fell short.

***

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Los Angeles Clippers 97, Washington 95

I know we're only in mid-December, but both of these teams really needed this game, and there was a sense of urgency throughout. These are two rather angry teams, if I'm honest, not exactly loving life and not exactly liking their status as (current) lottery hopefuls. Because the collective Q rating is so high for both these outfits, the sense of embarrassment over the collective win/loss records for this team is so pervasive, even though the TV screen, half a country away.

With the payrolls and past playoff history still fresh in their minds, both teams just want you to know that they're not really that bad. That this isn't their fault. They're like a CEO in a downer company forced to trade in his German ride for a leased Lexus, embarrassed every time he pulls into a parking spot that used to be reserved. Though, as that great sage Alan Partridge once pointed out, Lexus are the Japanese Mercedes.

Entertaining game, but ugly overall. Both teams defended well. Washington's bench was pretty awful, Baron Davis(notes) was sick (and looked it), didn't start the first half, and came out to chuck a contested 3-pointer on his first possession in the game. 2-14 shooting, 1-4 long range shooting for Davis. Once again, I don't mind the man not playing well if he's injured or sick, but that doesn't mean you make excuses for bad decisions. If you're not altogether there, then step back. Davis' ego refuses to allow for it, and it constantly hurts his team (because he's constantly injured).

Eric Gordon(notes) was fantastic, 29 points on 15 shots, five steals, Antawn Jamison(notes) managed 32 and 11, Gilbert Arenas(notes) was awful and angry, and Chris Kaman(notes) rebounded from a terrible outing against the Spurs to put together a 23-point, 11-rebounds, four-assist, two-steal, three-block effort with just two turnovers. That'll work.

The Wiz have lost 15 of 22 games, and they can't keep riding Jamison forever.