Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Nothing to do with the game, but somebody had to bring it up. Here is Mike Woodson before the game, pictured with Velcro eyebrows.

ATL 102, Houston 95

The Hawks are a great offensive team, one of the better ones we have in this league, and they more or less played to their per-possession averages on Monday night. But Houston should be better than this, defensively. I know that the Rockets aren't going to shut teams down (especially a banging team like the Hawks) with that small an interior, but Houston has to be better than this if it wants to stay in the playoff picture.

I'm used to the other frustrating parts about the Rockets. That Aaron Brooks(notes) needed 20 shots to score 15 points, and Trevor Ariza(notes) 11 to score eight. But Houston got to the line and got to the offensive glass in order to stay in it. Couldn't pull it out, though. Not against a team like Atlanta.

22 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, and four blocks for Josh Smith(notes). By the way, he's still at three three-pointers attempted on the year, two of which I know were quarter-ending heaves.

Photo via the quite followable Arthur Triche.

***

Cleveland 92, Miami 91

Listen, points in the first quarter count just as much as points in the fourth quarter. And while someone like Kobe Bryant(notes) might be a bit down the list in terms of a points per fourth quarter average, it's because he and his team are so good that he doesn't have to play (much less take over) too many fourth quarters because of the point disparity his Lakers entered the final period with. Doesn't make him any less clutch, it just means he's killing teams early on. And the points count for just as much.

Dwyane Wade's(notes) team wouldn't have even been within sniffing distance of the Cavaliers, at home, if Dwyane Wade hadn't have owned the first half, scoring 30 points in the first 24 minutes of play. So I have to get that out there, because I truly believe it. And if the situation were switched, I wouldn't be fawning over him as much. I'd be ripping on him just as much as will here in a second for playing as he did in the opening 24.

Wade just played like a 42-year old man in that second half. He took bad shots, and he took bad shots badly. He made life so, so hard on his team, and his own chances at making an efficient score. Just two points in the second half, on 1-8 shooting, including two missed free throws in the fourth quarter. Was he spent from running all over in the first half? Don't know, not sure if I care. He knows better, with those sorts of shots.

LeBron James(notes) was consistently LeBron Jamesish. Took too many threes and botched a few free throws of his own (five in 17 attempts), but he scored 32 points overall himself (just 10 in the second half, but LBJ was finding his teammates), and nailed a couple of key free throws late. Also defended Wade on his final, bad, shot. 15 points on 10 shots for Daniel Gibson(notes), too.

Rebounding was clearly an emphasis for Miami, as they became one of the few teams to out-rebound the Cavaliers this season. Five for Rafer Alston(notes), 10 for Dwyane Wade, nine for Udonis Haslem(notes) in limited minutes, that sort of thing.

***

Boston 95, Los Angeles Clippers 89

I did not get a chance to see the Celtics take on Portland with Kevin Garnett(notes) in hand on Friday night, so this was quite the reminder of just how brilliant the C's can be. Defensively, and when they work through things properly on offense.

He was just ... Kevin Garnett, in this win. Oh, Paul Pierce(notes) had his 22 points on 10 shots and Rajon Rondo(notes) (almost wrote "Baron Davis," that wouldn't be the case, would it, lolz!) got good penetration all night, but KG was the force, here.

Also, every time I flipped over to see this game, the Garden crew was either mopping up condensation under one basket, or furiously mopping it up with the teams in action on the other end of the court. I don't care how exacting and effective you can be with a mop in that short amount of time, all it takes is a few streaks to fell a player (that's right, "fell"), and this game should have been postponed. No way around it.

Chris Kaman(notes) had a lot of help in missing 14 of 19 shots. KG's back.

***

Memphis 99, Orlando 94

I watched a lot of this, especially down the stretch as it became clearer and clearer that this would be a close game, but I don't really have many profound things to really take away from it. All I can say, if you didn't get a chance to see it, were surprised at the outcome, and hoping to get a bit of insight is — it didn't feel like a surprise, watching it. Because Memphis is that good, mind you.

Memphis can pile on the points, so I can let Orlando get away with the Grizz tossing in over 107 points per 100 possessions. I can't stand the Magic not getting out defensively, the closeouts were very poor (and Memphis took advantage, especially from behind the three-point arc), and I can't stand Orlando's 19 turnovers and just 18 free throws against a team that is just not that good defensively. Really, really poor defensively.

But give it up for the Grizz. And say it with me again: Memphis moved the ball and got into its sets very quickly, finishing with a purpose.

Also, AP (down in the notes)? That Dwight Howard(notes) "possession" was actually three possessions.

***

Indiana 109, Philadelphia 98

Apologies for the cliché, but the 76ers really appeared playing not to lose, rather than playing to win, down the stretch. Couple that with the team's inconsistent offense (and, really, the fact that the Pacers truly won the darn thing), and you've a recipe for a nice little comeback Pacer win on the second night of a home-and-home.

The game wasn't super fast, but the Pacers did start and go small for most of the night, starting Troy Murphy(notes) at center and passing on going with an orthodox lineup for the entire game. The results worked, and they've worked all year; I don't like losing development minutes for Roy Hibbert(notes) but it's been obvious the Pacers have been in win-now mode ever since Larry Bird took over.

26 points on 20 shots for Danny Granger(notes), and 16 for Philly's Louis Williams(notes) who is coming off the bench now. The 76ers are just spiraling.

***

Chicago 98, San Antonio 93

The statistical odds against an outcome like this must have been enormous. You don't start a season 4-15 on the road, and then take three of three. I'm not even talking about the quality of the opponents, here. This isn't akin to a player on a bad shooting night, Hedo Turkoglu(notes) hitting three straight shots down the stretch after starting 4-15. If anything, it's like a player nailing three shots in a row after hitting on 27 percent of them on the season, and even that feels like I'm selling this accomplishment short.

Is it an accomplishment? Sure. I guess. Credit where credit is due. They still should have played better for those first 19 games, but three in a row is three in a row for any team. Especially against Phoenix, Houston, and San Antonio.

Phoenix might be reeling, Houston may be fading, and the Spurs might have lost five of six at this point. Doesn't matter. The Bulls have Devin Brown(notes) now (or, eventually), and it's just all coming together.

San Antonio's defense is just really poor at this point against the screen and roll. They've been struggling (relative to the team's prior ways) on that end of the court all year, and I figured by the mid-point of the season that they'd have it all figured out by now, but that hasn't been the case. The Spurs still had a chance to win this, but Manu Ginobili(notes) didn't get the call he was looking for on a drive down the stretch, and the Spurs really shouldn't be letting their fortunes fall into the hands of the referees against a team like Chicago. At home.

Derrick Rose(notes) scored 27 points and took 23 shots, and he didn't earn a single trip to the free throw line. Last year, I thought he was just getting jobbed on calls because, well, he was. This year? You just can't bank on leading your team while shooting nothing but two-pointers, as a lead guard. Can't do it. Worked on Monday, won't work in the long run.

***

Utah 124, Phoenix 115

There's just no way to stop the leak. Once teams are able to at least somewhat slow Phoenix's offensive attack, they've won the game, because the Suns just can't stop anyone at this point.

And I'm not trying to come over all prescient or all-knowing, but it felt this way in the first half, in the bits that I could watch, with the Suns just running all over the Jazz and the Jazz trying desperately to establish their own pace offensively.

They found it in the second half. 29 assists all game for Utah, who kept passing into they found an open man to shoot and/or score with the basketball. Three players had over 20 points for the Jazz, including a re-born Andrei Kirilenko(notes), who led the team with 25.

Goran Dragic(notes) had 32 points for the Suns, and why not? He's getting great arc on his shot this year. Something or someone really got to him during the offseason, because his mechanics have completely changed for the better.

***

Denver 104, Charlotte 93

Denver won this without Carmelo Anthony(notes), and without (to these eyes) taking the best shots they possibly could. So, that's on you Bobcats. That's the price you pay for overachieving. You have to play nearly perfect ball defensively to have a chance, and thus far this season, you've more or less played absolutely impeccable defense.

Any let up, in this league, is a killer. And especially on the road, the tide can turn so fast.

That said, Denver worked for this. It moved the ball, ran when it could, and attacked quickly. And, yes, some of Aaron Afflalo's game-changing shots were stomach-churning looks. But it was competitive and fun to watch and a bit surprising to see Charlotte, for once, taken aback by a team's intensity.

***

New Orleans 98, Portland 97

They're trying, so I shouldn't be too rough on them, but the Trail Blazers are just a pitiful defensive outfit without Greg Oden(notes) and Joel Przybilla(notes). They give up too much penetration as it is, LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) is an unwilling help defender, and Juwan Howard(notes) is too short to make much of an impact.

This was still a fun game. It was a slow game, just 85 possessions, but this was an out and out shootout. The Hornets gave up plenty of penetration on their own, allowing for 28 Blazer assists, and lots of tough makes for LMA and Howard. But the Hornets had the last good possession of the game, taking advantage of a Blazer team on its heels in delayed transition, and Chris Paul(notes) hit the game winner to score another close victory for New Orleans.

24 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and five steals for Paul. In a game with just 85 possessions.

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