December 30, 2009
Be impressed with the Cavaliers right now. In the last week they've wrung out a tough overtime win in Sacramento, trounced the Lakers in Los Angeles, trashed the Rockets all the way back in Cleveland on Sunday, and dominated the Hawks in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night. A home and home, mind you, as the Hawks could walk all over the (got to be) weary Cavs on Wednesday night in Cleveland. For now, though, the Cavs are rolling.
The spacing is spot-on. Delonte West(notes) (17 points, five boards) is all over the place, even throwing down over Josh Smith(notes) in the fourth quarter. LeBron James(notes) is still picking off teammates from up top, 10 assists for James, and he was able to get to the basket occasionally while missing 14 of 20 shots. The Cavs are improving on that end.
It's the defense, though, that's the killer.
Atlanta entered Tuesday night averaging 113.7 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the NBA, and it only managed a miniscule 92.3 points per 100 in this loss. The team couldn't score for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, and while it had some good (if tough) looks that didn't go in, this was mainly because Cleveland is so quick and long and active on that end.
Cleveland's free throw defense was also on point, as the Hawks missed 10 of 26.
Looking forward to the rematch tonight. There's a good chance it could be awfully ugly, or that the Cavaliers are satisfied with a split and relent. There's also a good chance we'll get a nail-biter.
The Lakers are trying to beat teams with offense, and it's just not working. They won, so I suppose things worked in Los Angeles' favor; but even against an improving team like the Warriors — at home, this shouldn't be that close.
Golden State lost because they don't talk defensively, they have the personnel to switch on quite a bit, but don't often do (nor do they stick, if we're honest), and Kobe Bryant(notes) was able to move into open spaces in the Laker offense to collect the pass and score (or shoot), or the master was able to find all manner of teammates, finishing with 11 assists.
The Laker offense was fine. I thought Kobe was a little too jump shot-happy (with that bum finger, and the lack of interior stoppers for Golden State), but a good chunk of them went in. Pau Gasol(notes) managed 27 points and 12 boards, while Jordan Farmar(notes) tossed out 12 points and five assists in under 30 minutes.
The defense was off, though. Golden State, playing on the second night of a back to back and with a thin rotation, was quicker and was tossing it in from all over the floor. It was Golden State's inability to properly defend or keep Los Angeles off the line (the Lakers shot 36 freebies, making a needed 32) that denied GSW the win.
And Kobe, with those 44 points. That hurt them, too. He's just fantastic.
The one thing that struck me early with the Pistons, even as the injuries piled up and the losses kept coming, is how steady the team looked defensively. How it clearly had a game plan ringing in its ears ("they're going to want to try this, here, we want to move it baseline," etc.) as it took to the court.
I haven't seen that recently, and you can't pin that on the return of Ben Gordon(notes) (though he's never been a great defender) and Tayshaun Prince(notes) (though he clearly isn't instinctually familiar with the coaching staff's defensive schemes). The team is relenting, a little, after working so hard for the first two months of the season, and the results are what you'd expect.
The Knicks average about 105 points per 100 possessions, good for 21st in the NBA. Statistically, they're actually a better defensive team than they are an offensive squad. But Mike D'Antoni's team managed nearly 124 points per 100 possessions, which is quite a bit, because they seemed quicker and more active than the Pistons.
New York got to the rim a ton, and converted. It also manhandled the Pistons on the glass, and managed good spacing.
The Washington Wizards allowed Oklahoma City to score around 118 points per 100 possessions on Tuesday night, and for all the young Thunder's talent, OKC is not that good offensively. They dropped about 115 per 100 against the Nets the before, but those were the Nets. Designed to lose.
These are the Wizards, designed to compete, and they're not. Not at home, even.
Kevin Durant(notes) looked like a sage vet attacking that Wizards defense, he piled up 35 points a night after dropping 40 and brought the all-around game too - 11 boards, four assists, five turnovers. Jeff Green(notes) tossed in 18 points and was handed a series of open three-pointers (just two went in), and the Wizards look to be on the verge of imploding
Providing there was ever anything there to begin with.
Another slow start for the Pacers, they were down double-digits before they knew it against Chicago, falling behind 19 points at one point.
This should happen, mind you. Without Danny Granger(notes), on the road, the Pacers are 19 points worse than the Bulls. Chicago fields a mismatched and thin roster, but this team should still be able to consistently play good enough basketball to take down a bad team missing its best player while at home.
The Bulls didn't, of course, nearly frittering away the entire lead before finding holes in the Indiana D to pull out the win. Turnovers were an issue; Chicago had 20 of them, as was consistent scoring (40 points in the second and fourth quarters, 64 points in the first and third quarters).
Derrick Rose(notes) had 28 points and even got to the line (six of eight), but had as many turnovers (six) as he did assists. Tyrus Thomas(notes) managed 15 rebounds, five turnovers, three blocks and eight points off the bench. Brad Miller(notes) came out of nowhere to score 16 points, tying a season-high.
The Spurs had the offense flowing from the outset of this win, Minnesota seemed overmatched and unable to properly contest all the Spurs' options, while equally unable to find a way toward good, high percentage shots on the other end.
12-24 three-pointers for the Spurs, and from what I saw, that percentage seems low. Minnesota appeared confused every time something called "the extra pass" was put into action. 24 points for Richard Jefferson(notes), 10 assists, nine boards, and 14 points off the bench for Manu Ginobili(notes).
Carl Landry(notes) (and Luis Scola(notes), I suppose) played some bad defense, I'm not going to slough that off. But he (and Luis) also played some good defense, and it didn't matter. David West(notes) just had it going on Tuesday night.
44 points on 18 of 30 shooting for West, and when he's so capable at getting the ball 23 feet from the hoop and somehow creating a good look six seconds later, you're just going to have to live with it. Sure, the Rockets could have thrown a few more double-teams his way, but the places where West gets the ball are truly hard to double-team. It would essentially have to be a high school-level trap that would likely result in a lay-in for the Hornets two passes later.
And West's potent play hardly mattered when the Rockets doubled New Orleans up in free throw makes, to say nothing of the 12-23 three-point shooting for Houston. The Hornets were just too slow to contest properly.
The ball was just cracking for the Rockets. 27 assists on 37 field goals, and that didn't feel like home cooking. Lots of movement, lots of good heaves toward open spots. That's 27 assists with 28 free throw attempts. There were quite a few that weren't official.
16 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two blocks, and just one turnover for Chris Paul(notes); who is considered to be inferior to Deron Williams(notes) amongst NBA point guards by Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, mainly because Williams visited the TNT studios one night.
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