Thu Jan 08 09:40am EST
Skeets had talked about it in passing, but he's not alone, and I was probably one of the worst of the bunch: Danny Granger has far exceeded our expectations.
Blown them out of the water. Destroyed them. I thought he was a nice, hard-working, but limited offensive player in the Richard Jefferson mold. Three-pointers with good finishes and an iffy handle. A smoother Andre Iguodala, with less insistence on shooting his team out of games. He's just obliterated that this year. The guy is sixth in the NBA in 20-point games. He carried the Pacers down the stretch in this win. A real woofer in tweeter's clothing.
And in a league that offers fewer and fewer surprises while still leaving my cheeks hurting from smiling so much, to couple the surprise with the de rigueur level of enjoyment? Thanks, Danny.
37 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals, and the game-winning three-pointer for Granger in Phoenix on Wednesday. No, we don't think a human can catch a basketball, jump, and release a 26-foot jump shot in .7 of a second (Granger's Pacers had .9 of a second to get a shot off), but that's the way it goes in the NBA. Burns like that happen to every team, Suns fans, and it makes the NBA an engaging watch. Some nights, no matter how restless, you have to live with it. At least you didn't have to grow up with Trent Tucker.
The Suns played well, Steve Nash took over for a spell, but the Pacers were ready for Amar'e Stoudemire, unlike last time. The Pacers just refused to let Amar'e get good spacing for the face-up jumper, and most screen and rolls ended with either Jeff Foster or Stephen Graham (Graham was terrific with his help) getting in front of Stoudemire with arms raised, preventing as much as you can attempt to prevent with a monster like Amar'e.
23 and 11 for Stoudemire, but he turned the ball over five times, and missed 12 of 19 shots.
Nice to see the Pacers finally win a close one. There is quite a bit to like about this team.
The Wizards keep competing, give them credit for that, as Antawn Jamison (32 points and seven rebounds) and Caron Butler seem to be trading off good and bad nights (tonight was Jamison's turn to shine, Butler's turn to decline), but the Raptors just had too much talent to fall short.
They tried, though. The Raptors, I mean. 20 turnovers for Toronto, who just could not seem to stop giving the ball up, in any number of ways. The Wizards gave good effort, make no mistake, but it was just one silly mistake after another for Toronto, as the 20 cough-ups made even more of a difference due to the slow pace of the game.
60 percent shooting for the NBA's newest white-hot offensive outfit. And I still can't believe we're nearly two and a half months and we're still watching the Cleveland Cavaliers -- coached by Mike Brown -- just taking it to teams on that end of the floor.
The players make the shots, but Brown really turned just about everything around in his preparation and attention to offensive detail. He went from being possibly the most unimaginative offensive coach in the game to leading the league's best offense. It's almost unprecedented. It's as if Bruce Bowen was still leading the league in scoring on January 8th.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have the game's most efficient offensive player on your side, but they had that last year, and stunk offensively. Mo Williams is nice, Big Z's had an All-Star year, but a lot of this is on Brown. A ton of it is. Kudos.
Charlotte never had a chance. They looked tired and Larry Brown looked cranky (even by his standards) and the whole team looked out of sorts. By the second time I got to switch over in the first quarter of this one, the Cavs were up by 15, and LeBron (21 points, four rebounds, four assists, four turnovers, two steals, two blocks) only had to play 31 minutes.
It might not look it, Atlanta finished with 102 points and weren't exactly limping into the fourth quarter, but the Magic really played some spot-on defense for the first three quarters of this one. Actually, they played it during the fourth quarter, as well, but you can only keep a potent team like the Hawks down for so long, as Atlanta tossed in 33 points in the final frame to make a game of it.
But it was too tough scoring down the stretch against Orlando. The Hawks just couldn't seem to put together that magical three-scores-and-three-stops run against the Magic to make it a nail-biter, as Stan Van Gundy's crew just forces bad shots and controls that glass. Though, it should be noted, Atlanta stuck with it.
Undersized for most of the game, Al Horford (13 rebounds) looks like a shooting guard next to Dwight Howard, and they still hung in there. Rip on Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson all you want for combining to shoot 11-34, but they had to get those 11 makes in the face of some tough, tough D.
23 and 19 for Dwight Howard, he had his way with a few offensive rebounds and just owned the middle. Jameer Nelson (15 points, five assists, five rebounds) shot 5-14, but a few of those were bailout shots with the clock running down (thanks a lot, guys), and this really was an impressive performance from both teams.
There's really no stopping Vince Carter these days. The man is just playing tough, determined basketball, finally coming through with some of the stuff we've been begging for since the first months of the 2000-01 season, and it's OK (in a way) to give up the 25 points and 12 assists that he came through with tonight.
But the rest of the Nets? Playing without Devin Harris? Memphis' effort has slipped, they were reaching, not closing out on shooters, and falling back into bad habits. The result is an 11-point loss that they never really looked up for.
The man is bringing it. And while this doesn't excuse the malaise (with noted exceptions, like parts of his contract years and the second half of 2004-05) we've seen since the first time teams started knocking him to the floor in November of 2000, it still is something. We'll take it.
This probably seems like a stupid joke, but with Dick Vitale calling the game, I didn't see a whole lot of it.
I've defended Vitale for years, to an extent. The bulk of my exposure to him comes in passing, a couple of seconds at a time, when flipping around and ignoring college basketball. He shares my enthusiasm for the game, to say the least, so I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, and have remained pretty ambivalent about the guy. Though I do concede that his yearly, and uninformed, televised rants during the NBA Draft are pretty distasteful.
With that in place, I just couldn't take it. I know I can mute the volume, but I've got 12 games to click back and forth through, and like a dog that'd been dandied too much, I had to pass.
I don't know how to explain it in any way that doesn't make me sound like I'm making excuses.
The Celtics lost again, but Boston fans should not be worried, and Laker/Cavalier/whomever-backers should halt the funeral proceedings. It's not normal for a team like Boston to win as many games as they did over the first two months of the season against competition that stiff. Teams were and are gunning for the C's in a way I haven't seen teams attack the defending champs since the 90s Bulls, and sooner or later the Celtics are going to lose a few. Regression to the mean. Learn to enjoy it.
They played well on Wednesday night. They probably want a few of those shots back, they want a few of those offensive possessions back, but there's really nothing to fret over. Houston played terrific ball, and shot out of its mind. Tough, tough three-pointers that went in. Von bloody Wafer made four of six from behind the arc, including the game-decider. Yao Ming only needed 13 shots to score 26 points. Ron Artest is an absolute gamer. The Rockets are a great team, even with T-Mac on the bench.
And the Celtics lost again. Rajon Rondo had another tough night, only contributing five points and five assists (just one turnover) and failing to pull in a rebound. He's playing scared, nervous to make a mistake.
With Rondo falling to earth, the Celtics have essentially traded an All-Star for a below average point man, and that's significant. They're losing, but they're only losing by a few points every time out, and we know that Rondo has a little All-Star in him. Get the licks in now, NBA.
The competition has been far from daunting, but it's probably time to give it up for the Timberwolves. They've nearly doubled their win total over the last week, taking down the Warriors, Bulls, Grizzlies, and Thunder. Yes, those might be the four worst teams in the NBA on most nights, but it's something. The Timberwolves are making a case to stay a step above the lowest possible rung.
42 points in the first quarter for Minnesota, absolutely taking the spirit out of the Thunder as soon as it could. Well, it should have taken the spirit out of Scott Brooks' team. Oklahoma City actually hung in there quite well in terms of effort (if not execution), but the Timberwolves were hitting damn near everything. Running and finishing and dominating in the half court when it had to. Total domination, from the Timberwolves no less.
Randy Foye is continuing his brilliant play as an off guard, he got up to 32 points and six assists on Wednesday, playing less than 30 minutes and never seeming like he was piling things up against a crummy team.
Oklahoma City's defense has gotten slightly worse under Brooks, but the offense has been way up, and they haven't been blown out in about a month and a half. For a five-win team, that's saying something, and yet the Timberwolves re-introduced the Thunder to the end of that particular stick by the time the first quarter was over.
Completely one-sided. Just go up and down the box score, look at whatever name you want, they played well. And Brian Cardinal? I swear he has the most productive zero-point, zero-rebound games I've ever seen. It's a shame he hasn't gotten more minutes since he signed that big contract back in 2004.
Big win for Philadelphia. The Bucks didn't lay an egg, it was close from stem to stern, and the Sixers hung in a tough atmosphere against a tough, tough team.
Big bench for Philly, too. Efficient, shot the ball well, hung around the rim, taking the lead from Dre Miller. 28 points on 13 shots, six assists for Andre, and he got to the line. 11 attempts, 10 makes, and it put Milwaukee in the penalty.
The Bucks played a good game, but there wasn't much they could do to stop the Sixers on a night like this, not with Miller playing this well, 29 assists on 40 field goals for Milwaukee in the loss, Scott Skiles' imprints on every one.
The Jazz just decided to push the Hornets around a little bit on Wednesday, and about halfway into the second quarter, the Hornets had more or less given up.
Most of them, at least. Chris Paul had another winner, 26 points with seven assists and zero turnovers (for the second night in a row), but he was about it. They played the Lakers and Jazz on a back-to-back, got a split, and they appear to be cool with that. Not sure if that's the heart of a champion, but that's how it flows.
Utah looked great. 44 free throw attempts (31 makes), 55 rebounds (to 29 for the Hornets), and Paul Millsap is just killing it.
27 points, 14 rebounds, five freakin' assists, and zero turnovers in 37 minutes. Zero. That's the thing that wins ballgames. That's the thing that takes teams like the Hornets down, and I don't care if it was the second night of a back-to-back, by 26 points.
Kobe Bryant had to sort of take it easy in this one, a night after dropping 39, although taking it easy for him runs along the lines of 21, five and five. He did have to nail a couple of shots late in this win because the Warriors just would not go away.
Good game from Golden State, though this doesn't mean the organization doesn't deserve every bit of evisceration they get from giants like Woj. Andris Biedrins had a great game offensively with 12 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and three blocks, though he was destroyed on the other end by Pau Gasol.
33 points and 18 rebounds for Pau, he only turned the ball over twice in 39 minutes, and he tossed back two shots. Andrew Bynum also had a strong game a night after fading away against the Hornets, finishing with 18, 11 rebounds, and three blocks of his own.
A tidy little game. Defense didn't really create the score that ran in the low 80s, you have a slow pace to blame for that one, but it was a fun watch in spots.
The Blazers have proven to be a formidable team without Brandon Roy, especially at home, so I won't kill Detroit too much for this loss. They played hard, they're continuing to play hard, and I see that as an accomplishment in itself considering how they slept through most of November and December.
LaMarcus Aldridge just refuses to make a fan out of me. Yes, he got his 26, but he seems to use that as an excuse to take 19-footers when he doesn't have to, and pull in just six (six!) rebounds in 44 minutes.
I'm not going to go all Wages of Wins on you, but he has to do better. Has to. I don't care if he's the second or third banana. I don't care if the Blazers have a second go-to guy beyond Roy in Travis Outlaw (Travis nailed another game-winner tonight). Doesn't matter. Play better.
He won't do it. NBA history tells us that guys just don't suddenly turn into better rebounders. It's the thing that never seems to change, even though rebounding is all about effort. Per-game stats might go up, but that's about it. And we know how relevant those stats are.
Now that I'm done whining ... great game, Portland. Now teach Jerryd Bayless how to close a quarter with a drained-out clock and a last-second drive.