Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Utah 120, Orlando 111

We've been pretty heavy on the Jazz this week, but they're a fun team in the middle of a not-so-fun schedule. This is my kind of in-season soap opera. The boring kind.

And a night after startlingly falling apart in Los Angeles, the Jazz were due to take in a turnaround of its own. The good kind.

Utah was all over the place defensively in the third quarter, holding the Magic to just 21 points, while making damn near everything on the other end. Transition, delayed transition, half-court, set calls, improvisations, extra passes — everything seemed to end in a score.

38 third quarter points for the Jazz, with Deron Williams(notes) providing 21 of that total. Orlando's offense picked up in the fourth quarter, which limited Utah's ability to run, but the Jazz kept up the potent touch in the final period and prevailed.

Orlando has a re-done roster, and I don't know if they need to talk more in the half-court or while defending the face break, or if this is just the season-long worry regarding point guard defense. It's not just Deron Williams dropping 32 in Jason Williams'(notes) face, it's about the early penetration that results in a few passes and the eventual good look.

OK, maybe it was Deron. 15 assists, too. Eight rebounds, and just one turnover despite dominating the ball for 42 minutes. What a game.

Carlos Boozer(notes) was active with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. C.J. Miles(notes) had another good game with 22 points on 17 shots off the bench, and Paul Millsap(notes) worked his way off the ball to 14 bench points.

Orlando doubled Utah up on turnovers, but at a 13 to six rate, and 13 ain't bad. 13's pretty good, actually, for a quick game like this. Matt Barnes(notes) finally got off the schneid with 17 points and five rebounds, but offense (about 117 points per 100 possessions, they average 110.6, good for fifth) was not Orlando's problem.

Letting Utah pile up those points? That's the issue. Orlando's defense has been improving all year, but it's still dropped significantly (ninth, right now) from the defense we saw lead the league in defensive efficiency last year.

***

Boston 104, Washington 102

Not only did the Celtics earn trips to the line, they connected. 37 trips, 26 makes.

Washington, on the other hand? Eight of 22. Five of those misses (in six tries) came from Gilbert Arenas(notes), who has been struggling all year from the stripe (71 percent), and two of his misses came in the final minute of a one possession game.

Otherwise, the Wizards brought it. The ball movement was good, and they finished well. It's just that when Rajon Rondo(notes) makes himself an option offensively, the Celtics usually have too many options for other teams to counter.

All five C's starters were in double-figures, which is needed with the bench these guys trot out most nights, and that aggressive tone put Boston over the top on the road.

***

Detroit 101, Denver 99

Two things to worry about, if you support the Denver Nuggets.

Chauncey Billups(notes) is shooting below 40 percent from the field, and he's been struggling all year with his shot. Both inside and out. And while we discussed this while previewing the Nuggets and Chauncey in various formats before the season, it still is a little surprising to see in action. He's getting to the line more, and his per-minute points and assists are about the same as last year, but he's not as potent.

The defense has fallen off. It's not terrible, Denver has been right around the middle of the pack all season, but it has fallen off (from eighth last season). And while the offense has jumped from seventh to second overall, the defensive issues will stand out on a night where J.R. Smith(notes) and Billups combine to shoot 11-32 (including Billups' missed potential game-winner).

The Nuggets are also wrapping up an Eastern road jaunt. Not the longest stretch, but a week away from home.

Beyond that, go Pistons! No Will Bynum(notes), no Ben Gordon(notes), no Tay Prince, no Rip Hamilton, and you work this?

Great effort, sound shot-making, fine execution from a team that has been pretty iffy offensively for most of the season. The Pistons hung tough with the Nugs from the outset, and Detroit kept getting to the line. 30-41 from the stripe, 112.2 points per 100 possessions overall (they average, after this, 106 per 100; good for 20th in the NBA).

Jonas Jerebko(notes) made Carmelo Anthony(notes) work, but it usually didn't matter. Too many "great D, better O" plays for Melo, who finished with 40 points on 28 field goals.

With Billups and Smith struggling, Denver just couldn't counter, especially with the injured Kenyon Martin's(notes) minutes being replaced by someone like Joey Graham(notes).

27 points, five assists, five rebounds for Charlie Villanueva(notes) in the win.

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