Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Atlanta 86, Orlando 84

This was a fun game. It wasn't a great game, but it was highly entertaining and, well, you've seen the dunk. Josh Smith(notes) tipped in an offensive rebound just before the buzzer to win the game for Atlanta, and thank goodness for instant replay. Because I thought the shot was late (though it was clearly in, with milliseconds to spare, as evidenced by the replays) in real time, and I'm not sure the refs had any idea themselves. It all happened so fast, who could?

You don't get many of those tip-dunks as game-winners (dunks and lobs, sure, not offensive rebounds), and you don't get many close games between these teams. It's why I didn't make this contest the one to pay attention to last night. And early on, it seemed as if things were going according to plan, as the Magic appeared to be setting up yet another rout of the Hawks with a 15-2 run to start the game.

Atlanta came back, as Orlando made more mistakes with the ball. A consistent theme in this one because, as great as these two teams are, this wasn't the best night for either side. Good thing the game was close. Good thing Vince Carter(notes) (with a shot to tie) and Josh Smith saved it.

The offensive rebound itself was ironic - must have been a big fan of early David Letterman - because it was just the third all game for Atlanta, despite a night that saw them shoot just over 40 percent from the floor before Smith threw it down. 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three turnovers, a steal and four blocks for Smoove. Former AAU teammate Dwight Howard(notes) had 19 and 24 rebounds, but he missed seven of 11 shots, five free throws, and turned the ball over five times while matching Smith's four rejections.

***

Philadelphia 101, Milwaukee 86

Though you should fear the deer, the deer and its fearers should understand that the Bucks can still go on long, long offensive swoons. And when teams like the Sixers can get out and run a bit, or gain some confidence from stops (that, let's be honest, they didn't really earn at times with that Milwaukee shooting), then the deer can be defeated soundly.

At the end of the day, the Bucks are a well, well-below average offensive team. And they've put up some quarters this year where it looked as if the team was going to fall short of double-digit points. That's been forgotten as the team has bounded up the charts, but we were watching games in December, and we remember.

Nothing crazy from Philly, as I'd even go as far as to call their performance an iffy defensive one, despite holding Milwaukee to under 97 points per 100 possessions. Guys hit shots. In transition, in the mid-range, from the perimeter. Milwaukee did not.

***

Boston 113, Denver 99

We still need to remind ourselves that injuries matter. It should be one of the simpler tenets to take to in this league, but with so much talent and the expectations that come from seeing the same uniform tossed out there regardless of the relative health of the team, we tend to forget that injuries really, truly, matter.

And that Boston's half-season turn as a .500 team also coincided with injuries from Kevin Garnett(notes), Paul Pierce(notes), and Marquis Daniels(notes) among others. And it also coincided with KG and Pierce coming back too early, way too early in Pierce's case. And even though KG might not look like the Garnett of old, a healthy-ish Boston crew can still do some damage. Especially paired against a Denver team that is going through its own injury problems.

Boston had 17 offensive rebounds, which would seem to be the difference, but quite a few of those came in a triptych of 10-second spurts that saw team tip and miss and grab and miss and pull in and miss again. The real issue for Denver was the squad's defense. The team reached. It didn't move its feet, it didn't rotate properly, and Boston just had too many open lanes for a team that often struggles to hit 95 points.

27 points for Pierce, a last-decade special for KG (20, 10, five assists, zero turnovers), and an 11-point, 11-rebounds, 15-assist effort from Rajon Rondo(notes). Carmelo Anthony(notes) had 32 points and J.R. Smith(notes) added 21 off the bench for Denver, but everyone was guilty on the defensive end. Everyone.

***

Charlotte 108, Minnesota 95

Nice guys get dorked around. They always have, always will. Kevin Love(notes) is a nice guy, a smart guy, and a fantastic basketball player who should have edged closer to an All-Star berth this season. But because he won't bitch and moan and act a prat when sent to the bench, Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis can continue to completely misuse his second round year stud.

Because Kurt wants to make Darko Milicic(notes) happy, I guess. Never mind that Darko, while being made happy, has averaged nine points, 8.6 rebounds, and two blocks per 36 minutes of play with Minnesota. While Love has managed 18 points and 13.5 rebounds per 36 while fouling nearly half as much.

And last night was just ridiculous. Love missed four of six shots, but Darko was letting Bobcats slide past him all night. He played 11 more minutes than Love but pulled in just four rebounds to Kevin's nine. Four turnovers to none for Love. Two blocks to Love's one, and a garbage time bucket late made it so Darko scored 10 points to Love's five. In 11 more minutes.

And it's not as if Love is being left out there for two long stints to do his damage.

Rambis just completely jerks him around by playing him three minutes at a time. The longest stint Love had last night saw him on the court for the last five minutes of the first quarter, and he pulled in three rebounds, scored three points, and had a steal. Three more minutes to start the second quarter, and he added two points and two boards. So, five and five with a steal in eight minutes of play. And he played just 10 minutes the rest of the way save for a garbage time stint to relieve Darko frickin' Milicic to end the game.

It's not all on Darko. I wouldn't mind seeing Darko and Love out there if it means Al Jefferson(notes) is going to continue to play like this, and it's been pretty clear Jefferson's going to "play like this" for the duration of 2009-10.

The bottom line is that Jefferson and Darko had just nine combined rebounds in 67 minutes of total play, as the Timberwolves were crushed on the glass by 10 caroms last night. And Love had nine rebounds himself in just under 22 minutes of play. Either Kurt Rambis is the most unobservant coach in the history of the game, or there's something personal and/or stupid going on between him and Love. I'm choosing the former.

Because he can't be in on a little secret, some benefit to Love's benching that we don't see. How is that possible? The Wolves have lost 58 times in 72 tries. We're supposed to think this guy's methods work?

Stephen Jackson(notes) toughed out a great game for Charlotte, scoring 37 points on 24 shots, while the Bobcats sent back 11 shots. 16 points, eight assists and zero turnovers for Raymond Felton(notes).

***

Cleveland 105, New Orleans 92

I don't know why the Hornets had Chris Paul(notes) on LeBron James(notes) for long stretches, but it didn't really matter. James Posey(notes) didn't matter, either. James scored 38 and yet he missed just seven shots (four of them were threes; hint-hint, LBJ) all game. Insane numbers, to say nothing of the nine assists and six boards.

The Cavs just picked apart the New Orleans offense whenever things somewhat sniffed of getting close.

***



Indiana 99, Washington 82

Charged with writing the massive Wednesday BtB, I haven't had time to read Woj's column on the Wizards, even though I know it'll be an absolute knockout. And I'm guessing (based on the tagline, and what I saw last night) that it might have something to do with how much Flip Saunders lost his team - not during the Areans debacle, not to start this miserable season, and not during the initial stages of this massive losing streak - but at some point early Wednesday evening.

You see, Andray Blatche(notes) started, and played 39 minutes a night after staging a pathetic little protest against the Bobcats. And you could see it through the TV, you really could. The Wizards have no interest in playing for the Wizards, for this coach, for this year. They don't run the plays he's calling, they don't run the counters at all, they don't take the shots they should take, they don't care.

Flip's wrong for starting Blatche, or playing him at all. I don't know if he was powerless to suspend him, or just didn't give a [Blatche!], but I suspect we'll find out. I do know that, as wrong as Saunders was for playing him, Saunders is only guy that needs to be there next year when the Wizards re-form for 2010-11. The only one.

Indiana didn't have to do much to encourage the Wizards to fall apart; they just played D-level basketball and let the Wizards work their own end. 31 points for Danny Granger(notes), and a double-double with two blocks for Josh McRoberts(notes), his stats finally made relevant in (speaking of coaches that have clearly lost it) Jim O'Brien's eyes due to the fact that his teammates also played well and the Pacers won.

Or due to the fact that the Wizards are terrible and don't care, because if you'll remember, Josh's irrelevant game came on the road against the defending champs. Whatever you see fit, Obie.

***

Utah 113, Toronto 87

It wasn't that the Jazz scored on a dunk just after the opening tip, it was the way they kept at the Raptors early on. It was the way Utah let them know that this was going to be another one of their nights, the nights that reveal them to be hopeless on the defensive end, and that the Jazz were going to make sure of it. Utah convinced the Raptors of its own failings by just taking it to them, incessantly, and breaking the team's spirit. It was honestly brutal at times.

Not the biggest blowout we've ever seen, the Raptors scored better as the game went on and Utah relented slightly once it became obvious that the Raps weren't coming back, but it's clear who the championship contender is, and who the playoff hopeful is.

The one-sided went two ways, mind you. Toronto couldn't score, either, managing just 91 points per 100 possessions and 16 three-pointers and nine free throws.

31 assists on the road - on the road! - for Utah on 43 field goals. I point out the assist-to-field goal bits not to tell you that it's an indicative of brilliant play or that having nearly an assist per made basket is an ideal thing. Sometimes it isn't. But it does tell you, if you couldn't watch the game, of just how the action went. Pass, score. Quick pass, quick score. The Jazz are trouble, NBA.

***

Oklahoma City 122, Houston 104

James Harden(notes) was supposed to sit out for two-to-four weeks. Instead, he sat for 11 days, and came back in time to lend a hand to a struggling Oklahoma City team that can use all the offense it can get right now.

Harden made his first four shots and had 23 points on just 10 shot attempts in the win, and he was a big part of a second quarter run that kept the pressure on the Rockets after a big first quarter flourish from the Thunder, allowing for a 17-point halftime deficit that Houston just couldn't defend well enough to get over.

Eric Maynor(notes) had 10 points and nine assists off the bench, 25 for Kevin Durant(notes), while a still-rolling Luis Scola(notes) had 25 points in a losing effort.

Scola's averaging 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in March. Nicely done, sir.

***



New Jersey 93, Sacramento 79

I don't know if this headline was intentional, you usually don't see wire services resort to capital letters like that, but I reckon it's worth it.

The Nets WON, and it was good to see. There's nary a member of this organization worth entertaining enmity over, outside of some silly stuff like Josh Boone's(notes) work ethic or Devin Harris',(notes) um, immediacy issues this season. Moving past that, we want this team winning double figures.

It's two wins away, thanks to what we thought would be a typical Nets game this year. Brook Lopez(notes) and Harris play quite well, and they take down another crummy team at home. 24 and nine assists for Harris, but Brook was a monster.

26 points, 13 boards, four assists, one turnover, and four blocks as he saved things on both ends. Ended quite a few broken "plays" (I guess we could call them that) by scoring in a pinch, and he rotated well.

Winning's a good time, and it's unfortunate the Nets haven't been able to experience it as much as they'd like in 2009-10.

***

Golden State 128, Memphis 110

Memphis hasn't defended anyone all year, so the Warriors were getting good looks as you'd expect, and I'm not going to defend Memphis' terrible defense. The Grizzlies offense, though, should have played a lot better.

78 first half points for Golden State, and it didn't really feel too crazy. Too out of place, and with all the other games ending, I watched just about all of this contest. It just felt like, "yeah, they've hit every shot they've taken this half, most of them have been open, so 78 points sounds about right."

Meanwhile, the Grizz couldn't keep up, for whatever reason. Just under 106 points per 100 possessions, and for comparison's sake the Grizzlies usually score about 109 per 100, and the Warriors usually give up about 112.

55 percent shooting for Golden State, who piled up 30 points on 24 three-point attempts. That works.

***



Los Angeles Lakers 92, San Antonio Spurs 83

Some, er, thing ...

I don't care how many awards you've won, Bill Plaschke. I don't care about your sterling ability to weave a one-sentence paragraph, or your charming grudges, your ability to confuse the piss out of us, or what I'm sure is a fantastic resume when it comes to yelling at other hack acts on basic cable. If you want to write about basketball games, you have to watch basketball games first.

And anyone questioning Ron Artest's(notes) defense is clearly not watching basketball games. Especially considering his defense is much better this year than it was in his time with the Rockets or Kings. And we know you weren't watching Rockets and Kings games.

It should be pointed out that the preceding paragraphs were written before Ron Artest had five steals against the Spurs, while generally playing the biggest part in holding the Spurs to making one shot in three tries in the second half of this win.

Another thing ...

Pau Gasol(notes)? Did you see this guy play defense on Wednesday? In both halves, moved his feet, stayed low, stayed long, shut Tim Duncan(notes) (2-11 shooting) down. Absolutely smothered him.

Kobe had 10 fourth quarter points as the Lakers pulled away, and that was a bit of fun, but it was that ridiculous defense that set the Lakers apart. San Antonio entered the game ninth in the NBA at a good chunk over 107 points scored per 100 possessions, and they were held to, at home, just over 96 per 100. With George Hill(notes) going off for 20 points in the first half.

The Lakers just stayed with it, and the Spurs didn't help by missing open shots and taking terrible shots (a needless Richard Jefferson(notes) bomb with both feet on the three-point line in the fourth quarter sort of typified this).

Gasol turned it over five times, the Lakers only made 10 free throws, and Derek Fisher(notes) should not be allowed to shoot from anywhere unless the shot clock has fewer than one second on it. So, clearly, Los Angeles had its own offensive issues.

But with that defense? Didn't matter.

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