Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Portland 92, Oklahoma City 87

As fantastic a game as you could imagine, with a new wrinkle popping up in Portland, one that's feasibility we've been wondering about for years. Can the Trail Blazers learn to play defense?

Most people think they can, because most people don't adjust for pace when considering the team's 94.8 points allowed per game, the fifth-best mark in the NBA. The problem with that is that the Blazers take the air out of the ball on the other end, which allows for fewer possessions and fewer scoring chances for either side.

Account for pace, and the team is squarely in the middle of the pack. Which is actually an improvement over the last few years, if actually a decline from earlier this season when Portland had Greg Oden(notes) and Joel Przybilla(notes) roaming the paint. Even without accounting for pace, the team is average in terms of stopping teams from shooting a good percentage or sending them to the line, and in terms of forcing turnovers. This is an average defensive team that has proven to have some pretty bad, and rather good, defensive outings.

Though OKC has offensive issues of its own (and the 103.6 points per 100 possessions mark on Sunday wasn't exactly criminally low), this was Portland's D that made the difference. Especially on Kevin Durant(notes) in the fourth quarter, when he missed a potential game-tying three-pointer, and all three of his field goals.

Portland made it tough to score or get good shots. The Blazers contested and moved their feet and the defense won the game. It was close; play a fifth and sixth quarter and this still would have been a one-possession game, but to do this in Oklahoma City? Quite a win for the Blazers.

They are now tied, with the Thunder and the Spurs, for the sixth spot in the West. No Oden, no Przybilla, all sorts of in-season injuries to all sorts of rotation players, while having to say goodbye (for better or worse) to two players (Travis Outlaw(notes) and Steve Blake(notes)) who were prominent members of this team's rotation for years. Nate McMillan may rarely coach a team that hops into the upper half of the league in terms of defensive efficiency, but he's done a spot-on job in 2009-10.

Andre Miller(notes) had 26 points in a low (84) possession game. So, as you'd expect, he clearly ran the game. And defensively? Everyone got after it.

Still would have preferred an overtime period, though.

***

Golden State 121, Los Angeles Clippers 103

The Clippers made it easier on Golden State by taking bad shots and failing to talk defensively, but the Warriors — and especially that consistently impressive cadre of D-League callups — won this with strong execution on both ends and good all-around play.

Good extra passes, sound D, good finishes. Actual, honest-to-goodness, basketball played on both sides of the court.

Reggis Williams had 25 points, six boards, seven assists and just one turnover. In just his sixth game this month, Ronny Turiaf(notes) made all of his shots, finishing with 13 points, eight boards, five assists, two blocks and zero turnovers. Anthony Tolliver(notes) notched 19 and six in just 32 minutes.

Nineteen turnovers, 38 percent shooting, and an 8-26 mark from long range for the Clippers, who just never seemed to play smart basketball after a pretty functional first quarter.

***

 San Antonio 94, Boston 73

A miserable offensive performance from the Celtics, and while I don't know if this was San Antonio getting back to its roots defensively in that second half (honestly, a lot of those empty possessions looked more like Boston's fault than San Antonio's), it still was great to see the Spurs dominate something.

Both teams have been playing really well recently, which is why it was so odd to see Boston relying on flat-footed jumpers in that second half, seemingly a step-slow in every area. Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili(notes) continues to goad us into passing the hat to try and convince him to stay stateside beyond 2009-10.

Ginobili had 28 points, seven assists and no turnovers against what is usually a killer defensive outfit. George Hill(notes) got it together in the second half, and Richard Jefferson(notes) had a double-double with 16 and 11 rebounds.

Boston shot 37 percent from the field and missed 13 of 14 3-point attempts and scored just 30 second-half points. The Celtics just looked awful. It might be a one-off, because they've had a great month; but what happens if they drop one of these stinkers at home in a seven game series?

***

Cleveland 97, Sacramento 90

While it was lovely to see the cheers continue almost unabated for Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes), the Cavaliers clearly took the Kings lightly, and should have romped.

Not to demean the Kings. They have scoring talent at a bunch of positions and took it to Cleveland with good moves. But the Cavs foofed around offensively and had to rely on those stupid 3-point bombs to pull away. You know, those shots that LeBron James(notes) (now) hits at a 34.4 percent clip. He had to make 3-6 for the Cavs to put Sacto at arm's length late.

James had 34 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three turnovers and three steals. Every time I feel like highlighting that to some (appropriate) degree, something kicks in to tell me that this guy is averaging those numbers, just about. This was a typical Sunday. Geesh.

I wasn't always impressed with his shot selection, and it showed (6-17 from the field), but Beno Udrih(notes) had an active game with 15 assists, 18 points, four turnovers, two steals and 10 rebounds. Andres Nocioni(notes) got hot off the bench, making 5-7 from long range.

***

Milwaukee 108, Memphis 103 (OT)

It's not that I'm not supposed to root — I think in 2010 the Toy Department has kind of lost out in that regard; there still might not be any cheering in the press box, but there's plenty of cheering in what emanates from the press box — but I couldn't help but pull for a Bucks to win in the overtime end of this fantastic ballgame.

Brandon Jennings(notes) fouled Mike Conley(notes) Jr. as he was attempting to shoot a long 3-pointer and, well, he didn't foul him at all. And because the Basketball Gods have a good sense of how to shame people, the referees were then forced to watch their blown call in slow-motion for four or five minutes to determine if Conley had been shooting a 2- or 3-pointer (it was a two) while not being fouled, and the Bucks prevailed in OT after Conley hit both free throws to send it to the extra frame.

Great game, though. Lots of great interior play, good big men scoring over other great defensive big men. Thoroughly enjoyed that. And though Jennings didn't have his perimeter touch from both inside and outside (3-10 shooting) the 3-point arc, overall (29 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, four turnovers, four steals) he was very good.

Zach Randolph(notes) was Memphis' beast, with 31 and 15, and he barely left the floor for any of them, while still working masterfully over what might be the deepest defensive interior in this league. And Memphis held its end defensively, though I submit that Milwaukee's offensive issues had a lot to do with that.

Namely Jennings, who I haven't talked about for a while and feel bad that I'm highlighting his poor shooting (and, probably, poor shot selection) after a game like this.

Here's my excuse, though: Milwaukee was supposed to be rebuilding this season. Yeah, the Bucks employ Bogut and Michael Redd(notes) and hoped to sneak in the back door of the playoffs, but they also trotted out a point guard who barely played in Italy last year, and who is now barely two years removed from prom season.

So he's supposed to be learning on the job. He's supposed to be taking those shots, actually, because he needs the practice. Hesitation in that area of the floor for a point guard is for Brevin Knight(notes) in his seventh or eighth season, when it's become clear that, yeah, he's not much of a shooter. Jennings' shot comes and goes, and though it's been mainly gone this season, the stroke still has potential and he (clearly) has had some games that saw the stroke turned on.

Referring back to this particular game — the Bucks held Memphis to 100 points per 100 possessions. Quite the accomplishment against a team like the Grizzlies.

***

Miami 97, Toronto 94

The Raptors fell apart late because they couldn't guard simple screen and roll basketball, and for some reason (watching this team implode) it never felt surprising in any meaningful way.

You can always score on these guys. Always. And with leadership at nil, it's not as if the Raps can rally much.

Seven points in the final six minutes for Toronto, as well, and that's with about 93 possessions handed to the Raptors (after those intentional fouls) in the final 45 seconds or so.

Udonis Haslem(notes) had 23 points and six boards and hit a series of killers in that fourth quarter comeback for Miami, but Dwyane Wade(notes) was the business. He scored 32 points on 11-18 shooting, with seven rebounds, six assists, six turnovers, five steals and three blocks.

Toronto is now a half-game up on the Chicago Bulls, who are terrible, a team that just rallied against the Nets and Pistons. This is clearly going to be a pennant race for the ages.

***

Chicago 110, Detroit 103

Detroit takes bad shots, it misses good shots, there isn't a natural passer on this team (despite those 42 6-3 guards), and it goes long stretches paying no mind to the defensive end.

And because they were playing the Bulls, hey, we got a game out of it.

Chicago relented after dashing out to what was thought to be a dominant early lead, as the Pistons got this down to a two possession game in the fourth quarter before taking bad shots, making bad passes, et cetera.

Chicago had 125 points per 100 possessions, and while I don't want to completely dismiss what the team did offensively (Derrick Rose(notes) did a fantastic job attacking the defense, Flip Murray(notes) scored 23 points off the pine), the Pistons allowed the NBA's 27th-ranked offense to drop 125 per 100 possessions and 110 overall. No excuse for that.

In 19 combined minutes of play, Charlie Villanueva(notes) and Ben Gordon(notes) put together three points on 1-7 shooting. I like both of those guys and think they could really help a better team, but their heads are just elsewhere.

***

Atlanta 94, Indiana 84

Danny Granger(notes) pointed it out after the game, and it sort of stuck out during the contest: Atlanta switches on most (some say all) screens. And against a squad full of shooters and similarly-heightened (in terms of frame, not awareness; we're making words up, here) players like the Pacers, that sort of thing works.

Will it work against, say, the Cavs? No, because LeBron James will make Zaza Pachulia(notes) cry at some point. But on a lovely Sunday in March, Zaza was far from somber, tossing a goofy pass to Josh Smith(notes) on the break as the Hawks kept the Pacers at bay for most of the second half.

The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Pacers and had to be music to their fans' ears. I'm the guy that consistently warns that a few losses here and there don't really do much even in a weighted draft lottery. But I don't get the feeling Indiana fans like any of these guys, so it's not as if they were rooting like mad for the Pacers to finish super strong.

Also, Brandon Rush(notes) would have fit right in on, say, the 1982-83 Indiana Pacers. Just would have been exactly what someone's uncle would have expected.

Josh Smith had 21 points, 13 rebounds and no 3-point attempts. Just seven attempts all season, this is still worth pointing out, and weren't four or five of those attempted buzzer-beaters?

***

Orlando 103, Denver 97

From the AP gamer:

"J.J. Redick was hanging at his house playing video games with Ryan Anderson(notes) about a month ago when the topic of playing time arose."

Chill bros.

Redick was fantastic in this win, showcasing the sort of all-around game that simple scouting should support. The guy can help on the boards, he can make the sound pass and he can clearly score from all over the court. He really can. This wasn't bad Denver defense (OK, Redick going off wasn't bad Denver D), Redick's just that good.

Meanwhile, I'm watching this game with Duke-Baylor running on my laptop, with Duke's prattishness in fine form. So you want to hate on the chill bro, but you just can't, dude. You just can't.

Redick had 23 points, seven boards and eight assists after Vincent Lamar Carter missed most of the game after injuring a toe in the first quarter.

The Nuggets constantly felt like they were 12 points behind, but really this was a two- or three-possession contest for most of the early evening game. Denver is to be commended for not piling up technical foul after technical foul from yelling at a refereeing crew that simply would not give them a fair shake (though Orlando got a few rough shakes thrown in there), but they are not to be commended for giving up on driving and penetrating after being denied too many free throws.

Carmelo Anthony(notes), especially. The refs know what's up, Carmelo. They will dole out make up calls. Even on the road. I usually don't point this out, not when there are so many teams that actually earn limited trips to the line, and so many teams that just take up the San Antonio ideal and pass on fouling. But the Nuggets earned more than the 11 free throws they were awarded. They did not get a fair shake, and long-time readers will understand just how rarely I point this stuff out.

Also, I will not be endorsing Adrian Delano Dantley for any head coaching positions soon, based on Ty Lawson's(notes) DNP-CD. You're telling me he couldn't have topped Anthony Carter's(notes) zero points and two assists in 13 minutes?

Ryan Anderson had 19 points on eight shots, though apparently he was breaking plays. Also, Jameer Nelson(notes)? Kindly become dangerous again. The playoffs start on April 14.

***

Phoenix 111, Minnesota 105

You get a lot of these "this game wasn't this close" declarations from me, but this game was this close. Minnesota has played Phoenix well, if not consistently well, for the last three years. Though Phoenix was a middling defensive team for the first year and terrible the last two, for some reason the middle opens up against the Timberwolves in a way that you usually don't see it open up for other teams.

Well, you do see it for other teams, but those teams aren't awful. The Timberwolves probably shouldn't be awful (merely very bad, but they've underachieved that low bar), but they played damn well on Sunday.

The Suns won out, of course, behind Amar'e Stoudemire's(notes) 30 points and 17 rebounds. He always plays ... average, against the Timberwolves. Always puts up massive point and rebound totals but nearly gives them all up on the other end against Al Jefferson(notes).

Or, on Sunday, Kevin Love(notes) and Al Jefferson. Love had 23 points and 22 rebounds, with two assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers off the bench. Jefferson had 19 and 16, and the Timberwolves are to be slammed for their second quarter play, and lauded for their second half play.

Also, Phoenix? Steve Nash(notes) is not himself, and he hasn't been for a few weeks now. You have to sit him this week. You have to. You've done a fantastic job on this winning streak, but the point is May, and not late March, and you can survive this week. You really can. Road games in Chicago, New Jersey, and Detroit — and if you can't win two of three (at least) with Amar'e dominating and Goran Dragic(notes) running things, then something will have gone wrong.

Don't make Steve Nash the thing that goes wrong. Sit him.

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