Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Memphis 125, Phoenix 118

Let's not make this a dominant turn. The Grizzlies still can't guard anyone. There were stretches in this game where it looked as if the Suns were not only going to eliminate what was a pretty sound deficit, but roll on its way toward a blowout win itself. Not saying that we thought it likely, not with the way these two teams play defense, but it was definitely in the cards.

The game was nuts. Phoenix gave up 34 points in the first quarter, and all Alvin Gentry could talk about between the quarters was how the Suns needed to score better so that the Grizz would be unable to run off of defensive rebounds. His team gave up 34 points, and he's talking about offense!

And you know what? He was right. The Suns start taking care of the ball, start taking better shots, and stop missing easy shots, and the Grizz score "only" 24 points in the second quarter. Phoenix gives up 125 points all day, and Gentry's talking about offense (Phoenix turning the ball over) post-game. And he's probably correct in that regard as well, even though the guy who grew up watching the Bulls fight the Pistons and Knicks is suddenly wondering why the sun is rising in the west, now.

Quick decisions with the ball for Memphis, which I liked. The team wasn't exactly turning in a passing clinic — 22 assists in a high possession game — but it passed well enough and played a direct brand of offensive ball that the Suns had no real answer for. Besides making more shots, of course.

The Suns out-rebounded Memphis and held their own, but the team is just so awful defensively.

***

Washington 97, Portland 92

All the stats pointed to a good game — the score was close, the offensive efficiency figures were sound enough, and the turnover situation was passable — but this was tough to watch, for whatever reason. Probably because it felt like a game between two teams that wouldn't matter until 2010-11, possibly because of the exhibition-y sight of Portland playing in Washington (the Trail Blazers had to get up at 6 a.m. Blazer-time for this contest), and partially because of Comcast's crummy League Pass feed out of Washington.

Close down the stretch, Caron Butler(notes) brought things home for the Wizards. Another one of those baseline jumpers from the triple-threat position that I rarely agree with (the rim rarely agrees with him either, at least this year), and a good drive to put Portland away. Antawn Jamison(notes) had 28 points, Mike Miller(notes) managed 13 points on just four shot attempts, and the Blazers just didn't score well enough to pull it out.

Nine offensive rebounds, 15 total, for LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) in the loss. 22 points overall.

***

New York 99, Detroit 91

A funky little game.

The Knicks could not stop Rodney Stuckey(notes) for the first three quarters, but by the fourth the Pistons guard had petered out (1-7 shooting, three turnovers). The Knicks, at times, could not stop Ben Wallace(notes); as the former All-Star not only scored 16 points on the typical tip-ins and follow-dunks, but an array of floaters and scoop shots as well. A turnaround jumper, even.

But Detroit had no depth, precious little help beyond that (Austin Daye(notes) just isn't ready to lead his team to the promised land), and a Nate Robinson(notes)-led Knicks squad was too potent to hold down. Also, the Pistons whiffed on 12 three-pointers. Not the worst thing, when you consider who was taking them, but a bit of a killer when you extract zero points out of 12 possessions.

27 points on 18 shots for Nate, who turned the ball over just once. Danilo Gallinari(notes), Al Harrington(notes), and Wilson Chandler(notes) were all killer from the corners, and the Knicks extracted 30 points from 22 possessions spent behind the three-point line.

***

Oklahoma City 94, Atlanta 91

Everyone seems to be talking about Jeff Green's(notes) big dunk on Josh Smith(notes), and for good reason. Smith overplayed for just a second, 40 feet from the hoop, and that was enough for Green to roll all the way to the rim for the massive one-hand throwdown. It capped an impressive road win for the Thunder, but really, this was Oklahoma City's game from the outset.

Atlanta didn't like the way the refs were treating Kevin Durant(notes), but he created contact, he created those iffy situations, and he took advantage at the stripe. 14-15, 29 points overall. Five assists, just one turnover. Green had 15 and 11, while Serge Ibaka(notes) had 10 needed rebounds off the bench in fewer than 24 minutes.

The Hawks only turned the ball over eight times, which kept them in it. Otherwise, Oklahoma City contested well without fouling (sorry, Hawks fans), and held its own against what can be a fantastic rebounding team at times. 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, two turnover and three blocks for Smith in the loss. Josh Smith, that is.

***

Charlotte 105, Sacramento 103

I should know better, especially after what they did to what is left of my Chicago Bulls earlier in the year, but I turned away from this game with the Charlotte Bobcats safely in the lead. Several games were going great guns, several were just starting, and I had a BtB to write. So I missed most of Sacramento's Tyreke Evans(notes)-led comeback.

I can say that Charlotte had the entire roster's number early (if not Evans'), working that fabulous  defense that should lead the Bobcats to the playoffs this year and absolutely nothing of interest in the years after that. And, from what little I saw, and from what I'm reading, it seems obvious that Charlotte's defense just sort of gave up in the last 18 minutes of this game.

Makes sense, though, because the Bobcats played about a week's worth of great defense in the first 30 minutes of this game, killing the Kings both in the half-court and overplaying when promising in a trapping situation.

Gerald Wallace(notes) had 28 and two blocks for the eventual victors, Raymond Felton(notes) hit some game-deciders and finished with 17 points and 10 assists (with nine rebounds), while Evans put together a career-high of 34 points. Seven assists, two steals and three blocks for the Kings rookie. The Kings turned it over on nearly 21 percent of their possessions, and really looked like the JV squad early on against Charlotte (Hilton Armstrong(notes) is banned from dribbling until, like, April).

OMG, Everyone Freak Out About Kevin Martin(notes)-Watch?

He looks a bit off. Nine points on nine shots. Averaging 17 a game since his return from injury, but shooting 36 percent.

***

Houston 101, Milwaukee 98 (OT)

The Bucks just don't get to the line, and though you don't want to put any more pressure on a rookie guard who shouldn't be asked to do nearly as much as he's asked to offensively so far this year, Brandon Jennings(notes) has to help more in this area. He can't be stuck looking like Anthony Peeler down the stretch.

Jennings hit 4-9 three-pointers, good on him, and he made 3-4 free throws to lead the team in both makes and attempts. But he's going to have to earn more, he's going to have to get the opponents in the penalty, and he's going to have to be disabused of the notion that these long jumpers are going in/are any good to begin with.

That probably won't come from Bucks coach Scott Skiles, whose teams have always had trouble securing free throws while embracing the long two-pointer, but if Jennings wants to fly in the face of his coach, he has my blessing. I don't really regard Allen Iverson(notes) as a role model in any, uh, regard; but AI made it so Aaron McKie(notes) and Jumaine Jones(notes) and all these other non-drivers could hit free throws once Philly hit the penalty. The burden is on Jennings, if the Bucks want to compete for a playoff spot in the East, to do the same.

Because Jerry Stackhouse(notes) ain't the answer.

Luis Scola(notes) (27 and 15 rebounds) was popping in jumpers and free throws all game long, the Rockets seem a little disjointed and mistake-prone on both ends (even the AP gamer discusses some miscommunication and broken plays), but Houston is making up for it with effort and, well, free throws. Aaron Brooks(notes) needed 21 shots to score 13 points, but his attitude was on point, and the Rox were able to overcome another strong game from Andrew Bogut(notes) (18 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, six blocks, three turnovers).

***

San Antonio 97, New Orleans 90

San Antonio's defense wasn't the best I've seen from this particular outfit, to say nothing of the franchise, but it at least had its moments. Even though the Hornets more or less held the Spurs to just a bit above its average, New Orleans truly dropped the ball on that end.

Good penetration all afternoon for the Spurs, even if the shots weren't always falling. 25 points from a clearly gimpy Tony Parker(notes); 21 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, one turnover, and two blocks from Tim Duncan(notes), and people wonder why I think he's an MVP candidate.

18 points and nine assists for Chris Paul(notes), but the Spurs don't foul (12 free throw attempts for the Hornets all game, and while I concede to flipping around quite a bit, I don't remember Jeff Bower's team really being jobbed in terms of non-calls), and the Hornets just couldn't string together the stops needed to turn a mini-rally into an outright run.

***

Philadelphia 108, Minnesota 103 (OT)

I don't know how the 76ers can live with themselves being out-rebounded by a Wolves team missing Kevin Love(notes), with Damien Wilkins(notes) pulling in 10 caroms by his lonesome.

I don't know how Jon Krawczynski can live with the choice of the word "underwhelming" regarding Elton Brand's(notes) 10-point, seven rebound, three-steal, one-block performance in 27 minutes. Jon, in 27 minutes, that's pretty sound. He may have a bum contract, but that was not "underwhelming," and he was not the problem here.

I don't know how the Sixers can expect to compete when athletic forward Thaddeus Young(notes) manages just four rebounds in 30 minutes of play, or when wing types Willie Green(notes) and Rodney Carney(notes) combine to play exactly 42 minutes and pull in just one rebound between them.

Man, you just let the Timberwolves — playing without their best player (this season) — come back from 20 points to pull the win. You were handed an overtime chance, after Al Jefferson's(notes) goaltend in the final minute, and you still fell short. It eludes me — beyond the typical, "da coach is a bum" analysis — as to why this team can't be better defensively. Why it can't contest and cause the same turnovers it did two years ago. Why a team full of young athletes can't play young, and athletic.

I know Brand can't get up. I know Allen Iverson is on board, and that Willie Green (for whatever reason) has to play 30 minutes off the bench. I know there are relative greybeards. Doesn't matter. Show me something, Philly.

Jonny Flynn(notes), 29 points, nine assists, only 16 shots, got to the line 10 times, not bad.

***

Golden State 114, Chicago 97

Gah, what a miserable lot these Bulls are.

Against the Golden State Warriors — a terrible defensive outfit now featuring three D-League call-ups — Chicago managed just 36 percent shooting and a miserable 91 points per 100 possessions. Terrible, terrible stats. Even in a game that featured an astounding 106 possessions, Chicago still only managed 97 points.

And the defense, even while giving up a somewhat (that's pushing it) respectable 107 points per 100, was junk. Didn't fight through screens, didn't talk to help each other out from what I saw, and basically let the Warriors dictate how things would roll. While making terrible decisions offensively (how does Stephen Curry(notes) play, by my count 59 minutes with four fouls without fouling out?), taking bad shots, and generally waiting for 2010-11.

I'd list off some individual stats, but really, none of these things should count. Monta Ellis(notes) did need 39 shots to score 36 points, which was pretty hilarious. I also love the fact that the Warriors broadcast truck lists "complete games" as a stat for Ellis, who turned in his ninth CG of the year.

***

Dallas 99, Boston 90

Equal parts C+ effort for Boston in this loss. The team's individual defense was pretty lousy, Dirk Nowitzki(notes) went off on both Glen Davis(notes) and Brian Scalabrine(notes), and I wasn't that enthused with the way Rasheed Wallace(notes) played him. The C's seemed flustered by a second or third pass, which led to all sorts of nice makes from Maverick scorers down the stretch; and that seems about right, because Boston eschewed the idea of a second or third pass on its own offensive end in the second half.

The Celtics just seemed to completely abandon its sets, nobody was really moving off the ball, nobody was really looking for those second and third and fourth and ninth options. Boston really does have that many chances on offense with certain sets, but against the Mavs, the C's just quit. Not a total mail-in, but atypical nonetheless for Doc Rivers' crew. And, nearly needless to say, Doc was pretty ticked about it.

37 points and seven rebounds for Dirk. Paul Pierce(notes) led the Celtics with 24, himself. The Celtics wanted Dirk, back in 1998, but had to settle for Pierce who surprisingly fell all the way to 10th in that year's draft. Great to see these two still going at it, 11 and a half years later.

***

Los Angeles Lakers 98, Orlando 92

It looked like it could have been a blowout win for the Lakers in the start. Any time they ran a triangle set, they would earn a foul. Any time they released and went into a screen and roll, someone got a good shot. Then the Magic started defending better, and making long shots of their own. Mostly with Dwight Howard(notes) on the bench, in the second half. And I don't want to hear about how the Magic need to go into Dwight when he came back, so as to get David Anderson open looks. These guys had open looks without Dwight touching the ball. They didn't make them.

We'll have more on the Magic later today at BDL, but for now, le champs.

Good offense. When Shannon Brown(notes) (22 points) gets his elbow under the ball, his jumper is gold, even if these aren't the best jumpers to be taking (on any team, much less in this offense, or with these options). I thought Kobe Bryant(notes) forced too much trying to hit dagger shots to put the Lakers up something like 12 points (with the expectation that the blowout would commence from there), and he ended up missing 15 of 19 shots. Seemingly any time he wanted to connect with a dime, though, he came through - seven assists. Lots of pointed looks to the guy that needed a bucket.

Five Laker turnovers. That'll work.

***

Los Angeles Clippers 106, New Jersey 95

Two significant things.

Chris Kaman(notes) came back. It's not just the 22 points he drops, or the one assists, or the untold hockey assists (if there even were any). It's that balance he provides, the ability to step out or step through toward the rim after a screen, to say nothing of the post presence. Just turns the game around. Makes the Clippers dangerous.

And the Nets didn't play hard. They're not a good team, they're not even a bad team (stupefyingly awful?), and they have to work incredibly hard to compete.

Actually, screw that. This team's rotation from 3-to-12 is as bad as it gets, but this doesn't have to be a Larry Brown or Houston Rockets situation. The Nets don't have to play perfect basketball just to have a chance. I shrugged my shoulders when they lost their first 18 games, mainly because they were that bad, and luck will do that to a team even when the contest is close. But this? Not showing up in the first quarter? That's embarrassing.

Only turnover woes and iffy three-point shooting prevented the Clippers from scoring 120 points in what was a pretty slow game. 32 assists in the win for Los Angeles.

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