Ball Don't Lie - NBA

New Orleans 94, Minnesota 93

A fun, fun game. That's the first thing I took from it.

The second thing? It felt like I spent my entire time watching this contest pleading with Chris Paul to take over, and win the game by his lonesome, and he seemed to continually ignore my advice. And it felt as if the Hornets won the contest without Paul ever having to take over.

Then you look at his line.

86-possession game (very slow), 26 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, two turnovers, five steals. Goodness. How are we not dancing in the streets over this guy? He also nailed David West with a game-winning bounce pass that led to the, uh, game-winning dunk.

Minnesota got another great game out of Kevin Love; he finished with 23 and 11, only turning the ball over once while helping to hold David West to 3-13 shooting. Ryan Gomes had a hand in that too, and Sebastian Telfair played active, insistent ball despite some pretty sub-par stats (4-11 shooting, five fouls, six assists to three turnovers).

He was also credited with an offensive foul (and, by extension, a turnover) for fouling Chris Paul while he was passing.

I'll repeat, and expound. Sebastian Telfair made a two handed kick-out pass from the left elbow, part of his arm grazed Paul, and Telfair was called for the foul. I've never seen that, at any level. He fouled him, while passing the ball.

It may have been the worst call I've ever seen. And I have a film projector that plays a clip of Scottie Pippen's "foul" on Hubert Davis in my darkened den, 24 hours a day. Silently.

Charlotte 104, Sacramento 88

Geez, even the Bobcats can score a hundred on Sacramento.

33 first quarter points for the Bobcats, who really didn't look back after that. They attacked a porous Sacto middle, turned it over a ton (22 miscues, Boris Diaw was the real culprit with seven cough-ups, and the crowd was getting on him) and still won.

The Kings shot 19 more field goals than the Bobcats, and still lost. That's hard to do, but somehow Sacramento passed on coughing up the ball one time in five possessions long enough to shoot 39 percent. Sacramento was crushed on the boards, nearly doubled-up (52-28, wow), and really didn't have anything outside of a chirping Rashad McCants (10-20 shooting, 30 points) to bank on. Kevin Martin and Andres Nocioni were out, and though the Kings competed, this game wasn't really ever in question.

Former King Gerald Wallace had 25 and 12 on a wonky knee, with two steals and two blocks, and Sean May even got some second half run. Three rebounds in three minutes for May, but he looked awful. And it's March.

Speaking of which, I've seen Calvin Booth play two nights in a row, I don't think I've been able to say that since 2001, and he's put up a tidy eight points and four rebounds in 17 combined minutes. Calvin Booth plays for the Kings, in case you were wondering.

Also, Bill Kennedy managed to go an entire game without trying this out. Kudos.

And the Kings are 0-28 against the East, this year. I'm finished, now.

Boston 112, Miami 108 (OT)

I put together a nice little post on the potential matchup, then find out that Ray Allen is a no-go (that elbow injury is a little scary, if I'm honest, because those things tend to linger), and then find out just as the game starts that Dwyane Wade is a late scratch due to an aching everything.

The Heat come out a little flat, Paul Pierce is hitting from everywhere and Miami's defense was pretty lax. Coming off a draining loss about 21 hours before and featuring a pretty thin rotation, the Celtics were pretty determined to put this away early. But Miami's defense improved by leaps and bounds in that second quarter, the C's cooled off, the C's looked tired, and we got a game out of it.

Enjoyed Michael Beasley's night, though I wish the Heat had tried a little harder to get the guy involved earlier in the season, especially considering Wade's history of injuries.

Or, let's just toss this out there ... the third quarter of this game? How does a guy who scores 10 points in nine second quarter minutes only play 2:21 in the third quarter?

21 and seven off the bench for Beasley, who returned for the fourth and put up eight points with two rebounds.. Also Daequan Cook has the worst shot selection in the NBA, non-Warriors division, and the Heat turned it over just five times in a 53-minute game.

That's an astonishing number, and it doesn't bode well for Boston. That's a night after the Bulls turned it over just nine times in a fast game with quite a few possessions. We're talking 194 combined possessions in two games, and only 14 turnovers caused. That's horribly low.

Good thing Pierce is awesome. Just a dominant force when left single-covered, which is what Miami left him (for some reason) until the penultimate possession in regulation. Then they let him go one-on-one for the potential game-winner, which spun out. Flush with better players, Boston took care of business in overtime.

Also, Rajon Rondo reminds me of Magic Johnson in the way he's able to put up a quiet 27 points.

That's not a comparison, he just reminds me of the way your eyes would be drawn to Magic doing so many other things (leading, penetrating, passing, picking up assists, loping toward steals, calling for the ball and starting the break), but those here-and-there scores (that would add up as the game went along) never really seemed as prominent. Then you look up and he has 25 by the middle of the fourth.

27 points, 10 assists, only two turnovers for Rondo. Gutty win for the C's, even without Wade in a Heat uniform.

Portland 95, Indiana 85

A deceptively-poor offensive outing for Portland, who seemed like they were doing just fine offensively merely based on the amount of game-deciding spurts the team put together. Portland does the 9-2 run like few other, and there were plenty of those tonight, and maybe it was a result of my flipping around, but all I seemed to see were those quick bursts.

Otherwise, 42 percent shooting, and just 13 free throw makes for the Blazers, alongside a barely-above average mark from behind the arc (36 percent). About 101 points per 100 possessions for Portland in the win, way down from their nearly-league leading average of 113.5-per, and credit Indiana's activity for that.

But, really, credit the Blazers for getting after it defensively. Indiana's ability to hold the Blazers to iffy numbers in the loss was pretty admirable, but the Blazers were just as strong in keeping the Pacers to only 90 points per 100. That's down 17 points per 100, and that's a lot.

Greg Oden's numbers were pretty good for 11 minutes -- four points, seven rebounds, two turnovers and a block -- and the Blazers (+21) were playing very well with him on the court.

Danny Granger had 35 and 10 in the loss, and I'm not messing with you by writing that he doesn't even look 90 percent yet. As Quinn Buckner kept pointing out, the All-Star looked a little rusty, especially early on.

New Jersey 115, New York 89

It wasn't that Vince Carter scored 17 second quarter points. It's that he scored them over the first four minutes of the second quarter. While, essentially, working as New Jersey's point forward. Just decimated the Knicks.

All sorts of little contributions from all sorts of Nets made it so VC could lead the way to a blowout. Brook Lopez was picking his spots early, but ended up all over the stat sheet as the game moved along. 23 points, five rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, three steals, two turnovers in 35 minutes. No rookie has played better this year, from November until now.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was on the court for Vince's second quarter spree as ostensible point guard, took off in the second half. 14 points, seven assists, three steals, one block, great to watch. And if you don't factor defense in (let's have fun), Keyon Dooling is having a career year. He's turning the ball over a bit more this season (as compared with last), but his outside shot has improved (79 three-pointers this year, he has only topped 25 in a season three times before this). 17 points and eight assists in the win.

I'll give the Knicks a mulligan. They looked out of sorts all game long, like the team went out the night before (and this isn't a lame St. Patrick's Day joke) and were suffering a team-wide hangover. Not a lot of good communication, not a lick of defense.

Chicago 103, Oklahoma City 96

Good win for the Bulls. Derrick Rose gave Oklahoma City a scoring issue that it couldn't contain, while new additions Brad Miller and John Salmons continued their superior play.

It's hard to dump on someone after a 12-14 night from the field, especially someone who has been struggling as much as Rose has recently, but you'd still like to see this guy play a bit more like a precocious youngster (offensively, I mean) than a seasoned vet. Smooth mid-range 16-footers are nice, but there's a reason this guy isn't piling up the assists (just three in the win on Wednesday), and you'd like to see him draw the defense for a bit more than a tasty scoop shot. Leave tasty to Larry Carlton.

It could be worse, the Bulls could have drafted in the low lottery as expected, and Rose is a special player. But it was a pretty ho-hum bust out game. Even against Russell Westbrook's snarling defense. I'm aware of the context, and I am a fan. I'm just a little surprised at how nonplussed I am.

Credit Rose for keeping his wits. He has a veteran's sense of cool and proportion, a down streak like his recent swoon would have destroyed most rookies (or youngsters, even), but he kept his head up. And came through with the turnaround game against his chief rookie backcourt rival. Impressive.

Chicago turned it over quite a bit (20 miscues), but they created havoc for the Thunder in the second half. Oklahoma City couldn't get into its sets, and I credit Tyrus Thomas for a lot of that.

Thomas made it obvious early on that he wanted to contribute on both ends, the man was very active away from the ball on both ends, and though he had several shots and calls that didn't go his way; he didn't mope like he usually does. He did once, in the first quarter (didn't run the floor, and Jeff Green made him pay with a dunk on the other end), but otherwise it was a fine night out for Thomas (12 points, 11 boards, three steals, great footwork defensively), despite the 4-12 shooting.

Phoenix 126, Philadelphia 116

What happens when a defense based solely around causing turnovers ... fails to cause turnovers?

I mean, really fails.

The 76ers entered the game forcing teams to cough it up on 17.6 percent of their possessions, a mark good for the second in the NBA. Phoenix, otherwise a pretty poor team in terms of hanging onto the rock (26th in the NBA in turnover rate; the percentage of your possessions that end up in turnovers, per-minute and pace-adjusted) only let go of the ball in 8.9 percent of their possessions on Wednesday.

Not only would that mark be good for first in the NBA, it'd probably set a few records. San Antonio leads the league at 13.4 percent. So one of the league's best at causing one bad thing met one of the league's worst at allowing teams to cause that one thing, and that one thing rarely happened.

For comparison's sake, this would be like the Cavaliers or Celtics giving up 140 points in a game ... to the Bobcats. This wouldn't be like the Cavs giving up 140 to the Lakers, or the Bobcats scoring 140 on the Warriors. This would be both teams bucking a trend to a ridiculous degree.

Shaq was all over in this win, communicating on offense and just playing like the smart, heady beast that we know he can be just about every night out. 26 points, six offensive rebounds, 11 total boards, three assists, two turns, three blocks, running everything.

For Philadelphia, Donyell Marshall hit his first two-pointer in quite some time, and finished with 12 points off the Philly bench. He also, for the third game in a row, followed a three-pointer by laughing out loud as he backed down court. Seriously, I've seen it three games running, and it's not as if he's taunting or talking to himself. He's just probably aware of how odd (and fun) this late-career renaissance has been. I'm digging it. So should he.

Orlando 106, Milwaukee 80

So much for "plucky."

Milwaukee is plucky, and it would seem to have an inside route to a possible rout of a Magic team that played in another time zone the night before, losing a tough one to the Cavs, but the Magic came out early and made it pretty apparent that Milwaukee is supposed to stand over there, and Orlando is supposed to stand right here. You stand over there. We stand here. Right ‘ere.

After yesterday's ball movement experiment, Stan Van Gundy got on his team during an early timeout for only allowing Dwight Howard two shots over the first half of the first quarter, and they responded by working inside-out, allowing Howard to finish the period with 18 points and six rebounds, and eventually establishing a 30-point lead by halftime.

The Bucks put up a good fight just about every night, but there's only so much you can do against a team that good, with a 30-point hole to work out of. And though the Bucks managed to make Van Gundy's life awfully annoying in the third quarter (outscoring the Magic by eight), Orlando was too good.

28 points, seven assists, 12 rebounds, two blocks and a steal for Howard in the win, over only 33 minutes. And this is why you don't need to be that impressed by a man leading the NBA in rebounds and blocks. Give him all the credit he deserves for that, but this guy is the likely Defensive Player of the Year because he changes games without having to change the direction (if not the projection) of a shot. The Bucks scored 87 points per 100 possessions, which is just jaw-droppingly low, and Howard was the biggest reason.

I mean it. This guy could be averaging nine rebounds and one block, and if his non-block/rebound exploits kept up, he'd still deserve the award. He's Shane Battier, expect he can touch the top of the box on a 12-foot rim.

So, so unbelievable. He's leading on the ballots for the voters that don't really watch enough of the NBA, but get to vote anyway (impressing them by leading the league in rebounds and blocks), and he's likely leading the ballots for those of us who don't even know how many rejections he ended up with until pulling up the box score hours later. Those of us that still came away gobsmacked at all the shots he changed, and offensive sets that he tore to pieces, without even knowing that he pulled in 15 boards.

87 per 100, on the road, a night after taking it to the Cavs in a close loss. Very nice.

Denver 111, Memphis 109

As it was last night with the Pistons/Mavericks game, with so many contests happening at once, I had to turn away from what I thought was a done deal (not only were the Nuggets down, they looked uninspired and impotent for most of the contest), and missed the big comeback.

What I saw over the first three quarters was a Grizzlies team that kept getting to the baseline and front of the rim. I saw Hamed Haddadi for the first time all season, playing well (did anyone else see our man Chris Herrington with the GQ byline, in a small piece on Haddadi, last month?), and I saw a Nuggets team that wasn't able to keep up with the Grizz in transition. Which is weird, because they're the Nuggets. They love to run.

The Nuggets must have hit the boards, Denver out-rebounded Memphis 43-36 as Rudy Gay (30 points, otherwise) finished with only two caroms in 43 minutes, and Chauncey Billups talked about defense following the win. O.J. Mayo was 1-6 in the fourth quarter alone, with three turnovers.

Denver stays a half-game up in the Northwest.

Houston 106, Detroit 101 (2OT)

This is the sort of contest that I would scoff at ESPN for wanting to put on air, especially back in July when they put these sorts of schedules together. Much respect to Detroit and Houston, but these are two teams that hate to run, and the two of them going against each other is usually box office poison.

But in reality, goodness, what a game. I still stand by my original scoff; as most of these pairings (since the league slowed considerably in the late 1990s) are horrible to watch. Just think back to the 2005 Finals, if you can remember (and a lot of you act like you cannot). You can respect the hell out of the teams in question, and the series might go seven, but the game-to-game back and forth is usually pretty horrid.

Not on Wednesday. The Pistons were without Rasheed Wallace, Allen Iverson, and Rip Hamilton. That's about $45.5 million in salaries, out. And yet, the team worked. It competed. It hit the boards, the offensive glass, hard. The effort was so strong ... and it wasn't as if they were going up against a Rockets team that could not have cared less about pulling in those defensive rebounds. Detroit just got to them.

And the Rockets put points board on the board quite efficiently. It may have taken this team two overtime periods to reach the century mark, but this is why we use per-possession stats. 50 percent shooting, good ball movement, and about 113 points per 100 possessions. To anyone who called this game's offense "ugly," stop it. It's never ugly when a team uses 23 of the 24 allotted seconds before nailing the shot.

(OK, sometimes it's ugly. But if the team is hitting half its shots, it's not a bad offensive game.)

Yao Ming was the full tasting menu, here. He had the accurate compass. He had enough rations to make it to Oregon. He wasn't too drunk to taste this chicken. He was awesome, and he had the ball. That last part is important. None of the other stuff that I wrote, was.

31 points on 22 shots, 15 rebounds, two assists, two turnovers (in 45 minutes, very good for Yao), and four blocks. So fun to watch, from stem to stern.

Ron Artest also tossed in 26 points, and he did it on 24 shots. Not the end of the world. A pretty good game. Not bad at all. Not happy with it, but the bad shots went in on Wednesday. I don't know where to start, so I'll just stick with the sentence fragments. He's such a tough one to try and talk about.

You see, Artest is a nutter. He put up points, he played fantastic D, he worked his tail off, but he probably broke that last play in the first overtime (Scola is supposed to meet the ball in the high post with Artest staying in the corner, possibly to later come over for a reverse high screen and roll), and he just takes bad shot after bad shot. And this has been the case from Chicago to Indiana to (especially) Sacramento to Houston -- the man breaks plays.

And he also makes some curious decisions. Also, if you've noticed, a trademark.

At one point, in the second overtime, Aaron Brooks was crumpled under the hoop on the opposite side of the court after falling while playing D, and Artest went for a one-on-one move while the Rockets were playing four-on-five.

The ball went in, everyone clapped, but that doesn't mean he stops there. He'll try it again, and more often than not it's a wasted possession that will result in a missed shot or turnover. And on a team that struggles to score as much as the Rockets do, you can't have these sorts of wasted possessions.

(With his team playing four-on-five, he went one-on-one! Essentially, one-on-five!)

His heart's in the right place, it really is. He's a selfish git in all the right ways, but those ways often turn wrong, wrong, wrong. Tonight, it worked.

The officiating ... not so much. Lots of clutching and grabbing and outright fouling on both ends, usually to the detriment of the impartial fan.

Artest was man-handling players out there. Two-hands in the stomach any time a post-up player turned to face up and drive, with lots of contact on reach-ins. I appreciate his aggressive nature, I really do, but those were fouls. This wasn't why Tayshaun Prince (4-17 shooting) was struggling so much, Artest can shut him down playing cleanly, but there should have been a few more calls. Also, Luis Scola got away with several three-second defensive violations that weren't called.

On the other end, Yao Ming had to deal with a series of post-position fouls that weren't called, and how is it that when Shane Battier pulls the chair out from under his man, doesn't touch him, his guy falls to the floor, it's Shane that is the one called for the foul? How does that work?

This may seem like more calls went in Houston's favor, but the severity of the Yao calls evened things out, to my eyes.

(I hate that I appear to be dumping all over Artest, who wants to win badly, but I can't live with myself if I don't point this stuff out. And with just three games on Thursday, I can't keep it a secret today and take it out in some random player in a passive/aggressive way in some other giant BtB, ripping on Ronnie Brewer for no reason.)

As you'd expect, Hubie Brown called a brilliant game. I'm not saying he's merely brilliant for his age, mind you, but it does say quite a bit that he's pointing things out in real time that I'm not even seeing in the first replay, after the initial chance to see it in real time. If this game excites you and you want to learn more about it, you really do have to drop everything and run to the TV when this man is on it.

So, yay Rockets. Great win. But Detroit? A night after coming back against Dallas, you do this? Without the superstars? Bra-vo, mates.

Antonio McDyess had 14 points, 20 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks, and he's just about as good as this league gets. Rodney Stuckey may have missed 17 of 25 shots, but he was incredibly clever down the stretch with the ball, and his play allowed for two extra overtime periods that I warmly embraced. The rest of the guys just worked. It makes you wonder what sort of leaders Rip, ‘Sheed, and AI are.

Fun game. Glad I got to watch most of it, and not ...

Los Angeles Clippers 120, Washington 108

I didn't watch much of this. Faced with the prospect of paying attention to this in spurts or taking in the work of four (potential) playoff participants in Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, I chose to ignore the Clippers and Wizards.

The box score tells me that Eric Gordon bounced back from a rough Tuesday with 26 points on only 17 shots, six assists, just one turnover, and three steals. That's a good thing, because if any rookie should be beaten down by an NBA season (outside of Greg Oden, of course), it's this guy.

Long post, I know. Thanks for reading.

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