Ball Don't Lie - NBA

New York 104, Houston 98

As you'd expect, Houston's defense has really fallen to pieces with Yao Ming out. And with an "eh, not so much" offense already in place, just competing in games like this is an accomplishment.

Does this excuse an 11-39 (combined) shooting performance from Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady? No.

(Were you waiting for a qualifier? Don't hold your breath.)

The Knicks brought it defensively, the team made mistakes on that side of the ball, but the effort was consistent and unrelenting. And, as has seemed the case all season, Nate Robinson appeared to own the second half. 19 points and six rebounds for Nate in 27 bench minutes.

Wilson Chandler also played well after a bench demotion (of sorts), finishing with 18 and seven in 38 minutes. Houston's bench corps were damned solid, again, but it's hard to overcome a night that sees your two stars give the team 26 points on 39 possessions.

Phoenix 103, Washington 87

Another almost joyless win for the Suns, both for the objective viewer at home and, by looks, the team itself.

Shaquille O'Neal came on all lopey and tall, finishing with 29 and eight boards, Amar'e Stoudemire had another good one (22 and 15), and Washington's prime (Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler) ended the night with a combined 55 points. I also enjoyed Dominic McGuire's seven assists, for some reason.

Miami 95, Atlanta 79

The Hawks are really having some issues consistently finding ways to create good possessions offensively, and you get the feeling that whatever's recently gone wrong with this team doesn't appear to be the quickest of fixes.

This could Joe Johnson's yearly post-Christmas swoon. This could be Mike Bibby falling back to earth. Whatever it is, it's not working; and Bibby (zero assists, 1-6 shooting, five turnovers) looks like he doesn't belong on the court these days.

Give the Heat credit. Every Atlanta attempt (in the first half, especially, though the effort was there in the second) was contested. The Heat were obviously inspired, Dwyane Wade had 35 points on 19 shots, and they earned this one.

Oklahoma City 94, New Jersey 85

The Thunder nearly found a way to give it up, entering the fourth quarter up 82-54 and finishing the game with a nine-point lead, but a win is a win, especially over a team like the Nets.

That's not a joke. New Jersey can play, and the Thunder will take what they can get. Former Net Nenad Krstic (11 points, six rebounds, two blocks in 18 minutes) provided a first half spark, the entire team seemed willing to make the extra pass, and Oklahoma City truly looked like a bunch of world-beaters for the first three-quarters.

And I didn't see much of the fourth quarter while I watched other games. So, as far as I'm concerned, the Thunder are about to peel off nine consecutive wins.

He may have been hurting, but I credit OKC for the way Devin Harris finished with 10 points on 17 shots, as rookie Russell Westbrook did a great job keeping the should-be All-Star starter in front of him.

New Orleans 101, Philadelphia 86

Predrag Stojakovic, who has been well below average this year, came alive for 26 points on 18 shots, and he could have had more (a few rimmed out). The Hornets would probably prefer that a game like this happen against San Antonio or Denver, but this will do.

Philly couldn't stay in front of Chris Paul, no shame in that, but no win in that either. 27 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists, four turnovers, and seven steals for Paul. He blocked a shot, also. Ridiculous. Unfair. Out of this bleedin' world. Chris Paul, ladies and gentlemen.

The Sixers died by the three (2-14) and turned the ball over 21 times in the loss.

Minnesota 90, Milwaukee 83

Not only did Minnesota beat a team they were supposed to beat (in terms of talent, solely), the Timberwolves did it on the second night of a back to back, and you can't help but be continually impressed by this team.

It wasn't the prettiest win, the Wolves coughed it up 17 times to 20 assists, Kevin Love nearly demolished Charlie Bell's face with a needless elbow, and it took some ham-and-egg stuff from Ryan Gomes (22 points, eight rebounds, one turnover) and Al Jefferson (23 and 10, one turnover) to pull out the win even after a late Milwaukee charge.

Don't expect the Bucks to give up with Michael Redd out. Also, don't expect Richard Jefferson (3-15 shooting) to be of much help in Redd's absence.

Portland 113, Los Angeles Clippers 88

A team with so little can only hang around for so long.

The dilapidated (and that's not hyperbole, look at that starting lineup) Clippers hung in there for three quarters against a mousey Trail Blazers squad before losing the fourth quarter by 21 points.

Brandon Roy had his third straight white hot game with 33 points on 15 shots, Greg Oden had a fun one with 16 points, six boards, two steals, one turnover, and a block in 26 minutes, and Rudy Fernandez should probably be designated all-time Slam Dunk lob tosser (if not finisher) instead of a Dunk Comp participant.

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