Mon Mar 01 10:30am EST
The Suns and Spurs won't be winning any championships this year, unless something rather drastic happens. There's a sound chance that neither team will make it out of the first round, and if a lower-rung team gets hot and the Suns run cold, Phoenix might not even make the postseason. But Sunday's turn, working against the backdrop of the whole of North America prepping for the greatest hockey game they were ever to have watched (a game that, incidentally, turned into the greatest hockey game they were to have ever to have watched), still entertained like few others we've seen this year.
Mainly because, for whatever reason, neither side could stop the other. Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) played like we were in an era where it seemed like an iffy idea to have a former Daily Show correspondent recreate the David Brent character that few in this continent had heard of, a true throwback game that saw him waltzing all over the Spurs as he did back in 2005. He scored 41 points, a season-high, including something done to Richard Jefferson(notes) that really shouldn't be talked about in polite circles.
Steve Nash(notes) had 18 and 11, and Channing Frye(notes) made three shots, all outside the arc. For some reason, the Spurs double-teamed Frye in the post in the fourth quarter. I have no idea why, and he passed out to Jason Richardson(notes) for a three-pointer. Because I like all the people I just mentioned, this is important.
Mainly because Richardson missed a dunk in the final couple of minutes that really could have made this a cracker, or at least a one-possession game, late. And then, in the game's final possession and with the Suns down three, Nash decided to pass off (silly) to what we're hoping he saw as Channing Frye behind the three-point arc (seriously, Steve? Didn't look it to me), and there was no reason in the slightest for Frye to be within the three-point arc with the Suns down three.
So, yeah, screwups. Still a fantastic game. Richard Jefferson had the baseline touch working, Tim Duncan(notes) destroyed Robin Lopez(notes), and you wouldn't be wrong in hoping for a best-of nine play-in series between these two for the, I dunno, seventh seed.
Jason Richardson: "I don't like to miss dunks." Yeah. Some boat, brah.
Maybe I'm just smitten with the way he wrangled Darren Collison(notes) and Marcus Thornton(notes) from the same draft. It allows me to look past the James Posey(notes) signing. Then again, he turned Tyson Chandler(notes) into Emeka Okafor(notes). Geesh. The guy's on a roll.
I wasn't upset with the way Jeff Bower's team played defense in the first half. Or, more accurately, I wasn't upset with his lack of upset-ness (fake words!) regarding the way the Hornets played D in that first half, a half that saw the Mavericks fall one jump shot short of hitting 70 points.
Bower didn't stomp and sweat. I've seen him stomp and sweat after blown calls, it's in him, but he didn't waste that energy on a Hornets team that was getting trashed by a Mavs squad that couldn't seem to do anything wrong. Whatever he said at halftime worked, and New Orleans came back to make this a game. The Mavs prevailed, Rick Carlisle (who is fantastic) saved the whole Caron Butler(notes)-on-Darren Collison thing until the final minutes, but I have quite a bit of respect for both of these teams and both of these coaching staffs. Even if it did feel like one team was being awesome while the other was playing (being, living) terribly.
Collison was fantastic, in the loss. He blew the game with a late turnover -- he's got a thing for miscues that only Tony Allen(notes) can approximate -- but he also gave Dallas 35 points. Absolutely took it to them. David West(notes) missed 12 of 15 shots (with four turnovers, rare for him) despite his six assists, and the Hornets just couldn't make up for that terrible first half defense.
Thirty-six points, eight rebounds, seven assists, zero turnovers. Come on, Dirk. Seriously.
Not as artsy a back-and-forth as the Suns/Spurs. The Nuggets and Lakers might very well be the two best teams in the NBA by the time they meet in late May for the Western Conference championship, but this mess was incredibly ugly.
The Lakers had 14 first half turnovers, and yet the Nuggies led by only nine at the half. Denver had eight turnovers in the first 24 minutes, and ended up adding 12 more in the second half. The Nuggets shot 40 percent in the first half, and finished the game shooting just under 36 percent. Clearly the Lakers defense was a bit of a concern. It kind of dominated things.
Good thing(s), because Kobe Bryant(notes) was off. He managed to worm his way inside the Laker offense as a whole, finishing with 12 assists, but he missed 14 of 17 shots and never really "went Kobe." Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony(notes) had eight turnovers and was needlessly fouled out by two terrible fifth and sixth foul calls, my housesitting venture (at a trained chef's house) went awry, and a bad time was had by all. Then USA lost in overtime.
Though I don't want you to think it a fluke that Atlanta won, it was almost a shame that either team had to win this game. A close match, an entertaining match.
The Bucks didn't foul, which is rare for them, and the Hawks crashed the boards. Both teams seemed to do everything right, and for whatever reason, Atlanta slightly pulled away late in overtime. Joe Johnson(notes) the hero, again, but not before the Bucks nearly won their seventh road game in a row, with Andrew Bogut(notes) acting every bit the Dwight Howard(notes)-type in the paint.
Also, John Salmons(notes)? I'd put LeBron James(notes) ahead of him in the reverse department, and that's probably it. Nobody uses the baseline as well as Salmons (32 points in the loss) in a pinch, nobody uses the rim as a shield as well as him, and LeBron only gets the nod because he could probably take off from where the photographers sit and dunk with two hands while wearing lederhosen. Pound for pound, vertical-for-vertical, Salmons is the man.
It's like, a friend of yours likes jazz a great deal - "appreciates" jazz, is probably the better phrase - and you listen to him talking about it throughout the week. How he has all these albums, how he was listening to a few the other day and, man, "I forgot how much I love this stuff." And he's talking up Wayne Shorter as if his car's CD player wasn't full of the White Stripes and Dracula Fortnight or whatever the kids listen to these days.
It's a point of emphasis, clearly. Like someone embracing their heritage, you go over to his house, and all he's cooking is things his grandmother would have stirred up. All jazz. End of the week hits, you go over to his house for a little pre-drink before you hit the pubs, and he has four Horace Silver CDs on random. Nothing wrong with that, but it feels like a bit of a stretch.
The Kings are into defense, now. They were talking it up before the game, they showcased it for the first half Sunday night, and for goodly parts of the fourth quarter. The Clippers alternately care and don't care, usually the latter, but because they're talented they were able to make a game of this late. But the Sacto D won out. Because they made a point of it.
The key here, for the Kings, is what happens when the pub closes. When you go back to your mate's house, and what is he putting on? Bill Evans? Or something from the Native Tongues movement? Sure, he'll tell you about all the jazz samples, but his devotion to jazz will become clear when he's sloshed and only wants what makes him, immediately, happy. And while there's nothing wrong with a little hippity-hop at four in the morning, talk is talk, and ball is ball.
Do the Kings continue to D up? That's on them.
In February, Andray Blatche(notes) averaged 21 points and 8.5 rebounds with about two and a half assists. In 11 games as a starter this season, he's averaged 21 and 10. Chalk it up to Wizard-status and robes and potions and lowered expectations and who-cares all you want, don't care. Blatche is killin' it as of late.
The Wizards hung on. There were heaps of long rebounds missed and the Nets nearly pulled it out, but they couldn't top Blatche's 36 and 15. Dude on the Real GM message board from 2007 that compared Blatche to KG? OK, it's like comparing Bob McAdoo to KG, but Andray's recent play has made it an improvement on, say, comparing Mikki Moore(notes) to KG. Congrats.
Yi had 20 points and 19 rebounds (12 offensive).
The Raptors did well to crash the offensive boards, but at this point in our little run, the Oklahoma City Thunder are probably 20 points better than Toronto, if the game is played stateside. The defense is too good, and Toronto's defense is too bad.
A fast game, with exactly a hundred possessions, which is actually pretty atypical. Toronto shoots and scores a lot, but they're not big fast-breakers, and though the Thunder are quite young, they don't run as much as you'd expect.
Here's what to expect: Kevin Durant(notes), in the MVP race. It isn't a race, he's not the best player in the NBA, nobody's even close to LeBron James at this point, but people are going to bring him up.
He's not the MVP, and it's not close.
But he is a scintillating player that I feel lucky to be able to watch (look at how happy Rasho is just to be next to him in the picture above), night in and night out. I don't know why the media feel a need to qualify that with things he probably doesn't deserve. I don't get why he can't just be this amazing player, working on this team that I adore. I don't understand why everyone has to be mentioned (Carmelo? Come on). Can't he just be Kevin Durant, awesome basketball player?
Durant had 29 and six rebounds in only 32 minutes. Serge Ibaka(notes) had 13 points, 10 boards and four blocks off the bench, and was a crucial element early as OKC pulled away. I have a Whitesnake song in my head and I ... I'm not proud of it.
Buncha damned Bolsheviks on the Orlando Magic, moving the ball and sharing the wealth, toppling the Heat even as Dwight Howard struggled.
Great defense Sunday night, 13.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, just 1.8 turnovers in under 29 minutes a game. Those are FANTASTIC stats for any center, much less one who looked like he couldn't play last year. And the year before.
And the kicker? Before even starting this rant, my head guessed, "I bet his shooting percentage is at a career-high; that'd be a nice hook for this aside." And for once, my head is right. He's shooting 54 percent, far and away the best mark of his career. Same with his True Shooting percentage, and he's coming through with an 18 PER. It might fall apart next season. Shooting percentages rarely sustain after a big jump in one season, or a big drop. Players usually revert, for better or worse. Sometimes, they Levert. Doesn't matter, JON's having a great year, one we should be paying more attention to.
The Magic? Still stacked, still scary.