Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Chicago 104, Toronto 88

I was ready to go off on the Raptors, I really was.

For having no heart. For failing to show up for the biggest game of the season, played in the wheelhouse (a home Sunday contest in the daylight hours) that has served them so well all season. For losing to a pretty bad Bulls team. By a lot.

But a day later, I'm not sure that's the right take. Sure, the Raptors slept through this, but what were we expecting from these guys? Is this in any way out of character for the Raps? Haven't we seen this all season? Why are we supposed to get haughty when the Raptors went all Raptor on us?

And let's give credit where credit is due. Chicago took this.

It answered the Air Canada Centre energy, early. It pulled away soon after. It left the Raptors reeling with a late second quarter run, and the Bulls put the boot on Toronto's neck with a third quarter that saw the Raptors miss 19 of 25 shots.

Along the way, Chicago was quicker to everything. All sorts of rebounds, loose balls, and I'm not talking about the typical kickers like Joakim Noah(notes), Taj Gibson(notes) and Kirk Hinrich(notes). It was Flip Murray(notes), Jannero Pargo(notes), guys like that. Engaged, making a difference, helping to pay attention to one possession at a time.

No, I don't think the Bulls are 16-points better than a Chris Bosh(notes)-less Raptors team playing in Toronto, but Chicago played its tail off. Joakim Noah is the obvious star with 18 points, 19 rebounds, and seven assists, but everyone got a little sweat on their brow.

Toronto, meanwhile, just couldn't put the scores together. I'm putting that on Chicago, who gave us some of that mid-season defense that has seemed to go away over the last month or so. The Raptors missed 16 of 21 3-pointers and made only nine free throws. You're not going to win with that.

And, yes, the defense was awful. Even from the guys that try, like Sonny Weems(notes), Rasho Nesterovic(notes) and Jarrett Jack(notes). In fact, I noticed more screwups from that triptych than I did the usual (Andrea Bargnani(notes), Jose Calderon(notes)) suspects.

Chicago is Chicago, so Toronto's not out of this yet. But this didn't help, (as Jay Triano likes to say) "obviously."

***

Miami 111, New York 98

New York hung in there for a while, but the Miami 2-3 zone that has become more and more prominent as we get deeper and deeper into 2009-10 struck again, allowing for the Heat to pull away and put pressure on the Milwaukee Bucks to hang onto that fifth seed.

Despite New York's early lead, Miami was pretty engaged in this one from the get-go. The team ended up putting together a 123-point per 100-possession game, guys like Michael Beasley(notes) and Quentin Richardson(notes) were active on both ends, and Dwyane Wade(notes) (32 points, five boards, five assists) filled in the empty spaces.

David Lee(notes) had 26 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but he was pretty quiet in the second half. Danilo Gallinari(notes) kept shooting like he was a 32-year old Peja Stojakovic(notes) (you're young, Danilo, drive!), and Chris Duhon(notes) outscored Tracy McGrady(notes) 10 points to four in about the same amount of playing time.

***

Orlando 98, Cleveland 92

Dwight Howard(notes) said "it would have been embarrassing" for the Magic to lose to the Cavaliers playing without LeBron James(notes), and for a good chunk of that first half, it was pretty embarrassing for the Magic. Orlando simply wasn't competing. Wasn't taking good shots or moving the ball, while failing to play the sort of defense that we're accustomed to seeing from the Oh-Arr-El.

That changed as the second quarter moved along, and especially switched when the second half started. From there, you can guess how things turned out. Delayed transition opportunities opened up, the Cavaliers were caught in crossmatches, and the Magic often had their pick of a couple of good and very, very good shots. Not that Mickael Pietrus(notes) is one to pass to the open man for the latter, if it means he can take the former.

Dwight Howard had 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. The Magic had 29 assists, pretty impressive on the road.

Cleveland couldn't compete offensively, working without James, and having to work through an active Orlando D for the better part of the second half. But the Cavs were able to keep it somewhat close by hitting the offensive glass and taking a whopping 14 free throws in the game's first 18 minutes.

***

Phoenix 116, Houston 106

The Suns really miss Robin Lopez(notes).

Houston was able to walk all over Phoenix's interior, and though the Rockets lost, it's clear that whoever the Suns meet in the playoffs is going to have a field day in the paint as long as Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and Channing Frye(notes) are patrolling things.

Luis Scola(notes) scored 30 in the loss, and while Houston couldn't guard Stoudemire (35 points), the Rockets won't be playing next weekend, and Phoenix will. And Phoenix will be out soon if Lopez doesn't return. Because Stoudemire and Frye aren't getting any better in a week.

Stoudemire's fantastic offensive play forced Houston to sag a bit on the screen and roll, and the Suns shooters took advantage.

***

New Orleans 114, Minnesota 86

Listless performance for the Timberwolves, a team that clearly doesn't like playing with one another. The team has lost 21 of 22 games, and looked ruddy awful in the process. And though they've played worse than the Nets over most of this season, Minnesota has better talent that the Nets, and a head coach who has head coaching experience, to say nothing of years spent as a top assistant. Kiki Vandeweghe (and this isn't a put-down; it wasn't his gig) couldn't even get on the front row of the bench in his time spent assisting in Dallas.

After a relatively even start, the Wolves just stopped talking and moving defensively, and I guess the same can be said for the offensive end. New Orleans just worked its way to lay-ins and open shots, while staying in front of Minnesota on the other end.

Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis purposely yelled f-bombs until it got him ejected in the second quarter, and that ... that didn't work.

***

Golden State 120, Oklahoma City 117

You've probably noticed it as well. The Thunder have been dropping defensively over the last month, and while I thought that the team's play against Utah and Denver would be a wake-up call for Scott Brooks' kids, it's clear that the problem is a significant one. And this loss has to be a wake-up call. No way around it.

Oklahoma City is not a great offensive team. It has the league's leading scorer, but there's a drop off in consistency and efficiency after that. And the Thunder can't try to play with the big boys — Utah, Denver, and, yes, Golden State — on that end.

What they can do is get back to shutting teams down. But it'll need some cold water to the face, first. Hopefully this game opens the tap.

OKC actualy dominated the first quarter, as it looked like the Thunder was on its way to a blowout. But Golden State likes to shoot, and sometimes those shots go in, and the Thunder just weren't paying attention on that end. Relative to how they used to.

Stephen Curry(notes) and Monta Ellis(notes) combined for 52 points. Plenty of bad shots, but plenty of makes, as well, while Reggie Williams(notes) contributed 20 off the bench. Kevin Durant(notes) got his 40, but he really struggled with his shot in the second half; though overall the offense wasn't a big deal for Oklahoma City.

It was the defense. Which has to change, soon.

***

We will have a post on the Lakers/Trail Blazers contest up in a few hours.

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