Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Utah 97, Portland 88

One thing you've had to notice this season is the jump Utah has made defensively. They earned a rep last year from the national media as a strong defensive outfit, but only because these observers weren't too familiar with, um, observing the Jazz, and deduced that it would make sense that a Utah team under Jerry Sloan would have to be a hard-nosed and sturdy defensive team.

Hard-nosed, maybe. The Jazz fouled like few others. But the defense wasn't all that great. Not horrible, mind you, but a bit above average ... 12th in the NBA. This year, even with Andrei Kirilenko playing a few less minutes, the Jazz have shot up to 8th. And last night's win over the Trail Blazers was a huge step for them defensively, as they held the NBA's 2nd-best offensive team (entering the night scoring 113.4 points per 100 possessions) to 104.8 points per 100 in the win.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the Jazz aren't sending opponents to the free throw line as much, and because Matt Harpring hasn't played much this year. Pretty sure one of these things might lead to the other.

Teams are averaging 26.4 free throws a night against Utah, down from 30.1 last year, and that's a pretty significant leap. It really is. Even better, though the Jazz are shooting fewer free throws in 2008-09, they're still attempting as many as they give up. Once Carlos Boozer returns and Deron Williams gets his wheels back, the Jazz could actually have an advantage at the charity stripe. And the end times have begun.

Dallas 95, Charlotte 90

Give Charlotte credit for hanging in there, Dallas some dap for its defense (9th entering the game, but improving as the year moves along), and Emeka Okafor for his continuing his turnaround.

Emeka's stats are down this season, but after a mid-November stretch that saw him go 1-12 in a six-game run in terms of accruing double-figure stats in either points or rebounds, he's had a healthy bounce back. It continued on Thursday night with a 27 and 17 performance.

Jason Terry is continuing to come through with some righteous stuff off the Dallas bench. 26 points on 16 shots in about 33 minutes for JET in the win.

Boston 122, Washington 88

So, a few days ago I received an email from NBA.com, thanking me for taking part in the fan vote for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game.

What?

I occasionally vote for the All-Star teams, NBA.com has allowed fan voting on its website since 1999 and I appreciate the league's accessibility in this area, but I certainly have not and would not have voted this early. Much less for the players the email reminded me that I voted for.

Players like Chauncey Billups, Brandon Roy, Dirk Nowizki, Amare Stoudemire, and Andris Biedrins. Nothing really outrageous there.

But in the East? Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins. According to NBA.com, I've voted for Boston's starting five.

Hmm. I wonder who got a hold of my password?

So, until a Boston fan or fans comes clean and spills it, the Celtic analysis will go like this:

Ray Allen is obviously on steroids (how else do you explain his Clemens-like return to prominence?), the C's road alternates are miserable to look at, and Boston was lucky to get away with this win. Had they not been playing a four-win team, this thing goes into overtime.

Your move, Massachusetts.

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