Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Atlanta 103, Los Angeles Clippers 97

I suppose I appreciate how the Clippers were able to lead for most of the contest, and hang in there long enough to end this as a (barely) two-possession game, but something about this team tells you that they could do better. Even on the second night of a tough back-to-back, losing an hour heading from Chicago to Atlanta, you still feel like — even with those tired legs — they should have taken this one.

Because the Hawks coasted, for a while. The stars played well — Al Horford(notes) and Josh Smith(notes) combined for 31 points and 20 rebounds (five deflections from Smith; little things that destroy set plays, assuming the Clippers run those), and Joe Johnson(notes) (TV's own "Armadillo Cowboy") owned this game in the second, but by and large the Hawks didn't exactly press the issue.

Of course, Atlanta played in Oklahoma City the night before. They lost an hour, too, and they had to fly for a longer chunk of time. And likely drive longer to get home to the suburbs than the Clippers had to ride to get to their in-city hotel. Oh, if only Jeff Teague(notes) returned my texts. He could tell me.

The point being that neither the Clippers nor Hawks looked particularly beat. They just looked pretty uninspired (Hawks) or a little less than cerebral (Clippers).

Near the end, listen — Eric Gordon(notes) can't guard Joe Johnson. I like what Eric has done this year defensively, but he's not going to shut JJ down. Worse, Gordon's footwork was constantly off, he didn't line up with Joe correctly, and the bigger Hawk All-Star just had his way. 34 points on 21 shots for Johnson, he had a Michael Redd(notes) Special (two rebounds, four assists in 44 minutes), but he was a killer.

20 rebounds, 10 offensive, with six assists, two steals and a block for Marcus Camby(notes).

***

Toronto 108, New Jersey 99

Toronto got out to a quick start, and I don't know if they got a bit overconfident against a truly terrible Nets squad, or if it was just a series of lucky makes, but the Nets absolutely went off after that. And from what I saw, New Jersey looked quicker to the rim and to the open shots, that lower-end defensive mentality is starting to creep back into the Toronto feet, and the Nets enjoyed perhaps their best stretch of basketball of the season.

Wait, were they the ones that beat the Bulls in Chicago after being down 97 points? The Kings? Not the Nets? OK, cool. Cheers.

The Nets couldn't hold things on the offensive end. Toronto got better, Sonny Weems(notes) (14 and 11, four assists) was a big help on both ends, but you got the feeling those shots were going to dry up even if the Raptors kept up the malaise that marked the last half of the first quarter and first half of the second quarter. The Nets just can't keep up to other NBA teams.

Jarrett Jack(notes) overcame a nasty bout of the flu to contribute 17 points and nine assists, Andrea Bargnani(notes) missed 11 of 17 shots but continued to shoot well from behind the arc, and the Raps scored a potent 117 points per 100 possessions.

***

Phoenix 109, Denver 97

Don't pass it off as "the Nuggies were without Carmelo Anthony(notes), this was bound to happen!" Denver could have done much better. Could have caught up with more Sunsies. Could have played much, much better defense. Losing by 12, at home? Come on.

The box score tells me that Steve Nash(notes) missed seven shots in 15 tries, but I watched a good chunk of this game, and it feels like he missed zero out of 15.

***

San Antonio 115, Sacramento 113

I won't go as far to call it the best I've seen since Tracy McGrady's(notes) 13-point explosion late in a game against the San Antonio Spurs back in late 2004 — D-Wade, Kobe, Chris Paul(notes) and LeBron James(notes) have done some pretty impressive stuff since then; and I could probably go on — but Tyreke Evans'(notes) play late in this game was some jaw-dropping work.

Evans had 15 points in the last minute and forty seconds to make this score somewhat respectable, and he wasn't exactly attacking a prevent defense. Evans was stripping and scoring, going one-on-one with Tim Duncan(notes), getting to the rim, nailing shots, playing like an All-Star. Enough to wonder where he'd been the entire game, actually, but let's not end that paragraph on a down note. Already did, I'm afraid.

There were a few bad shots here and there, but the Kings let the Spurs earn an insurmountable lead in the fourth quarter because of the team's terrible defense.

Everyone got a taste; Kings coach Paul Westphal was particularly incensed (PG-rated, of course) with Sergio Rodriguez(notes), but this was a team effort.  Tim Duncan was Tim Duncan - 22 and 13 rebounds - George Hill(notes) had an active game with 23 points and nine assists, getting to the lane with ease. George Brett could have gotten into this Kings lane with ease, but let's not end this ... dammit.

Let's end with this: Tyreke Evans scored 32 points on 18 shots, he grabbed seven rebounds, he dished eight assists with four turnovers, two steals and a block against the San Antonio flippin' Spurs, and you can't even buy him a beer, legally, until next September.

***

Boston 107, Miami 102

Good balance, good passing, and good execution for the Celtics in this win. I feel like ripping on the Heat for allowing Boston to put up almost 119 points per 100 possessions without Paul Pierce(notes), but even without the Truth, after watching this exhibition, this sort of offensive turnout seems about right.

Dwyane Wade(notes) attacked the paint early and often, but he just has no help that seems to carry any permanence, any weight. 30 points on 16 attempts, 13 assists, six turnovers, but it just doesn't seem to matter.

Kevin Garnett(notes) had nine assists, Rajon Rondo(notes) had 22 and 14, and while Ray Allen(notes) missed four of five shots from outside the arc, he still leaned his way into 23 points.

***

New York 107, Washington 85

Give it up for the Knicks!

The Wizards, minus Caron Butler(notes), thought they could walk all over New York, and for good reason. Then the Knicks started defending, the team shut down the hurtful Chris Duhon(notes), and a +26 second half resulted.

Nate Robinson(notes) started the second half, finishing with 23 points and eight assists (five of which led to three-pointers).

***

Los Angeles Lakers 99, Charlotte 97

So, if the Lakers move the ball, and look for one of two of their 7-footers with skills, you're telling me that they can play exceedingly well?

Well, the Lakers can play exceedingly well in various different permutations. The team is that brilliant. But even with a more-than-hobbled Kobe Bryant(notes) missing 10 of 12 shots, the Lakers can still beat their unlikely nemesis if the ball movement is crisp, and the finishes are distinct.

17 and 14 for Andrew Bynum(notes), scoring without much fanfare as he worked for looks and made his moves quickly. Lamar Odom(notes) had 19 and seven rebounds (six offensive) off the bench, Pau Gasol(notes) and Ron Artest(notes) had 14 apiece, and even on a 3-11 night, I swear Shannon Brown's(notes) stroke is so, so much better than it was a few months ago.

Charlotte was without Gerald Wallace(notes), and they missed that extra ... everything. Missing a whole lot of "here and there" from the Eastern All-Star.

***

Portland 118, Utah 105

It wasn't so much that the Jazz couldn't miss; it was the Blazers just couldn't get to Utah. Just couldn't stop them. Could keep up with the penetration, sure, but mainly they couldn't handle the passing. Utah just had its way.

Portland's been nothing more than an average defensive team over the last few years without Greg Oden(notes) on the floor, the NBA's slowest pace makes their defensive stats look better than they are, and tonight they were just too slow and too small to matter.

It was a slow pile on, to be sure. Every time I'd flip away to catch on to another game for a few minutes, the Jazz lead had only gone up two or three points since my last visit, but those who pay attention to per possession stats will see their jaws drop at this one: Utah managed nearly 136 points per 100 possessions in this win. That's an absolute clinic.

Your typical stats tell the same story. 63 percent shooting. 32 assists to 10 turnovers, and 29 free throw makes in 32 attempts. Pass, pass, score. Time and time again. 87 possessions, 118 points. Yipes.

Portland wasn't far off, as mentioned previously (almost 121 points per 100 possessions), but these Jazz are on some kind of roll right now. And nothing, I'm convinced, that cannot be sustained once Carlos Boozer(notes) returns in mid-April. Was that out loud?

***

Oklahoma City 103, New Orleans 99

Fun little game, these Hornets just don't give up, Jeff Bower has the kids working hard, but the Thundah was just too much. Especially once Russell Westbrook(notes) took off his 3-for-11 shoes and tossed in a night worth Grant Hill's(notes) attention in the late 1990s.

26 points on 18 shots, 10 assists, eight rebounds, just two turnovers, and a block. Kevin Durant(notes) had 30 points on 20 shots (and, er, eight turnovers), while Jeff Green(notes) continued to shoot well from the outside, nailing two of four three-pointers.

NOLA only turned it over nine times, but they only hit nine free throws. There were some calls in the paint that didn't go the Hornets' way, but OKC still outplayed what remains a very proud team in Chris Paul's absence.

***

Dallas 110, Golden State 101

Dirk Nowitzki(notes) has worked with a bum right thumb for a little while now, and on Wednesday night we saw it smacked again. Watching the game, I feared we'd seen it broken before our very eyes.

Dirk sat out for a spell, then came back a few minutes into the fourth quarter of what was a somewhat close contest, and just went to work. Nine points, on three shots, with no three-pointers. Just embarrassed the Warriors on three looks, and got to the line four times (making three, Poindexters). Just looked a right beast. Love that guy.

Monta Ellis(notes) had 46 points, and while he did well to attack and take advantage of a porous Dallas high perimeter D, you got the feeling Dallas was just living with his work. Seven turnovers, but geesh — the kid did this on 23 shots attempts. Not his typical ranch stash, and congrats for that, Monta.

***

Philadelphia 106, Chicago 103 (OT)

The Chicago Bulls aren't good enough offensively, and made too many mistakes defensively to pull out a win like this. Pity, because the 76ers certainly gave them enough chances.

Elton Brand(notes) was alright, moonies, walking all over Taj Gibson(notes) and somehow finding a way toward loose balls ahead of younger and longer types on either end.  26 and nine rebounds, four offensive, with a pair of blocks and a steal for EB. Andre Iguodala(notes) tossed in 25 points, eight rebounds, eight steals and three steals in almost 47 minutes, because he's fantastic. His three-pointer in overtime clinched it.

Derrick Rose(notes) had 30 points and nine assists for Chicago, but the team's isolation offense is so ruddy predictable that the team as a whole was pretty useless down the stretch.  D-Rose did get to the line 10 times (making nine), which was nice, along with his usual batch of paint points (10).

Allen Iverson(notes) missed the game because one of his children was ill. I know I had as many as eight different games playing at the same time as this contest, and while this isn't an excuse, I didn't even notice AI was gone. I think that says more about him, at this point, than it does me. Did it strike you, League Pass followers?

Also, Philadelphia's Royal Ivey(notes) played for the first time in 2010, he played only seven minutes, and hit a bomb of a bailout three-pointer as the shot clock wore down in the second half. In a game that eventually went to overtime. I support the Bulls, by the way.

Thanks for reading.

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