Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Cleveland 99, Detroit 78

Bad news for the rest of the league. A few days after the trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded absolutely nobody for Delonte West, a combo guard from St. Joe's.

25 points in his first game back from a busted wrist for West, who started, while adding five boards and four assists in only 33 minutes. The Cavaliers dominated from the outset, they were up double-digits early and finished the first with a 31-17 advantage. And Detroit just doesn't have the offense know-how to make up for when their defense goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Detroit still is a better defensive team than it is a offensive team, but tonight it had no idea defensively. About 120 points scored per 100 possessions for Cleveland, it was such a slow game that it was hard to tell at times just how well these guys were scoring. No it wasn't. That's not true. Not sure why I typed that. Cleveland made the Pistons look small.

Five turnovers to 24 assists for the Cavs, who made 10-18 three-pointers. 20 points, five rebounds, nine assists, two steals, a block and zero turnovers in 30 minutes for LeBron James. And, while it shouldn't be surprising, this healthy bunch is pretty scary. The Cavs are sca-ry.

Toronto 111, New York 100

The Knicks can make the playoffs. They have a great coach, a talented-if-thin-and-completely-crazy roster, and they play in the East. Yes, New York is three games back with 27 to play, but the squads separating the Knicks from the eighth seed aren't exactly world-beaters, and stranger things have happened.

If the team is going to take that next, unexpected step, it has to start playing perfect games. Or, at least, come a little closer to perfection that what we saw in Toronto on Sunday. There are reasons the Knicks didn't beat the Raptors, nothing to kill the team over, but it'll be enough to keep the Knicks out of the postseason if they persist.

Chris Duhon threw the ball away six times, four in the first quarter alone. David Lee wasn't his usual automatic self close to the rim (6-15 from the field) or the line (5-9), and while Nate Robinson's line wasn't the worst (18 points, eight assists, two steals, two turnovers), there were blown possessions or shots here and there that really kept the Knicks from really taking over the game. And Wilson Chandler (1-6 shooting) was an afterthought.

Again, there's nothing wrong with losing to a talented team like the Raptors, in Toronto, while taking part in Toronto's nearly-weekly home matinee; but if the Knicks want to take that next step, these sorts of (excusable, passable) missteps need to be eliminated.

Fine game from the Raptors. Anthony Parker's had a horrible year, but his shot was there (11-16) against the smaller Knicks. And Andrea Bargnani overcame a slow start to really take it to New York down the stretch, finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks overall. Great to see.

Not as great to see was Shawn Marion's insistence on pretending that he wasn't Shawn Marion, and trying to shoot off the dribble poorly like his name was Andre Iguodala. You are NOT Andre Iguodala, Shawn Marion. You are Shawn Marion.

And while the 15 rebounds (five offensive), five assists and a steal were nice, and the 16 points helped, the best way for Shawn Marion to play for a new contract is to play like Shawn Marion. Help on the break, dive to the corner on the weak side of a screen and roll while waiting for the pass, and try to convince those legs to stay active.

Thing is, we like Shawn Marion. A lot. Toronto could really work for this guy. Here's hoping it does.

Also, you can be pretty sure that Knick fans already hate Larry Hughes, who missed eight of nine shots in the loss.

Indiana 98, Chicago 91

Great defensive showing by the Pacers in the win, they were active in the passing lanes and did a great job of showing on screen and roll and shutting down penetration. They couldn't stop Ben Gordon (28 points on 20 shots), but made it so the Bulls had a hard time getting the ball to Gordon at times. Other times, they didn't have a hard time tossing it Gordon's way, but just declined to, for some reason.

Fantastic game for Troy Murphy tonight, he tossed in 27 points (3-5 from long range) and pulled down 14 rebounds. Three assists, two turnovers, and steal for the Pacer big man, who seemed to really enjoy taking it to Tyrus Thomas. Thomas and Murphy got into an altercation last year, and while Thomas didn't exactly wilt in his presence (16 points, five rebounds, two blocks in 30 minutes), Murphy clearly had an extra hop in his step on Sunday, and outplayed the Bulls forward.

The Bulls, like the Knicks, can't keep having games like this and expect to make the playoffs. The telling sign is, the law of averages dictates that they won't continue to play like this. Brad Miller (1-5 shooting in 19 minutes) can't keep relying solely on 20-footers, but he'll also knock down a better percentage from here on out. Kirk Hinrich shot 1-7, and Derrick Rose (obviously in a significant swoon) missed eight of nine from the floor.

I didn't mind the Bulls going small down the stretch, featuring a lineup with Rose and Gordon in the backcourt alongside John Salmons, Luol Deng, and Thomas up front. It mirrored Indiana's smallish lineup, and the Bulls needed quick movers to help on T.J. Ford. I also liked tossing Salmons (12 points on eight shots) 25 minutes. He's a moper, but he's going to be on the team for a while, so you might as well try to win him over early.

Also, Brad Miller was dipping chewing tobacco on the Bulls bench on Friday night, while in street clothes. Just spittin' it out there.

Boston 128, Phoenix 100

We've talked quite a bit about the Suns, recently, but a dose of perspective is needed, ‘ere.

Start on February 11th, a Wednesday. At the time, it seemed a lock that the Suns would dump Amar'e Stoudemire by the end of the trade deadline, if not to Chicago, then to the Cavaliers or Blazers or some other cap-relief offerin' suitor. Then the rumors about Terry Porter's imminent firing came down on the 12th. Then Phoenix hosted the All-Star weekend, rumors blazing all over the place. Then Porter gets the axe on the 17th, the team destroyed the Clippers twice by a combined 192 points, and then we learn that Stoudemire might be out for the season. The Suns destroy the Thunder, and then team gets destroyed on national TV by the national champs on the 22nd.

That's an incredible 11 days, for any team, much less one pining for a playoff berth.

Phoenix had no chance against the Celtics, even a C's team working without Kevin Garnett. Rajon Rondo was told by Doc Rivers to take it to Steve Nash from the outset, he's a good listener, and finished with 32 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three steals, and the de rigueur five turnovers. More turnovers (19) than assists (17) for the Celtics, which was a bit depressing, because even at their best they just can't seem to hold onto that thing.

Maybe I'm a dolt, or maybe it's because I knew of the outcome before I saw the actual contest, but I just didn't take much away from this game.

Also, ABC? The world's biggest NBA fan watched this entire game with the volume down. And this is a person who thought Mike Breen was the third best play-by-play man in the nation in the early part of this decade, loved Mark Jackson's work on YES, and truly enjoyed Jeff Van Gundy's stint at TNT.

I listened to Ellen Foley, a few times, instead. Take what you want from that.

Houston 99, Denver 78

21 turnovers for the Bobcats on Sunday, and that's just an absolute ton for a team stuck in this slow a contest. The team's offensive ineptitude didn't end there, not with that 36 percent shooting mark, not with those 87.6 points scored per 100 possessions. For comparison's sake, the woeful Los Angeles Clippers are last in the NBA at 102 points scored per 100 possessions.

Houston really flexed some muscles tonight. The Rockets should have gone to Yao Ming more, but it's hard to mind when he tossed in 19 points on 11 shots with seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in almost 37 minutes. Ron Artest had one of his best games as a Rocket, he man-handled Gerald Wallace (3-8 shooting, four turnovers, fouled out), and scored 26 points (four assists, one turnover) himself.

Good, needed, win for the Rockets.

Milwaukee 120, Denver 117

I watched quite a bit of this game. That's one thing that you get from Sunday's marathon of NBA contests, the ability to take in an intriguing game for a good chunk of time, instead of having to flip constantly. With just one or two games on at once, you also good a good chance to develop opinions, try to sustain them with research, and then spend the rest of your night questioning, and questioning, and questioning the mess you came up with.

Here's what I came up with: I'm not ready to call this a bad defensive night, from either side. Denver (in the second half of last season) and Milwaukee (since the George H.W. Bush administration) have historically been a couple of pretty awful defensive outfits, but I saw good effort on Sunday. They've both been terrific this year, defensively, but I'm just warning anyone thinking that both teams might have taken a step back. I saw good decisions, and good interest. I saw good defense being taken down by better offense.

Much better offense. The game had exactly 100 possessions, so you can kind of do the math from there. Milwaukee just made shot after shot, long shots, and overcame its issues on the glass (Denver picked up an offensive rebound on nearly half of its misses from the field) by forcing turnovers and holding onto the ball on the other end.

Denver lost this game with its turnovers, 24 of them, and bad timing when it came to letting the Bucks getting a few offensive rebounds of its own. I'm just not going to get on the Nuggets because the Bucks shot 47.6 percent from long range. Or either team for all those free throws. But that's just me, I could be way off.

36 points for Charlie Villanueva, who was essentially playing the part of Milwaukee's shooting guard at times, with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Richard Jefferson squeezed down by the baseline and off the ball. Jefferson made up for Michael Redd's absence with efficient shooting (17 points on 12 shots), and Redd's other usual contributions with one rebound and two assists. 27 points on 13-15 free throw shooting for Bucks guard Ramon Sessions, as well.

Also, Denver? Chauncey Billups has no problems with playing the martyr. So he's not going to tell his teammates when they're screwing up by not finding their best player (and he is their best player). I'm going to tell you, Denver, find your best player. Pass on finding J.R. Smith, if you have to.

More advice? You are killing your team for every minute you play either Linas Kleiza or Renaldo Balkman over Chris Andersen.

The idea that, "Kenyon Martin is injured, Balkman would play the minutes anyway so let's start him and let Andersen be ‘energy' off the bench" is absurd and wrong. It's "conventional" basketball thinking that continues to be tossed out there even though it never seems to work, and never gets called to task because, I don't know, "'Melo's gotta work on his D!'" or some such twaddle usually results.

Orlando 122, Miami 99

It really says something about Miami, and possibly Jermaine O'Neal, that Orlando had the finest offensive night (131.2 points scored per 100 possessions) of the evening. Even while tripling the Heat up in the turnover column, 16-5.

Equal parts poor planning, poor execution, and poor effort from the Heat. Now, I'm going to have to give this team another look or two, while giving Erik Spoelstra's coaching staff a few more chances, before really passing post-O'Neal judgment. But they squandered an all-timer from Dwyane Wade, who finally hit 50 points while adding five boards, five assists, a steal, an assist, and only one turnover. 

(Do you know how hard it is to score 50 points, putting up 30 shots, while only turning the ball over one time? What a night.)

The Magic, obviously, were terrific. 32 points and 17 rebounds, with two blocks, for Dwight Howard. New addition Rafer Alston had a Rafer Alston-y night with 12 points, nine assists, and four turnovers, but that's OK, because that's a little better than a typical Anthony Johnson night. Johnson didn't have a typical night, tossing in 12 points in just 17 minutes off the bench, while Hedo Turkoglu came through with 20, nine boards, six assists and six turnovers.

Portland 116, Los Angeles Clippers 87

See, this is where I have to appear to be denigrating or picking on the play of a player who had a great night. And I hate that.

Steve Blake had 14 assists for Portland in the first quarter. He was just seeing the floor incredibly well, taking advantage of an awful Clipper defense and a newfound Trail Blazer insistence on running off of rebounds both long and short. And to nearly halve Scott Skiles' NBA record of 30 assists in a game ... in a quarter? Fantastic.

But he didn't have 14 assists. Shouldn't have, anyway. 10 or 11 is more like it, if even that, because a few of those were just ridiculous attempts by the Portland score keepers to pump up Blake's totals. Which stinks, because he was brilliant enough as it is. He didn't need the help.

The last two assists of the quarter were the worst. Blake set up Travis Outlaw for a wide-open 19-footer on the left baseline, and Outlaw chose to drive with the ball and finish with the two-hand slam. Now, Outlaw would have been fine taking either shot, but with the Clippers' D that flighty, he went for the high percentage draw. And Blake got the assist.

That's about 16 feet of dribbling from Outlaw, after a head-fake, and Blake still gets the assist.

Seconds later, Blake set Rudy Fernandez up for a wide-open three. And like Outlaw, with two great choices to decide on, Fernandez chose to create his own fortune, dashing to the front of the rim for the lay-in and the foul.

Again, that's about 20 feet worth of dribbling from Fernandez, and Blake still got the assist. I was in the process of making fun of the Portland broadcasters (who I usually like, but they dropped the ball by not questioning this) about the "is that an assist for Steve?" question I heard from them when, suddenly, "from Steve Blake!" blares over the PA.

That's pathetic, Portland.

Listen, it's good enough for Blake to finish a first quarter with nine or 10 assists. He would have been the talk of this game recap, the next day's paper, and the wire services anyway. That was a beyond-entertaining run that had me cheering for him, especially in the face of a Clipper team that obviously didn't give a rip.

But now look what I've spent the last 390 words talking about. I'd be doing my readers a disservice if I didn't point that out, Portland, and those who don't get a chance to watch many Blazer games are going to look at Portland box scores with a leery eye from now on. It shouldn't have come to that. Blake's start was extraordinary enough, it didn't need the artificial help.

Blake finished with 17 assists in 26 minutes, and though the Clippers made a little run, it was never close. And it's OK to root against the Clippers. Not that you need my permission, but, you got it.

Los Angeles Lakers 111, Minnesota 108

Real fun game. The Lakers made a whole heap of defensive mistakes, overplaying when it shouldn't have while watching as the Timberwolves made shot after shot.

Some of those shots were Los Angeles' fault. Let's say, hmm, the first "shot" in "shot after shot." But the second "shot" was all Minnesota. They were up for the game, the ball was moving, and I appreciated Kevin McHale's team's effort.

It wasn't enough, obviously, the Timberwolves turned it over too many times and didn't have the answers on either end down the stretch. But the underhanded Timberwolves made life tough for the Lakers, and an entertaining game resulted. That's all I can ask.

Lamar Odom (25 and 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals, one turnover) is carrying the Lakers at times with these little things, the things that show up in the box score (you read that correctly), like four offensive rebounds. Or his team-leading plus/minus of +9. Lots of effort from Lamar in the win.

I thought Pau Gasol looked out of sorts for a some parts of this game, but he also finished with 25 points, five assists, two blocks and one turnover. So much for anecdotal evidence. Kobe ='ed Kobe with 28 points and seven assists.

The Lakers stayed calm throughout, it wasn't as if they were short on respect for the Timberwolves, or that they knew that Kobe could bail them out in the end. This team has played with each other for long enough to understand that, if the defense is there, it can get good shots whenever it needs to within that marvelous offense.

You had to love what the Wolves brought on Sunday -- Sebastian Telfair and Mike Miller were working well from the outside, Craig Smith (19 points in 17 minutes) had a good game -- and this isn't anything to rail against the Lakers over. Some teams get up for the (conference) champs, and some long jumpers go in.

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