Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Los Angeles Lakers 103, Houston 102

I really loved watching this game. Such fun. Such flow.

Yao Ming(notes) and Pau Gasol(notes) are two of my favorite players, absolute favorite players, and they couldn't take part. The Lakers played the night before, and played 53 minutes the night before, so they weren't working at peak efficiency. The Rockets want some shots back, maybe some calls back. It wasn't perfect.

But, damn ... I watched 12 hours of basketball on Sunday, six on Monday night, six on Tuesday night, and six on Wednesday night. That's not even getting into the afternoon watching, just me as a fan, with nothing to write about. Nearing the end of a ten-game Wednesday run, even in the first week? This is burnout time.

These two teams, though? Perfection. Absolute perfection. Staved off burnout. Staved off ennui.

It wasn't the perfect back and forth. Shots didn't go in, rotations were missed, poor decisions were made, tongues were dragging, 7-footers were missing. Didn't matter. It just didn't matter.

I don't know if I can offer much on this game, as an analyst. It was exactly what you'd expect. The Lakers probably dug themselves too deep a hole by going away from Kobe Bryant(notes) as much as they did on offense. Trevor Ariza(notes) (5-21 shooting) sort of came back to earth, his attempt at working as the Next Great Wing Sensation died when he flew too close to the sun. While being guarded by Ron Artest(notes).

Ron-Ron? He could have been a lot worse, but he also reined it in somewhat. Before the last, clutch, three-pointer he hit; Ron was ready to end the night needing 13 shots to score 12 points. But it could have been worse. I've seen it turn out worse, on that court.

Everything else? Loved it.

Kobe Bryant was so picturesque perfect in this game, and I don't mind telling you that this is just about as good as I've ever seen him.

He's, literally, scored nearly twice as much as he did tonight (41 points). He's done brighter, flashier things on bigger stages, with more to lose, with more going on. Doesn't matter.

Against Shane Battier(notes), who knows exactly what to do, Kobe did something he's never done against Shane - take it to the post.

Take it to the post, to that triple-threat, and drive the Rockets mad. Make them his absolute creature. Just run things. If this is latter-day Kobe Bryant, then latter-day Kobe Bryant will be dominant. Completely and utterly dominant. Jordan-esque, dominant, in a way that Kobe just wasn't even when he was dropping 40 by hitting contested jumpers from 21-feet away.

Just the perfect game. As I mentioned before - he's faced scarier circumstances. But the game's most dogged competitor put dogged those instincts aside tonight, in favor of a brain that ranks amongst the game's elite. The game's all-time elite.

I know it's the first week of the season, I know you think I'm fawning, and I don't care. This wasn't just another 41-point game for Kobe Bryant. This was basketball, at its best.

Where to transition to? Derek Fisher(notes) had the rare zero-point, zero-rebound, zero-assist game. But he played ... well. OK. Good D. Got away with some hand-checks, maybe, but he pushed Aaron Brooks(notes) into places he didn't want to go. Didn't shut Brooks down, but Fisher made Phil Jackson happy much in the same way that Ron Harper made Phil Jackson happy. And Ron Harper always makes me happy.

The Rockets? They're just a joy.

Chuck Hayes(notes) is a 6-6 Kevin Garnett(notes). His footwork belongs on Mt. Rushmore. His hands belong in the Smithsonian. He had two steals tonight, and caused as many jump balls. He's a center that's in the top five in steals, per game, in barely half a game. His defense is unbelievable. And now (7-9 shooting, no hesitation around the hoop) you have to pay attention to him when someone drives and dishes.

Carl Landry(notes) (20 and eight rebounds) is back with us. Aaron Brooks tried. Shane Battier lost 15 pounds in 47 minutes of play. Ariza shook off frustration to send the game to overtime. I love this team.

I love these Lakers, too. I root for Goliath, when Goliath is great.

Scratch that. I root for Goliath, when I see greatness in Goliath, and Goliath feels like following through on his way toward greatness.

And this team is great. This team, without Pau Gasol, just played two overtime games in as many days on the road, and came out victorious in both.

What a fantastic contest. Thanks for that.

***

Toronto 110, Detroit 99

Because we know absolutely nothing about the way pro basketball works, the Detroit Pistons entered Wednesday working as the exact opposite of where we thought they would be in John Kuester's first season as coach - 24th in offensive efficiency, sixth in defensive efficiency.

They then proceeded to give up 123.6 points per 100 possessions to the Raptors. A-HA! Clap hands.

The Raptors earned 47 (!) trips to the line in a slow, 89-possession game, making 36 freebies overall. Throw in just six turnovers, and you have a primo offensive outing. Detroit wasn't half bad itself, Ben Gordon(notes) scored 30 points on only 19 shots and new starter Ben Wallace(notes) actually helped more on offense than he hurt. The team missed eight of 25 free throw attempts, and Rodney Stuckey(notes) needed 18 shots to score 13 points.

Andrea Bargnani(notes) finished with 22 points, two blocks, and 12 boards; earning his eighth double-double in 225 career games. Nice floor game from Hedo Turkoglu(notes), who tossed around 16 points, seven boards, six assists and zero turnovers.

Detroit seemed to run out of gas late, possibly a holdover from Tuesday night's tough win over the Orlando Magic. Or, they're not that good. We'll know by May.

***

Orlando 122, Phoenix 100

Orlando walked all over the Suns, managing nearly 126 points per 100 possessions (that's ... a lot), destroying the previously undefeated Suns just a day after losing their much-lauded undefeated status. What the week it was, it was. The week. That undefeated week. That was.

Dwight Howard(notes) just went straight through whoever Phoenix tried to place in front of him, Matt Barnes(notes) helped put his former team away (especially in the second half) with 13 points, five assists, and 11 boards. And Ryan Anderson(notes) is rather beastly at this point.

20 and 10 for Anderson, in 25 minutes. He gave the Magic a steal and an assist and didn't turn the ball over once. It was a sterling night out for a man with a goatee.

Grant Hill(notes) and Jason Richardson(notes) combined to miss all nine of their attempts from the floor, Channing Frye(notes) never got going due to early foul trouble, Steve Nash(notes) missed a series of shots he should really make, though Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) finally broke out with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Stoudemire scored in myriad ways, it was pretty nice to watch.

The Magic won by 22 in spite of missing two starters and, somehow, Hedo Turkoglu.

***

Miami 93, Washington 89

This game just never spoke to me. It just seemed a bit, I don't know, 2006 to me. Odd.

Dwyane Wade(notes) made over half his shots and finished with 40 points, but so much time spent at the line (10 of 13) just made for a dreary watch. Same for Gilbert Arenas(notes), who made only a third of his shots but still finished with 32 points. I should be right chuffed that both players, who were pushed to the brink over the last few years due to a series of crippling injuries, are back to going at it; but I guess I was just too dour to take this one in.

Close game, too. Lots of lead changes. Lots of diving on the floor, and gutsy play. Dan Shulman always calls a great game, no matter the sport. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Miami needs to address its rebounding problem. I understand that that Mario Chalmers(notes) isn't supposed to be swinging elbows and cleaning glass, and that Michael Beasley(notes) played only 24 minutes and is awfully wispy. These two still have to combine for more than four boards in almost 60 minutes. Wade, I know he's all over the place, but he has to pull in more than four. Just because they're not playing typical rebounding positions, it doesn't mean they have to completely whiff.

***

Golden State 113, Memphis 105

This almost feels like writing about an exhibition game.

The game was fun to watch. I appreciated both ends running up and down. I appreciated the Warriors when they didn't dominate the ball too much, when they didn't go one-on-one.

But the defense was so poor ... that's not a cop-out. That's not a stereotype turned into analysis. It was. I tried to find a way around it, but the defense was crap. Nothing obvious. Just two teams that couldn't wait for the other team to stop talking, so they could interject. Or, get the ball back. Whichever you prefer.

Allen Iverson(notes) was great, and potent. 18 points and seven assists, which is quite impressive considering his lack of practice time, and the injury he's obviously (still) playing through. And though Mike Conley(notes) was pretty poor, I just don't know if I can put Iverson in a starting lineup with these guys.

It's not that Conley is going to be any good. It's just that, with O.J. Mayo(notes), Rudy Gay(notes), Marc Gasol(notes) and Zach Randolph(notes) out there (in that, reverse, order), do you want to have someone else on the court taking up shots? It's an ancient basketball standby that I tend to fear, but I can't help but go with it at this point. Bring in Brevin Knight(notes), or something.

I need to say this about Zach Randolph - he's trying. He's still really, truly, bad on defense. But he's working his tail off, he's obviously in better shape, and he's thinking team-first. We knew he wasn't a lost cause, based partially on how he worked his way back from microfracture surgery. Still, it needs to be pointed out. Randolph is trying.

Anthony Randolph(notes) played seven minutes because he doesn't take three-pointers with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.

***

Denver 122, New Jersey 94

It took the Nuggets a whole half of basketball, but they eventually realized that they were, indeed, playing the New Jersey Nets.

After a first half that saw New Jersey score a lot easier than it should have been scoring, and the Nuggets miss a series of close looks around the basket, Denver toppled New Jersey by 29 points in the second half. There's your nearly-60 point win, in half the time. Ah, New Jersey.

53 percent overall shooting and 56 percent shooting from long range for the Nuggets, who watched as rookie point man Ty Lawson(notes) traipsed his way to 23 points (13 in the final frame) on 10 shots. Carmelo Anthony(notes) needed 24 shots to score 22 points, but Nene went all-around off: 16 points on only six shots, nine rebounds, four assists, one turnover, two steals and three blocks in only 30 minutes. That'll do.

There are just too many awful players forced into big minutes on these Nets. You can help but appreciate the pluck and smarts of players like Bobby Simmons(notes) (two points on nine shot attempts), Rafer Alston(notes) (seven points on eight shots) and Eduardo Najera(notes), but they're just not going to help you compete at this level. Najera had 14 and seven in the loss, a fine effort, but that's just not going to happen consistently.

The Nets have lost each of their five contests, by an average of 14 points per game.

***

Indiana 101, New York 89

The Pacers turned the ball over six times in the opening six minutes of the first quarter, and yet the Knicks only managed a four-point advantage as a result.

Not in the wake of a fully played quarter, mind you, although they topped the Pacers by four at the end of the first. But six extra chances to shoot, plus the odd offensive rebound, and they were only up four points after the first six minutes.

I should have known, then.

This could have been a shootout, but instead it was a pretty miserable, mistake-fueled affair. The Pacers did do well to defend and hold the Knicks to just under 91 points per 100 possessions, that's on Indiana, but it wasn't the prettiest sight to behold.

Larry Hughes(notes) and Chris Duhon(notes) combined to miss 17 of 23 shots, not because of that defensive pressure or because of Dahntay Jones'(notes) presence. They missed those shots because they're Larry Hughes and Chris Duhon. This is how they do. They're walking Spanish down the court.

Roy Hibbert(notes) impressed me. He turned the ball over five times, but dig this - zero personal fouls in 30 minutes. 15 points, 14 rebounds, good defense, zero fouls. And the Pacers blew several chances to find him with good looks in the post as the game moved along.

***

Boston 92, Minnesota 90

I really like watching these Timberwolves. They battle, they really do; this was the case even back when Kevin McHale was slumming as head coach, but the trend has carried over.

The team genuinely wants to win, even in the midst of an admitted rebuilding year (they actually use the word "rebuilding," and "re-re-re-re-re-re-rebuilding" in its TV ads. Seriously. I dig it), and the effort and cheer is consistently there.

They won't win much, but on nights like these, when the opposing team had played in Philadelphia the night before, you'll get some close ones. This was a close one.

Too many turnovers, though, to pull things out. 19 percent of the team's possessions ended in a miscue, and though Boston was dragging and the jumpers weren't falling, the C's still hung on to win. The Celtics didn't win the championship last year, but I'll be damned if they don't still have a target on their backs.

And you know what? They don't give a rip. Aim away.

Corey Brewer(notes) needs to stop shooting. We liked the preseason, you got a contract for another year, and you're one of the few that look pretty cool in a headband, but stop shooting. Stop shooting. I'm not going to pull one of those blog tricks that sees me take a two-word sentence and break it up into two one-word sentences, but I'm close. Stop shooting.

16 shots to score 13 points on Wednesday, and that's awful. Really bad. This year he's needed 15.4 shots to score 12.8 points, and that has to be some sort of post-Cousy Era record. Stop shooting.

Stop.

(It doesn't count as a tired gimmick if I break it up over two paragraphs.)

Shooting.

Oleksiy Pecherov(notes) was fantastic, scoring 24 points on just 14 shots, in any number of face-ups, perimeter bombs, turnarounds, and up and under moves in the post. On several, quite good, Boston defenders.

Jonny Flynn(notes) trapped a little too much, Rajon Rondo(notes) had himself a game as a result. I'm OK with all of this. I like how interested these Timberwolves are.

The Celtics? They're always interested. You'll never have to worry about that.

***

New Orleans 114, Dallas 107

It seems like a cop-out to type this out, but to me the Mavericks just looked a little tired.

This was a great game, the stars weren't aligned for a few of the stars, but this was a very entertaining game made all the better by the presence of Hubie Brown in the ESPN booth.

Both the Hornets and Mavericks traded basket after basket over the fourth quarter and overtime, and though Jason Terry's(notes) stats nearly copied his (the Hornets just can't really guard anyone, can they? Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy?), Chris Paul(notes) just carried this team.

Other Hornets helped. This team was angry, upset at the way the East coast run turned out. I can't blame them.

And there was an extra skip, tonight. Bobby Brown(notes) still takes horrible shots, but some of them went in. David West(notes) actually attacked the offensive glass. Forget that, it was Chris Paul.

39 points on 23 shots. Seven assists. Chris Paul.

***

Atlanta 113, Sacramento 105

Fun game. The defensive stats aren't great, but there was a bit of effort on that end. This wasn't a shootout.

Atlanta turned it over too much, Joe Johnson(notes) was the worst culprit (six miscues), but this might be the best time to have JJ take a step back. Give the man a break. Lord knows he's earned it.

Jamal Crawford(notes) (26 points on 15 shots) continues to square his shoulders and take (mostly, there were some boners) good shots.

Marvin Williams(notes) continues to be a solid defender, if only he'd take to the post more often, as he did several times on Wednesday.

Josh Smith(notes) could be a point forward in this league. He'd just have to listen to some Cal Tjader before every game, and chill the heck out.

Tyreke Evans(notes) continues to take some of the worst shots I've seen from any rookie since Rodrick Rhodes. Kindly get it together, potential stud.

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