Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 139, Phoenix 137 (3OT)

I once listened to the idea of art "explained," and the idea behind it alternately makes and doesn't make sense. Kind of makes sense after Tuesday night.

In order for art to be "art," they told me, it has to have no function. No worldly use. No reason for existing beyond its own status as a piece of art. So a carefully prepared plate of something can't be art, because you could eat it and it would help in your day to day sustenance. A car, however pretty, can't be art because it serves a purpose in its ability to transport you. But a painting? A piece of music? There's nothing there besides the art. Not sure if I believe it, but I can dig it.

Tuesday's Lakers/Suns game was art. It served absolutely no purpose beyond our studied and giddy examination of it. The Phoenix Suns didn't use the game as a way to catapult itself back from the fringes of the playoff race, and the Los Angeles Lakers didn't use the game to get their act together defensively or even offensively (despite those 139 points). It was just presented for our approval. And we approved.

The defense in the first half was terrible, but though the stats stood out (both teams were actually giving up more points per possession than the pathetic Hawks gave up to the Bulls earlier that night), it really wasn't a bother. A surprise, perhaps, because the Lakers had been destroying teams defensively with a healthy Andrew Bynum(notes) since the All-Star break (Bynum would miss this game due to a suspension), but nothing that stood out as appalling. Just crap defense and good-fun offense.

The Lakers pulled away in the second half because they're the defending champs, they know how to lock down for stretches even without Bynum, Kobe Bryant(notes) (42 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, good god) nailed a couple of nice treys, and Lamar Odom(notes) was everywhere. Then the Suns came back for the simple reason that Phoenix's best is much, much better than Los Angeles' second line. And though Odom (29 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, ZERO turnovers in 55 minutes) was out with the second unit, the Suns destroyed that outfit.

This is what Phil Jackson does, in March. I'm a Bulls fan, he used to do this with the Bulls (it may have cost the team 70 wins in 1997), and it royally ticked me off. And then, in late May or June, I'd watch that same bench unit (after learning to cope and struggle through long stretches on the court) play about 200 percent better, and I'd flash back to the miserable turn from March and understand why. Sometimes, the bench can't be helped (like in 2003, 2004, or 2008). But sometimes it pays off. So there's my answer to that. And Phoenix's answer was to come back and make this a close game.

Eventually Kobe and company returned to keep it close, but every time Kobe stepped out of the offense (blah, blah, blah) the Lakers faltered. Down the stretch in regulation, overtime, and double overtime, every time Kobe went one on one, things fell apart. Every time he used a play, a screen, came off the ball, or (shock horror) used the triangle? He scored. Not just "he had a good shot," he scored.

And Phoenix kept it up with their screen and roll attack featuring Steve Nash(notes) (20 assists) and Marcin Gortat(notes) (24 points). The Lakers couldn't or wouldn't guard it for  most of the game, and then they owned it in the last overtime. Game over.

The purpose of BtB is not to provide a gamer, a recap with all the haps, or detail the highlights; and you've no doubt seen Nash's astonishing behind-the-everything pass while falling out of bounds and the Channing Frye(notes) threes. And you probably hate Vince Carter(notes) even more after this game, due to those terrible shots, weak misses, and crummy defense. You know all about Ron Artest's(notes) killer three-pointer and his dunk after stripping Steve Nash. You read BtB.

Kobe made it happen in the third overtime. The three-pointer and one-on-four pull-up were probably terrible shots, but this is what he does. You'll remember those and forget what happened against Portland or Memphis or some other team. It'll never stop with this guy. And you know his buddy tape operator in Chicago is telling him, "you see what happened here, and your shot went in, right? You should do this. And usually when you do this, things don't work out. So stop doing that. Even if you made those last two shots. Because you didn't make those last two shots doing that in regulation, the end of the first overtime, and the end of the second overtime." And then he says "sure," cusses, and shoots a contested 20-footer.

And that's why this game was art. It served absolutely no function. Nothing to learn from, nothing to take hold of, nothing outside of the sheer beauty it was to behold. Great fun, as much as you'll have watching a game, but even after that fun I'm ready for the next one -- those 12 games tonight. Something that might count.

But looking back? Thanks for those 63 minutes, mates. I'll sign the guestbook on the way out.

***

Chicago 114, Atlanta 81

A pathetic showing for Atlanta, and another dominant turn for a Bulls team that more or less cemented its status as everyone's second-favorite team with this win.

Nobody is rooting against these Bulls, unless they're going up against the team you grew up with, because they clearly boast a set of team-first principles and concentration levels that you just don't see too often in this league. Sure, the team falls flat at times, but that's mainly because it can stink on ice offensively. The other 90 percent features determined play, and real joy as the group encourages itself from the inside out to do better, better, better.

You know these sorts of descriptions are usually an anathema to me, but you just cannot deny what these Bulls are bringing. Sure, it could all fall flat at the first 12-point second quarter in the playoffs, or the minute the team gets tired of listening to a coach who is complaining about calls at mid-court while up 39 points, but for now? If you're a fan of this team then this is a fantastic time to be awake. I don't care that it's March. This is a special group. These are good times.

Six of eight three-pointers for Derrick Rose(notes), including one that spun in and out. Ten assists, 30 points. Luol Deng(notes) slid and improvised his way to 27 points, and no other Bull hit double-figures, though seemingly every other Bull had eight points.

The Hawks responded with Josh Smith(notes) shooting long two-pointers (seriously, the first play after what I'm assuming was a stirring halftime speech from Larry Drew saw Smith line up a face-up flat-footed jumper in the face of Carlos Boozer(notes), a hapless defender) and indifference.

***

Portland 111, Washington 76

If the Bulls are everyone's second favorite team, then the Portland Trail Blazers (especially to League Pass denizens) aren't far off. The group took an excited roundhouse from Washington early in this game, and watched as JaVale McGee(notes) came through with the block of the century before efficiently and exactingly taking it to a Wizards team that didn't know any better.

Washington is terrible defensively. The blocks might be there but the brains aren't, and Tuesday was a prime example. Wizards would front the post with no help, go into a terrible zone (and I've seen Flip Saunders' zones; they can really work), or just get straight beat one on one. The ball was moving, and every Blazer got a taste. LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) piled it on in the first half; Gerald Wallace(notes) did his damage in the second half.

The Wizards, with Nick Young(notes) and Andray Blatche(notes) sidelined, had no answers. Young and Blatche, missing 'em. It was that bad.

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