Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Charlotte 109, Los Angeles Lakers 89

For the second straight game, the Lakers couldn't shoot. They couldn't, and wouldn't, defend in this loss either. And for as much credit as I give Los Angeles for having to contend with opponents that are as enthused as they've been all year just about every night, and as mindful as I am about Charlotte's 8-2 record against the Lakers over the last five years, this was still a ridiculous game.

Yes, Charlotte earned the win, and it's no embarrassment outright to lose to a good enough team like the Bobcats, but this was an embarrassment. The last six quarters of Laker basketball has been ruddy awful, and they really have themselves to blame. Which is a shame, because not only have we missed out on some great basketball as a result (how great would two close ones against the Magic and Bobcats have been?), but also because Kobe Bryant(notes) (in the post, especially) is starting to do real sound work on the occasional times that he actually makes shots.

But he hasn't been very efficient, over his last two games, going 16-38 in the two losses while only taking four free throws combined and missing six of eight three-pointers. Five of Los Angeles' 12 turnovers on Monday. Andrew Bynum(notes) and Pau Gasol(notes) continue to play well when they actually get the ball, but with Kobe going off, Ron Artest(notes) forcing the issue, and Shannon Brown(notes) continuing to chuck away (5-20 shooting the last two games), what does it matter?

The Bobcats matter. They'll have a tough time making the playoffs due to the fact that they've lost the tiebreaker over the resurgent Indiana Pacers, but this team works its tail off, and it's more prone to take advantage of transition opportunities with Paul Silas at the helm. Twenty points and 11 rebounds for Gerald Wallace(notes) in the win, including a sweet second quarter move on Kobe in transition, and Gerald Henderson(notes) (averaging a little over 10 points per game this month, playing half a game) contributed 18 off the Bobcat bench.

Also, Kwame Brown(notes) looked ... eh, let's not get our hopes up.

This isn't about Kobe's shooting or the dodgy bench or the poor perimeter play overall. The Lakers are letting other teams make decisions for them, and that's not what a champion does. Even in February.

***

Atlanta 94, Detroit 79

Strange first half. The defense wasn't especially terrible, but Detroit could not stop hitting three-pointers, and the Hawks couldn't stop nailing shots from all over (including Josh Smith(notes), and those awful 20-footers that he refuses to both stop taking, and stop making). Then the Pistons long-range shooting fell off like a Bruce Sutter forkball, and the Hawks put the game away with quick passes and sound finishes.

Twenty-eight second half points for the Pistons, who shot just 17-51 on two-pointers (sources tell me that this is around 34 percent), as Charlie Villanueva(notes) managed to pull in just one rebound in 18 minutes, and Ben Gordon(notes) missed five of seven shots even with Richard Hamilton(notes) out.

The Hawks managed 26 assists on 35 field goals, a whole lot of lobs over the top of smaller or uncaring defenders, and don't let one of the slower paces I've seen this season fool you. This game had only 76 possessions, but the Hawks put up about 124 points per 100 possessions. That's a better mark than the Spurs managed on Monday, and as good as the Bobcats did. White hot shooting numbers across the board for Atlanta, and they were only hampered by the fact that the team turned it over on a fifth of its possessions.

***

San Antonio 102, New Jersey 85

More business as usual for the best basketball team of 2010-11, the Spurs slowly added to their lead throughout the game, overcoming a couple of defensive blunders but otherwise looking like the quicker, better, and (huge shocker) smarter team in this victory.

No starter played more than 31 minutes (Richard Jefferson(notes), seven points), Manu Ginobili(notes) led the team with 22 points, but the Spurs won this game with a big offensive night (112 points per 100 possessions, league-leading levels there; seven made threes in 16 attempts and 23 made free throws) from its entire crew.

Clearly, great defense as well. The Spurs swarmed and used their length and took advantage of the usual New Jersey little things (who has the shooter on a free throw?). Brook Lopez(notes) did well to finish with a 5-16 shooting night, mainly because he started the evening 1-5, and Devin Harris(notes) (10 points and four assists, 2-6 shooting) just disappeared.

San Antonio's record is at 46-9. And this is supposed to be their swoon season.

***

Milwaukee 102, Los Angeles Clippers 78

Vinny Del Negro was right to talk about the Clippers' offense going sour in the loss. His team came out slow to start, rebounded due to some aggressive play from Baron Davis(notes) in the second quarter, but ultimately played a very poor offensive game. It shot 37 percent, missed 13 of 17 three-pointers, and turned the ball over 17 times.

The defense was my bigger issue, though. It was as bad or even worse than what was a pitiful offensive night from the Clippers. You expect the Bucks to push the Clippers around a bit as they try to score, but Los Angeles showed no cohesion or interest on the defensive end, and as a result a terrible offensive team in Milwaukee put up a startling 120 points per 100 possessions. This is a team that regularly limps to totals in the 90s and even 80s in that area, so for these Bucks to suddenly shoot well beyond a mark that would lead the entire league? That's on the defense as well. Possibly more than the awful offense, there, Clippers.

Vinny is right about the offense, though. Blake Griffin(notes) struggled to get the ball or good looks all night, though he still finished with a great line (19 points, though he shot poorly, with 12 boards and five assists). Al-Farouq Aminu(notes) has no confidence in his shot any more, and nobody but Davis seemed to know what to do.

Carlos Delfino(notes) (7-10 from long range) was left in the corner all night, and he took advantage. Luc Mbah a Moute played sterling defense on Griffin and came through with a 13 and 10 game off the pine, and John Salmons(notes) came out of nowhere to toss out 12 assists.

***

Portland 95, Minnesota 81

Minnesota is so terrible. The Blazers came out full of fire, and yet at times during the second and third quarters, Portland looked like it was actually feeling sorry for this miserable crew. The Wolves have no offense to speak of, no threats on the perimeter and on the inside, and the Blazers were able to throw a sort of modified zone at Kevin Love(notes) at stretches and take him completely out of the game for huge chunks of it. Playing 4-on-3 as a result, the Timberwolves still couldn't do anything about it.

Eighteen points, 13 rebounds (six offensive) and two steals for Dante Cunningham(notes) in just half a game. LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) came out angry, but this was actually a throwback game of sorts for him as he managed just six boards while contributing 21 points and five assists. He's still killing it, overall. And the Blazers made 8-18 three-pointers overall. Such a curious team, here's hoping they keep with the winning.

***

Houston 121, Denver 102

This Nuggets rotation has been around for quite a while, so it's dismaying (to say the very least) to see it consistently fail to talk and rotate properly on defense. The Rockets put up 102 points over the last three quarters of this game, and they weren't really exploiting mismatches or overwhelming the Nuggets on the inside. Houston merely moved the ball and hit shots, fascinating stuff, and all Denver wanted to do was answer with offense.

This poor showing drops the Nuggies down to 24th in defensive efficiency on the season, and while that might seem typical for a fast Denver team full of dubious defenders, it should be pointed out that this squad was eighth in the NBA in that category three years ago, and 10th two seasons ago. This team still leads the NBA in offensive efficiency, but a 1/24 combo (on either side of the offense/defense pairing) rarely works.

Five threes and 22 points for Courtney Lee(notes) in the win (doesn't mean you trade Omer Asik(notes) for him), Aaron Brooks(notes) had 18 points off the bench (just one assist), and Shane Battier(notes) didn't miss a shot in seven tries. Seventeen points, five assists for your kid's next Civics teacher.

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