Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 92, Detroit 77

There's no way around it: Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson are demanding that you play hard, and contribute when called upon. This goes for all of you, I should point out, but it works best for members of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Phil and Kobe want a blowout and ice on everyone's knees by the halfway mark of the fourth quarter, and usually the team is good enough to pull that off. Even when lifting Kobe and putting the Triangle in the hands of Pau Gasol and/or Lamar Odom, the team can still usually pull away from most teams. Even on the road. It didn't happen on Thursday, though, and Phil and Kobe got kind of upset as a result.

Gasol was out there to start the second quarter, as were Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and Luke Walton. Solid Triangle contributors, all. Except for the fact that they stunk -- as in, "couldn't make a single shot, literally"-stunk -- and the stank lasted even after Derek Fisher and Kobe returned to action.

After some grumbles, the Lakers got back on it. The team outscored the Pistons by 31 points combined over the first and third quarters, and that's a huge credit to Phil (because this is a team coming directly from the locker room) and Kobe. I mean, Kobe (30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, just one turnover) was posting the tiny Pistons up in the first quarter, so you know he wanted this one over with, quickly.

And Detroit just doesn't have the horses. The team's top mare was Will Bynum, who came through with 25 points and 11 assists off the bench, but that's a pretty shocking fall from grace. The TNT guys nailed it, the Pistons know that the team (as currently constructed) won't be around next year whether they're working hard or hardly working, so the season is a wash.

Chicago 106, Miami 87

Chicago is just too good at home, a better team overall, and the fact that Miami fell a spot in the standings should probably leave us commending the work they (read: D-Wade) did following the All-Star break, rather than slamming the swoon that we've seen over the last few days. This team was overachieving, and now it's falling back to earth a bit.

The Bulls have underachieved for most of the season, but talent will always out, and in spite of the injuries the Bulls do have talent. I still can't understand what is going on in Vinny Del Negro's head, he started Kirk Hinrich again (fine, cool), but also activated Derrick Rose and played the rookie 30 minutes. Rose has a bum wrist, and I don't mind (and would encourage, actually) sitting him out; but if he's going to play 30 minutes, why isn't the future of your franchise starting?

And, worse, why was he (injury or not) still out there with a minute and a half left in a game that was decided well before that? The Bulls entered the quarter with a 16-point lead, Hinrich was playing well and Lindsey Hunter (sometimes) and Anthony Roberson can (at the very least) get the ball across half-court, so why did Rose play nearly 10 and a half minutes in the fourth quarter?

If he's healthy enough to play, and healthy enough to play 30 minutes, start him. And if he's healthy enough to play, but still nursing an injury, and your team is up nearly 20 points with Dwyane Wade on the bench, why are you still leaving him out there? To say nothing of the typical, "Tyrus Thomas dominated the third quarter, but I'm going to take him out of the game 90 seconds into the fourth quarter and completely forget about him for the next nine minutes, only to put him in for the final 90 seconds as if he were Chuck Nevitt."

But, hey, the Bulls are winning!

John Salmons was hot as heck again, finishing with 27 points on 22 shots, and my Dad is convinced he looks like McCoy Tyner. Now, my father is hardly what we'd call a jazz enthusiast, he doesn't suffer Chinese music gladly, and he has no idea what McCoy Tyner looks like. But John Salmons, who became a part of my father's life last month, would seem to look like what he assumes McCoy Tyner would look like, and he mentions it so much that I just had to write it out here in order to make the noise go away.

Dwyane Wade finished with 31 points in a good (12-21) shooting effort, but his team couldn't handle Chicago on the glass, and the bench was pretty awful on Thursday. 6-22 shooting for Miami's seven-man reserve outfit.

Miami is now slotted sixth in the East, though still tied record-wise with the Philadelphia 76ers, who have moved to fifth. Chicago is tied with Detroit as well, but is slotted in the seventh seed over the Pistons.

Portland 129, Phoenix 109

Portland played at Phoenix's pace, it had the TNT guys thinking that Portland actually ran on most nights (they average the fewest amount of possessions per game), and the Trail Blazers thoroughly dominated a team that can barely defend after three days' rest, much less on the second night of a back to back.

Especially when that back-to-back started with a tough home win played a long way away. Phoenix tried gamely in the first half (the whole game, really, but the first half was relatively close), but they just can't stay in front of anyone, the team's zone defense was a joke (against the Trail Blazers? Full of shooters and guys who go backdoor even against man-to-man setups? Come on, Coach Gentry ...), and it's a credit to Phoenix that they kept it as close as they did for as long as they did.

Effort isn't the issue with the Suns; this is just an old team that can't stay in front of anyone defensively. Brandon Roy (26 points, nine rebounds, two steals, six assists, a block, and two turnovers) was consistently good from beginning to end, and it was nice to see his stats approach a level that casual fans can get behind, due to this game's pace. His per-game numbers are smaller than that line, but this was a typical Roy game. It's what happens when you up the pace a bit.

LaMarcus Aldridge made some questionable decisions on both ends, but finished with 29 and 12 and three blocks, Nick Batum was all over (and he's only 20! He could have been playing on CBS last night), and Sergio Rodriguez (eight assists off the bench) and Rudy Fernandez (23 points, two steals) worked their little bit of magic off the bench. Fine night for the Blazers, who dropped an astonishing 134 points per 100 possessions.

Shaquille O'Neal (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three turns in only 25 minutes) was solid once again or the Suns, but it hardly mattered. Even a young, defensive-minded team would have a tough time taking on Utah in Arizona and the Blazers in Portland within a 27-hour stretch, so imagine how a tired sieve like Phoenix would handle things.

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