Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Denver 115, Orlando 97

It wasn't pretty, rather piecemeal if I'm honest (and I watched nearly all of this), but I agree with George Karl when he tells us that this is the best his Nuggets have played all year. This team worked so, so hard defensively; it covered angles, played physically, closed out expertly, and the Magic just couldn't deal, man.

Kenyon Martin(notes) is just a perfect matchup on Dwight Howard(notes) for the Nuggies. His footwork is good enough to keep up with a youngster like Dwight, he loves to bang and foul and put the onus on the refs to call it tight and Howard to want to take the punishment needed to either work through the no-calls, or grab the were-calleds. Nene's is nearly as good, and Dwight just couldn't hang, brah.

It's been a tough few weeks for the Magic, they looked gassed at times and are playing without Vince Carter(notes), but the Nuggets earned this. Just grabbed it. 121 points per 100 possessions, Denver forced 19 turnovers, and just slowly ate away at the Magic.

27 points on 15 shots for Carmelo Anthony(notes) in the win.

***

Atlanta 94, Washington 82

You have to like the way Washington came back in this game, I guess. I mean, they did want to be anywhere else in the world in that first half, barely going through the motions, but they did play professionally for half a game.

On the road, the Wizards looked distracted and uninterested in putting up much of a fight until the second half started ... when the Hawks looked distracted and uninterested in putting up much of a fight. Washington made a game of it, but couldn't string enough stops to completely topple the home team.

The Hawks ran selectively and defended the interior well, as Washington shot under 36 percent from the field. Also, seven turnovers for Atlanta, all night.

 ***

Indiana 122, Phoenix 114

The 2009-10 Indiana Pacers — and I'm not just counting the middling-to-good teams in this evaluation — might be the worst first quarter team I've ever seen. Even the worst teams of my hoops-watchin' era seem to have competed harder and executed better initially than these Pacers, who consistently fall behind by huge, remarkable numbers early on. As in, "send an email/text/Tweet about this score" numbers. "Coach be fired," numbers.

And what's even more remarkable is that the Pacers actually came back to win this game. The way they did it wasn't remarkable, it was expected (Phoenix can't stop anyone, the Pacers can get hot), but it just continues to shock the way this Indiana team always seems to fall behind by 25 within the first 15 minutes of a game. Never seen anything like it.

For long stretches, the Pacers just couldn't miss. Thirty-nine third quarter points; and, while the Suns were retaliating with some makes of their own, Indiana just seemed to score on every Suns miss. The Pacers walked up to plenty of threes, the ball was moving, the team got to the line, and it was able to run in spite of just six Phoenix turnovers.

Six turnovers in a 103-possession game for the Suns. They may have lost and it may have been in the face of that gnarly Pacer "D," but honestly, that might be the most impressive team stat of the season. For any team.

Danny Granger(notes) scored 33 points and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (who scored 11 straight points in the third quarter) added 30 in the win. Leandro Barbosa(notes) looked really bad (11 points on 12 shots), and Grant Hill(notes) fouled out after scoring all 14 of his points in the first half.

***

New York 93, Philadelphia 92

It does surprise me that a talented team like the 76ers can't take care of the Knicks at home, but it shouldn't surprise us that the 76ers were unable to execute consistently throughout this game. This team is just a hodge-podge, and even though it's only been half a season with heaps of injuries and the addition of a guy like Allen Iverson(notes), it's clear that Eddie Jordan just isn't the coach to put it all together.

This team needs to be winning games defensively, Jordan has never coached defense, and the results aren't pretty. The Knicks should have been out-manned, but instead looked like a team that should have won by double-figures at times.

This was a fun, entertaining game. I just think the Sixers can be better than this. Even with all the distractions.

Twenty-four points and nine boards in nearly 45 minutes of play for David Lee(notes), who was playing a tough one after the death of his grandfather. Lee, who leads all NBA centers in assists per game, also had two dimes.

The Sixers crushed New York on the glass by 17 caroms, but Philly turned the ball over more often and only hit 12 free throws in the loss.

***

Boston 111, New Jersey 87

The Celtics are championship contenders that I have unending respect for, but they're not 36 points better than the New Jersey Nets, in New Jersey, with Kevin Garnett(notes) and Rasheed Wallace(notes) out, in 24 minutes of play.

The Nets continue to phone these games in, and while I can emphasize with a lost season and a lost identity (who plays where next season, in what city, for what coach and what owner?), the team's continued lack of effort just cannot be excused.

Boston, safe to say, is usually on the up and up in terms of effort. The Celtics have myriad options offensively, designed to take advantage of the team's sometimes-iffy offense when a good D overplays, but Doc Rivers' team didn't even need to utilize a second (or even first) option on this night. The C's just picked cutters and screeners off. They just found the open man, and finished. It was a clinic on how to take advantage of a team that was just begging to be taken advantage of.

Boston had 30 assists in the win, with 21 coming in that first half. The Nets have lost 35 of 38 games they've played in.

***

San Antonio 109, Oklahoma City 108 (OT)

DeJuan Blair(notes) is at once sneaky and boisterous, he worms his way toward all sorts of rebounds and put-backs with subtle moves and quick reactions, but there's nothing quiet or subversive about the way he contributes. He'll never give you a quiet double-double, the kind Dale Davis(notes) used to submit, but that doesn't mean he's throwing down with two hands from on high like Charles Barkley did or skying in from the rafters for a carom grab like so many athletes we've seen.

All Blair does is move into the open spots, and board. Any bit of penetration, anything that even just slightly distracts his man, and that's all Blair needs. A missed shot, a contested missed shot, and Blair moves into that open space on the weak side, and he gets the board. Over and over, crimson and clover. He totaled 28 points and 21 rebounds, and it should have been more. A terrible refereeing crew fouled out the rookie on a series of awful, awful calls.

Blair managed all this with Tim Duncan(notes) sitting the night out to rest his ... everything. And, had Duncan put together a 28/21/two-block night, I'd be writing about what a joy it is that he was able to play in my lifetime, what a wonderful thing he still is to watch, blah, blippity, blah, and you just would have nodded and played along.

Blair pulling it off? Even less than a half a season in, this seems typical. Like, "yeah, 28 and 21. The boards were there, what did you expect?"

The Spurs got off to a huge start thanks to the rookie from Pitt, up 17 points after one quarter, but the Thunder chipped away and had the lead heading into the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant(notes) had a 2007-09 era tough(ish) night — just five rebounds, seven turnovers, and 35 points on 31 shots; but Russell Westbrook(notes) got good penetration, and the team got to the line well. No easy task against the Spurs, even if half of Blair's fouls were ludicrous.

Richard Jefferson(notes) hit a tough leaner toward the end of OT, after a wild save from Manu Ginobili(notes) (who missed all 10 of his attempts from the floor, two points overall). Tony Parker(notes) gutted out 28 points and eight assists on one foot.

***

Miami 115, Golden State 102

Dwyane Wade(notes) just ran things, in this win. He had help, of course — Jermaine O'Neal(notes) seemed to be everywhere on both ends, while Michael Beasley(notes) had that lean-in jumper working — but this was Wade's night to focus, and win ugly.

He got to the line, like he used to love so much, and finished with 35 points on only 15 shots. Seven turnovers (these weren't bum wrist turnovers, either, Dwyane made some mistakes) but nine assists, three steals and seven rebounds.

Anthony Morrow(notes) had 24 points off the bench for Golden State, but this was never close as the Warriors just never gave up a rip defensively.

***

New Orleans 108, Los Angeles Clippers 94

The floating Peja heads were spinning around the room early, Stojakovic hit four three-pointers overall and the Clippers just didn't seem up for the full 48 in this loss.

All five starters were in double figures for the Hornets, as Chris Paul(notes) (15 assists, to Emeka Okafor(notes) especially) was just picking people off. The Clippers looked tired and spent; and something is clearly not right with Eric Gordon(notes), who is in the midst of an awful shooting slump while missing all seven of his three-point attempts in this loss.

This near-blowout loss, because as has been noted in many places, the Hornets keep winning, but it's never by much. This was the team's second double-figure win of the season, both over the Clippers, and New Orleans has 20 wins overall. Nutty.

The Clips miss Chris Kaman(notes), no amount of Brian Skinner(notes) hitting from 15 can make up for that, but he wouldn't have been enough on Wednesday.

***

Los Angeles Lakers 100, Dallas 95

Every one of these Wednesdays, there's always going to be a game that you wish took place on a Sunday (when only one game plays at a time, usually), a Thursday night (light schedule), or a weekend night where I'm not forced to flip over to and write about every game on the sked. This was that game.

A close back and forth between the Lakers and the Mavericks, a Mavs team that might very well end up (depending on health, or if the Mavericks can make a big splash at the trading deadline) being Los Angeles' toughest out in the Western Conference playoffs, and I didn't really see much of consequence as I flipped around. Lots of dead balls and free throws, and honestly, I'm a bit bummed.

I do know that Kobe Bryant(notes) is tougher than nails. When you have a back injury, it's just not something easily overcome. The pain is localized, but the impact is all over, and intense. It affects everything you do. Every jump, every stretch, every move ... everything hurts. And you have to fight through this hurt just to stay fundamental with your work. Squared shoulders and set feet aren't always easy when your body is betraying you.

So for the Kobester to play the entire second half (so as not to stiffen up on the bench, sure; but the entire second half!) and drop in the game-decider with 28 seconds left? That's our hero.

The Mavs were up for it, mind you. The team turned it over just six times all night, with Dirk Nowitzki(notes) turning it over exactly zero times in over 43 minutes. He had 30 points, 16 rebounds, zero turnovers. Nobody does that. Nobody does that but him. Amazing.

His help wasn't great. Josh Howard(notes) was the second-leading scorer with 18 points, but he needed 16 shots (not too bad, just emblematic of the best of the bunch) and missed a good look at a three-pointer to win late. Jason Terry(notes) missed 10 of 12 shots, and Erick Dampier(notes) had just four rebounds in 28 minutes, and he just hasn't been the same since returning from an unidentified illness earlier in the year.

Playing on the road without Pau Gasol(notes) and Kobe taking only 10 shots, the Lakers stood strong. Andrew Bynum(notes) was a beast early, finishing with 22 and 11, while Lamar Odom(notes) remembered that Tex Winter counts a missed shot (and potential offensive rebound) as "penetration" (seriously, and Tex is right); clanging on 12 of 20 but still putting up a needed 18 points and 14 boards.

***

Houston 120, Minnesota 114

Let's be clear about one thing - Aaron Brooks(notes) tossed in 43 points on 30 shots, and he played 59 minutes, but this guy was a stud from the outset. He had 30 in regulation, and though the Rockets probably shouldn't have let this game get to overtime (Minnesota outscored Houston 28-20 in the fourth quarter), the Rockets are to be commended for their play.

Like Brooks. One turnover in 59 minutes. I know I've fawned over turnover stats a bit today, but that's an astonishing feat. Shane Battier's(notes) defense was on point, the team took in contributions from across the board, and it was a typical Rockets win.

It just took 63 minutes, thanks to a wild Corey Brewer(notes) three-pointer from about 55 feet at the end of regulation, and dogged persistence (and improving, yay, touch) from Al Jefferson(notes).

The Minnesota center put up 26 and 26, in a furious performance. This guy looked angry. Wayne Ellington(notes) finally showed up with 17 points off the bench, and I don't understand why Kevin Love(notes) (even shooting 2-10) plays only 30 minutes despite not having a foul all night.

Check out Chuck Hayes'(notes) line — 50 minutes, 10 points, 17 boards, six assists, four turnovers, four steals, two blocks, six fouls. That's an all-you-can-play buffet, right there.

***

Portland 120, Milwaukee 108

Boy, did Milwaukee look small and slow in this loss. Where was that Buck defense we saw in November? When did this team decide to start allowing others to dictate the terms of competition?

Portland had 129 points per 100 possessions, that's the highest mark of the night, and it looked worse. The Trail Blazers shot over 60 percent, they had Milwaukee on its heels just two passes into a possession, and they honestly looked three inches taller at every position.

LeMarcus Aldridge had 21 points, seven rebounds (COME ON!), six assists, and two blocks in 38 minutes.

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