March 24, 2009
OK, they're probably done.
Three games total against the Jazz and Trail Blazers later this week will probably do the Suns in, and while this team's April includes just about the easiest schedule we've seen in years (with the lone exception serving as something that could swing the season in their favor, an ABC pairing against the 8th-seeded Mavericks), the Suns are still hanging by a thread.
But the team is working. It is turning the ball over, and the squad is attempting to win the thing on extra credit points, but it is working.
Here's what I've come up with. If the Suns turn it over 20 times, but the impetus behind the team's speedy offense doesn't cough it up once in 35 minutes, the team-wide miscues hardly seem to matter. Brilliant.
Now, "hardly" hardly works in a game that was only won by three points, but the fact that Steve Nash was able to ply his usual pre-2008 trade without letting go of the ball a single time was pretty damned important.
The Suns won't go away. They dealt with a flurry of third quarter points (14, in fact, and 29 overall) from Carmelo Anthony but hung in there with good help from bench guys like Jared Dudley (especially late in that third quarter), alongside a throwback game (yeah, Grant used to turn the ball over quite a bit, so that's part of the nostalgia) from Grant Hill; who finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and six turnovers.
Not only was Denver's defense for the birds, the team couldn't rebound to save its life (-13 against the Suns, and Anthony managed only two rebounds in over 38 minutes of a fast-paced game), and it had to feel a little unlucky. Watching Shaq 7-8 go from the line? That can't be easy to watch.
And my hope for a nice little Stro Show in Phoenix is going swimmingly. Three fouls, one turnover, no points, no rebounds for Swift in almost five minutes in the win. INTEGRAL.
Just as it was in Chicago's last visit to Washington, the Bulls got off to a tepid, uninspired start before making a game of it. Thankfully for a team that looks like it's going to back into a playoff spot despite going out of its way to avoid the postseason, the Wizards just didn't have enough top o' the line help to sustain the lead this time around, and the Bulls pulled it out.
Antawn Jamison was the star of this game, he was a little three-happy (3-10 from long range), but his work on both sides of the ball (seriously, active defense from Jamison in the loss) kept Washington in the game, as did his 15-point fourth quarter (with a whole heap of those quick points coming in the final two minutes).
Still, outside of Javaris Crittenton (18 points, seven rebounds, five assists, great game; but I'm going to see if he adds another one of these sometime this month before paying more attention to it), the Wizards just couldn't shoot straight.
Chicago barely could, either, but they had enough. Only 11 combined turnovers for these two teams, a pretty solid mark for two squads that tend to make copious mistakes with the ball night in and night out.
For the second day in a row, the Timberwolves had this lost by halftime, tossing this game away by failing to guard ... well, I'm having a hard time thinking of an area of the court they patrolled well in that first half.
Mike Bibby went off, and any time the Hawks wanted to flash someone to the front of the rim, the Hawks had a free throw trip coming, or a high percentage shot to try and connect on.
As it was in Minnesota's loss to the Thunder on Sunday, the Wolves came back in the second half, outscoring the Hawks by 10 over the final 24, but it hardly mattered. Bibby continued to play well, and Joe Johnson tossed in 14 fourth quarter points to "seal" it.
(This is how I Seal it.)
Not the best defensive outing for the Hawks, either, but it wasn't needed as the home team made 53 percent of its shots and 9-23 from long range.
With five games starting from 7-7:30 p.m. out East, this one was sort of a casualty.
Every flip over in Memphis' direction tended to showcase a play where the Grizzlies (and this has pretty much been the team's three-pronged attack all season) were too inexperienced to know how to act, too uninspired to care, or to small to do anything about it should the smarts and/or inspiration come around.
Jamaal Magloire got the start for Miami, and while he finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, he also picked up five fouls in 28 minutes, while turning the ball over four times. An OK game, once you pack in the mitigating factors, but he's not going to turn the corner all of the sudden, Heat fans. Don't expect anything more than what you've already seen.
Dwayne Wade finished with 27 points on 23 shots with eight assists, and only played three minutes in the second quarter. Also, he's done practicing this year, something I can get behind.
I watched a lot of this one, and you really had to respect the Knickerbocker effort. This team was working its tail off defensively, though Orlando had some open looks that they whiffed on pretty miserably, the close game through the first three quarters was all on New York.
But you knew that things were going to fall apart. Not to a point where the Knicks would lose, possibly, but at the very best they would back into a win, and no more. No more than a win. Really should have re-thought that.
New York just didn't have the offensive firepower to pull away. That's where efficiency comes into play, and why we pay attention to this stuff. New York can put up 100 (or 102) points all it wants by running and shooting early in the shot clock, but what's the point when you shoot 41 percent?
Now, the mere fact that I'm going over this in late March is a huge testament to the work these players and this coaching staff have put in.
Not only did the Knicks (rightfully, because they're finally rebuilding) essentially give up on the season before the actual season, they gave up on it again by sitting Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury, again by trading Jamal Crawford for a player (Al Harrington, undersized forward) seemingly ubiquitous by New York standards (with Chandler and Lee around), and dumping Zach Randolph on the Clippers for zero contributors. All great trades for the future, not so much for 2008-09.
This team works, though, and wants to win. It stinks, I'm not going too far with this, but they bring the effort, in spite of how much Mike D'Antoni might skulk around the sidelines.
He had reason to, on Monday. His Knicks couldn't pull away. Nate Robinson was not at his best on the court (6-23 shooting, four turnovers), or in working with others (bad fouls, needless chirping, selling out Chris Wilcox after Wilcox whiffed on a pass that Robinson never should have sent his way; Wilcox was the adult in the situation and made a "my bad" gesture to the fans).
And even though Orlando couldn't shoot for long stretches, and Dwight Howard (worryingly, still) is not the sort of center you can throw the ball to four times in six possessions to get you out of a slump, the Magic came back. 12 points and four rebounds for Hedo Turkoglu in the fourth quarter, Courtney Lee scored a fantastic 23 points on only eight shots and made 6-6 freebies in the final quarter, and Dwight Howard (that center you can't count on) still finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.
The offense might fall apart, things could go awry, but with Kevin Garnett back the Boston defense will never rest. He won't let it.
Los Angeles had a few runs in them, but Boston forced a turnover on nearly a quarter of all Clipper possessions, and KG (in spite of playing just 18 minutes), was the deciding factor (with that length, and movement) in the two biggest Boston runs of the game. Three biggest, actually, but the first run in the first quarter was nearly made up for by some solid play from Steve Novak and Chris Kamen in the second quarter.
Still, and remember that this guy played less than 18 minutes, the Celtics had two 18-2 runs in the second half. And they weren't even that far apart. One ended right before the third quarter lapsed, and one began right after the fourth quarter started. Worry, worry, worry, NBA, league, NBA. 87.5 points per 100 possessions for the Clippers in the loss.
After a few write-throughs, I couldn't help but slough this one off a bit.
After all, the Blazers were back home after a long and if not arduous, then pretty prickly road trip. It may not have been the Bataan Death March, but five games in seven nights is no picnic. It is, as mentioned previously, a prickly picnic. And nobody but Peter Tork prefers those.
But, and I say this offering that I screwed up in trying to record the NBA TV replay of this game (though I saw quite a bit of the initial offering), I can't help but shake the feeling that the 76ers just walked all over the Blazers. I know it went into overtime, and I'm aware of the history of playing your first game back at home after a road trip, but Philly sure did have its way at times.
The question is, who does that say more about? The 76ers, or the Blazers?
Contrary to commenter opinion, my initial instinct is to traipse across the sunny side of things, and hand the credit over to the 76ers rather than forecasting doom and gloom for Portland.
For now, though, let me bring one thing up. Let's say one of the various permutations that could lead to Portland meeting Denver in the first round pops up. Either the Nuggets or Blazers fade, both move up in the standings, or some combination of both leads to them meeting in the first week of the postseason (extensively documented by NBA TV, no doubt). Work that Geiger Counter, figure it out. I'd have a hard time picking the Trail Blazers in that series.
I wouldn't pick the Blazers, actually. And I love the Trail Blazers.
Why? Teams with guards that get into the middle in transition or delayed transition breaks have killed Portland from this season's first week. And while Denver has huge, huge issues in its locker room, with the team's defense, it's rebounding, the focus, the shooting, anything you want to toss out there ... they seem a lot like the not-as-good Philadelphia team that just took it to Portland in Portland.
And Portland has already lost to Denver twice this season. That one win? Denver was without Carmelo Anthony. Hmm.
So, I'm not going to kill Portland for doing what was somewhat-expected. Andre Miller had his biweekly bout of All-Star play (at times looking like Dwyane Wade with the turnarounds and pullups, 27 points and 10 rebounds), and it's hard to keep Andre Iguodala and Thad Young (52 combined points) from looking like they're working on a Nerf hoop.
Even better, Greg Oden (13 and eight rebounds, two blocks, five fouls in 25 minutes) looked great, and Rudy Fernandez (19 points) is showing no ill-effects. Brandon Roy isn't going to miss 13 of 18 shots very often, and the road played a factor.
But this team's defense has been a question mark all year. And it's going to destroy this team's chances in the postseason if it doesn't start stopping the ball.