Ball Don't Lie - NBA



New York 106, New Jersey 97

Yes, it was against the hapless Nets, and yes, it came on the heels of an embarrassing first half on that particular side of the ball, but ... give it up for New York's dee-fense!

Just 36 points in the second half for New Jersey, as the Knicks stayed in a zone for most of the final 24. The Nets, even a quarter and a half on, still seemed confused by New York's roaming. They went away from isolations for Devin Harris(notes), they made feeble attempts to get Brook Lopez(notes) the ball, and the small lineups that worked wonders for New Jersey in the first half were rendered useless by a defense that made no concessions for size or speed.

David Lee(notes) and Al Harrington(notes) (the latter's work came mainly in the first half) combined for 50 points in the win, but it was the once-a-fortnight efficient stylings of Larry Hughes(notes) that put New York over the top. 25 points, 20 in the second half, as the Nets seemed to have no clue how to guard him. He mainly pulls up for jumpers off the dribble, New Jersey. Once every 14 days, they go in.

Also, I don't want to pick on the guy, but games like these are why people have to slow down regarding Courtney Lee(notes). He played almost 40 minutes, and had his chances, but scored just four points while taking only five shots. Four turnovers, three assists, and five rebounds. The guy had a 10.7 PER last year at age 23, and was 24 entering this season. He's old, for a second year player, and hardly setting the world on fire (yes, I'm aware of the injuries).

This isn't to say he won't be a good rotation player and sometimes starter provided the situation is right, but this isn't the future borderline All-Star some TV guys would have you believe.

The "We want Nate!" chants? At first, I usually fall in favor of not cutting off your nose to spite your face. But if all accounts of Nate's chirping are true, and he hasn't gotten it this far into the game (the guy was drafted in 2005, after all), then he needs a little break. Don't let them tell you that replacing Nate's minutes with Hughes' and/or Toney Douglas'(notes) has the Knicks winning three of four (even with Larry's explosion on Sunday), but Robinson needs to get his head on straight.

This is no surprise. Not because Nate-Rob is a punk. I don't know. He might be. But when your first four years are spent in an organization like this? Where credibility and responsibility in all forms (be they across the board, in Isiah Thomas' tenure; or defensively or with shot selection, in Mike D'Antoni's run) are shoved aside? I can see how you might turn out to be sort of a prat.

***

Los Angeles 108, Phoenix 88

The offense is improving (up to 12th, now), and while the defense fell a spot over the weekend, geez, the Los Angeles Lakers are third in defensive efficiency right now. Third. And they just held the Phoenix Suns (first in offense entering the game, at around 115 points scored per 100 possessions) only 99 points per 100 possessions on Sunday. That's less than what the Chicago Bulls average.

Concessions need to be made for Phoenix. They've had a rough go of it recently, and have been all around the Midwest, the Eastern Seaboard, Canada, back home, and off to El Lay just over the last week and a half. It hasn't been an easy run, and it hasn't been a fruitful run. Which is why this team seemed so dogged and perfect to start the season, knowing it would have to build up the wins early.

The same, on the opposite tip, goes for the Lakers. They've left the home locker room, if memory serves, just once this year. And that was to head to the visitors' room to play the Clippers. I'm not even sure they know what month it is. They've already played, I believe, 40 out of their season-long total of 41 home games.

But even with a week's practice and fewer frequent flyer miles for Alvin Gentry's crew, who couldn't see the Lakers doing this to the Suns again?

Los Angeles just seemed quicker and longer on Sunday night. Phoenix looked small and slow, mostly small, and the Laker offense was humming. Great ball movement, 20 assists on 38 field goals; and yet no Laker had more than five assists. And the team leader in assists is a new forward who doesn't fully know the offense, and was criticized incessantly last season (and for a few before that) for acting like a ballhog on two other teams.

Kobe Bryant(notes) managed 26 points on only 16 shots.

***

(Bobby Jackson(notes) and Pearl Harbor veterans. Pretty cool. Here's a good read on the subject, if you're interested.)

Miami 115, Sacramento 102

The Heat's offense established a nice buffer in the first half that Sacramento just couldn't seem to break into. And while I'd like to give credit to Miami's D for stopping the Kings from matching the Heat shot for shot in that second quarter, the Kings had some good looks. They just couldn't finish, and ended the quarter with only 19 points and 10-point deficit.

And it was the Miami offense. It really was. 125 points per 100 possessions, 59 percent shooting, 26 made free throws, all sorts of good angles, good patience, and good finishes.

On Sacramento's end, Tyreke Evans(notes) looked every bit as impressive as his 30 points. The kid is finally heading to the rim! He added four rebounds, four assists, and only two turnovers — great for any player that has the ball in his hands that much, terrific for a rookie in any role.

Jason Thompson(notes) and Andres Nocioni(notes) combined to miss 16 of 22 shots, however, and the Kings had no answer for Miami's pinpoint passing (nothing fancy, just running plays), as the Heat finished with 30 assists on 41 field goals. At times, it was a clinic.

34 points on only 16 shots (finally) for Dwyane Wade(notes), who handed out 10 assists. Dorell Wright(notes) had 19 off the bench, along with five assists.

***

Detroit 98, Washington 94

Fun towards the end, I suppose (all the intentional fouls and desperate three-pointers kind of slowed things down a bit), but this was an ugly game overall.

I didn't doubt John Kuester and Flip Saunders' defense acumen entering this season. I just doubted the personnel they had to work with. And while both teams aren't tearing it up defensively (both are below average), there is a distinct defensive tint to both squads. Only that late game batch of fouls and three-pointers turned this score into something respectable.

Otherwise, lots of D, quite a few missed makeable shots for both sides (especially in the third quarter), and lots of free throws. Dull game.

For Detroit? Props on making it a dull game. As Woj pointed out, this is not the rotation Kuester and Joe Dumars had in mind.

For Washington? You have your guys. Caron Butler(notes) (20 and 10) finally came through with a Caron Butler-type outing, but Gilbert Arenas(notes) is floating, and it's worth wondering aloud if the insistence on having Earl Boykins(notes) dominate the ball down the stretch is hurting this team. 18 and four assists with no turnovers in 26 minutes for Earl, he's certainly contributing at an efficient clip, but what does it matter if better players can't be themselves.

Then again, is Gilbert Arenas himself? We guessed it would take at least a month for the real GA to pop back, and it's been that long.

The Pistons hit 24 free throws (though they missed 12), and that was the difference. Literally and figuratively. Rodney Stuckey(notes) finished well, most of the time, hitting for 25 points on 18 shots. Will Bynum(notes) was off from the floor but he got to the line, and while Charlie Villanueva(notes) missed seven of eight three-pointers (Washington had a hand in forcing him to shoot), he did score 18 points overall.

Ben Wallace(notes) contributed in every area but making shots. Austin Daye's(notes) turnaround jumpers held the Wizards at bay in the fourth quarter.

Flip Saunders' offenses, for years, have always been among the best at raking in assists per possession. Tonight? 15 dimes, all night. Not good.

***

Cleveland 101, Milwaukee 86

A strange, strange game.

The Bucks came out to a raucous crowd reception and proceeded to throw together a quick 10-point lead. They looked quicker, Andrew Bogut(notes) had himself a thunderous follow-dunk, and the Cavs seemed ready to take the afternoon off.

Then the Bucks stopped hitting shots. The things you fire at the basket, from various angles and distances, hoping to have the ball go in the goal, subsequently providing points for your team.

A 29-0 run for Cleveland. Give Cleveland's defense credit, they made the Bucks work for absolutely nothing, but a whole lot of this fell on Milwaukee. They took iffy shots, they missed makeable shots, and they couldn't get to the free throw line.

Meanwhile, Delonte West(notes) was doing terrific things in delayed transition with the ball, finding open seams and taking advantage of crossmatches. The Cavaliers reserve guard may have embarrassed himself with his actions over the weekend, and while he didn't exactly make up for it on Sunday, he did help the Cavs pull out a win. 21 points on nine shots in about 24 minutes.

Also, LeBron James(notes) was dancing the entire game. Just making an ass of himself.

We're out of excuses for this guy. If he's so desperate for attention on a random Sunday afternoon game in Milwaukee, then what hope is there for him to just be a stud on the court and secure with himself one the whistle blows?

I'll try to keep this relatively recent.

Damon Jones(notes) danced. Antoine Walker(notes) danced, and Mark Jackson danced. Nick Van Exel danced. These are the players you're acting like, LeBron.

Magic Johnson didn't dance. Michael Jordan didn't dance. Kobe Bryant didn't dance, Larry Bird didn't dance, and Dr. J didn't dance. These are the players whose games yours most resembles, LeBron.

And it's your damn fault that we're walking away from a dominant win like this with me thinking of you more of a Damon Jones sort, than a Magic Johnson sort. Despite those 10 assists.

Listen, the game is supposed to be fun. It's OK to exult. You should be jumping through your skin when your teammates pull off something great. It is fun as hell to knock in a circus shot in Milwaukee, even if you've played in the Finals, in the Olympics, and have hit game-winners on national TV in the deep playoffs. The game is a joy. Believe me, I understand.

But you have to find a balance. Otherwise, you're in danger of turning off a couple of different generations of fans, all at once.

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