Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Orlando 88, Atlanta 82

Since its inception in time for the 2003 playoffs, NBA TV has routinely been host to some of the worst playoff games in memory. It's not the station's fault, clearly, the NBA just understands that certain matchups are going to fall well short of the realm of the interesting to fair weather fans, or even the junkies, and they leave NBA TV with the least-desirable pairing of the night. And the Hawks and Magic are holding up that end of the bargain, stuck somewhere on channel 216.

It's not that either side is taking plays off. This is just a pair of rotations that have played each other 22 times since the 2007-08 season, and last year's embarrassing Hawks loss notwithstanding, two rotations that usually play each other to the hilt. These two teams know each other, they know who is going where, and the result is often tough, competitive, and rather boring basketball. All while you're biding your time before switching over to the TNT game on your other tuner.

Speaking of which, a mea culpa is needed. For this game, the Celtics win, and huge chunks of the Mavericks/Trail Blazers contest.

A huge storm hit my area Tuesday night, and when power was restored my DIRECTV and Internet signal was not. And if you think I was going to drive out in the rain and lightning (and fallen trees) for the second night in a row, just to see if some wing joint's dish service was working, then you've got another thing coming. As it was, I missed Orlando's 10-1 run to end the third quarter. I missed the last five minutes of the Boston win, and my TiVo'd copy of the Mavs/Trail Blazers game is a choppy mess.

Now, Dan Devine already nailed the Knicks' frustrations and the reasons behind Boston's triumph in a fine column. This Magic win? It was needed, but it didn't feel as desperate a push as you'd think a favored team that had just given away home-court advantage would give. That isn't a shot at Orlando's energy, or effort. Both were present in the win, from what I saw. I wonder if the Magic are going to start enjoying life as the underdog. You know, partying like it's 2009.

Dwight Howard(notes) was everywhere, and though Orlando's perimeter defense improved somewhat, I'm handing most of the acclaim at Howard's feet as he effectively closed off the mid-range that worked so well for the Hawks in Game 1. Jamal Crawford(notes) and Al Horford(notes) had their moments, but they weren't anywhere near as effective from just inside the 3-point line as we saw on Saturday, and Howard's ability to show and then get back on the glass is the reason why.

Can the Magic stay loose and let an injured Hawks team (Josh Smith(notes) was Atlanta's best player, but he still doesn't look like himself) shoot their way out of it in Atlanta? That's a tough one, considering how well the Hawks have played the Magic recently. This could be a turned page, or a last gasp.

***

Dallas 101, Portland 89

Any time a team manages only 89 points, the offense is the problem. Yes, the Blazers and Mavericks play a slow pace, but 89 points usually can't be argued away in a loss.

But I can't go down that route when assessing where it went wrong for Portland on Monday. Partially because the slow pace made it so Portland actually put up a stellar 110 points per 100 possessions (that's nearly league-leading stuff), but also because the team's new-found insistence on running off of long rebounds has been what's put Portland over the edge late in this chaotic season. And without Dallas missing jumpers, the Blazers were more or less … you know.

Dallas put up a whopping 125 points per 100 possessions because it has the shooters to pull that off. It has the brains to attack the unguarded spots, and the skills to execute when it comes time to let fly. And Portland? While I'm not going to tell you that Portland lost this game more than Dallas won it (that would be daft), the Blazers still could have done better.

Like Nic Batum, in working off the ball and through screens. Or in the post, guarding Dirk Nowitzki(notes). Or Marcus Camby(notes), who was terribly slow on his rotations all night, even if he was a bit surprised that Jason Kidd(notes) wasn't going to dump it off to Tyson Chandler(notes) there (instead going to a lefty floater). Or the team's zone defense, which was picked apart all night. Portland was terrible, defensively.

And Dallas took advantage. Peja Stojakovic(notes) made 5-10 threes. Dirk Nowitzki hit 15 free throws on his way to 33 points. Jason Kidd was the team's go-to scorer in the third quarter, finishing with 18 points on only 11 shots. Everyone was hitting. Every Blazer was at fault. Every Maverick was the reason.

And watching Brandon Roy(notes) is incredibly sad. He's not loaded up with braces or pads like Patrick Ewing, but he sure runs like Patrick Ewing, and not even after a particularly strenuous play. He's rarely opening up his running gait to use bent knees to spring him forward, and though he's had some bounce-back games after rest this season, this would be quite the bounce-back if he starts playing better at home. Because right now, Brandon Roy is playing like a millstone on both ends, even in limited minutes and against reserves. Even if he's just trying to set up LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) for long jumpers.

Dallas did what it was supposed to do. Let's see if Portland is game at home. Can't wait.

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