Ball Don't Lie - NBA

San Antonio 103, Phoenix 98

Tim Duncan (17 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, two blocks in 30 minutes) took just nine shots, and the Spurs beat a darn good team playing without the services of Manu Ginobili. His point guard may have made it work towards the end, but Duncan was the anchor. 

It's hard not to think that the Spurs could do some damage, championship-damage, in a few months. Sorry for jumping so quickly to that, but you just get the feeling that this team's potential won't be tapped until the seven-game setup is launched.

Beyond that, Tony Parker was pretty unstoppable down the stretch of this win, San Antonio played its usual brand of no-foulin' defense, while owning the glass and knocking in the mid-range jumpers. Shots from Roger Mason Jr., Mike Finley, and Ime Udoka may go astray in the next game (the law of averages being what it is), but the perimeter touch was there against Phoenix.

The Suns were led by Steve Nash, who poured in 23 points with 11 assists as Parker and Michael Finley flailed away, but Phoenix just couldn't string together enough stops to turn this into a win.

And it's a Monday, which means I have to whine and moan about ABC again.

The Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy/Mark Jackson trio spent the entire afternoon acting as if they were co-hosting some radio chat show, desperate to fill up the three hours, barely paying attention to the (great) game at times.

I know it's not easy to stay focused, I know that people have interests outside of basketball, I know people have interests in basketball outside of the basketball game they're currently watching. I've run live blogs on this site, ostensibly to cover a game, where we stray way off topic. It's hard to ignore that bait and venture beyond what's in front of you, no matter the format. But I'm not the chosen voice of the NBA on a national TV program.

It's so frustrating, because all three have proven to be quite good on other broadcast teams. And yet they make me loath to watch these terrific games with marquee matchups, week in and week out. But because Jeff Van Gundy once correctly guessed that Kobe Bryant could get an offensive rebound on a missed free throw, we ... nevermind.

Then there's the Shaq nonsense.

Though we were prepared for Mike Wilbon to make excuse after excuse for Shaquille O'Neal in his taped sit down with the Suns center (he was already mentioning Shaq's pathetic attempts at avoiding blame on this week's PTI), it didn't make the interview any less sad. When is someone in the national media, with a TV camera in front of him or her, going to finally call Shaq out for being a childish, jealous, sensitive, insufferable ass?

Van Gundy blamed his actions on the frustrations of a declining superstar, which is just ridiculous. O'Neal acted like this in his early 20s, his mid-20s, his late 20s, his early 30s, today, tomorrow ... at what point are people going to realize that such petulance is a pattern?

And at what point are we going to learn to accept this sort of idiocy and pettiness as a significant part of the overall package, and not something to be ignored? This isn't a lion in winter situation. This guy was lyin' in spring, summer, and fall.

I admire his accomplishments, the way he treats people (fans, lower-rung team employees, the many benefactors from his wonderful charity work) who don't make millions off the NBA, but there's absolutely no reason to act this childish. And worse than Shaq is our ability to forgive and forget. Not because we're sporting WWJD bracelets, but because he makes us laugh. I'm just as bad as anyone, in this regard. I don't wear the bracelet, but I tend to forget how nasty he's been to people who don't deserve it, just because he occasionally dances funny.

As mentioned by Woj last week, Shaq talks up supposed love of authority, but try to name one coach he hasn't clashed with, or trashed in the years following a separation. Name one superstar teammate he hasn't bitched about. Name one graceful exit. Name one graceful anything!

If this guy had been sent to Cleveland last month, think of the crap we'd be hearing from this guy about Amar'e, Kerr, Terry Porter, etc. Possibly Nash. All while throwing the nonsense at us about he will take the blame when things go wrong, while it's all on his shoulders, while he actually blames everyone but himself when things go wrong.

It's amazing. Not only does he not only not live up to what adults in his position should be doing without having to be told, he explicitly details to the press exactly what he's supposed to be doing (respecting authority, getting the most out of his talent, being a leader), falls way short of the things he says he's doing (not the goals, mind you, but what he claims to consistently do), and he never gets anything for it.

These are things not to be fawned over, but expected day-to-day operations of someone of his age and stature. Imagine me as the world's most notorious bank robber, and every third interview I gave mentioned something about how you shouldn't steal things. And how I respect the law. These boastful un-tellings of this guy's legend have obscured the way we deal with this man's history.

It clouds our judgment. What image comes to your mind as soon as I say "Lakers, 2004"? Probably Kobe, newly-tattooed, chucking jumpers against the Pistons while dealing with the impending Colorado trial. You never think about Shaq showing up to camp completely out of shape, or whining about a contract extension all season.

Who in the NBA ever gets to talk about a contract extension besides this guy? Do you hear Kobe angling for one? He's due, you know. Hell, if I were Kobe, I would have wanted to shoot 30 times a game as well that year, considering that he puts in more offseason training by July 4th than Shaq does all summer.

It's not OK tear into someone's life work when you're as wrong about his life's work as you are. It's no OK to equate gays or transsexuals or transvestites as people who don't have the strength or mettle to overcome tough odds, especially when they've likely had to work through or overcome more by their mid-teens than someone like Shaquille O'Neal has ever had to deal with in a lifetime.

It's not OK to thoughtlessly rip on a person for things he can't control (injuries, perhaps) because that person was carefully doing his job (criticizing Shaq on TV, perhaps) some years after that person went out of his way to work and aid you miles away from the glare of a camera.

It's not OK to act like this, at any age. And at some point, we have to own up to the fact that Shaq, as entertaining as he is, can be a pretty miserable person when the going gets ... somewhat uneasy

It's OK to like him. It's OK to laugh at his barely literate scribblings over at Twitter, as distressing as it is to fathom how a 37-year old man could type like that. It's OK to appreciate his game, and it's definitely OK to consider the things he's throwing out there about the players and coaches and organizations that he's ripping apart. There's a kernel of truth in just about every statement he's ever made about his ex-whomevers.

But it does nothing to hide the fact that this guy, who has barely developed on either end of the court since he came into this league in 1992, has been skating. He's led teams to championships, but he's also submarined entire franchises with his laziness and inability to get it straight. He deserves more blame for bad behavior than any other player in the league, and yet he's easily the NBA's most-liked figure.

Go figure. 

Orlando 86, Boston 79

A few times this year I've remarked upon Boston's impressive ability to stave off all comers, keeping the sort of hunger that reminds of championship hopefuls, a hunger that is often pretty rarely seen in actual defending champions. They may not be the most talented bunch I can remember, but they set to defending their crown in a manner not seen since the 1996-97 Bulls.

There have to be some letdowns, though. And even with a stiff challenge like the Orlando Magic in town, Boston just wasn't up for the task on Sunday. I can't blame them. Spring your clocks forward an hour and play at noon? I wasn't even ready to sit on a couch and observe the batch of games on Sunday afternoon, much less try and spring Ray Allen free from his defender with a sound screen.

Playing without two starters, yeah, that'll do you in as well. Especially when those starters are Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, and especially when those starters were replaced with the sort of production we saw from Glen Davis and Stephon Marbury.

Davis has had an OK year, but he's also prone to some stinkers. Real stinkers, not just relative ones, games that are right up there with the worst of the worst that we've seen from any NBA player this year. Nothing against Davis, I like his game even though I'd much prefer to see Leon Powe somehow squeezed into the rotation more, but he looks like he's point shaving at times. I see a lot of average players like Davis on a daily basis, but I've never seen anyone fall off to these depths like Glen.

Zero points, and zero rebounds in almost 19 minutes for Davis on Sunday and that's ... that's hard to do. It really is. Joke about all the tall stiffs you've seen in this league, but they still were finding a way to score a point or haul in a carom while playing nearly half the game (Davis left in the third quarter after rolling his ankle). And Marbury was the pits, too, turning it over three times and failing to register an assist in 20 minutes of play, tossing in four points.

Marbury is shooting 31 percent as a Celtic, with three assists to every two turnovers, and he's yet to get to the free throw line in 56 minutes. Not a single free throw from the supposed slasher.

That's pretty bad, even given the context of his return to game action. If this goes on for another week, the Celtics need to pick up a D-Leaguer. The player the C's pick up might be minor league material, but minor leaguers won't miss more than two-thirds of their shots from the field. And they'd manage to get to the line more than zero times in 56 minutes.

Great defensive effort from the Magic, who knew they could have a win on their hands with KG and Rondo out, and acted upon it. That seems like a small compliment, but most teams go into a game sniffing a win, but expect the W to be served on a platinum platter. The Magic did something about it.

A fine effort from Ray Allen (32 points and nine rebounds) as well, who nearly led Boston to the upset. Yes, with KG and Rondo out, that would have been an upset.

Can you eat on platinum?

Utah 109, Toronto 101

I'm not going to be able to tell you anything about the Jazz that you don't already know. At full strength, and I don't even think this team is there yet (despite the 11 consecutive -- !!! -- wins), this squad is good enough to win a championship. To down the Lakers, and overcome whatever the East spits out. I mean that.

What I can tell you is this: Sunday matinee games, in Toronto, are a test of the visiting team's mettle. The Raptors may stink at times, and the Raptors have had quite the up and down season, but it's still a major pain in the tail to come through customs the day or night before, and get up for a midday start. Especially if you're used to playing in another time zone. And especially if you've lost an hour of sleep with the whole clock-switchin' business.

The Jazz fell behind early, but still pulled out the win. Staying close, sometimes, is an achievement enough, and that was pretty impressive.

New Jersey 106, New York 101

This was a fun game.

Both squads are a little light on the defensive end, but the effort was there from both outfits on Sunday, the offense just tended to have the upper hand. Lots of ball movement and interior finishes for the Knicks, they went at Brook Lopez with some solid results, though Lopez (16 and 6, with five turnovers) held his own to a certain extent. He had some iffy fouls calls, but he earned some non-calls as well. Good to see that.

The Nets, on the other hand, went with the patented drive and dish. Nobody could stay in front of Devin Harris (35 points, 10 assists, two steals, two turnovers), Bobby Simmons was hot from the corner, and Vince Carter finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, and four assists.

In the end, New York's turnovers (19 in the game) did them in. Plenty of late-game miscues, with Larry Hughes taking some ill-advised shots to boot. Hughes also cost his team an uncontested Devin Harris layup late in the fourth by refusing to get back on defense after being stripped of the ball, preferring to whine to the nearest referee instead.

Also, the game reminded us about one of the first things we learned to hate about Vince Carter. We don't hate Vince Carter. There are just some things we hate about Vince Carter. Like the way he acts like a chalk outline on the court when something goes wrong with his body.

It's not the fact that Carter has been pretty gimpy his entire career, or that he constantly seemed befallen by injury, year after year. It's the way he milks that injury when it happens, staying on the court for what seems like ages, only to come back into the game after a timeout or a dead ball.

Carter knocked knees with Danilo Gallinari (15 points off the bench, though I don't like his Adam Morrison-esque 20-footer with the hand in his face) in the fourth quarter, and I'd like to point out that this is about the most painful thing you could do on a basketball court. Or even a baseball court. Or Bud Cort.

It's an excruciating pain, I know someone who suffered a torn ACL while playing basketball, and he preferred the torn ligament pain to the immediate pain of crashing one knee into another. Shockingly painful. I can't tell you what I did for my 13th birthday, but I can vividly detail about a half-dozen knocked knees, just from 1997-on. Also, if pressed, I can't spell the mayor of my town's last name, but I do remember when Wade Harrington made my kneecap feel as if it had seconds to live.

Carter has every right to scream and moan and curse. It hurts like hell. I'm not calling him a wimp, because that's an incredibly painful injury, if delivered the right way.

But get off the court. Don't lie on the court for nearly three minutes before hobbling off. You can hobble right after the injury, straight to a bench that is less than 10 feet away. It's not that hard.

Especially when you know the extent of your injury, as Vince did. He's been through a bunch of these, and Carter knew that he didn't tear or sprain anything. And despite the pain, I think you can manage to not lie on the court writhing for nearly three minutes (I counted). We get that it hurts. It's OK. We know you're in pain. We also know you're not in enough pain that you can't drag your leg off the court, and we know that you know that you're trying to make yourself the center of attention.

And the worst part is that Carter knows that as well, and he refuses to act on it.

Houston 93, Memphis 83

The final score doesn't really tell the story. This was a 20-point blowout, and the Grizzlies have some real issues. O.J. Mayo is shooting 40 percent in March after a 41 percent February (down from loftier heights), Mike Conley looks like a backup (and this was one of the better games of this season), and Rudy Gay is chucking away.

The Rockets, meanwhile, are a professional bunch that made a point to put Memphis away early. Faced with a tough upcoming week, they essentially did all their homework on Friday night, so their Saturday night was just free to party. Actually, I like the first I way I described that better.

24 points, 17 assists, two assists, two turnovers and three blocks for Yao Ming in only 33 minutes. 11 offensive rebounds and a 50-36 rebounding edge in total for the Rockets.

Oklahoma City 89, Philadelphia 74

On a day filled with sluggish performances, the 76ers really seemed to take the morphine-laced cake on Sunday, absolutely falling apart in the second quarter. Philadelphia played on Saturday (barely beating Memphis by five points), back-to-backs aren't easy, but this is a squad full of young legs. And its oldest player (Andre Miller, who still did look pretty tired at times) was also its best player. And before Saturday, they hadn't played since March 2nd. Forget that. No excuses.

Oklahoma City really came through with a strong defensive effort, this team knows what it has to do in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green's absence, it made a point to pack the lane defensively, and to move toward the lane itself offensively. Very impressive run from this crew, Scotty Brooks is doing a hell of a job.

And Malik Rose (14 points, seven rebounds, three turnovers, two steals) continues to play tremendous basketball for the Thunder. We didn't even think of him as a possible buyout candidate because no team, seemingly, would sign him up for the playoff stretch. And yet, he's played the best ball of any of the guys who were cut and signed after the trade deadline. Good on him.

Zero points and three rebounds for Sam Dalembert in 17 minutes.

Sacramento 114, Denver 106

Pretty lousy effort for anyone not named "Carmelo Anthony" in the Nugget box score in this loss, the defense was nowhere to be found, and Denver tried to win this one with offense alone. Rather distressing, especially considering this team's history.

Last season, the Nuggets were an above-average, top-10 defensive team until about the season's midway point, when they slumped horribly to round out the year. By the time the playoffs started, these guys were giving up buckets of points, and it was one of the most serious in-season regressions I've seen. The play we saw in this loss reminded of the team that closed out 2007-08.

Denver, on Sunday, looked pretty bad. Kenyon Martin was out again, and that's significant, but this did not look like the ninth-best defensive team in the NBA, which is what they've been this year. Yes, they were 10th in defensive efficiency last year, but that was after that yang put a dent in November-February's yin. And I really don't hope they go down that path.

There's no point in telling you that they're going down that path, or that they won't go down that path. Beware of coin-flip guesswork disguised as analysis. What we can re-tell you is that Sunday's loss looked a lot like the team that limped into the playoffs last spring, giving up tons of points, with little interior or perimeter effort. Always thinking that good defense can come in spurts (like, for instance, the first three minutes of the second half), and that the offense can carry things after that.

Good job, Kings. They were quick with their decision-making, they withstood a few Nugget charges, and they wanted this win. The team took care of the ball while still looking for each other offensively, and that's not always the easiest thing to do. Even for the great teams.

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