January 22, 2009
At this point, somebody might have to talk to LeBron James. We rightfully gave Scott Stapp a bit of stick for his messianic nonsense, so ...
This game was several inches away from being a real knockout. Four or five Brandon Roy runners and lay-ins, late in the fourth, just spun in and out. An inch here or there and we could have had overtime, or at least a chance at a buzzer beater for either side.
As it was, the Cavs looked fantastic. Sasha Pavlovic made three shots in six tries (progress!), Ben Wallace looked spry, J.J. Hickson provided some good (if limited) minutes, and the tandem of LeBron James and Mo Williams looked downright scary.
James had 34 points, but it was his ability to find his teammates that downed the Blazers. 14 assists for LeBron, and they weren't cheapies. Pass, catch, shot, score. No drawn out, fauxassists. Don't steal that "word," because it's mine. 34 and 14 in a low possession game? Not fair, LeBron. Not fair.
This went down because James was doggedly aggressive in moving past his initial defenders on his way into open spaces that were eventually closed off by three guys. Poorly closed off, we should note, by Blazers that weren't talking to each other. Portland's crap defense, and an unconscious bit of shooting from Williams, topped things off. 33 points on 19 shots, 6-9 from long range, Mo looked great.
The Portland defense does not.
Nobody seems to talk about the Trail Blazer issues on that side of the ball because the raw stats (giving up about 95 per game, 9th in the NBA) look fine. But this team plays at the league's slowest pace, and its defense is just awful. On the flip side, the squad's offense (ranked 17th in points per game) is fantastic, and underrated for the same reason, but this team isn't going to take the next step unless it learns how to stop penetration.
There were other issues. Jerryd Bayless scored 10 points in 18 minutes, but fouled out as well, and most were iffy calls. So were the calls against Greg Oden, but Oden didn't go out of his way to try and work around it. He just let the wind carry him to 10 and eight rebounds with three turnovers. And a foul out. Roy kept missing lay-ups, and LaMarcus Aldridge came through with his usual disappearing act despite pouring in 21 points.
Three rebounds in 41 minutes for Aldridge, which should be embarrassing. Wally Szczerbiak had seven more boards in 18 fewer minutes, and he can't even jump. And he drives the worst automobile in the Western world.
The Grizz just have all the hallmarks of a young team. There are tons of defensive screwups, plays aren't properly executed, and the decisions aren't all that sound.
The issue with Memphis, and most young teams, is that effort can overcome all of these mitigating factors. And that's not the gym teacher in me talking. All of the younger, successful teams of recent vintage (the Bulls in 2005, the Trail Blazers last season) made mistake after mistake, but they also played in a blind panic at times. As if every play was its last. That's the lame, cliché-driven sportswriter in me.
through all of its issues, works hard. Raymond Felton is not a natural passer,
but he tries (six assists, six turnovers, five steals, and 19 points on 13
shots). All these rotation players who should be 12th men or even
out of the league -- Sean Singletary, Adam Morrison,
Josh Juwan Howard -- really get
after it. Throw in the usually stout defense, Emeka Okafor's huge game (20
points, 15 rebounds, zero turnovers, three steals, three blocks), and you have
a comfortable win.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, show truly admirable effort at times. For some stretches, you really want to root for them, based on the shots that spin in and out or the 3-on-2 that just didn't work out, and the way they seem to care when things go wrong. But it always seems to fall apart once they let the sour times take over and decide to take plays off.
It's the worst-case scenario for Toronto. Not only does Detroit have its number when it comes to matchups, the Pistons also seem to get up for playing the Raptors more than just about any other team. Detroit will take entire weeks off, entire season series' off; but they just tend to take it to the Raptors. Like the fourth grade smartass who sleeps all the way through class until it's your turn to get up and talk about photosynthesis. It's then that he has something to say about what you brought for lunch. Like it's your fault your father knows that you like parsnips.
Tayshaun Prince was hitting from all over against the Raptors on Wednesday; he was easily Toronto's biggest problem. 25 points on 16 shots for Tay, who scored on five different Raptor defenders that I saw. There may have been more.
Rodney Stuckey (17 points, seven assists, one turnover) was active, Rasheed Wallace played good D (he better have, after contributing just three points and two rebounds in 23 minutes), Jason Maxiell (16 and 11 in 24 minutes) ate a few babies in the first half, and Detroit absolutely dominated the glass (40-28).
Toronto just missed contested shots. The plays were set, the passing was solid, and the shots were appropriate; Detroit just contested and forced misses.
The Suns cannot stop anyone.
Any time they need to string a good 9-2 run together in order to catch up with or pull away from the opponent, just forget it. And this is new news. New as of last October, at least. The team has fallen so far defensively since Mike D'Antoni left that it's just ridiculous. Irony of all ironies, bring in Shaquille O'Neal and hire a "defensive" coach, only to go from sub-mediocre to nearly the worst defensively in months.
Oh, and they lost to Mike D'Antoni's new team on Wednesday. I'm not going to tell you that the Knicks are better than Phoenix, they aren't. But they played better and harder on Wednesday night, had a few things go their way, and earned that win with about as good a brand of execution as you could reasonably expect from a team with such, um, limited expectations. Or "talent." Whatever.
Phoenix played hard. But the Suns are slow in all the wrong areas (defending a pick and roll with Steve Nash and Shaq, yikes), and they're just not all on the same page at times. There's little chemistry there, for long stretches, even when they're putting up 109 points. And that's a bit of a bummer.
In every one of these 11-game Wednesday nights, there is bound to be a casualty. And considering that this game featured the Kings and Wizards and a 20-point advantage for the Wizards at one point in the third quarter, can you blame me? I watched precious little of this one, and apparently missed a Kings comeback for the ages that fell short in the end.
The Wizards got out to their hot start because Caron Butler (32 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three turns, three steals in almost 44 minutes) and Antawn Jamison (33 and 9, just one turnover in almost 42 minutes) managed to ham and egg it for once, both breaking out in the same game.
Why the comeback? I've no idea. I was watching every minute of the Cavs/Blazers on one tuner, and flipping back between the two other California games on the other one. Luckily for us, the Sacramento Bee is killing it these days. And Sactown Royalty and Bullets Forever aren't far behind. Or even behind, really.
Boston is having fun again. And fun for Boston is angry fun. Intense defensive effort, ball movement, covering all angles on both ends ... fun, fun, fun. They shook the Heat to its core early on, Miami looked nervous and unsure and scared, and though the Heat made a solid comeback to start the second half, there isn't much you can do when Boston puts its mind to it.
Here's something to show you how dumb I am. Rajon Rondo hit a three-pointer from the left wing in the first half, and it was the first time I can remember seeing him hit a three-pointer from the 23'9" arc, as opposed to the corner shot from 22 feet. So I head to Hot Spots, find out that he's hit 11 all season, and seven of them have come from that left wing. Not only have seven of the 11 come from where he hit it on Wednesday, he's hit 7-7 on the season.
Ray Allen (27 points on 12 shots) got to go wherever he wanted in the win. Eddie House established his season-high by the second quarter, and finished with 25 points. And though Daequan Cook had 20 points off the bench, that's only going to encourage him. If only Cook's drive and ego were contagious, it could spread to some teammates of his that actually deserve it.
OK, that was mean. But Cook has shot the Heat out of some close losses this season, and he was the only Miami contributor save for D-Wade that seemed to have his head on straight during this loss.
Take nothing away from Milwaukee's accomplishment. I celebrate and applaud the team's execution, the way it moved the ball, the way it attacked the basket.
But Dallas, it was weird; they just stopped playing basketball in the second quarter. Just stopped playing defense. Didn't want to be there, apparently.
Milwaukee out-rebounded the Mavs by 13, notched 28 assists, shot 57 percent, and really just has the look of a Scott Skiles team in its first year under the firebrand coach. That's a good thing.
Apologies for the short shrift, Bucks fans. I watched more of this game than I did a few others within this post. I just have little to say beyond the fact that the Bucks listen to their coach, and the Mavs couldn't be bothered.
Chris Paul is very good at basketball.
He moves his feet incredibly well on defense, was able to stay in front of Devin Harris just long enough to contest shots or run underneath Devin as he pulled up for his mid-range jumpers or lungers. He's so good. He didn't hawk Harris or deny him the ball, or keep him from driving.
No mortal can. But he did hold him, mostly, to 1-11 shooting. This wasn't Harris screwing up. Paul couldn't probably do it again tonight, should a rematch be scheduled. But he did it on Wednesday, and it was something else.
29 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, five turnovers and three steals for Paul. Peja Stojakovic actually looked pretty spry, he made half his shots and contributed 20 and 10. Other than that, the Hornets are just Chris Paul. He leaves the court, and the team just falls apart. If you can only watch 75 percent of a Hornets game, try to miss the second quarter.
12 points and six assists for Keyon Dooling off the New Jersey bench, and that was about it for the Nets.
I think it's safe to say that the Lakers finally ran some plays for Andrew Bynum.
The 21-year old (!) went off for 42 and 15 rebounds against the Clippers, blocking three shots and only turning the ball over twice all night. And not only did he dominate the Clippers with a series of moves down low, he kept it up as the game went along. Big men tend to float, to get their 18 in the first half and finish with 24, but Bynum kept at it. It was great to watch; because we really haven't seen the Lakers go to him much since the first two weeks of January, 2008.
The Clippers were up for this game. Steve Novak (14 points) got hot early on, even engaging in a little shoot-off with Kobe Bryant at one point, and rookie DeAndre Jordan (23 and 12) snuck behind the defense for a series of scores with Bynum on the bench in the first half. Not making an excuse for Bynum, Jordan was scoring on him in the second half when Andrew came back, but that's where the confidence came from. Fine work from the rookie.
Kobe had a triple double (yawn) with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, while Luke Walton started in his first game back from injury. 11 points, just one rebound (there weren't any to grab, as the Lakers out-rebounded the Clippers by 20), two assists, two blocks, two steals and one turnover for Walton in about 21 minutes. Vlad Radmanovic didn't score in six minutes. Hmm.
Not sure what was in the Rockets' Wheaties on Wednesday, but they sure seemed to be a step or two ahead of the Jazz all night long.
Utah didn't play a bad game. They played a pretty good game, actually, save for an iffy bench and Mehmet Okur's 2-13 shooting. Paul Millsap's an All-Star, he had 20 and 12, and Deron Williams (32 and 11 assists, one turnover) is a dead set legend, but it wasn't enough. Mostly because the Rockets just seemed quicker to everything in this win.
Rafer Alston still might be the worst entry passer in all of basketball, but he had a great game. 23 points and eight assists with just one turnover in almost 35 minutes. Von Wafer (21 points) was hot from the corner, the big forward tandem of Luis Scola (19 and nine rebounds) and Carl Landry (10 and seven) played well, and Yao Ming overcame foul trouble to drop 19 and 12.
This game should have been fun, and maybe it was the six hours of basketball-watchin' talkin', but I just wasn't feeling it. I dug seeing the Thunder play well, and attack attack attack, but it just doesn't feel legit against that Warrior "defense." That's not said in retrospect, either. It felt that way during the actual, close, contest.
And Russell Westbrook? This cat can ball. Strong as hell, 30 points and seven assists, and Sam Presti really nailed this one. Gutsy call that looks like one of the bigger draft steals of the last decade. Nobody had this guy going at fourth overall except for Presti, and it looks wholly deserved at this point.