Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Denver 116, Minnesota 105

Carmelo Anthony was scintillating last night, he tied an NBA record with 33 third quarter points, and I'm almost nonplussed about it. I'm not "almost" nonplussed, I am nonplussed.

As in, it makes complete and total sense that Carmelo Anthony would have a 33-point quarter, because he's that good. He has that much talent, and when the spacing is right, his touch is there, and the defense is even slightly dodgy, these things are possible. Should have had 35.

Carmelo's stats are down across the board this year, but he's trying new things, trying to work his teammates in, and you know it is going to pay off as the year moves along. You should have nothing but faith in this guy, even if you're paying attention to his per-minute dropoffs, or if he's ruining your fantasy league team. Give the man time. And if you're a Nuggets fan? Well, does your face hurt from smiling so much? It's December 11th, and your team is 15-7. Nice.

In total, 45 points, 11 rebounds, 16-29 shooting, three assists, four steals, and only two turnovers for Anthony in almost 39 minutes. Those two turnovers ... that's really remarkable. I don't care if it's against Minnesota, to have the ball in your hands that much, for shots and rebounds, and steals, and only cough it up twice? God, what a game. Good on ya, ‘Melo.

Zero turnovers for Chauncey Billups in 39 minutes, spot on, and he scored 24 points. I keep meaning to write about the Timberwolves, any second now, but if they don't care long enough to stop themselves from putting Kevin McHale in charge of coaching, why should we care?

Toronto 101, Indiana 88

Quite a few offensive rebounds for the Pacers (18) in this loss, but that's what tends to happen when you shoot a frightening 34.7 percent from the floor. I apologize for seemingly sloughing off Toronto's influence on that mark, the Raptors did play an active brand of enthused defense, but the Pacers really missed a ton of open, good looks.

Still, the progress was there for Toronto. They were getting out on shooters, let's say "most" of the time, and getting under drivers as they attempted to work the mid-range game. T.J. Ford struggled to hit, missing six of eight shots (four points) and finishing with just four assists (may have been 10 had his teammates done their part), and the production was the result of a team-wide defensive effort. Good to see.

Jason Kapono was the killer offensively for Toronto, hitting 11 of 16 shots (3-7 from long range), and that was where Indiana dropped the proverbial ball. Not the real ball.

They freaked out when JK was behind the line, overplaying him and forcing him into the sort of shots that he loves: runners and mid-range jumpers that Kapono should be eschewing.

Usually, teams do their due diligence and let Kapono over think things and dive into a 22-footer that misses. Tonight, the Pacers acted as if Jason was a three-pointer or bust-sort of guy, and the result was a 25-point night. Also, Roko Ukic hit some one-handed, 18-foot runner in the second half that was just marvy.

Don't let my snark get to you. Toronto did turn a corner in this win.

New York 121, New Jersey 109

For all the team's early accomplishments, it's still worth noting that the Nets are a truly terrible defensive team. They don't communicate very well, long-range shooters have a field day, the team's transition and delayed-transition work is pretty shoddy, and the result can be nights like this. They lost to seven Knicks.

Six and a half, really, because Jared Jeffries (three points, four turnovers, five fouls in 17 minutes) continues to be just about worthless for the Knicks. Kind of makes you wonder about those SI scouting reports that come out before the season, especially the one that says "Jared Jeffries could be a contributor on a good team." No. No he couldn't.

Tim Thomas just killed the Nets on the fast break, hitting 5-8 three-pointers finishing with 26 points on just 12 shots. Chris Duhon (10 assists) continued to find the right guys even if he had no chance with Devin Harris (32 points, seven assists, five turnovers), and nobody seemed to be able to find Al Harrington (39 points, 15-16 from the line) until it was too late.

Just as Phoenix shocked the NBA with the sheer unorthodoxy of actually running with the ball back in 2004-05, Mike D'Antoni has the Knicks surprising people with their refusal to settle into a typical up-and-down game by the midway point of the second quarter. They don't let up, and teams can't keep up. Opponents steel themselves to run for a while, but don't have the patience to follow these Knicks around for the full 48.

That, in and of itself, won't be enough to secure New York a win. But if the Knicks stay true to D'Antoni's system, it will be enough to give them a fighting chance. Against just about any team. And that, after years of incompetence, is a huge step in the right direction. Even if none of these guys are around in three years' time.

New Orleans 105, Charlotte 89

The Bobcats really played like a team that just traded its top scorer for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, and Larry Brown really better work some magic if he's going to turn any frown upside down from here on out. He's in real danger of losing this team.

D.J. Augustin (28 points on 15 shots, seven assists) played well for Charlotte, but that's because he's from New Orleans and had about 1297 friends and family members in the stands. Other than that, nada. And I'm having a hard time seeing just how Diaw and Bell are going to change things.

The Hornets just had a nice little practice run against the Bobcats, Chris Paul only took five shots but managed 15 points and 15 assists in only 30 minutes. He would have had more had Tyson Chandler (5-10 shooting) finished a bit better. Still, fine game for Tyson, who had 13 and 11, with three blocks, two assists and zero turnovers in 23 minutes.

29 assists on 40 field goals for the Hornets, who just dominated, and looked gear in their New Orleans Buccaneers jerseys.

Memphis 108, Oklahoma City 102

I got the feeling that Marc Iavaroni saved his job last night, then I remembered that Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley might not be all that interested in paying for an extended from an interim coach for the second time in three seasons. Either way, the Grizzlies were on pace to get blown out by the Thunder early on, but rallied for the win.

Mike Conley had a big part to do with the comeback, the Grizz kept running plays for the little guy, and he responded with 14 fourth quarter points (16 overall), including the deciding basket late.

My issue came with something else. You can't argue with success, but ... yes you can. Memphis had both Quinton Ross and Greg Buckner on the floor in the fourth quarter as Conley ran things, and that just can't happen. That can't happen for any team that wants to beat any NBA squad besides the ruddy Thunder.

Ross is great, he does all the stuff you'd assume Buckner would, so bench Buckner, please. And keeping O.J. Mayo and his foul trouble on the pine for the ENTIRE fourth quarter is just not smart bidness.

Kevin Durant did well to score 28 points on just 18 shots for the Thunder, but his six turnovers (Memphis had just eight as a team) may have been the difference for Oklahoma City. There's a team in Oklahoma City, now.

Cleveland 101, Philadelphia 93

Print this box score off, get in your time machine and show the sheet to a Sixer fan in October, and his or her heart drops. Mainly because you just used a time machine to depress a Philly fan instead of using it for good, but partially because this sort of line was every Sixer fans' fear entering 2008-09: 1-10 shooting from behind the arc, and seven turnovers (to just six points) for a struggling Elton Brand.

Elton just isn't in sync with his teammates, and he's not enough of an alpha male to cut the BS and just start demanding the ball. He's trying to fit in instead of acting in charge of his own (and, by extension, his team's) destiny. Bummer.

The Cavs were in charge all night. LeBron James shot only 10-22, but every time I saw him he seemed to be swishing perimeter bombs. 29 points in the win. Mo Williams chipped in with 27 of his own, on only 16 shots. Own on only, yo.

Andre Iguodala can be taken out of games, and that's exactly what happened on Wednesday night. 21 points in the first half, just six in the second, while Brand just fumed and turned it over.

Golden State 119, Milwaukee 96

You'd think Larry Krystkowiak was coaching the Bucks in this one. Milwaukee gave up 121.4 points per 100 possessions against a Warriors team that hasn't seem enthused about the whole "play basketball for money" thing for the last few weeks, and Golden State's Marco Belinelli had the sort of game (15 points!) that will allow for a series of "told you so" emails from W's fans to litter the mailbox of certain scribes.

Andrew Bogut had 10 points and nine rebounds, that's sadly around his averages for the year (though Andrew's rebounding touch has been nice in 2008-09), and he was completely outplayed by Andris Biedrins. Biedrins finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, four blocks, and zero turnovers in 27 minutes. That'll work.

San Antonio 95, Atlanta 89

An encouraging performance for both teams. The Spurs looked downright Spurs'y in the win, covering all angles (or, at least, what they could) and hanging in long enough to pull the victory out. And the Hawks competed and made it a close game when they could have let San Antonio pull away at any point.

The Spurs just can't guard guys like Joe Johnson anymore. Bruce Bowen can still be a good one-on-one defender given the right matchup, but he and Mike Finley and Ime Udoka (in a short run) had no chance against Johnson. 29 points on 20 shots for Joe, with six assists.

The Spurs will take it, though, because the team's insistent defense forced Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams into a host of shots that only San Antonio wanted them to take. The three combined to shoot 5-22, as Bibby and Al Horford (3-8 shooting) both picked up late technical fouls that sealed Atlanta's fate.

For the Spurs, Manu (27 points on 12 shots, in 28 minutes) was brilliant, the defense was there, and Michael Finley (15 points) had a little pep in his jumper. Besides Johnson, the Atlanta bench was working. Flip Murray had 17, and Acie Law played better than his modest stats (five points, one assist) would indicate.

Los Angeles Lakers 115, Phoenix 110

So, am I the only one who isn't pulling a Chicken Little routine with the Lakers right now?

This team is 18-3, that's 18 wins in 21 games (geesh), and to listen to ESPN's broadcast last night, you got the feeling that their time had come and gone. The Lakers are listless. The Lakers don't play defense. Magic and Kareem would have never let this happen.

Except, they did. Just about every team "let this happen." Holes are holes, and Los Angeles' veteran backcourt sometimes allows for too much dribble penetration. Big deal. Damon Stoudamire used to kill the Bulls. They still won 72 games.

Even with those holes, the Lakers are still third in defensive efficiency. But combine a Kings loss with a talking point gone mad and some anecdotal evidence as a tremendous offensive team from Phoenix managed to (shock horror) get into the lane a few times, and you have a nauseating watch.

The Lakers won, mind you. They won by five and did it against a Suns team that played very well. The Suns earned that 50.6 shooting mark from the floor, and the "Shaq didn't play, the team was sad about the trade, Nash only shot 2-12" elements don't bother me in the slightest. Honestly.

It's an 82 game season, and the Lakers are on pace to win 71 of them. I don't think they will, but I also don't think I'm going to bleat and moan and pretend this team is anything less than fan-flippin'-tastic.

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