Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Boston 98, Detroit 80

I suppose it isn't fair to ask the Detroit Pistons to play the defending champs twice in 11 days, a scant few weeks after trading the team's most celebrated player and identity-shaper for the whirlwind and identity-shifter that is Allen Iverson. But we shouldn't completely dismiss these two big losses. There's a kernel of truth in there, somewhere.

We should partially dismiss them, though. Really, how much are the Pistons going to figure out in eight games (4-4) with this guy? This isn't like getting used to having to shade for Jim Abbott defensively once in five games or even switching out your all-around dynamic QB for a trad pocket passer in his mid-30s. Basketball is far, far more complicated. Ask the Nuggets, who traded for Iverson in December of 2006 and still never seemed to get how to use the guard in a way that put the team over the top.

Coaching matters. Stern decisions have to be made, and a lot of that "buck stops here" nonsense actually helps. It helps drive away excuses, and it helps to make you cringe should you have to spit out "we'll get ‘em next time" after the game. If it hurts to say that, you're on the right track. If you're shrugging your shoulders, then something is missing. And I don't care that the season is 82 games.

So when you see the Piston reserves acting like pampered former All-Stars, or Detroit failing to close out on shooters, or stepping into open lanes in order to make sure that the open lanes cease to be open lanes, you have to wonder when the buck is ever going to be able to stop.

This isn't to say that Detroit played the same poor way the entire night, far from it. They just did it long enough to lose handily again. That's the difference between a pretty good team that occasionally plays great and ... the Celtics. The Celtics are just about always there.

The Pistons have never always been there, save for the second round of the playoffs. That's it. Up and down but ultimately rewarding regular season, iffy first round, second round dominance, before falling apart in a third round that they should have won every year. Every damn year. Should have won it, and didn't, for three years running.

You probably saw the game. The Celtics stars were good, and the Celtic bench played great. None of Doc Rivers players saw more than 27 minutes of action, they held a rebounding edge, kept the turnovers down (finally, just 12), and all of Rajon Rondo's decisions seemed to be the right move. 18 points, eight assists, three steals and just two turnovers in only 26 minutes for Rondo.

I'm not saying the Pistons don't care. They do. They're just like most teams in that they don't care enough. And caring enough is a tough, tough thing. It takes a ton of patience.

It's just that, while we should cut them some slack because of the Iverson deal and allow Detroit some time, there are still things to be critical about that don't have a thing to do with Allen Iverson.

Or maybe they do. Either way, we still have to observe a bit more. The season goes on for 82 games, after all.

Los Angeles Lakers 105, Phoenix 92

For most of the month, while the focus has rightfully been on Los Angeles' dominant defense, I've been watching Lamar Odom quietly (and inefficiently, because the shots aren't falling in great numbers) make Tex Winter a happy, happy man.

Winter is the architect of the Lakers' offense, and likely the strongest principle of his famed Triangle offense is the way players are supposed to penetrate the defense. With a pass (preferably, because that means there is an open player somewhere in the teeth of that defense), a drive, a shot, or a rebound.

The last two may not seem like the best moves overall, because shots over the top of the D and ugly offensive rebounds don't seem to go hand-in-hand with the spacious and aesthetically-pleasing Triangle offense.

But these things are important, especially when the player creating the penetration is among those (like, say, the Laker youngsters that come off the bench) who might not be the most structurally-sound Triangle denizens. There's a reason Derek Fisher starts, you know.

So there LO is, shooting the ball, or getting into the lane for a lefty runner or hook that might not fall. Not only is his per-game numbers way down from last year, but his per-minute numbers have taken a dive as well. Even with all those chances to pad his stats among the bench corps. And yet, he's helping. So, so much. Don't let them convince you that he isn't.

Los Angeles held the Suns to about 99 points per 100 possessions, which is right around what the Charlotte Bobcats average, while putting up a number of its own (113 per 100) that would lead the league by a wide margin if averaged out for the year. And that was in Phoenix. And Kobe missed 15 shots, while Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for 14 points. This team is all that and a bag of crisps.

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