Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Houston 83, Atlanta 75

This was pretty ugly, no alibis to be found, but it was nice to see the Hawks (once a pretty sound defensive team, earlier in the year) pull out their best defensive performance in months.

It was also nice to see the Houston Rockets, a team that had every right to pack it in after losing Yao Ming, pull off its eighth-straight win without Yao, and 20th overall.

Atlanta's defensive resurgence helped little in the fourth quarter, when Tracy McGrady was taking, and making, bad shots. A pair of crushers: one a fadeaway 17-footer that caught every part of the rim, bounced up, and back in; and a really crummy line-drive three-pointer to cap the win. These were looks that World B. Free would cringe at, but they went in, and Houston needed someone (anyone! - I think I'm legally required to write that) that was able to get anything up on the rim.

The key to the game was Chuck Hayes. Forced into playing a few more minutes than Rick Adelman would like due to Rocket starter Luis Scola's early foul trouble, Hayes made himself a threat off the pick and roll offensively. And though it wasn't pretty, he managed to bang in four of six shots alongside his usual All-NBA worthy defense and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes.

Hayes' play allowed the Rockets to head into the second half down three, instead of down eight or nine points. And in a game where both teams combined to hit a third of their shots, it's safe to say that points were at a premium. Great win for Houston, but it was nasty to watch.

Dikembe?

"All the critics can kiss my black ass."

Wow. He really said that.

Hey, "who wants to sex Mutombo"? Consider yourself replaced. All complaints and queries can be directed toward Dikembe's black ass. 

Orlando 110, Los Angeles Clippers 88

How does a home team winning its eighth game in ten tries, running away with the division on its way toward a projected 53 wins, and up 14 with a quarter to play get roundly booed?

The Magic let Clipper rookie Al Thornton go coast-to-coast for an uncontested finger roll with about five seconds to go in the third quarter, as each Magic player assumed that the one in back of them would be the one to actually move his feet and sort of step in front of Thornton, which would have been enough to stop the Clipper wing from getting his shot off on time.

Instead, the Magic ran out of guys in back of themselves, or something like that, and the Magic crowd (a decade removed from being the NBA's loudest cheerers of dead-ball baskets; you know, the ones that don't count that players throw in well after a foul call) aggressively booed a Magic team that continually decides to take possessions off even in the midst of an impressive win.

Otherwise, it was a pretty dominant win for the Magic. You don't have to push too hard to get the Clippers to fall apart offensively, but Orlando did well to keep Los Angeles at bay. Dwight Howard reverted a bit to his 2006-07 form, but he still threw up 22 and 13 rebounds with three blocks in just 34 minutes.

New York 91, Miami 88

Ricky Davis is starting to score again. Ricky Davis is starting to score quite a bit, again. As you'd expect, the team Ricky Davis is scoring for is losing again.

At home.

To the Knicks.

To a Knick team without Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, and Quentin Richardson.

After the Knicks spotted them a 14-2 lead.

New York wasn't all that great, but they did only turn the ball over seven times against the most listless defensive team in the NBA right now + Shawn Marion, and the Heat managed to miss 9 of 17 free throws at the line.

Later this week, when somebody in a windbreaker starts prattling on about how much better those plucky pasty boys from the NCAA are in comparison to those uncaring NBA thugs, stop a second before bashing his face in with a pint glass. Think of this game. Finish your beer. Then bash away.

New Jersey 104, Cleveland 99

Not a lot of help for LeBron James in this one, the four starters he was sent out with combined to shoot 7-22 (and no Ben Wallace to blame this one on, he was out with back spasms, and replacement Joe Smith shot just 2-6), and the Nets were basically doubling him at the three-point line for most of the second half.

That said, James didn't help his cause either: he took several truly terrible shots, trying to overcome deficits with a 27-footer, turned the ball over six times, and shot 16-23 from the line.

(That said, he also finished with 42 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks. Three blocks, really, as one was needlessly called a goaltend.)

New Jersey's Richard Jefferson earned his salary on this one, funneling James into good defensive help, while pouring in 24 points on just 11 shots.

I've been a bit down on Jefferson for whining like a little mug after getting called for a technical last week when he wagged his finger at Dikembe Mutombo. Players have been getting called for T's for over a decade for the same move, Michael Jordan was even called for one, and Dikembe himself gets the whistle if he does it in someone's face. So, Richard, quit snivelin'.

Actually, I'm still down on Jefferson. Watch the PTI clip, again. Jefferson's looks like a fool, and though the word I'm thinking of that reminds me of Jefferson in this case rhymes with "fool," it's not the word I'm thinking of.

Boki Nachbar was great off the bench for New Jersey, negating a sound performance from the Cleveland pine, with 21 points on 11 shots.

Boston 111, Seattle 82

Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman pointed this out late in the Celtic blowout win, and it's worth pointing out again: not only did everyone on the Boston roster score on Wednesday night, everyone on the Boston roster played double-figure minutes. Can't remember the last time I saw that. Shaq and Kobe probably had something to do with the last one I saw, I'd guess.

Boston was just toying with the SuperSonics in this one, it's not as if they didn't take things seriously, but they did overpass at times. And, most other times, they passed just fine: 31 assists on 45 field goals for Boston, who also turned in their usual dominant defensive performance against a SuperSonics team that is fighting for an at-large bid.

Philadelphia 83, Detroit 82

On paper, it was a very uncharacteristic game for the Pistons. That said, we all know how bad Detroit can be if its head isn't into things, so it wasn't surprising to see Flip Saunders' crew drop a game they should have won. The Pistons weren't "into things" often enough on Wednesday, and the result was a one-point home loss to the team it will likely face in the first round of the playoffs.

Plenty of credit to the resilient 76ers for the win, but I'm focusing on Detroit right now - this is a group that has enough to down the Celtics in six games (not saying that its going to happen), and take out a Western power in six games in the Finals (not saying that its going to happen) if it plays at full capacity, even playing against an opponent that brought its best game.

And yet, it could also be out in the first or second round (not saying that its going to happen, but it could) if it throws out games - especially home games - like this. Talk all you want about the Pistons saving themselves for the postseason, but this is a team that saved its biggest flameouts for the last two postseasons, so I was hoping to see Detroit (to quote Reggie Miller) "have a full steam of head" entering the playoffs.

The Pistons doubled-up the Sixers in turnovers tonight, and couldn't close a three-point gap to Philadelphia even with Andre Miller in the locker room for the final 6:30 after re-injuring his back. Andre Iguodala ... this is a man who should be your third option (not that the Sixers have a choice in this matter). All he could get off were miserable fading away 21-footers in the clutch, shots that never went in, and yet the Pistons couldn't take advantage. 

New Orleans 100, San Antonio 75

This one escalated quickly. There's a lot to get to, so ... quick hits!

*I've defended Bruce Bowen before against charges of being a dirty little bastard, and I'm not backing off that. If you know what you're doing while defending a right-hander's jumper, you should end up on his right side after the shot is released, and it's possible that his or her feet might fall on yours. That said, he should be suspended for this play.

*The clip I linked to doesn't give the best angle, but an angle provided later by the Hornets TV coverage (I didn't have time to record it, something about literally nine games being aired at that point may have had something to do with it) clearly showed Chris Paul smacking Bowen in an area Paul isn't that unfamiliar with (almost three years to the day) - some dude's nuts. Paul nailed Bowen in the crotch, to these eyes, and was smacking him in the right thigh when Bowen kicked back. Remember this, when ESPN pulls out the Bruce Bowen highlight reel.

*Otherwise, Paul was brilliant. 26 points on just 19 shots, 17 assists, three turnovers, three steals. His counterpart, Tony Parker, also did well to take advantage of Paul as the Hornet point man roamed for steals: 24 points on 16 shots (including two treys), mostly on jumpers.

*The Spurs missed 44 shots and ten free throws (an ugly 7-17, 41.2 percent, from the line), but were only able to pull in eight offensive boards. Meanwhile, New Orleans crushed San Antonio overall: 45-27 on the glass.

*David West - 29 and 10 - was either driving past (driving right past, with the strong hand, they couldn't keep up) or shooting over Kurt Thomas and Tim Duncan all night. Twinged his ankle in the third quarter, left the game to get re-taped, came back to nail a 20-footer just seconds after re-entering the game. Nice. Still don't like the chin fuzz.

*The thing that will either kill the Spurs, or take them to its first back-to-back title: the outside shooting of the old, streaky guys. Damon Stoudamire (34), Ime Udoka (30), Michael Finley (35), and Robert Horry (37) combined to shoot a miserable 4-21 (19 percent) from the floor. Mssrs. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker can have their best games all at once, and the Spurs won't beat a playoff team with that sort of help. No chance.

*Melvin Ely, Julian Wright, and Bonzi Wells were all over the baseline for New Orleans, and no Spur could keep up with them. Uh oh.

Utah 114, Milwaukee 110

Remember the hope that had the Jazz waking up and starting to kick a little tail on the road?

Yeah, that might have to wait. Because, as far as I can tell, they had a little bit of a problem dispatching a team that Utah should have scored 135 on; instead, they were out-rebounded and played to a hilt by a Bucks team that played in another time zone the night before.

I don't want to take too much away from the Jazz, who played a good game and were facing the best and most inspired Bucks team I've seen in weeks (months? All year?), but I'm also ready for a breakthrough.

Now.

Oh, yeah.

I love when Deron Williams (26 points on 18 shots) gets his score on. You're often likely to hear a whole batch of hyperbole about guards that "could score a lot more, if they wanted to," but Deron could really, really score a lot more, if he wanted to.

Frank from BrewHoop has the Bucks breakdown, and as you'd expect, it's a good one.

Dallas 118, Charlotte 93

Considering the 25-point win, I'm not going to get a lot of arguments, but this is how the Mavs need to play. The team is a year removed from winning 67 games and getting an unlucky pairing against a team that had its number in the first round, and they did so with isolation play, the extra pass, and without a point guard dominating the ball.

Jason Kidd missed five of seven shots, but he also gave up the ball, offered eight dimes to zero turnovers, and the Mavs walked. If Devin Harris would have had this same game (in a win, mind you) last year, or even earlier this season, we wouldn't have given it a second look.

Jerry Stackhouse was active and hitting teammates (six assists and ten points in the start), and Dirk Nowitzki (26 points and nine rebounds in less than 30 minutes) has continued a brilliant streak that has seen him offer one bad game (the suspension-worthy performance against Utah last week) since Dallas suffered its most embarrassing loss of the season on February 11th.

The Bobcats have given up on Sam Vincent. After three months of playing Jeff McInnis earlier this season, I gave up on Sam Vincent.

Denver 108, Memphis 86

Denver actually spotted the Grizzlies ten points in this one, as it was 13-3 after a few minutes of first quarter play. Also, the Grizzlies are horrible, so Denver ended up winning by 22.

Mike Conley looked like had no confidence, and didn't want to be in Denver on a Wednesday in March. He probably wouldn't want to be in Columbus right now, either, but that's just conjecture from somebody who hasn't seen an NCAA game all season. The Grizzlies rookie missed 11 of 13 from the floor, had three of his shots blocked, and contributed three assists to four turnovers.

Golden State 117, Toronto 106

We've been a little iffy on T.J. Ford for a week now, and this game didn't do much to change the line of thinking. Ford scored 12 fourth-quarter points, but the ball was in his hands as a one-point Raptor advantage turned into an 11-point loss in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter. Baron Davis was killing the Raps on the other end with isolation plays, and while Ford wouldn't seem to be hurting the Raptors by trying to answer, consider this:

Don Nelson's teams, and this Warrior team in particular, are isolation teams. The Raptors, with or without Chris Bosh in the lineup, are a ball-movement team that spaces the floor and tries to make the extra pass. Ford's scoring is putting points on the board, but it's making Toronto less dangerous overall.

Ford dominating the ball is fine when the tough shots are going in, but two of his long misses started Warrior breaks that broke the game open, and his teammates (who haven't so much as touched the ball in one or two minutes of game action) are out of sync once Ford actually gives up the rock. These guys are cold, they're expected to bail Ford out, and you can expect what eventually happens.

If you're a Warrior fan, you're quite happy at the return of Andris Biedrins, and the end of the power forward-with-small forward skills-as-center rotation that marked Biedrins' absence. Monta Ellis was also brilliant with 33 points.

It was about this time two years ago that Monta started to emerge, playing the same sort of ball that (some eight or nine months later) had your typical mainstream columnist wondering aloud just where the heck this Monta Ellis guy came from.

He started kicking butt in February of 2006, stuck on an otherwise-forgettable team coached by Mike Montgomery, and he was a late night revelation for most East of the Mississippi. Fond memories of that.

Thanks for making it through this one.

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