Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Denver 114, Miami 113

An immensely entertaining game, just as Miami's loss on Sunday was, which seems a little curious to me. Actually, "curious" isn't the right word; it just seems a little damning that it took the trading of a player who had only been on-court for 947 of Miami's 12,037 total minutes to light a competitive fire under this team that was enough to result in a competitive effort on the court.

I'm not saying the Heat didn't say the right things and go through the correct motions in the days leading up to the Shaquille O'Neal trade, but this is quite the different team since the transaction, and the difference can't be squarely credited to Shawn Marion - as good as he's been.

And he's been good. Yes, Marion is averaging 46 minutes per game, and having difficulties creating his own shot at times; but he's also been providing the Heat with 19 points, 16 rebounds, 3.5 assists, four combined blocks/steals, and solid defense. And his ability to spread the floor has helped: guys like Mark Blount, Earl Barron and Dwyane Wade are getting easier looks as defenses collapse on Marion - even though Shawn has yet to hit a three-pointer as a member of the Heat.

It hasn't helped Miami's record, though. The Heat were out-shot and out-rebounded, and the team's interior and perimeter defense (Nugget J.R. Smith hit eight of his first 12 three-pointers) was porous at times in the loss. But the team is exciting, fun to watch, and good signs about. That in itself is an improvement. Pity it took this long to come to this.

Boston 104, Indiana 97

The Celtics are in "show me what you gots"-mode, typical for a veteran team with championship aspirations. The C's played well enough to keep a young Pacer team at bay, taking advantage of delayed transition opportunities when possible, and not getting down on itself when the Pacer kids played well and hit tough shots.

The Pacer kids played well, by the way. Marquis Daniels showed up, as he does five times a month. Shawne Williams made smart decisions, Danny Granger contributed (18 points, 10 boards, five blocks) even as his shot looked off, and the team moved the ball well. You never felt like the Celtics were in trouble, even after they fell behind early on, and Paul Pierce (celebrating his birthday with 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one turnover) was damn solid.

It wasn't really Pierce's birthday. He just wanted to embarrass the waitresses and get a free piece of cake.

Detroit 94, Atlanta 90

Probably the game of the night, more exciting than the Denver-Miami overtime affair, and yet completely and utterly predictable down to its core.

Seriously, I wish I could hand over some semblance of insight after taking in most of this Piston win, but it was exactly what you would expect:

Detroit started slow, Josh Smith took advantage of both Antonio McDyess (mostly) and Rasheed Wallace (at times) defensively, and Hawk rookie Al Horford made plays that seemed wise beyond his years. After missing his first nine shots, Chauncey Billups made five of seven in the fourth quarter (mostly from the same spot on the right elbow extended beyond the three-point line) for 12 points.

Detroit made some savvy plays on both ends in the fourth quarter, Atlanta countered with some quite un-savvy moves of their own, and the Pistons pulled away.

Rasheed Wallace yelled a lot.

New Jersey 92, Minnesota 88

A pretty miserable game to behold, the Nets turned up the defensive intensity (save for when it had to switch on pick-and-rolls and guard Sebastian Telfair, who had 24 points), and the Timberwolves weren't smart or confident enough to counter. That will come in time; the team has the talent and intelligence enough. "Time" didn't come today, however, and the Nets were never in trouble.

I tell you who is in trouble, and that's Mother Nature. The amount of topsoil we're losing every year is just maddening. Recycle, people!

Memphis 107, Sacramento 94

Because I'm nice to myself, I didn't get to see much of this one. King Kevin Martin had 26 points in the first half; I can tell you that, which makes his 33 total points a little distressing.

John Salmons played 22 minutes and only took four shots (making one). Jason Collins blew out his afro and had five fouls in 12 minutes, and Grizzly Hakim Warrick had 24 points and 13 rebounds, but no assists. Share the love, Hakim! Recycle!

New Orleans 100, Chicago 86

Playing without Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, the Bulls did a pretty admirable job keeping things down to a two-possession game until the fourth quarter, but they had no answer for Chris Paul (25 points, 14 assists, two steals, one turnover) as the Hornets pulled away late.

Paul was unstoppable. He scored on Chris Duhon and Kirk Hinrich, drove past Thabo Sefalosha, gave thoughtful and cogent answers in the locker room after the game, and likely loaned out some lotion to a forgetful Jannero Pargo before the contest even started.

Kirk Hinrich hasn't shaved in a while.

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