Fri Apr 04 09:01am EDT
Not the best night of basketball.
To begin, the Bulls beat the Cavaliers, with Cleveland looking inept defensively in the first quarter and inept offensively in the fourth quarter, while Chicago won in a way that would suggest that, "hey, maybe this Larry Hughes guy isn't so bad. Let's give him minutes."
He is bad. Don't give him minutes. One game like tonight is not enough to make up for the others. Ask any Cav fan.
Kings/Clippers was OK, but Rockets/Trail Blazers was pretty useless, what with my three favorite players from each team unable to play due to injury.
Then, right before Inside the NBA comes on, an ex-roommate of mine shows up in one of those cartoon-y Charles Schwab ads (as she has for two years), dressed to look like a mother in khaki pants and a pink sweater, in spite of all sorts of horrible things that ... I'll be safe, because I don't have a lawyer on retainer. Some of you have seen my teeth, so it's obvious I've never had a retainer. I'll stop.
Listen, all I watch is basketball and precious little else outside of BBC America, so how cruel is it that the only commercial I'm constantly forced to watch features someone who made off with my nice red kettle and only liked Steely Dan because it seemed cool?
101, Cleveland 98
The Bulls didn't play all that well in certain areas, they were killed on the boards (41 to 33, with rookies Joakim Noah and Aaron Gray combining to pull in just six in almost 46 combined minutes), Luol Deng has no chance against LeBron James in spite of some big time effort, and Kirk Hinrich was nowhere to be found.
But the ball was moving, Chicago cut very well and set good screens (save for Noah, who is still wary of picking up cheap fouls), and Larry Hughes came through with a great game. Now, a whole heap of Hughes' shots were boneheaded, but he was obviously motivated by playing in a city that paid him a lot of money for very little results, and Chicago won't get the same effort and attitude, say, next Tuesday in Miami.
In fact, TNT analyst Mike Fratello was right to point out how Hughes allowed for an easy Cleveland fast break because he went for his second tip-dunk in as many minutes, instead of getting back defensively. Kudos to LH for the great game (25 points, eight rebounds, nine assists), but if you have to circle the calendar before the season and guess which of Larry's nights will be the best, a nationally televised affair in Cleveland is your best guess.
And, while we're piling on, Hughes leaves Daniel Gibson open at the three-point line to double-team LeBron James 32 feet from the hoop? Gibson with an open 24-footer, as opposed to LBJ with a contested 32-footer? Guh.
You have to worry about LeBron's back. He's played deep into the playoffs for the last two years, international ball over the last two summers, and his off the court appointment book is pretty stacked. If his body is aching, it's not the best time. Then there's this great observation from Brian Windhorst's brilliant blog:
"-I hereby nominate Ben Wallace's dunk attempt with 2:30 left in the loss to the Bulls as the symbolic moment of the Cavs season. Ahead by two points, it might've given the Cavs key separation. It was right in front of the Bulls bench and the crowd was ready to explode, which probably would've forced a timeout. Instead, somehow, Wallace ran into the rim on the way up. It was shocking. It looked like such a lock, the sound crew at Quicken Loans Arena had already started playing their Big Ben chime but it had to be cut off in mid-dong. This season so many times everything looked it was set up only for the execution to fail."
It's worth pointing out that these two teams, in spite of the reality that revealed itself as obvious back in mid-December, continue to work hard, try to compete, and try to win games every night out.
This isn't some observation made in the (lottery-bound) dregs of early April, or even weeks before, mind you. All season long, these teams have been trying. Now, "trying" doesn't always mean the smartest decisions, the most efficient play, or the most intelligent route toward victory. But it does mean effort, and that's saying a lot in any context, much less the one that has the Knicks offering 18-minute practices and the Miami Heat turning into the North Dakota Heat.
(That's the odd by-product of teams that actually play hard, but don't win. We've tired of them after a spell, while Seattle and Memphis suddenly seem interesting.)
Just like a car, Kevin Martin (26 points on 14 shots - a line I should keep on my computer's clipboard) was pleasing to behold.
The Rockets should beat a team like this. Not too many surprises in this one. I should add this:
As brilliant as Portland was at finishing games earlier in the season (to these eyes, no team was better in the last six minutes of a close game), Nate McMillan's bunch has been just as bad in the final 360 seconds of games over the last few months.
It's not that this team has gotten worse. Rather, they've gone from amongst the best, to amongst the worst.
And that's how it flows with young team. McMillan still has my Coach of the Year vote, assuming the NBA gave votes to anyone under the age of 59 and/or people who didn't draw paychecks from TV stations. I'm so glad that this man will be guiding the lives and careers of these young men for the next decade.
Also, the drop-off has little to do with Brandon Roy's absence. They were falling back to Earth even when he was healthy.
Houston was Houston: the team played great defense and got lucky from beyond the three-point line.