Portland should be the story here. There might not be a better story in this league right now. The Blazers have overcome everything and a half to be on pace for 47 wins as they enter the All-Star break. Fifty victories could really be on the horizon, and the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) as a franchise-level stud (finally playing up to that potential) has been one of the real treats of 2010-11.
Usually Chris Paul, when he's healthy, is among those treats. But what started as a dominant stretch for three quarters, followed by a strange habit of taking fourth quarters off, has now stretched out for entire games at a time. And what was once an MVP candidate has now reduced himself (whether by attitude, ennui, bum knees or combination of all three) to be the sort of guy who puts up only eight points and nearly as many turnovers (four) as assists (five) in a close game against a team fighting for playoff seeding with Paul's Hornets.
Fourteen points and nine assists for Paul in the month of February. Not too bad, but not commensurate with his gifts. CP3 has hit just 17 of his last 54 shots, and that's spread out over five games. This isn't a man who should be taking fewer than 11 shots a night, regardless of NOLA's slow pace, and making just over three of those attempts on average. And it's not like he's tearing it up in the assist department, at just under eight a game.
Chris doesn't have many people to pass to, as the Hornets are either made up of -- looking past David West(notes), of course -- players who need the ball to score, or players who shouldn't have the ball at all. But this is where Paul would seem to want to take his exceedingly good scoring traits and put them to work. Instead, he's coasting. And it's not right. His fans and his team deserve better. I can understand the Hornets' swoon -- this was a limited rotation even with Emeka Okafor(notes) around -- but there's no excuse for this sort of play.
Portland will take it. Nate McMillan's team came through with 68 points combined in the first and fourth quarters, as Wesley Matthews(notes) and Aldridge combined for 58. Nearly 129 points per 100 possessions overall for PDX, a remarkable figure considering the Hornets may have been the NBA's best defensive team in the first month of the season.
As it's been all year, one step forward (even if it's in-game) and one step back for the Bucks. They could have had this, but surprising lapses in defense down the stretch allowed Denver to pull out an impressive road win.
Seventeen second-half points for Carmelo Anthony(notes), who played every second of the second half (George Karl, gettin' it in!). Chauncey Billups(notes) scored nine points in the final half of the fourth quarter. Milwaukee did hold the best offensive team in the NBA to 100 points to 100 possessions, so that's an accomplishment, but it just didn't have enough on both ends to finish this one off.
Dwight Howard(notes) played like the MVP candidate he is, tossing all manner of Wizards around and drawing foul after foul on the helpless Washington front line. The big man's 12 points, three rebounds and a block helped Orlando put together a 31-point second quarter after a slow start, and the Wizards just didn't have efficient offensive types (outside of John Wall(notes), the entire team shot 19 for 66) to mount any sort of comeback.
J.J. Redick(notes) was also a spark off the Magic bench, and though we gave Gilbert Arenas(notes) some stick in these pages yesterday, it should be noted that Arenas' willingness to run the offense has improved over the last few games. Four assists in about 21 minutes per game off the Magic bench for Arenas this month.
The Raptors hung tight, spreading the floor and making shots and keeping this well within their reach throughout. Andrea Bargnani(notes) scored 38 points and did absolutely nothing else to help his team, Ed Davis(notes) came through with good play off the bench and Jose Calderon(notes) made up for a dodgy shooting night with 14 assists.
The Heat, as they've done all year, responded with making plays that no other team in this league can make. Doesn't mean I'm calling them the championship favorite or the best team in the NBA. It just means you can't do that.
Seventy-six combined points for LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes), as all three got to the line for double-figure freebies. Miami made 29 free throws, helping to take the edge off of a slouchy night from the supporting cast, and that 2-for-11 mark from long range.
The boos for Bosh were boos. Not a whole lot there, nothing that wasn't expected. Miami moves into the All-Star break as the monster-in-waiting, and Toronto slides back into NBA obscurity until it figures itself out.
Bad defense and needless jump shots from the Hawks, from what I saw, and New York seemed determined to end this part of the season on a high note.
Atlanta made 11 of 22 shots behind the arc -- very nice, but the team also had difficulty finishing and/or drawing fouls on the interior and shot 6 for 19 on long-range 2-pointers. The result was five foul shots made, all night. That's like a two-minute warning for Dwyane Wade.
New York had 25 assists on 38 field goals, and seemed in a consistent rhythm, throughout.
There was certainly effort there, I thought, with Indiana's defensive attack. The team just didn't play a smart brand of ball on that end by mistaking activity for achievement. And credit the Pistons for taking it to Indiana in the overtime, dropping 11 points after 48 minutes of play before the All-Star break.
This was a low-possession game, but it was also a 53-minute game, and the Pistons only turned it over eight times, which is remarkable. I should say the turnovers I saw (including an incredibly odd left-handed pass from Ben Gordon(notes)) were about as crazy as crazy-bad turnovers get, but the end result was proper, Hammer, proper.
Tracy McGrady(notes) didn't play in the fourth quarter or overtime, but Tay Prince managed 25 and 11 rebounds all day, and Rodney Stuckey(notes) is continuing his little renaissance with 18 points, six assists and two steals in just 28 minutes.
Paul Pierce(notes) had his clear bounce-back game, dropping 31 points and looking like the guy we've seen enjoy a career year this season. But he does need to sit. And the break has to do big things for him by doing very little. Too bad he'll be in the 3-point contest and the ASG itself. Drat. Well, he can rest today, right?
New Jersey couldn't get good shots off, and it couldn't keep up with Boston's constant movement. It managed a 25-60 mark from the floor on 2-pointers -- 41 percent isn't too awful, but it was made worse by only hitting 12 free throws and nailing just six threes in 20 tries. The Nets enter the All-Star break on pace to double last season's win total, but this team still looks like it underachieves at times. This would appear to be a "contributions-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts" roster, but it hasn't turned out that way.
Tough run for the Jazz, who have been competitive since Jerry Sloan walked away from the team last week. But they still can't stop anyone. Playing teams like the Suns and the Warriors won't help in that regard, but the issue is sustaining nevertheless. Al Jefferson's(notes) and Deron Williams'(notes) consistency isn't the problem. It's not the bench. It's not the wing position. It's the defense.
(The other stuff hurts, too.)
Good on the Warriors, who worked the screen/roll and followed Monta Ellis'(notes) lead. Thirty-five points and seven assists for the guard, who might sit out the last All-Star Game of his 20s on Sunday.
His hops aren't all the way back -- whose hops would be after an injury like that? -- and I'm not ready to pronounce Rodrigue Beaubois(notes) as the all-around type to put the Dallas Mavericks over the top. What I can say is that he provided the shot in the arm Dallas needed to pull out this win over the Kings, running roughshod over a Sacramento team that just wants the first half of 2010-11 to go far, far away.
Good thing, because the old men Mavs made three (three, kids) free throws all night, and that's against a Kings team that will bite at a head fake just out of general principal. Thirteen points, six assists, three turnovers and two steals for Roddy, who shot 5 of 9 from inside the arc. Jason Kidd(notes) went 6 of 7 from outside the arc, and Sacto's offense could not keep up with a team that was hitting 55 percent of its shots overall.
Derek Fisher(notes) made 8 of 12 shots, but he also watched helplessly as Ramon Sessions(notes) carved him and Steve Blake(notes) up for 32 points and eight assists. Kobe Bryant(notes) pulled in 12 rebounds, but he also shot his team out of a comfortable lead, going 2 fot 13 on jumpers from 16 feet and out, despite a Cavalier interior that has been scored on consistently this season.
We can talk about how this was the last night of Los Angeles' seven-game road trip, and mention that the final big night before the All-Star break usually has a strange last-day-of-school feeling, but Los Angeles should have gone into this game with its eyes wide open. It threw up the white flag in Orlando on Sunday. It had its tail handed to it by Charlotte on Monday. This was the game where the vets had to take over, using that offense and utilizing those supposed smarts we've been told about for years, and go into the break with a win that limits the "are-they-done" talk for now.
Instead, the levels will be on 10, regarding the team's championship status. And it'll be deserved talk, until Kobe stops taking those long jumpers.
Good on Cleveland, refusing to back down as the Lakers expected. Los Angeles kept waiting for things to turn without actually putting much work into the turnaround, and the result was a game that was close throughout. Bad interior D from the Lakers down the stretch, clutchmeister Kobe shot 2 for 8 in the fourth quarter, Pau Gasol(notes) added a 30-and-20 game but he was lacking defensively down the stretch, and Andrew Bynum(notes) missed 10 of 12 shots.
The Cavs weren't especially white hot, though they did put up 109 points per 100 possessions. Sessions and Anthony Parker(notes) notched good shooting games, but mainly they just took advantage whenever Los Angeles (who turned it over on a fifth of its possessions) fell short. Hopefully this fire and this optimism sustains past the All-Star break.
Andre Iguodala(notes) is just 10 for 46 over his last four games, really clankin' it up, but the 76ers still pulled out an impressive win in Houston. Tons of fast-break points for the Sixers, good-enough stoppage defensively (though Lou Williams continues to get burned), and an unrelenting attack allowed Doug Collins' crew to head into the All-Star break with a smile on their faces.
Thirty-six points for Kyle Lowry(notes); he's done well this year, but the Houston defense overall was pretty poor, especially in transition. Just eight turnovers for the Rockets all night, but by missing 9 of 32 shots from behind the arc, they allowed the Sixers to leak out in transition, where the team's endless array of finishers put Houston away.
An 11-point third quarter from Blake Griffin(notes) allowed the visiting Clippers to keep the Timberwolves at arm's length, giving Los Angeles a needed win as it recovered from a tough Grammy-inspired road trip.
Griffin managed 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists overall, making up for a terrible 6-of-26 mark from long range from his teammates. He ran circles around Kevin Love(notes), who was by far the best player on the floor for Minnesota, but no help against the charging Griffin.
Thank you for reading.