I don't think I'm missing much when I distill what was a very interesting, though surprisingly not as entertaining as you'd expect, game into something very simple.
The Hornets seemed unstoppable for most stretches when Chris Paul(notes) was absolutely dominating the ball. Plays and screens, sure, but mostly just doing what he wanted. And when he was on the bench or off to the side on a play? New Orleans seemed flat. The weak, contested shots coming from the hands of most of his teammates didn't help, either.
And outside of Paul, I haven't seen another point guard in this league play as consistently well as Russell Westbrook(notes) has this season. Bulls fans will give me guff because Derrick Rose(notes) (my number 3) looks so brilliant around the hoop (even if he doesn't rebound or get to the line nearly as much as RW), and Jazz fans won't be happy because Deron Williams(notes) (3A) is Deron Williams, but Westbrook has been better than both this year. That may not be the case after adding it all up in April, Williams will likely be that guy, but right now? Respect what this guy is giving you.
Eight turnovers, I know (that tends to happen when you play against Chris Paul and the Hornets), but he took over the game down the stretch with 12 points (didn't miss a shot) in the fourth quarter, along with two assists, one turnover, and two steals. 25 points and 11 assists, five steals, five rebounds.
Paul floated too much for my tastes, and let this one get away from his team. If this was a function of OKC's defense, after just one watch, I wouldn't be surprised. 17 and 14 assists with five steals of his own, though. Westbrook is also to be commended for putting up with what I'd call about 13 jerk moves from Paul on the night, most of which were missed by the referees.
Kevin Durant(notes) came through with what has been a pretty typical game from him this year, he missed 15 of 22 shots but nailed 12 free throws on his way to 26 points. Double figure rebounds, and he used that wingspan to bother David West(notes) to no end down the stretch. Serge Ibaka(notes) also channeled Dennis Rodman with 11 rebounds in 30 minutes, two blocks, zero points, and an ejection.
Such a weird game. I suppose we'll get nothing but those from the Heat this year, as opposed to a seamless intertwining of some of the greatest basketball talents of this and the previous era. Pity.
Soap operas aside, because there were actual sneakers squeaking, the game started with the reminder that Kirk Hinrich(notes) (starting in place of an injured John Wall(notes)) has always defended Dwyane Wade(notes) expertly. And Wade, save for one Jordan-like extend-o-layup in the first half, looked like he could barely jump over a phone book in the first half.
Missed a dunk, had his shots blocked (if not by Hinrich), and just couldn't function. Even left the game (without actually looking to the coach to ask to be subbed out, it should be noted) after botching a steal that fell into his lap. Later, and I don't say this to be unkind, the AP reported that he missed that time to have a hangnail worked on.
LeBron James(notes) got to the line a ton and the Wizards take bad shots and make bad decisions with the ball, so Miami had this in hand, though not comfortably, by halftime. Wade blossomed in the third quarter, scoring 15 in the period while missing one shot and getting to the line seven times, and the Heat pulled away for good.
There was also the part where Juwan Howard(notes), I'm not going to say overreacted, but got a little angry when Hilton Armstrong(notes) committed a stupid foul on Joel Anthony(notes) after the Heat made their first extra pass of the season. Armstrong was lazy in his intentional foul attempt, Anthony fell hard, and Howard?
"I didn't mean to hit him that hard, but he fell. I went to go try to help him out, but then Howard came and pushed me in the back."
Also, you know when you see a player come off the bench and nail a couple of terrible, off-balance shots, and you think to yourself, "he's going to keep shooting these awful shots, but they can't go in forever?" Nick Young(notes) finished with 13 points on 4-15 shooting.
Caron Butler(notes) has been on the Mavericks since last winter, and yet anytime I see him (a wing player hanging around the 20-foot mark wearing number 4) on my standard definition connection, I just can't help but think about Michael Finley(notes). I just have to do a double-take, until I'm reminded that it's Caron Butler out there.
Monday night helped distinguish things, though. Dirk Nowitzki(notes) was solid throughout, but it was Butler's strong shooting touch in the third quarter that helped Dallas pull away. Apparently Houston coach Rick Adelman had impressed upon his Rockets before the game to try and deny the sort of 12-2 runs that turn close games into tough deficits, which seems like the absolute slimmest of expectations, but Houston hung in there for a half. Until Butler started nailing jumpers in the third.
I don't have any answers for Houston. This team has talent but its offense can't make up for that terrible defense any more, and they just seem to lead the league in missed shots that looked good on release.
The Bucks just didn't have a chance, in this one. Unless Ersan Ilyasova(notes) was going off for 20 rebounds (and, judging by the way Al Jefferson(notes) and Andrei Kirilenko(notes) effortlessly went over his back all night, he wasn't), a team missing its starting centre and power forward just wasn't going to compete, even against a terrible rebounding team like Utah.
The Jazz weren't great guns, either. The execution was there, that offense was humming, but the Bucks were contesting shots well and the perimeter looks weren't falling. Utah knew to pounce on the wounded animal, though, and you have to credit that.
Utah picked up on offensive board on nearly half its chances at an offensive rebound, and you can't beat a team that has that going for it. John Salmons(notes) missed 10 of 11 shots for Milwaukee before leaving (on the year, he's scoring 12 a game on 11 shots; ouch), and Deron Williams ran a brilliant show with 22 points and 10 assists in only 30 minutes. Could have had a few more dimes, too, had his teammates hit more shots.