Behind the Box Score, where Detroit is lacking

Houston 108, Detroit 105

Detroit was interested, so credit Houston with this win. With a balanced attack with some pretty solid movement away from the ball and a litany of great finishes near or far away from the rim, Houston had the offense flowing and just enough defense to make this thing work. It's usually the other way around.

And Detroit, whatever it is, they just don't have it. This team continues to lose, even when it plays well, even when the whole team is interested. And, sorry, but a more experienced coach may have had an easier time breaking through this malaise by now. Perhaps a Flip Saunders-type.

You hate to point to the scrubs -- well, I don't hate to -- but the combined play of Kwame Brown and Amir Johnson may have cost Detroit this particular game. It doesn't seem much, but about 14 and a half minutes of zero points, two rebounds and two blocks and two missed shots (all from Johnson) counts, because Houston just didn't have any of that coming from its side.

Everyone contributed, whether it was Chuck Hayes' help D, Brent Barry starting a break, or Aaron Brooks' penetration. And 26 assists (on the road, ahem) on 39 field goals works.

And I think my favorite Tracy McGrady moment of this contest was when he found himself with an offensive rebound some 29 feet from the hoop on the right wing with a new 24 second shot clock. 19 seconds later, a shot of his hit the front rim, off an 18-foot "jumper." Of course, no other Rocket had touched the ball during that 19-second "possession." McGrady just held it, dribbled for a little bit, and chucked it. Someone kindly send T-Mac to 2002, where he's clearly more comfortable.

Also, far be it for me to offer low post defensive solutions to Luis Scola, who has the footwork of a champion down there, but our man has to keep his forearm lower on the back of the man he's charged with guarding. Lower back, mate, and not near the shoulder blades. Jerome James could spin and pivot on you when your appendage is up there.

Scola had a great game, finishing with 21 points on 11 shots, even if he couldn't do much with Rasheed Wallace (22 and 11). Hurry back, Yao.

One final note. Though the Pistons had a good, small record with Chauncey Billups this year, and though CB is a better player and the trade was really made for cap flexibility (though that doesn't explain Rip Hamilton's horrible contract extension), you can't blame this on Allen Iverson. Don't even start. Detroit's issues run far deeper than that.

Boston 124, Dallas 100

Even after starting the second half on the wrong end of an 8-0 run, the Mavs made this nearly in the ballpark of approaching respectable, beating the Celtics by three points in the second half on the toward a 24-point loss. It was a still a dominating defeat, though. Boston had its scary face on, again, contesting everything and absolutely destroying Dallas in the first half.

Boston had a 31-point lead in the first half, and I don't know if most people know how impressive this is. Imagine starting the second half tied and seeing a team up by 31 with a few minutes left in the game, or down 31 points only to see things tie themselves up with a couple of minutes to go. That doesn't make sense, you say, because it would seem stranger after a relatively even first half. Well, what was the second half of this one? Dallas outscored the Celtics by three points.

Yes, garbage time has a bit to do with it, but 31 points is 31 points. Boston is so good.

The Mavericks should worry about two blowouts in a week. We know they're not as good as the Celtics, and certainly would not have a chance in Boston early (ish, Central time) on a Sunday at the tail end of a road trip, so getting plastered like this instead of the expected 12-to-15-point loss is passable.

But two blowouts in a week? That's cause for alarm, at this point, and nothing more. Let's see if it sustains, and then we'll go past the "alarm" stage. I'm not saying the Mavs are world-beaters, but getting skunked like that twice in a week is territory for 20-win teams, not the 40-to-47 win team we had the Mavs pegged for. Still, after this loss, this team is still on pace for 47 wins.

Los Angeles Lakers 99, San Antonio 85

Johnny Ludden pretty much nailed it this morning, the West is a one-horse race, and that's OK. The Spurs are the best of the West's second tier, and "the best" should probably lose to the Lakers by about 15 points on the road given the circumstances.

"The circumstances" meaning that the Lakers are at the top of their game right now, healthy even with Kobe unable to drive a manual right now, and the Spurs have yet to go on their patented March kill-fest.

Kobe was great (22 in 32 minutes), Pau Gasol (16, four assists) was fluid, and Andrew Bynum was a beast on both ends with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks in only 24 minutes. And that's a bit ho-hum, really. The Lakers are a pretty special basketball team.

So I guess I'll use my remaining word allotment to warn you to warn your parents against listening to Michael Wilbon on ABC before, during, and after games. And this saddens me to no end.

Wilbon used one game -- one game -- to deduce that the San Antonio Spurs had upped their pace and now were pay much more attention to offense this season than in years before. That game was San Antonio's 112-111 win over Los Angeles from a few weeks ago, a contest that saw both teams make just about every shot they put up despite some pretty stellar defense from both sides. It was an entertaining aberration, for both teams, and should have been treated as such.

But Wilbon, who is usually the most informed of every national columnist (he can tell you who is leading the NHL's Northwest Division in points, and who was tops on the PGA money list last year, and he knows Roger Mason Jr.'s name), thought this was enough to tell your parents just how different the Spurs are this season, based on one game with a big score.

The Spurs are averaging .4 more possessions per game this season, by the way, and they're 26th in the NBA in pace. They're scoring .5 more points per 100 possessions this season, and have jumped from 15th in offense to 14th. Not much of a movement.

I guess the problem isn't that he said it; it's that he said it. Wilbon's still the best at what he does, nationally among the general columnists, but it's a shame that ABC still can't find a way to put together a studio show worth an NBA fan's time. Honestly, people who read this column, have you taken anything from that studio show since ABC got the NBA back in 2002?

Phoenix 104, Atlanta 99

A fun game that was still probably more distressing (as a former SSOL fan) than entertaining. Atlanta probably should have won this game, and while I do credit Phoenix's defense to an extent, I think Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby's combined 7-33 shooting had a lot more to do with Johnson and Bibby than the Suns defense.

Al Horford could have been the difference for Atlanta had he been healthy for this loss, but when you think about it, Solomon Jones and Zaza Pachulia put together an 18 and 8 game without missing a shot, taking advantage of a plodding (you know who) and disinterested (ditto) Phoenix interior defense. That said, Horford, and a fully-there (he still looks a little chubby) Josh Smith (19 points, awesome dunks, but five turnovers) could have really put this away.

Still, the Suns deserve some defensive credit in the end. Teams that hold the Hawks to 41.7 percent shooting in Atlanta shouldn't go without it, and Steve Nash ran a controlled game that was probably a few more open Jason Richardson/Matt Barnes jumpers away from being a comfortable win.

For all their faults, and as much as this team may have fallen, I'm not sure there's anything more potent in this league than a Steve Nash-to-Amar'e Stoudemire screen and roll that results in Amar'e flowing toward the front of the rim. You'll notice how I spelled his first name. When his head is right, he is a special, special cat. And I've been irreverent in a way that I should be ashamed of, if I'm honest.

Toronto 113, Sacramento 97

The longer the possession, the more chances the Kings have to fall apart. Toronto only had 21 assists on 41 field goals, but they shot 52.6 percent, crashed the boards (43-32), and the Kings aren't going to have a chance if Kevin Martin plays the opposite of what he became not-famous-enough for.

12 points on 15 shots for Martin. Also, Jose Calderon looks healthy from what I saw, and finished with a very Calderon'y 16 points on nine shots, with eight assists and zero turnovers in 27 minutes.

Golden State 107, Los Angeles Clippers 92

After going into double digits in terms of hours watching basketball on Sunday, I may have given parts of this one a miss. Could you blame me? I'll figure out a better Sunday schedule as we move on in the year, promise.

Though he shot poorly (6-17), Eric Gordon scored 21 in what was a pretty fruitful weekend for him (dropped 41 on OKLA on Friday). The Clippers had 27 assists for a team that only shot 37.9 percent and hit 33 field goals (that's pretty ridiculous, actually), and the Warriors appeared to be walking all over the Clippers in the paint from what I saw.

Minnesota 109, Chicago 108 (OT)

Chicago got off to a hot start, working things defensively and pushing those greyhounds of theirs in the open court off of Minnesota misses and turnovers. Of course, once things slowed down a bit, the Bulls didn't seem to mind. And miserable execution down the stretch offensively and defensively (pointless, needless, and eventually useless and poorly-executed double-teams) did Chicago in.

The Bulls kept running plays out of timeouts or deadballs for Luol Deng to try and hit 20-footers with a hand in his face. This is the first option, and it's the lowest percentage shot on the court, even if Deng has proven that he can sometimes hit that shot at a percentage that sometimes climbs above "low."

By my count, Deng hit three out of six of those jumpers, but with flipping involved I may have missed some makes or misses, and that's still quite a bit to ask of any player. Even for John Havlicek. Forget the guy's salary when it comes time to slam him, while remembering what he earned this salary with. It wasn't 20-footers out of a timeout. It may have been shots out of a timeout, but they likely came from 20 inches or so. Slashing and movement and execution.

And seeing Tyrus Thomas (11 points, nine rebounds, two steals, a block) remind me of Dennis Rodman? That's no hyperbole. I watched Rodman with jaws agape starting in 1987. I saw more Pistons games per year than multiplication tables, he was amazing, and there was nothing that D-Rod did in the 1990s that surprised me based on what I saw in the 1980s. That man -- that relative kid -- played as if all if this was going to end tomorrow.

Thomas doesn't have that. No athlete, and I mean that, has ever had that. Not Jordan, not any footballer, nobody. So it's not a slam, of itself, to say that Tyrus falls short in that area.

But that doesn't mean that this isn't something he can aspire to. Lord knows he has the basketball intellect, the drive (at times), and the quickness. No, he didn't have a Chuck Daly waiting for him on Day 1 of training camp for his first six seasons, and that's more than a little significant, but that doesn't mean Thomas can't come a bit closer. And Dennis Rodman was 25 when he played his first NBA game. Tyrus is 22.

I didn't like the constant double-teams being sent Al Jefferson's way, and Aaron Gray's horrid defense shouldn't have been sent out late to cover for Joakim Noah (14 and 10, seven blocks) on Harrington late, but that doesn't mean Noah can't do better.

Noah needs no help guarding Jefferson once he's on the ball. Every double team Chicago sent hurt the Bulls. Once he was allowed to go on his own, he was fine. The problem came with the fact that Noah was absolutely helpless once he was allowed to go on his own after he had ignored Jefferson for the first chunk of a possession. Joakim is one of the best defenders in the NBA once he's engaged, but like a lot hot-shot guards who come into this league with a rep, that aren't interested if they don't have the rock, he doesn't want anything to do with paying attention if his man doesn't have the ball.

If this sounds like a gym teacher talking, I apologize. I support Chicago above all, and am quite chuffed at the prospect of someone like Noah acting as my team's starting pivot for the next decade. But the guy is useless in terms of focus off the ball, before his man gets the ball. He can't keep trying to guard five guys at once, even if seven blocks result. If Joakim learns how to start defending early in a possession, the sky is the limit.

The Timberwolves were also what you'd expect. Jefferson was ridiculous (39 points), Kevin Love (19 and 15 in 33 bench minutes) has looked like the best rookie in the NBA over the last five weeks. Mike Miller (seven assists, four shots, one make in 33 minutes) is still trying to work his Jeryl Sasser routine (is he fixing games?), and the Timberwolves won without Randy Foye (2-11 shooting) having a recently-typical hot night from the off guard spot.

Indiana 98, Charlotte 93

I had a hard time watching this game, because every American-born white guy on the Pacers had a mustache. And T.J. Ford's mustache has become the most distracting mustache on an African-American since Chris Rock's turn in "I Think I Love My Wife."

It was truly, truly distracting. Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jeff Foster, and Troy Murphy look like guys whose baseball cards I owned some 19 years ago, and Indiana's interior man-handling of the Bobcats wasn't enough for me to forget it. I'd make a joke about the mustaches and a bar named Man Handles, but I think you've already connected the dots.

Denver 117, Utah 97

A tough week for the Jazz, with a pair of back-to-backs against a hot team from Minnesota, the Rockets (a loss), the Cavs (a loss), and Nuggets. J.R. Smith started torching the Jazz from the outset, and the team had no answer for Nene's touch down the stretch.

Nene didn't miss in 12 attempts, and the Nuggets caused a whole heap of Jazz turnovers (Utah nearly doubled Denver up, 19-to-11. Well, not really ...) in the win. And though the Jazz got to the line 41 times, they weren't able to do a whole lot with their possessions.

Ronnie Brewer needed 17 shots to score 16 points, Deron Williams needed 14 for 15, Mehmet Okur 12 for 12, Matt Harpring seven for four, you get the idea. Missed shots, missed free throws, 20-point loss.

In 34.8 minutes per game as a starter over the last two weeks (his overall starter numbers are even better), J.R. Smith is averaging 15.8 points per game with 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and 3.3 turnovers. Leave him there. It will only get better.

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