Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Chicago 91, Detroit 88

Just an all-out impressive win for the Bulls in the most important game of the night, and their season. The way that Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas were able to help hold the Pistons to 13 fourth quarter points, that was big, big stuff.

Derrick Rose had a few stages to his game in the win. The first came in the first and third quarters, when (for some reason) not only was Derrick's jump shot off ("off," as in, "something was different with the mechanics in a way I haven't seen this year, in a bad way." Now you know why I originally typed "off."), but he was relying on it quite a bit. Not just in the typical way, either, when the Bulls blow a play and ask him to bail things out with seconds left on the shot clock. Derrick was pulling up for oddly-timed three-pointers.

Then there was the comeback, in that fourth quarter, when Derrick had 11 points, four assists, a block, and a couple of boards. That was when he really impressed. Just taking it to the Pistons without making it all about himself.

And by the time he scored a game-tying three-point play in the final minute, or had that block on Rodney Stuckey to seal it, it honestly had felt like nothing had changed. Even if that final minute gave the newspapers (I'm guessing) a good hook to lead their stories with. That end to the win just seemed right in line with a brilliant game from this amazing player. He's 20. The kid is 20.

(And the Stuckey block? Stop it. If I block your shot, and I hit your hand after blocking your shot, what does it matter? Your shot was already blocked. Touching your hand had no impact on the shot itself, so stop whining. Steve.)

24 points, eight assists, five rebounds, two turnovers for Rose.

Ben Gordon had 19 points, including the game-winner on a drive and should-be foul (Antonio McDyess destroyed him underneath the rim as he shot), I don't know why the Bulls kept going to John Salmons (3-11) with Tayshaun Prince on him, and Joakim Noah (11 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, a block in 35 minutes) had a hell of a game.

Rip Hamilton had 25 for the Pistons, but if Antonio McDyess (3-12 shooting) is finally going to fall to earth as Rasheed Wallace (5-14) does his usual from long range, the Pistons don't have a chance. And now they're the eighth seed in the East. 

Cleveland 117, Indiana 109

From the first quarter onward, Cleveland's defense was a bit lax.

They're in Indiana, and the season's about wrapped up, so I can understand the layoff. Just don't sustain it. Just feel bad about this game, this win, if you don't mind. You are a defensive team. You just figured out this offense-thing this season, and while you need to stick with that plan, understand that defense is what comes naturally to you.

Not you, Mo.

37 points, five assists, five rebounds, and five turnovers for LeBron James. Danny Granger scored 38 points on 28 shots, and Brandon Rush continued his astounding late-season turnaround.

Understand me when I say that this wasn't some untapped talent who could blame a lack of minutes on his poor production. Rush was miserable for 70 percent of this season. Truly bad. And he's gone off over the last month, and not because he's playing cupcakes or because Indiana wins don't means as much any more. 27 points on 17 shots in the loss tonight, and this is some really encouraging stuff.

A busy night, so I didn't get to see a ton of this game, but Cornrows has it all sussed out. Especially the part about Cleveland's game-deciding run to end the second half.

New Jersey 91, Charlotte 87

It may have been an ugly game at times, and though I'm not telling you anything you wouldn't already expect, the Bobcats brought big effort and gave the Nets all they could handle at home.

The Nets were just able to work their way toward more easy buckets, those add up and eventually pay off in four-point game. Brook Lopez finished with 18 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks, while Charlotte's side was pretty nondescript (Raymond Felton had 19 points and five assists, shot well, but ...).

Washington Toronto 97, Toronto Washington 96

I didn't like this, from the AP recap:

"For interim coach Ed Tapscott, who's had to endure lots of speculation that he's about to be replaced by former Minnesota and Detroit coach Flip Saunders ..."

Ed Tapscott is an executive for the Washington Wizards, and while most might know him as the guy who pushed for the Knicks to draft Frederic Weis back in 1999, as a star-crossed Bobcats exec, or as the interim Wizards coach with the horrible winning percentage, let's remember that he's still an executive. He's not some former assistant trying to hang on to the job. He's going right back to where he wants to be following Flip's hiring, and that's upstairs, helping run the entire show.

Toronto got out to an early lead, but sort of waffled around in the second and third quarter, so I wasn't completely impressed by the team's late-game comeback and win. They were playing without Andrea Bargnani, and though I did appreciate Shawn Marion's game-long hustle (playing in the final week of an expiring contract in games that don't matter), it somewhat speak to the talent of Chris Bosh that he was essentially sleepwalking his way toward 25 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, four turns, two steals and two blocks. Maybe someone else has a different take.

Juan Dixon was the goat for Washington, unfortunately, tossing away a crucial pass that didn't need to be made in the final seconds, and finishing with five turnovers in 31 minutes of bench play. Washington gave up a 13-point advantage in 6:30 to end this thing.

Washington has the Celtics to end the season, while Toronto will be in Chicago on Wednesday.

Milwaukee 98, Orlando 80

On the road, and with the team's entire starting frontcourt on the pine, the Magic really couldn't sustain that first quarter lead.

For once, Milwaukee's talent won the game for the Bucks. Joe Alexander (11 points) got in some nice finishes off the bench, Charlie Villanueva (18 and seven rebounds in under 20 minutes) had another nice game in what has been a really impressive season for CV, and Ramon Sessions (19 points, seven assists) appeared to spend the entire night at the free throw line.

Marcin Gortat had 10 points and 18 rebounds, but (and this isn't a slam on Marcin, who is probably a starting-quality center) if you play about 43 minutes as Gortat did, you should be picking up about 10 and 18 in the pivot. Maybe not 18 rebounds. Maybe a few fewer caroms, and a few more points. I'm just saying this isn't in line with the times we'd see Andris Biedrins pull in 12 and 16 in 23 minutes a few years ago.

Frank Madden and Ben Q. Rock have takes that are well, well worth your time.

San Antonio 101, Golden State 72

For a team that only played seven players, it sure felt as if the Warriors had about a hundred things going on in this game. Like there were 10 players out there. This game reminded of flipping on NBA TV at four in the morning after coming home from a night off and out at bad, bad places. There seemed to be 10 Warriors out there at once, all missing shots.

San Antonio just spread the floor, kept its cool, moved the ball, and waited for somebody to dunk. Or hit an open shot. Or hit an open dunk. Drew Gooden was there early and often with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Tim Duncan made us breathe a little easier with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists in only 22 minutes.

Kelenna Azubuike needed 21 shots to score nine points for the (you guessed it) losing team, and while we appreciate Ronny Turiaf's influence on this team ... two rebounds in 23 minutes? He was out-rebounded by his buddy Tony Parker, by three, in four and a half more minutes.

Dallas 96, Minnesota 94

This was a fun game on a few different levels, Minnesota and Dallas games have brought a lot of that this year, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

Dallas got off to a big lead, but Minnesota just tends to play some nights with a bug in its ear, if you follow, and they chipped their way back. Dallas couldn't handle Minnesota's screen and roll attack, which doesn't seem too bad until you realize that it was Craig Smith (24 points, eight rebounds, zero turnovers) doing the screening and Sebastian Telfair (14 points, 12 assists, five turnovers, all sorts of bad decisions) working the roll.

Then there was Mike Miller, who may have had his best game of the year. I've given Mike a bit of stick this season for refusing to look for his own shot at a time when his team needs it most, and while this game was a nice payoff for Miller, I'm confident in my assertion.

Miller's been pretty flip when asked about his refusal to shoot this year, as if he knows something about the game ("you've gotta pass, maaaan ...") that we 6-foot-and-unders couldn't possibly hope to understand, but that's bunk. You have to score, too. And making that extra entry pass to a player whose jump hook is a 33 percent shot as opposed to you nailing a 45-percent corner three that counts for one more point, man, that's just bad basketball.

But I also understand why he does it. There's nothing like hitting a cutter. There's nothing like lofting a floating pass to someone ahead of you in transition. There's nothing like allowing your teammates the opportunity to score, easily. I see the guy's face when he hits someone from out of bounds for a baseline jumper. I know the feeling, and I can tell through the TV that he knows the feeling, as well.

That said, it's time to move on. He hurt his team by not understanding his role this year, and failing to realize that selflessness in the face of a team begging for what he does best is the ultimate form of selfishness.

For one night, though, it was all there. 18 points on 14 shots, 10 rebounds, nine assists. One turnover, one steal. 4-5 from long range. Should have shot more, but he was having fun, and the Timberwolves nearly won. Next year? Less fun, more wins. Please.

Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, nine rebounds) was terrific in 40 minutes, he really looks as if he's due for a 50-point game in the postseason, and Jason Terry was once again Jason Terry-like with 22 points off the bench and a game-winner that looked good all the way.

Portland 113, Oklahoma City 83

The Blazers had the Thunder expecting to lose by the end of the first quarter, and that's saying something, because Oklahoma City has overcome quite a bit this season while still assuming that hard work will result in something.

The problem is that Portland is so, so good. Greg Oden may have been the best player on the Trail Blazers, with 16 and nine rebounds with a block in 20 minutes, and ... oh, yeah. The Blazers have Greg Oden.

Oklahoma City was missing Thabo Sefolosha in the loss, especially as Kyle Weaver and Shaun Livingston combined for 10 points, four assists, 3-8 shooting, and iffy defense in just under 40 minutes. Toss in Kevin Durant's 10 points on 15 shots (no free throw attempts), and you have a pretty nasty blowout.

Just 89 points per 100 possessions for the Thunder, while the Blazers managed over 121.

Houston 86, New Orleans 66

I'm sorry, but the Hornets are miserable. Peja Stojakovic played 29 minutes and pulled in one rebound. That's pitiful as it is, but it was the only number besides the two points (on 1-7 shooting) that he came through with all night. It may take a while for most fans to realize it, because they're aware of his history, that he came back from injury last year, and that he hit a big three-pointer to pull out the Dallas win on Sunday on national TV, but this guy looks done.

He looked it last week, he looked it earlier this year, and he looks the part right now. I take no joy in this, mind you, but you have to see this guy to believe it.

And you're going to have to deal with this sort of poor production from Melvin Ely and Rasual Butler and Julian Wright and Devin Brown (combined 5-24 shooting) every so often, because they're not that good. They're not even average. These guys are well-below average players who just can't be counted on to out-shoot themselves. Someone like Sean Marks, he shot 5-7 on Monday. That stuff doesn't last. That stuff comes back to earth.

Just because they get minutes on a good team, it doesn't mean they're good or even average players. It just means the team's top end is so bloody brilliant that it often doesn't matter.

Couple that with Chris Paul (nine points, seven assists, five rebounds, no steals in just under 30 minutes) and David West (14 and 10, but 15 shots) showing that their bodies can only handle so much, and you have a team that will put together games like this. Games in which you score 24 points in the second and third quarter combined.

I don't like saying it, but even if the Hornets pulled this off against an average defensive team, like the Mavericks or Bulls, I wouldn't be surprised. That's just how it goes when you bank on these 12th men to be starters or seventh men.

22 points for Yao Ming in the win, but the real story to me was Ron Artest's crippling lack of self-awareness. He shot 2-13, and wasn't even close on some of those misses, but that didn't stop him. If the Rockets want to make the second round, the Houston PA needs to read off his shooting percentage on the night after every miss. That was some downright embarrassing play from someone who wasn't embarrassed in the slightest.

Utah 106, Los Angeles Clippers 85

Speaking of which, Baron Davis.

1-13 shooting. 1-8 shooting from behind the arc. Clipper season ticket holders? This man owes you a great deal of money.

16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, three steals for DeAndre Jordan in the loss.

Denver 118, Sacramento 98

Ike Diogu got minutes and shots in the low post, and he scored 32 points while adding 11 rebounds. And I am the least surprised person on earth. Sadly, his current and former coaches are more than a little gobsmacked. Pity.

Denver's offense was humming in the win. Carmelo Anthony had another iffy (7-18) shooting night, but he got to the line and finished with 21 points. And if you can believe it, J.R. Smith had a quiet 45 points. It just seemed ... appropriate. In the flow. Something to expect. I'm not joking. He's such a good shooter that 11-18 from long range doesn't seem too ridiculous. That's just how the game has evolved. These kids can nail that shot in their sleep.

13 points and five rebounds from Nene in the win, modest stats, but I loved his defense.

And, no, Diogu can't be counted on for 32 and 11 every night, but he can play, he can start, and it'd be nice to see a coach see him for what he is instead of just looking at his height and weight. There have been plenty of players with underwhelming height and weight (which, not sure if you know, can be worked on) who have done some pretty solid work in this league. What does height matter if he's hitting half his shots and rebounding?

Bobby Jackson has done some pretty solid work in this league. 18 and 12 assists for Jackson, but I wasn't even aware of his stats until now. I just wanted to give his effort in this loss a nod, even if he finished with half as many scores and dimes. This guy's a legend.

Phoenix 119, Memphis 110

Each Suns starter played over 30 minutes, but it certainly didn't feel that way.

Lots of time for the Phoenix bench, and I guess I just felt their impact (I didn't say what kind of impact) more than I did the starters.

Memphis' Hakim Warrick had 26 points on only 11 shots, with nine rebounds, and O.J. Mayo (20 points on 20 shots) and Rudy Gay (26 points on 12 shots, just three rebounds in nearly 40 minutes) look like they'll strangle each other by next December.

Not as entertaining a game as you'd expect, is what I'm trying to say.

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