Ball Don't Lie - NBA

... don't make me finish it. 

Orlando 105, Utah 87

Absolutely stellar outing for Dwight Howard on both ends in this win.

A tough two-day stretch for the Jazz ends with two losses in Florida, and that's three defeats in a row after a 12-game winning streak. The team just didn't have enough offensively to counter with a standout defensive performance (92.6 points per 100 possessions allowed for Orlando, against a team that averages about 111 per 100) from the Magic. Utah's sometimes-iffy defense couldn't hold the Magic, the legs were tired, the early perimeter looks weren't falling, and Dwight Howard plays for the Orlando Magic.

The phrase "man among boys" bounced around quite a few times during this game. Howard seemed a foot taller and tons smarter than anyone on the court. Way smarter. Nicer-smelling. He beat Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer to early position, went over either shoulder, and dominated. Absolutely destroyed the Jazz on both ends. Carried his team to an early lead that it wouldn't relinquish. Even felled Deron Williams with a knee to the, uh, knee.

28 points and 20 rebounds for Howard, who blocked three shots and changed 142 others. He also coughed the ball up seven times and missed nine free throw attempts (out of 17), but his team won by 18 and Mehmet Okur finished with three points and two rebounds. He wins.

Toronto 110, Indiana 87

I keep telling anyone who will listen that they need to try and get out and see Pacer games. The team can barely fill half of that fabulous arena of theirs, and though I'm currently closer to Conseco Fieldhouse than any other NBA arena, these pleas come as an impartial fan of the NBA rather than a Pacer backer. I spent the first portion of my life passionately rooting against the team, if I'm honest.

They're such a fun watch, they've had some pretty hard luck (close games that haven't gone their way, injuries) this season, they're almost entirely strip-club denizen-free, and they play at the league's third-fastest pace. Plus, the tickets are cheap. Win/win.

That said, games like the one we saw on Sunday make things kind of hard for me to push those ten-game plans (call now!). The Pacers gave a little effort, but they were absolutely man-handled by a Raptors team that seemed bent on winning by 42.

If you're a Raptor fan, this game had to be a breath of fresh air. A good spring cleaning, where everyone's points per game average went up a bit, the team looked like a world-beater, and a potential bump toward something last for next year. A lot of lottery teams will pull games out like this around early spring, it's not that they've been lazing about all year, it just means that sometimes the Swiss cheese effect works out, and all the youngsters seemed to be doing everything right, all at once.

The Raptors got an offensive rebound on nearly 40 percent of their misses, it's kind of hard to lose a game that way unless (insert a cheap shot about a poor finisher here, I don't have the heart to on this lovely Monday morning) is the one pulling in the offensive boards. Pops Mensah-Bonsu had five of those big boys, he got to the line, made 11 of 13 freebies, and finished with 21 and eight on 21 minutes off the bench.

Andrea Bargnani had an all-around stormer with 27 points on only 11 shots, nine rebounds, four assists, three turnovers, two steals and a block in only 34 minutes. Please let me write many sentences just like that last one next November.

The Pacers shot 37.6 percent at home. Arg.

Memphis 89, Detroit 84

"We were down 17 points at the half to the Memphis Grizzles."

--- Michael Curry.

Kids, if you're still looking for a high school yearbook quote, I can help.

The Pistons stink on Sundays because they're not up for the games. There's no hidden reason, no jinx, and no small sample size based on games against much better teams. They just don't bring the effort that you'd need to a win a game over another professional basketball team. Watching this team play on Sunday afternoons or early Sunday evenings, compared to what you see at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night ... excuse the semi-pun, but it's night and day.

The Pistons came back in the second half, but they might not be 17 points better than the Grizzlies anymore, and certainly not in a 24-minute stretch, so it's kind of hard to play your best and overcome that sort of deficit before you run out of time. That's a long way of saying, "they dug too deep a hole."

Memphis turned it over on a fifth of its possessions, but Lionel Hollins' crew still pulled out the win. Mike Conley managed to more than double up his assist (three) totals with his turnovers (seven) for the fifth time this season, but hey, you spend a lottery pick on the guy, so he deserves minutes, apparently. 20 points on 11 shots for the Ohio State product.

Rudy Gay needed 18 shots to score 15 points, and O.J. Mayo (seven points on seven shots) continues to vault himself out of the top five rank of rarin' rookies this season.

And the Pistons lost to these guys.

Milwaukee 86, Boston 77

We've been warning about it since the beginning of 2007-08, and though the C's are rightful champs and should be feared and also should be allowed excuses because of Kevin Garnett's absence ... turnovers are going to be the death of this team.

You can't turn the ball over on over 27 percent of your possessions, and expect to win. Against any team. Even if the team is, say, missing its two best players. And while Rajon Rondo may have contributed to the mess with five miscues, how can you justify Paul Pierce (who has been playing pro basketball for over ten years now) coughing it up seven times?

The Bucks are never going to give up, they're the bloody Black Knight, and you have to try and expect that heading into any arena that they're scheduled to play in. This team shot just 32.6 percent (!) and won because it shot the ball twenty more times than the Celtics.

And, while Grant Napear might think that this is because the Bucks played at a faster pace, we know it was because the Bucks forced heaps of turnovers and pulled in 21 offensive boards.

Atlanta 98, Portland 80

The only analytical comment Stuart Scott could muster about this game was the question, "is Joe Johnson the NBA's most underrated player?" Now, that wouldn't even work for 2004, much less 2009. Throw in the fact that he's probably closer to the league's most overrated player due to the sheer amount of shots and minutes he plays, compared with his All-Star berths, and ... I'll stop now.

The reason the Hawks have been killing it recently is that they've completely revamped their defense. Going from average to super in that area over the last couple of weeks has turned this group into a formidable, formidable team.

The Blazers aren't known as a top-tier offensive team because they seem to wait until the last tick of the shot clock to take their (good) shot, but the team's 113.6 points per 100 possessions (entering Sunday's game) ranks second only to the Lakers' mark of 113.8 per 100 possessions. And the Hawks held them to 98.8 points per 100 on Sunday, a huge drop off.

From there, the Hawks score. They didn't run much, just 81 possessions in this game, but they thoroughly dominated the Blazers by shooting 51 percent and turning it over just five times. Five times!

Johnson was brilliant, he didn't turn it over once in nearly 43 minutes, and that may have been his most impressive statistic of the game. And that's a game that saw him drop 35 points with seven boards, and six assists. Guys who play 43 minutes at small forward should get seven (at least) rebounds and six assists (for as much as he has the ball in his hands). The 35 points is expected, because he's such a good scorer.

Zero turnovers? That's something else entirely. Fantastic.

SB's take? Dave thought the Blazers got a bit of their own medicine, can't disagree with him in that regard.

Los Angeles Clippers 107, New Jersey 105

This has to be the strangest invocation of Lawler's Law that I've ever seen.

The Clippers put together a 100-89 lead with a few minutes to go, only to see the Nets roar back behind the work of Vince Carter to knot the game at 100. Baron Davis then drove to the rim to hit what seemed like his first shot near the bucket in two and a half years (or quarters, whatever), only to see Vince Carter answer with a Dirk Nowitzki-like top of the key jumper, and a three-pointer.

The Nets rightfully foul to prevent the three-pointer, 105-104, Jarvis Hayes misses two at the line when the Clippers follow the foul with a foul, and Steve Novak nailed a three-pointer (not sure why spacing demanded he stand in the three-point corner in a one point game, but still ...) to win the whole thing.

7-11 shooting for Novak, 7-11 from behind the arc, and I hope Jason Kapono was watching. You watching, Kapono? You eat like that!

Baron Davis, don't eat like that. 1-5 from three-point line. You could be an All-Star again if you'd just get in shape and stop shooting three pointers. 6-16 shooting, otherwise, 20 points, 10 assists, six boards, one turnover (nice), two steals, one block.

Carter was great. 41 points, he made a point to get to the line, seven boards, six assists. In nastier news, the Nets may have lost Devin Harris for the rest of the season with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.

Phoenix 154, Golden State 130

Yeah, pace didn't pump this up.

The Suns made quick, superquick, decisions with the ball on Sunday. That's easy to do against the Warriors, I submit, but these are decisions and moves that the Suns haven't been consistently making this year. Toss in a Suns/Warriors-worthy pace (107 possessions, whew) and Shaquille O'Neal beating everyone down the floor for quick and potent position, and 154 points seems about right.

O'Neal was fantastic with 26 points on 13 shot attempts in less than 24 minutes. Sure, his defense wasn't great, but nobody's was. Kelenna Azubuike's D wasn't horrible. That was about it.

The Warriors gave up lay-in after lay-up after lay up after layup after dunk. The effort was there offensively, they wanted to win this game, but games like this are why we have efficiency stats. The Warriors may run their way to high scoring games every so often, but even with that offensive mindset, they're not in the same league as the Lakers, Blazers, or Suns teams of recent vintage.

But as I already noted, pace didn't drive this. The Warriors tossed in 121.5 points per 100 possessions, which would lead the league over the course of the season and be the most points per 100 scored by any team on most nights. Except Sunday night, a night that saw the Suns manage about 144 points per 100 possessions. Wow. For comparison's sake, the Lakers lead the league, and they don't even average 114 per 100.

Stephen Jackson and Don Nelson were ejected from the game, the refs didn't call a perfect one, but it's kind of hard to keep up with a 107 possession game in a league where the average is right around 92 possessions per game.

I know that he's probably a fine head coaching candidate, and that myriad other influences (matchups, garbage time, pace, effort) went into the run, but I did find it amusing that the Suns went on their biggest run once Nellie's "defensive coordinator" (Keith Smart) took over the coaching reins.

The Suns scored 48 points in about 15 minutes (not counting all the technical foul free throws that resulted with Nelson's ejection) with Smart trying desperately to turn this into an actual basketball game.

Hubie Brown and Kevin Calabro called this game, and it was just as perfect a call as you'd expect. So fun to listen to those two. It was the type of game where you don't fast forward through the free throws.

I liked Hubie Brown pointing out that Jamal Crawford has now been fouled 20 times this season on three-point attempts. It's something with Jamal, I talked about it with him during his rookie year, he sticks to his shot and just invites that sort of foul. All of his 40 and 50-point games seem to be marked by these sorts of and-1s from behind and just inside the arc, which is good because he's shockingly poor (for a guard that scores a lot) at drawing fouls near the rim.

And goodness, is Anthony Randolph some sort of basketball player. I don't like the Lamar Odom comparisons (at a couple of months older than Randolph's current age, Odom was handling the ball a lot more, shooting better from the perimeter, and piling up nearly three times as many assists per-minute for the Clippers), but he is a special, special talent.

Philadelphia 85, Miami 77

The Heat just folded down the stretch, they scored nine points in the fourth quarter, and you know the reason why. Miami won an exhausting triple-overtime game in Florida against the Jazz on Saturday afternoon, and even watching that one (in regulation, no less) you could tell that the Heat were dragging a little bit. The team's rotation is so small, and they played so many overtime quarters this week (six!), that things had to fall apart at some point.

Shots were short, arcs were low, legs were tired. And, really, the Heat played better than could be reasonably expected over the first three quarters, sticking with the 76ers at home in a pretty slow-paced game. The fourth was when the bottom fell out.

DolPhanDave sez the fourth was when the bottom fell out. Whoops.

10 points in the fourth quarter for Donyell Marshall, pretty cool. To me, at least.

Los Angeles Lakers 107, Dallas 100

Kind of what you'd expect. The Lakers pull away because the team's offense is the best in the NBA. Rick Carlisle goes to a zone to try and even things out. The Mavericks don't give up on a game that they clearly could have let go (and the Lakers anticipated this, witness the team's half-hearted "sure we can" nods when Phil Jackson talked about putting the Mavs away early in the third quarter during halftime), the Lakers can't guard the perimeter at times, but the Lakers can still guard well enough everywhere else to pull out the win.

I really respect the Mavericks, the team has absolutely no depth and an offense that comes and goes, but they bring the effort just about every game. The Lakers are just the class of the league right now, and Dallas' offense wasn't good enough to overcome its average defense's treatment of the Los Angeles offense.

Kobe's a killer, but Pau Gasol is just terrorizing teams these days. 25 points on 12-13 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists (that's it?), three turnovers, a steal and three blocks for Gasol on Sunday. He's the best apex of the Triangle I've seen since Dennis Rodman, and that's just in terms of initiating the movement. Nobody had to really guard Dennis, while Gasol can drop 25 on you in an instant. Shaquille O'Neal passed well, but not to this extent, Dennis could screen well offensively but he wasn't much of a threat, so Gasol has turned into some brilliant hybrid of the two.

And the Lakers record, as a result, is what you'd expect. The NBA's best.

Trevor Ariza had 26 points in the start, and though he may have misspoke, it wasn't exactly fun to listen to Jeff Van Gundy talk about how nobody has played well off the Laker bench this year, when Ariza was likely my Sixth Man of the Year favorite before becoming a starter this month. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant no "current" Laker bench participant has played well off the pine. I mean, Lamar Odom was playing tremendous basketball over the first two months of the season, even if his stats weren't much.

Jason Terry, the Sixth's strong number two (and probable winner, now), had 29 points.

Laker D down the stretch made the difference. Los Angeles' bench refused to get out on shooters, but things changed as the fourth quarter melted away. Derek Fisher (who has had a rough year defensively in terms of one-on-one defense), Pau, and Kobe ("guarding" James Singleton) led the way.

The Lakers weren't hiding Kobe on James Singleton, but James Singleton was trying to hide from Kobe Bryant, so Bryant could help defensively on whoever seemed a threat down the stretch of the win. And Bryant changed possessions, while pulling in rebounds, just wandering toward the ball and taking the fun out of Dallas' game.

No slight on Singleton, he played a hell of a game (16 and 10, three steals), but he couldn't take advantage of a roaming Kobe on two or three possessions over the last four minutes. Antoine Wright went the same direction when Bryant was switched on him, minus the "hell of a game."  

Cleveland 98, New York 93

Cleveland was playing on Pacific time on Friday night, and Eastern time on early Sunday evening, so you've to cut the team a little slack. The defense was really off in their win over the Knicks, in several different areas. For as poorly as the Knicks shot, this should have been a 20-point win for Cleveland.

While I'm not saying the Knicks played well offensively against the Cavaliers, they played adequate enough to compete. And better than expected when you consider the league's 13th-most efficient offense meeting up with the league's 2nd-best defensive outfit in the latter team's building.

The problem was the open looks just didn't go in. Cleveland afforded New York a chance to stay in and possibly win the game with all sorts of open lanes to the basket, and passing space to find the open man that would eventually miss the open shot. The Knicks hit those layups, but couldn't connect on the longer shots.

Bad time for the Knicks to go cold, and good thing the Cavs are good enough to overcome all the missteps. Mo Williams had 23 points on 13 shots, and Joe Smith and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had five offensive rebounds apiece in the win.   

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