February 25, 2009
As it usually is with these two teams, this wasn't a fun watch.
A night after going for 50, it was nice to see Dwyane Wade pull his yo-yo dribble out and work around the Pistons for 16 assists, with six turnovers, seven rebounds, and 31 points. Still, the Pistons are going through the motions most of the time, and that's always pretty frustrating to behold.
Rasheed Wallace (six points, six rebounds in almost 36 minutes) was another no-show, the team's backcourt defense was horrible, and though Tayshaun Prince had a stellar game (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists), you got the feeling Miami should have won by 20.
The stats tell us otherwise. It's hard to beat any team in a game this slow (88 possessions) by 20, and in the end Miami did just fine.
Jermaine O'Neal's 12-year obsession with his left hand continues, and he finished with 14 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes. Jamario Moon (12 points, six rebounds, zero turnovers, two steals in 31 minutes) played solid ball, and while I hated half of Daequan Cook's shots, more than half (6-11) went in. Cook finished with 18 points.
The Grizzlies knew they were being led to the slaughter, and played like it. And that's a dangerous thing. I admire most rebuilding projects, starting over and shooting for the eventual top is always more preferable than sustaining mediocrity or deluding yourself into thinking that the second round is just one MLE pickup away, but the Grizzlies run a real chance of losing most of these players if they don't make some big, sweeping changes this summer.
No matter the talent, no matter the personalities, you're going to lose players if they continue to bang their heads against the wall and get the same result. And even with a newish coach and a supposedly perkier attitude, the Grizzlies just haven't been able to string together more than two week's worth of enthused ball at a time this year.
The Cavs won because they've learned from San Antonio. Mike Brown used to be an assistant there, and he watched as the Spurs continually doubled their opponents up on the free throw line.
This isn't a case of the star team getting all the calls, mind you, the Cavs just don't foul. Like those Spurs. 6-11 free throw shooting for the Grizzlies on Tuesday, and this one was never close.
A very entertaining game, from start to finish, even as it became obvious that the Timberwolves were losing this game nearly as much as the Raptors were winning it.
No disrespect to Toronto, they're the better team and they were playing at home. It's just that the Timberwolves raced out to a significant early lead by sharing the ball, setting good screens, and finishing.
Kevin Love was the main catalyst with those screens and those finishes, but the Timberwolves acted as if he checked out of the game for good after the first quarter. It wasn't Toronto's D, and it may have had a little to do with a bit of timidity from the rookie, but otherwise it was the Minnesota game plan that changed for the worse.
It took a winner to pull the win, though, and the Raptors were up for it. 34 assists for Toronto, on 46 field goals, as Jose Calderon showcased an aggressive touch (15 points, 14 assists, four turnovers, two steals, five rebounds, a couple of Nash-like pull-up treys in delayed transition, with one actually going in), and Andrea Bargnani (26 points on 15 shots) continuing his stellar scoring touch. Not a whole lot beyond scoring, but I'll take it.
Anthony Parker also had another fantastic game, he's been playing quite well of late, finishing with 24 points on a pre-2008 Kevin Martin-like 10 shots, with seven rebounds, six assists, zero turnovers, and two steals. That'll work.
Love finished with 15 points, but just four of them came after the first quarter, and I wasn't really happy with Sebastian Telfair's game. The Minnesota point guard needed 14 shots to score 12 points, he missed four of five from long range, and only had five assists in a game where could have worked his way toward double-figure dishes.
Still, fun back-and-forth. Minnesota has been pretty enthused of late.
Chicago's defense wasn't stellar, the communication is there but the actual execution is still a ways away, there were a ton of cross-match problems, and though Joakim Noah frustrated Dwight Howard all night, the Magic All-Star still finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
No matter, because Chicago's offense was white hot in the win.
125 points per 100 possessions for the Bulls, the Lakers lead the league in that category at about 114 per, and that's quite an accomplishment against a top-three defense that allows about 102 points per 100 possessions on average.
Chicago just executed extremely well, you'd think that the team was freelancing with the extra pass and utilizing the scoring and shooting talents of its new additions, but there were actual plays involved. Credit the Chicago coaching staff, because this team knew exactly what it wanted to do from the outset. On offense, at least.
Derrick Rose led all Bulls scorers with 22, though his consistency with the assists (he's always at five or six per game, no real bust-outs for the point guard) continues to worry. I don't know if it's a function of the offense or the function of trying to rack up dimes on what can be one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, but Rose never seems to stumble into the occasional double-digit assist night. I understand that he was asking someone out to prom this time two years ago, but I'm still allowed to worry a bit.
Overall, though, a very satisfying win for Chicago.
The Lakers are killing themselves over a supposed lack of defensive effort in this win, and though the Thunder came back a few times to make a game of this, that's more the function of a should-be great offensive team trying to grow up and overcome it's current inability to sustain efficient play for more than a few stretches at a time.
For all the team's potential, the Thunder is still one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, and Tuesday night's production was even worse than its averages. About 99 points per 100 possessions, 41.8 shooting, and 17 percent of its possessions ended in turnovers. Lakers? Take it easy on yourselves.
Playing on a bum ankle, Kobe Bryant (36 points) took over down the stretch, and though the Thunder destroyed the Lakers on the glass (45-30), that's bound to happen. Lamar Odom can't average 14 a game forever (he had eight in 40 minutes tonight), and teams missing their starting center tend to get pushed around from time to time. Especially against the Thunder, who excel on the offensive glass.
And that's not a stat trumped up by the sheer amount of missed shots the Thunder have chances at, or the team's pace.
Horrible offensive game for the Mavericks, the squad looked impotent from the start and was unable to any sort of offensive run together save for a brief second quarter spurt. Tony Parker was running circles around Dallas on the other end from the opening minute, as the Mavs could barely compete with a Spurs team missing both Tim Duncan (iffy knee) and Manu Ginobili.
I don't know how the Mavs can be expected to compete with Jason Kidd and Antoine Wright having the sort of night that they had, shooting 15 times to score 10 points, missing layups, playing horrid defense, and contributing just five assists in 65 combined minutes.
Yes, Dirk Nowitzki also shot 5-15, but the problem here is that this was a fluke night for Nowitzki. If the Mavs had to play the Spurs again tonight (don't worry, guys, you don't), he'd likely be up to his usual stats. But too often this season, Kidd and Wright routinely handicap the Mavericks to a point where the rest of the Dallas rotation needs to contribute near-perfect games just to win.
"Near-perfect?" Yes. Not just good games. Tonight, they got sub-par performances from the rest of the crew, and the result was a double-digit loss to a team, no matter how respected, missing its two best players.
I noticed it the other day, Kurt Thomas is having a fantastic year. Check out his per-minute stats, for a 36-year old that contributes mostly in things that aren't easily documented (moving feet, helping on screen and roll, denying penetration), this guy is having a knockout run.
Houston raced out to an early lead, but Portland was able to come back and make a close contest out of this because Yao Ming (15 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks; but he turned the ball over five times) continues to struggle against the Trail Blazers, and Aaron Brooks is not a point guard.
Brooks was clueless leading that offense in the second half, he had no idea how to set things up in the third quarter (and the second half of the fourth quarter, upon returning), and it took a solid turn from Kyle Lowry (laugh all you want) in the first half of the fourth to somewhat steady Houston's ship. Brooks scored 22 points, every one of them was needed, but he took 20 shots and added just two assists and two turnovers in 32 minutes.
Credit the Trail Blazers for hanging in there, but even this team's top-two offense just didn't have it against the Houston D.
It was a surprisingly fast-paced affair (93 possessions) as well.
It's so strange on the most obvious, most clichéd, and most unlikely sports oddities always seem to happen in games like these. It's almost as if players have a side deal to benefit wire service scribes, who are otherwise flustered at the idea of having to put words to paper on an uninspired pairing like this one.
Otherwise, the Bobcats D had no chance against Phoenix, even though the Suns kicked the ball away a ton, and Phoenix won going away despite Steve Nash playing only 26 minutes before turning his ankle. I was really impressed with Shaquille O'Neal's (20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) defense in the win