Ball Don't Lie - NBA

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San Antonio 107, Golden State 106

A tough loss for the Warriors, made tougher by that final possession. One that saw Golden State get the ball under its own hoop, down one, with five seconds left. And Monta Ellis on the court.

I've seen Ellis go from the opposite three-point line to a score on the other end in barely more than half that time. It's the thing that popped up into every NBA junkie's mind as they saw Kurt Thomas' second missed free throw rim out. And yet, all Ellis could muster was a desperation three-pointer with a second and a half left. Upon first look? "He could have gotten a much better shot. He had time. He's Monta Ellis, he could have gotten to the rim."

Upon second and third glance? Not so much. The Spurs. Those damned Spurs. I love them. Coach Pop has this team so, so ready, every night. Back to the play.

Bruce Bowen makes it so Stephen Jackson has to look both ways before crossing the street after pulling in the rebound, so Ellis doesn't get the ball (at the opposite three-point line) until there are 3.9 seconds left on the clock. Now, 1.6 seconds (the difference between the rebound and Ellis getting the ball) doesn't seem like a ton, but in the NBA these things tend to happen pretty quickly. Much quicker than that.

And while Ellis is more than capable of dashing through three and four defenders on his way to the front of the rim from the opposite three-point line in 3.9 seconds, Tony Parker made sure he wasn't getting a damn thing. Good thing, because Ellis had been killing Parker all game (we should probably mention that Parker was killing Ellis all game, as well), and he was probably pretty sick of it.

So Parker moves his feet, running backwards, side-to-side, arms to his side, knowing where the help was ... it was brilliant. I've watched and re-watched it over and over this morning. Ellis ends up having to take a 37-footer, a shot usually reserved for .3 seconds on the clock, with 1.7 seconds on the clock, missing as you'd expect.

And this isn't on Ellis. Parker funneled him into a situation where he had Bowen clamping down from behind on his strong hand, and Tim Duncan poised and ready right at the three point line should Ellis decide to try one more dribble to his left.

It was a horrible result, but it was probably the best option. And while they might gos out in the second round this year, these Spurs are amazing. At the worst of pressure points, they keep it together. They know EXACTLY what to do.

The worst part about the Warriors? They know exactly what to do, as well, but rarely do it. From the coaches on down. Most of the coaches (and the "on down") did exactly what they were supposed to do in this near-win, which should excite me, but mostly it just reminds me of how well this team should have been playing from the outset of the season. I'm not saying this should have been a playoff team. What I am saying, with effort and rotations that actually reward the best players and best lineups, this could have been a much better season.

Some of both on Tuesday. Anthony Randolph saw minutes, and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks, and should have (he was fouled a few times, no calls) had a few more free throw trips. But he also sat the final three and a half minutes of the game? Why? Not sure. Anthony Morrow came in and immediately hit a three-pointer after not playing the entire second half (do you know how lucky Nellie was that this shot went in?), and Kelenna Azubuike played the entire quarter for reasons I can't understand.

I like Kelenna, but he doesn't rebound, he's an OK defender, and he doesn't do a whole lot besides the occasional score. Four points and zero rebounds, no assists, no real defensive aptitude that I could measure, in 12 fourth quarter minutes for Kelenna. Why Randolph, who was clearly better, had to sit while Nellie's beaten-path small forward finds played ... it's beyond me.

(It isn't beyond me. He hates the guys Chris Mullin drafted. But let's just go with that turn of phrase, OK?)

Ellis was great. He missed his last two shots, but otherwise made half his looks and finished with 27 points. No turnovers in 39 minutes, which is incredibly impressive for a guy with the ball in his hands so much, even against a low turnover-causing team like the Spurs.

As mentioned, Parker was great (30 points and 10 assists in only 33 minutes), and Roger Mason Jr. tossed in 24 mainly because Golden State kept leaving him open. I understand that his two-point percentage has gone down this year, GSW, but that's no reason not to cover.

Tim Duncan? 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks. One steal and one turnover in only 24 minutes. 24 minutes? Those Spurs ...

Los Angeles Lakers 107, Oklahoma City 89

With a couple of days off in the midst of a pretty wacky schedule (Los Angeles on a Thursday night, Chicago on a Saturday night, Oklahoma City on a Tuesday night), Phil Jackson got to his team. The Lakers nearly blew one against the Warriors, it came out slow and sluggish following the first two possessions of the Bulls win, and you could tell Jackson and his team wanted no part of a close game with the Thunder.

So the Lakers came out full of fire, Oklahoma City competed and actually outscored the Lakers in the second half, but this thing was long over by then. The Lakers made sure of it.

Kobe Bryant didn't shoot well to start the game, but Lamar Odom (fouled out in 24 minutes, but came through with 18 and six rebounds) was quite active to start things, and Pau Gasol was running the offense from the inside out. Yay, yay, yay. Love that offense. Eight points, three rebounds, and four assists in the first quarter for Gasol, as Los Angeles won the period 37-20.

Utah 99, Houston 86

This game could have been horrible. I failed to note it yesterday, but the Rockets tend to hack and get away with it. They also tend to get hacked, with no reward. And the Jazz love to hack, and love to be hacked and get sent to the line.

Luckily, the refs allowed a lot of hacking, so things evened out and we got a pretty representative game.

The Jazz should defend this well, every night. They should cover and move and shouldn't have to rely on causing steals and tossing back shots in order to keep teams below 90 points. Let's go half-full, though. They made the Rockets work, they allowed Houston too many three-pointers and too many offensive rebounds, but otherwise the Rockets were a pretty horrible offensive club, mainly due to Utah's effort, raised arms, and moving feet.

Yao Ming? 6-16 from the field. Those are close shots, and he missed 10 of 16 attempts. And only got to the free throw line twice, despite having the ball that close to the rim that many times. Kyle Lowry missed all six attempts from the floor, Ron Artest missed 17 of 22 looks, and the Rockets shot worse than 35 as a team. Not telling you how much worse, but worse.

It was pointed out a few times during TNT's broadcast that Carlos Boozer looks uneasy; his knee doesn't look nearly as strong as it used to, but Utah still had the floor spread in spite of CB's iffy stroke, and the shots were falling. 19 points and 12 assists with only one turnover for Deron Williams, fine work in what was actually a pretty fast-paced (97 possessions) game.

Chicago 99, Detroit 91

I haven't really talked about it much, mainly because there's no point in dumping on the Chicago coaching staff every chance I get, because the group is pretty well insulated. They're not going anywhere. But I have to point out that the biggest crime we've seen perpetrated with these Bulls in this season is the team's 17th-ranked defense, a mark that has actually come up a few slots over the last couple of weeks.

Now, a piss-poor offense, we can handle. It shouldn't have to be that way, a great coach could get this team in the top-10 (the Bulls are 18th) now, but we're so frustrated by the beat guys/TV guys/radio dorks prattling on about how "the defense stinks" when Chicago shoots 40 percent and turns the ball over 19 times, that we've had to learn to save our bullets. The defense stinks, but the offense has always stunk way, way worse. And it needed to be pointed out.

So now that we've gone a little while without paying attention to local Chicago media, it's time to pile on the defense. There's no reason that the Bulls, who were first in defensive efficiency in 2006-07, should be ranking this poorly, this season. Because you know it wasn't all Ben Wallace, back in 2007, because Chicago ranked sixth in defense the year before Wallace came on board, and second the year before that (and stat guys will tell you that Tyrus Thomas was the biggest helper in 2007).

This is a group that should be dominating games defensively, and yet it comes and goes. And it really went in the second quarter of the team's win over the Pistons, on Tuesday. Chicago went to a zone for long stretches, leaving Mike Fratello (otherwise, very reticent to overtly question a coach's decisions, and that's not a slam) to question why, exactly, Chicago was sticking with that plan.

The "plan" resulted in 25 points for the Pistons, in a slow-down quarter. This team was taking the air out of the ball, and still finished with 25 points. In the second half, the Bulls started checking their own men, and guess what happened? They gave up 48 points, but pace had a lot to do with that. Namely, Detroit getting to shoot more, because the Bulls were getting quick stops, running with the ball, scoring, and giving the rock right back to Detroit for another chance.

103 points per 100 possessions for the Pistons, they were without Rip/AI/Wallace, but this was a group that was on its way to a 130 per 100 game with the zone in place.

Chicago has talent. They should be able to come through with games like this regularly, but too often do not. Derrick Rose was out with a bum right wrist, so Kirk Hinrich filled in ably with 24 points, eight assists, and three steals. Tyrus Thomas was all over the place, finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three turnovers, a steal, and a block.

Those assists interest me, because I've long said that Thomas is this team's best pure passer. He is, but I noticed his assist ratio on Monday night (assist ratio being the percentage of possessions you use up -- scores, assists, trips to the line, turnovers -- that end up in an assist) was a lowly 7.5. That's worse than what Drew Gooden averaged with Chicago.

He is the team's best passer, though, even if it doesn't end up in an assist. He's the best entry passer, he's the only one who will make the needed pass in transition (where Hinrich has long been hesitant, costing Chicago scads of points over the years) to guys like Luol Deng, and he gets players to the line with extra feeds. This, anti-stat guys, is why we scout, as well as stat.

I'm sure you noticed Chicago's uneasy run to end the game. The Bulls seemed to be improvising in the final minute, devising ways to score a bucket when the game was nearly put away and the Bulls stuck at 98 points. The result of those improvisations came in the form of a mini-Pistons run (with all those extra possessions), 99 points in total, and a torrent of boos once Kirk Hinrich (once again, finishing with 24 points, eight assists, and three steals) missed a free throw in the final seconds.

This is because the Bulls, and VP of Business Operations Steve Schanwald, have instituted a promotion that gives a free cheeseburger to ticket-holders if the Bulls score over 100 points.

Now, this goes on in just about every other arena, but because the United Center is so typically full of fans that are there on hand-me-down tickets (tickets bought by corporations, then handed down to clients or employees, then passed on again), the din following Chicago's failure or accomplishment in securing those 100 points is louder in Chicago than any other arena in the NBA. I know. I watch the games. Even Toronto, an expansion team that isn't yet 15 years old, passed the Bulls years ago in terms of tact.

Maybe Schanwald thinks it's OK for the players that he's charged with promoting are being booed every time (every ... single ... time) they get stuck at 98 or 99 points as the final seconds tick off. Doesn't matter if it's a blowout, close game, or blowout loss. The team gets booed by the majority of the fans left in the building, it's obvious on the TV and in person, and the loudest and most organic cheer of the night comes when the team tops 100 points. Not when Ben Gordon hits a corner three to seal it at 92-79 with two minutes to go.

Now that stinks. And it's been going on for years. And Schanwald, seemingly, doesn't care. And he doesn't seem like the type to care, either. He's the guy that pipes in ear-splittingly loud, incredibly inappropriate (as if there is ever an appropriate time for Bon Jovi) rock music to close out a touching and thoughtful ceremony to honor Johnny "Red" Kerr. He's the guy that changes up Chicago's intro music (the otherwise laughable Alan Parsons Project) for a dated 2007 remix because ... well, just because. He's the guy that has to protect his phony-baloney job by tweaking and tweaking and adding and changing.

He is, in effect, just as bad as someone like Jerry Krause. Out to prove that it was the organization, and not Michael Jordan, that kept those seats filled.

Well, the seats were filled in the post-Jordan years. The tickets were sold. The ticket-holders -- or those who ended up with those free ducats once they were handed down the corporate ladder a half-dozen times -- may not have always showed up for those games, but he made his bosses money. You won, Steve. And you should be proud of that. It was damned impressive.

Now, shouldn't that be enough? At what point does the "fan experience" become so over-saturated with nonsense that the players are going to start resenting their fans? And by "fans," I mean dorks who seem to care more about a steamed "beef" sandwich with thousand island dressing on it than the biggest win of their hometown team's season.

It's pathetic. And the blame, as it has for years, falls on one man.

So Steve, if you come across this post someday in a search engine, kindly consider a change. Move it up to 110 points, down to 90, maybe 50 points by halftime, or dump the thing altogether. It was interesting for a spell back in the 1990s, when Jud Buechler or Joe Kleine were the ones nailing baskets to send the Bulls over the 110-point mark, winning the fans a taco. But now that the seats are full of the type of non-fan that you've doggedly chased over the years, the reaction is different.

And the reaction from the players, and I know you can see this, has changed. They hate it. It's the last thing they should be thinking about toward the end of a game like Tuesday's win. And at some point, little things like this are going to add up, and cost the team a good player. Or prevent the team from signing a player that it would like to have. Just so the punters can pick up a free sandwich here.

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