Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Boston 95, Cleveland 89

It's only one game, the Cavaliers were up against a Boston team that is a year removed from coming through with some pretty scary defense (and a season removed from acting as one of the NBA's best defensive squads even with Kevin Garnett(notes) on the pine for a good chunk of the campaign), so is it too early to fret about Cleveland's terrible offensive sets?

Come on. You saw the game. It's totally time to fret.

This was pretty bad. And take all the time you want because unless the Cavaliers get a philosophical overhaul, this will continue to be a problem.

The game started off OK for the Cavs. The spacing was fantastic, the ball was moving, and the team was up double digits for the better part of the first quarter.

Boston wouldn't go away, though. The game was tied before long, once the Cavs had to go to the bench and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) went underutilized.

Cleveland's offense never looked comfortable, and the C's just like acting a bit ornery on both ends. Paul Pierce(notes) was sharp on either end, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Garnett looked exactly as he should — provided Utah never happened last season — Rasheed Wallace(notes) looked inspired after lazing through 2008-09, and the C's looked every bit a champion.

Cleveland? They looked like the team we complained incessantly about in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08. They looked like a team that boasted a coach that was in over his head offensively. That said ...

Is there anything more exciting than watching LeBron James(notes) stalk down a fast-breaker and block the shot at the rim? There's a lot of LBJ's game that remains pretty workmanlike, kind of dreary, but these open-court blocks are absolutely breathtaking.

Washington 102, Dallas 91

For those who were wondering — yes, Gilbert Arenas(notes) will be fine.

Arenas is probably a month or a month and a half away from being back to form. I say this after watching him dice up the Dallas Mavericks for 29 points on 21 shots in the win on Tuesday, while understanding that sturdier legs and a stronger core were the only things that kept him from dropping 40. At least. Forty-one, likely.

Honestly. The footwork, the touch and that initial quickness ... it's all there. Now, all he needs is a few more weeks worth of reps to just build up that muscle memory. To be able to stick in the same place on jumpers. That comfort zone stung quicker. To pull off his usual go-to moves with a better batch of confidence behind them. To dominate, offensively, again.

I'm not telling you he can get to the Wade/Kobe/Roy strata. He wasn't ever there. And he might only be 98 percent of what he once was, when he hits his peak. But he'll be great again.

And against a defense like Dallas', he was able to turn the clock ahead a few weeks. Jason Kidd(notes), Jose Juan Barea(notes) and Jason Terry(notes) had no chance against Arenas, and while Quinton Ross(notes) played well (starting in the first half, ceding to Terry as a starter in the second half), the Wizards perimeter folk had their way with Dallas all night.

It really was a lay-up line — a line toward easy open shots from all areas, really — on both ends. Dallas' problem is that it couldn't make shots. Couldn't nail open, easy shots that usually go in. Lots of hard-luck misses as the Mavs clanged 14 of the team's 18 3-point attempts. This could have been a close, high-scoring affair, but Dallas just wasn't up to it. The panache was there. The makes were not.

Lots of helpers for the Wizards tonight. Andray Blatche(notes) responded to starter Fabricio Oberto's(notes) early foul trouble with 20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a whole lot of sweat. Randy Foye(notes) (19 points) worked well in the second half, and the Wizards registered 19 assists. There could have been more. There will be more.

Jason Terry probably took the hook for this one. Needed 15 shots to score 12 points, and his defense was pretty bad.

It's early, but for Washington to pop into Dallas and win without Antawn Jamison(notes) is pretty solid.

Portland 96, Houston 87

This is not who Portland will be for the rest of the season. They still have quite a bit to figure out offensively (the Trail Blazers turned it over on 26.5 percent of their possessions tonight, and stop with the moving screens), and though the defense was fantastic in this win, they still have to find a way to bring the D consistently.

This is who the Houston Rockets will be for the rest of the year.

I'm not telling you that they'll shoot 37 percent or score just 89 points per 100 possessions for the rest of the year. This isn't some sly way of telling you that they'll be in trouble offensively for the next 81 games. This isn't a slam.

What I am telling you is that the Rockets are not going to give up all year. They'll be blown out in some games; it happens to every team. But they might be the toughest team to blow out outside of the big five (your Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers, Celtics and Spurs, listed in order of the length of last season's postseason run, in order not to tick off sensitive fans) because they absolutely won't give up.

That's the sportswriter take.

The basketball take also tells you that this team's rotation will give Rick Adelman everything he needs on each given night. No, it won't give him a 7 1/2-footer with skills or a do-everything wing stud. But he will get to pick and choose from a versatile rotation in order to put whoever has it going that particular night on the court. This is the deepest depth that nobody knows about. I love these Rockets.

I's be diggin' le Blazers, too. And this was also all about the Blazers.

The Blazers that turned it around when Andre Miller(notes) came on the court in the first half. The Blazers that stuck it to the Rockets with Steve Blake(notes) on the court in the second half. The Blazers that found Travis Outlaw(notes) (23 points n 14 shots) all night. The Blazers that took in a dominant defensive performance from a young center named Greg Oden(notes), who finished with five blocks and 12 boards in 26 minutes.

And this is why I love Blazer fans — they know exactly what they need to take the next step.

This is why Martell Webster(notes) (14 points on seven shots) got the hands he got, especially when he defended well. It's why Oden drove them batty, in a good way. It's why they were well-chuffed to see Miller play as well as he did in the first half, and for the Blazers to be running as they did all game long. The game featured 98 possessions, a TON for two teams that averaged 88 possessions per game between them last season.

For the Rockets, well, it'll be this sort of year.

Aaron Brooks(notes) had 19 points and five assists, but for someone who had the ball in his hands as much as he did, you should have at least 19 and five. Chase Budinger(notes) looks like a sound contributor, an athletic finisher and will-be terrific defender once he stops falling for eyebrow fakes. Carl Landry(notes) had a night to forget, missing nine of 12 shots with three turnovers.

The obvious answer to that would seem to be to start Landry, who could be this team's leading scorer, but benching Chuck Hayes(notes) would have had the Rockets losing by 20 tonight. Hayes does so many things, as does Luis Scola(notes). Landry's just going to have to figure it out in his time off the pine.

Houston just can't create good shots, at this point. It's why Scola and Shane Battier(notes) combined to miss 12 of 15 shots, and why the team nearly had as many turnovers (16) as assists (18). It'll be a hallmark. But it will be up to other teams to take advantage of because they're never going to give up.

Los Angeles Lakers 99, Los Angeles Clippers 92

Should the Lakers have won by more? Perhaps.

The Clippers are the Clippers, and Baron Davis(notes) was obviously hurt, and even with Pau Gasol(notes) on the pine you would think the Lakers are more than seven points better than the Clippers at, uh, "home."

But the Lakers should be more than cool with this outcome. There are loads of holes, but the potential for the defending champs is so, so high.

Let's start with the holes. Shannon Brown(notes) has this defensive reputation that I just can't understand. Derek Fisher(notes) isn't guarding anyone and Eric Gordon(notes) (and, to a lesser extent, Sebastian Telfair(notes)) had his way with the Lakers all night.

Also ... well, that's about it. Kobe Bryant(notes) didn't shoot well tonight, missing 15 of 26 shots. So what? This was an afterthought offense. The Lakers were toying with the Clippers offensively. Lots of ball movement, great spacing, no worries on that end, just poor finishing.

Ron Artest(notes) didn't have much of a line, he missed seven of 10 shots and turned the rock over four times. But he was trying to fill things out. Flashing to the post and trying to hit cutters. Trying to finish after great passes hit his hands.

The whole team was that way. I see massive potential in this offense, as long as Kobe holds up and Artest continues to stay within the confines of the triangle. He could be my Most Improved Player even if he fails to hit double figures in points per game. And Kobe? He missed a few low-post chances, but, dammit, take it back down there. You can dominate.

The reason this game was so close is because of all those missed good shots, Gordon's sound play (21 points on 14 shots) and a Lakers bench that got too many shots in the second and third quarters, offering absolutely nothing offensively.

Phil Jackson wants that, though. He knows he'll need that bench eventually, and that a goofball game against a Clippers team playing with a bum Davis and without Griffin is the perfect chance to try and fit those square pegs into round holes. By June, those pegs usually fit.

Davis was awful. Truly and terribly awful. I'm sure he was hurt — he looked it — but how does that explain away all the shots he took? All the long shots? All the shots early in the shot clock?

This guy was drafted over 10 years ago. You're telling me he doesn't know any better?

Davis missed nine of 10 shots. Al Thornton(notes) missed a series of bad looks. Ricky Davis(notes) banked in a 3-pointer with 23 seconds on the shot clock after BD front-rimmed a 3-pointer. To Mike Dunleavy's credit, he didn't see any time after that. 

Sebastian Telfair had a -9 on the night, but the Clippers sure played well when he was in there. Eight points and four assists off the bench for Sebastian. Chris Kaman(notes) showcased an improved jump shot, but he missed his fair share and only drew two free throws, finishing with 18 points on 17 shots. Craig Smith(notes) had 12 and five boards in 20 minutes. He can really play.

So can the Lakers. And they'll get quite a bit better.

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