Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 108, Miami 105

Truly, truly impressed with Miami's defense on Sunday. No matter the rotation, regardless of the lineup, whomever Heat coach Erik Spoelstra tossed out to stay in front of the Laker offense managed to combine effort with smarts, forcing the Lakers into a series of tough shots, and tougher decisions.

I wasn't as impressed with the Laker offense. Tex Winter's creation should have a counter for just about anything it has thrown at it, and Lamar Odom was missed, but after a while you just have to stop complaining about the Lakers and appreciate how well Miami played defensively.

Of course, the Lakers won. It was close, and Miami played damn well, but the Lakers are so bloody good. Able to take on challenges with the guile and gusto of a three-time champ, rather than a group still seeking out its first ring as a collective. How they've earned this reputation of preening slackers is beyond me. These guys work.

Vlad Radmanovic had 18 points on just 10 shots, Andrew Bynum scored 24 points without looking as if he was every anything more than a fourth option, and Derek Fisher hit a shot with his right hand. In nearly 12.5 years of watching this cat play, I can't remember ever seeing that. Stu Lantz couldn't, either, which tells me I'm onto something.

And here's something else I want to get off my chest, that we need to be reminded of, even as it comes on the heels of what was essentially and average game (27 points, nine assists) for the man: Dwyane Wade, more than any current or former player, reminds me the most of Michael Jordan. Speaking in purely physical tones, ‘ere.

It's not even close, really. Kobe's brilliant, and his fadeaways (if not the footwork) remind of latter-era Jordan, but his smallish (relatively speaking) hands force him into working in territory more akin to a point forward than a shooting guard. And this isn't a slam, he'll go down as the second best shooting guard that's ever played, his game just isn't as nearly as reminiscent of Jordan as Wade's.

LeBron James, at this pace, will retire as the greatest player to ever play. But his all-around game smacks of peak-era Grant Hill multiplied by 1.29, instead of a scoring guard like Jordan.

Wade? He looks exactly like Michael Jordan, for huge stretches. Those synapses. The muscle, the strength, the way he looks light on his feet and walking on air just seconds after appearing unsure and pigeontoed. It's absolutely uncanny, while appearing nearly effortless.

Boston 94, Toronto 88

Of course, win they win, that's when I find fault with the Celtics.

I don't blame them for nearly giving up a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter. The Raptors are a good team with a crummy record; they're at home playing their usual Sunday matinee, in the wheelhouse they've grown accustomed to. In the end, a six-point win seems about right, especially when you consider some of Doc Rivers' more frustrating Sunday moves as coach of the C's.

With Kendrick Perkins out with a bum shoulder, Rivers started Brian Scalabrine at center, which really isn't a problem in and of itself because Toronto's centre is the small forward'y Andrea Bargnani. But while the Boston TV crew (both back home and in Canada) couldn't stop talking about how brilliant Scal's defense was, all I saw were a ton of fouls that weren't called. And four first half fouls that were. Dude got away with a ton, sometimes two fouls on one possession.

Scalabrine eventually fouled out, and as a result, Glen Davis played 30 minutes. Now, while this may seem like a reaction to Davis' 1-12 shooting night, you have to understand that I pride myself on trying to be even keel with these things. That said, Davis is killing the Celtics. Destroying this team.

His PER on the season is around 8, which puts him amongst the worst rotation players in the NBA, and PER doesn't account for his defensive attributes. Which are awful. Ruddy awful. And I just refuse to buy the excuse that Doc Rivers can't play Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe on the court together.

Luckily, the Celtics seemed to be enjoying themselves defensively in the first three quarters of this one, clapping and moving and taking care of the Toronto spacing with large stretches of stretching. If Davis or Kevin Garnett (3-16) shoot their usual percentages on what were pretty good looks that just weren't falling, this was a 30-point game entering the fourth, instead of a 20-point advantage.

36 points on only 14 shots for Ray Allen, who was just unconscious at times. Seeing as how Ray hasn't coupled a good game against a good team since the first week of December, it was nice to see.

Philadelphia 109, Atlanta 94

The Sixers had one of those games, again. The kind of game that makes them look like the varsity crew is taking on the freshman lot, and even if the freshman team has more talent or even more insight into the game itself, it hardly matters against a crew that is taller, bigger, stronger, and quicker.

Philly just dominated the paint against Atlanta. With Al Horford on the bench due to a knee contusion, the Sixers went +15 on the glass, shot 55 percent, and totaled 27 assists on 41 field goals. Quick to the rim, all afternoon.

Gut-check time for the Hawks. They won six straight to close out 2008, but have lost four of five in the new year, and the lone win was a close three-point victory over a T-Mac'less Rockets team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. After this, Atlanta hits the road for six of its next nine, and Horford is set to miss at least three more contests.

Phoenix 109, Los Angeles Clippers 103

The Suns just can't stop anyone, and had a pretty tough time attempting to stop a thin Clippers team that usually takes great lengths to do the work for you while going ahead and stopping themselves. How nice of them.

You can't allow Los Angeles -- playing without Baron Davis, Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman, Cheikh Samb, and Ricky Davis -- to score 103 points on you. Can't happen. The Suns let it happen, ended up winning, but this group has major issues.

Shaquille O'Neal hit 5-5 from the free throw line to raise his free throw percentage to 63, uh, percent.

Orlando 105, San Antonio 98

You kept hearing it from the San Antonio set of announcers, referring to the white hot Orlando touch from behind the arc: "It's just one of those nights."

Well, no. Orlando is that good. And they've been doing it all year, if you've deigned to pay attention, and 14-22 marks from long range are usually par for the course, but you wouldn't know that because ...

Wait, 14 of 22?

Sorry. I'm a mug.

It was just one of those nights for Orlando, the team hit 14 of 22 from long range, and even the team's work from a step inside the arc was worth celebrating. A very impressive win for the Magic, because while the usually-creaky Spurs offense still made more than half its shots and scored 98 points, the defensive effort was damn good. It just didn't make much a dent against San Antonio.

Actually, the Spurs may have had an outside chance at stealing a win towards the end, but Tony Parker missed two runners late in the game that could have made things a little more than interesting. Super interesting. But the runners didn't fall, I'm not going as far as to call them bunnies (one was a pretty tough shot, the other was tough for most everyone besides Tony Parker), and TP would like both back.

Fun game, the actual offensive execution was kind of surprising, but the level of competition was exactly what you'd expect from the leaders of the second tier from their respective conferences.

Sacramento 102, Dallas 95

It's a big part of the basketball parlance, but it's always in the figurative sense, when someone looks "cold." The shooters, in the end, aren't really cold. They're just shooting poorly. Why am I telling you this? A made free throw is worth one point, while I'm at it.

Thing was, against the Kings on Sunday, Dirk Nowitzki looked cold. He wasn't shivering, you couldn't see his breath, but you could almost hear the cartilage cracking as he tried to warm up to this game. He just looked stiff, not really uncertain or reminiscent of his rookie season, but like a guy who needed a bit more time on the treadmill before tip-off, if you wouldn't mind.

And while I hate referencing Larry Bird when talking about Dirk, due to those unfortunate early-career comparisons, maybe he does need to take to Larry's pre-game routine of working himself into a sweaty lather (gross) before hitting the locker room. That routine may have cost Bird a year or two off his career, who knows, but for such a big guy who relies on such a big arc on his scoring attempts (the bigger the arc, the more things that can go wrong on the windup and release), maybe Dirk should add another lap or two.

Maybe he already has, years ago. Maybe I should get to the actual game.

Dirk came out cold, the Kings played well, shared the ball, and seemed determined to go the full 48 instead of bringing bits of effort here and there. Jason Terry (33 points) was fantastic, Jason Kidd (1-9) is shooting 31 percent since December 21st, and Devean George (who shot 3-5, but missed a poorly conceived long range bomb in the final minute) still thinks he's better than he actually is. And the problem with that, is that most of his coaches have sided with Devean on this issue.

The Kings killed it offensively, shooting 51 percent, going to whoever Jason Kidd was guarding, and I was truly impressed with their effort.

Golden State 120, Indiana 117

About as entertaining a game as you'd expect, then a bit more, and then a bit more Danny Granger, but not enough.

41 points for the Pacers forward, then he left Jamal Crawford a little too open on the perimeter during Golden State's final possession; and though Granger's close-out was technically sound, Crawford still nailed the game-winning jumper.

And though Pacers coach Jim O'Brien told the assembled media that he designed Indiana's penultimate possession to end up in Mike Dunleavy Jr.'s hands, you could have fooled me. And, by the looks of it, the Pacer bench. Dunleavy missed, badly, and while I like the idea of getting a good shooter a good look when the defense overplays your stud ... Granger should have gotten a better chance to get free and do something Granger-esque. Travis Diener then missed a wide-open three-pointer to close things on Indy's last possession, but it shouldn't have come to that.

Crawford had a great game. He didn't even attempt a shot for the first half of the first quarter, but finished with 32, and declined to force the issue. In other news, there is seething hate in Oracle Arena for Corey Maggette (4-11 shooting), and nearly as much for Dunleavy Jr. from AP scribe Greg Beacham. Give ‘er a read.

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