Ball Don't Lie - NBA

To start, I have to throw out a couple of excuses. This will not be an exhaustive BtB, because even with the re-airings and the help of a Tivo, Wednesday night's blitzkrieg of games was just impossible to keep up with in any meaningful way.

Wednesday night ... I've never seen anything like it. I've been doing this for 10 years. I'm a League Pass pro. I know when to flip, when to stick, and what to rewind or fast-forward to. And yet, with 11 games starting at the same time on Wednesday, my veteran savvy was made irrelevant.

It wasn't that there were 14 games on; we've seen that plenty of times over the years. It was the fact that the games weren't staggered. That they started, paused, and finished at about the same time. 11 at a time. Nuts. So if you want a series of quick season recaps for the teams that played last night, this week's final batch of Power Rankings is a good place to start.

I'll have to ask you to fill us in down in the comments section, because today's BtB will be full of holes. Full of holes, but also full of love. I've been doing this since October, killing myself to try to keep up with 30 teams playing 82 games, and yet I'm not ready to see this regular season end. I'm right chuffed at the prospects of a looming postseason, but I'm also a little bummed that the first 82 is ov-uh. I wouldn't mind watching the Bucks again tonight. And the Pacers the night after that. I'm not ready to say "goodbye" to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As I've said before, that's the true mark of how great this game is. I've done everything in my power to burn myself out, but I'm nowhere near the burnout stage. What an amazing year. We've come a long way since 2003-04. Or 2000-01, for that matter. Onto the games ...

Philadelphia 101, Cleveland 100 (OT)

Reason # 14 kajillion to not believe in karma?

Philadelphia had its full contingent, save for Elton Brand, on hand in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, who could have fought to tie a record for the most home wins in a season, sat their starters and played the reserves. And those reserves played a tough, smart, solid game that still slipped away from them towards the end of the fourth quarter. Because they were, you know, playing a playoff team's starting five.

And yet, the 76ers fail to foul as regulation ticked off with the Cavaliers down three points, despite Darnell Jackson (65.6 percent on free throws) touching the ball, and the Cavs tie it up. The 76ers pull away in overtime, but nearly blow it after muffing free throws, picking up a bogus shooting foul call on Wally Szczerbiak, and failing to foul Jackson again while the Cavs had the ball down three.

And the Cavs get the ball with four and a half seconds left, down one. And Daniel Gibson slips and falls on the court as the final seconds tick away. Cleveland does everything right, and they lose because of a random pratfall. We are all alone.

Cleveland deserves our respect. They could have gone for the record, but they understood that the bigger picture was more important, and sat the starters. And I don't want to hear any machinations about dropping one to give Chicago a chance to knock out Boston, because nobody should have assumed that Toronto (minus Andrea Bargnani) would win in Chicago.

I'm still frustrated at the Bulls dropping two home games back in 1995-96, same as Cleveland, by a combined two points. And while I spent most of this Saturday yelling at the TV, pleading for Phil Jackson to put Michael Jordan back in; the cold reality is that Jordan played 31 minutes in that loss to the Pacers. And though the contest was lost after Jordan was called for a bogus foul on Eddie Johnson late in that game, the fact is that Jordan was in the game at the end of the game.

LeBron James wasn't in for any of this game. Impressive perspective, Cleveland.

Philly? Gag me.

San Antonio 105, New Orleans 98 (OT)

You're probably not going to outplay Chris Paul, but you do have to make him play defense. And though Paul can lock up, his thieving instincts always guarantees that you'll be playing against a person who is always thinking about the big picture. Always looking at those passing lanes, or using his peripheral vision.

In the win, Tony Parker (29 points on 21 shots, six assists, two turnovers, two steals) came close to matching Paul's output (26 points on 21 shots, 14 assists, seven rebounds, one turnover, two steals). And in a game where the San Antonio depth paid off, well ... I'm not going to rip on anyone. Both teams worked their tails off.

And it's been that way all year, for either side. I get on the Spurs and Hornets subs and non-stars for not being all that, I dunno, good; but these guys work hard. They're just either low on talent, quite average, or past their prime. Effort has never been a question, though.

Roger Mason Jr. missed nine of 12 shots, but the other role players stepped up from the perimeter. Mike Finley made half his shots, finished with 17 points, and hit a game-tying three that sent the contest into overtime. Ime Udoka hit double figures, and Drew Gooden (11 points in 15 minutes) helped.

The Hornets took in another hot one from David West, who poured in 34 points, but he was outplayed by Tim Duncan. West tried, he contested shots and worked, but Duncan finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds, six assists, four turnovers and a block in 33 minutes. West played over 48 minutes, but he only pulled in seven caroms as New Orleans was out-rebounded by 13.

Why New Orleans didn't foul the Spurs with scant seconds left in regulation, up three points, I have no idea. I'll never understand why coaches prefer to play the badass in this situation. It's something to keep an eye on as the playoffs unfold. There will plenty of close games, and plenty of chances for coaches to get this one wrong.

The Hornets lost, and will face the Nuggets in the playoffs, which is (probably, rightful) music to the ears of some NOLA fans.

Sacramento 97, Minnesota 90

Sacramento gave Ike Diogu minutes and shots, so, guess what happened? 28 points and 13 rebounds. Against good interior defense. I was hoping my favorite team could possibly sneak in and sign the guy this summer to a cheap contract, but if Kings fans have their way, it ain't happenin'.

Dallas 95, Houston 84

Another round of similar complaints about the Rockets. Yao Ming was brutalized in the low post and got absolutely no help from the referees, even though he deserved a half-dozen calls that should have gone his way. And Ron Artest took another series of horrible shots.

I don't blame the refs for Yao Ming's slow (six points, after a 17-point first half) second half, and if you want to play in the post you're going to have to put up with some banging. But that was ridiculous. And this was the last game of the regular season, so imagine how much Yao will be legally tossed around by opponents in the playoffs. The refs need to step up and do something about it, because I'm not tuning in to see Brandon Bass shove with two arms. I want to see one of the game's best players throw in some jump hooks.

I'd ask Rick Adelman to do something about Artest, his shot selection, and his refusal to toss a lob or re-entry pass, but I think we're beyond that point.

The Mavericks were fantastic. The D may have been aided by the refs, but they worked hard, moved the ball, and got to all the right places offensively. Kudos to Rick Carlisle and his team for making a point to put the ball exactly where it supposed to go. Very few wasted possessions for the Mavs in this game, a great win.

Dirk Nowitzki was typically terrorizing, 31 points and 15 rebounds with just one turnover in 41 minutes. Jason Terry might be the best person ever made, and he scored 23 points off the bench. And Jason Kidd had another Jason Kidd-style triple-double, with 11 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Great win for a dangerous team.

Boston 115, Washington 107

Caron Butler tossed in 39 points in a losing effort, but Boston's ball movement was too much for the Wiz. 29 assists for Boston on 45 field goals. Leon Powe was great (18 and 13), which has to be fine news for C's fans, and Eddie House (6-9 from long range) continues to fill it up.

62 wins for Boston, in spite of all the crazy. Very, very impressive. No matter what happens from here on out, they should be awfully proud of that. I haven't seen opponents go after a defending champ like this in over a decade.

Indiana 115, Milwaukee 108

I'm really going to miss watching both of these teams. Milwaukee worked about as consistently hard this season as any team in the NBA, I'm only qualifying that because I have no way of really judging one team against another, and the Pacers made my jaw hurt from smiling so much this year.

These Pacers are so, so fun. They've had bad luck and bad injuries, but the locals really need to get behind this team next season. I don't know what the plan is, Larry Bird seems destined to always chase 45 wins instead of rebuilding properly, but this is a team that is worth your entertainment dollar.

From that Fieldhouse to the announcing team (Chris Denari, Clark Kellogg, Quinn Buckner, and Stacy Paetz might have the best top-to-bottom game presentation in the NBA) to the quick pace to the emergence of an honest-to-goodness superstar in Danny Granger (35 points and nine rebounds) ... there is a lot to like about this team.

Milwaukee seems to be going in the same direction. They want 45 wins, there isn't a ton of upside with this group, but it can play. Pity the injuries to Mike Redd and Andrew Bogut defined the season.

Brandon Rush poured in 24 in the win, and he averaged 17.4 points as a starter over the season's final month, after royally stinking it up for the first 80 percent of the year. Good on him. Josh McRoberts had a +22 on the night, and Cornrows came through with another terrific game recap.

Memphis 98, Atlanta 90

The Hawks rested their starters, the Grizzlies weren't great but managed to beat a team that was led by Flip Murray shooting 21 times.

Also, the new University of Memphis coach looks like Taco.

New York 102, New Jersey 73

The Nets sat Vince Carter and Devin Harris, and gave the kids a ton of minutes. Well, not Brook Lopez. He still played under 30 ticks but didn't do much (six points and seven rebounds). Chris Douglas-Roberts played 44 minutes, but sort of disappointed (18 points on 16 shots, two assists, five turnovers). 84 points per 100 possessions for New Jersey, 31 percent shooting. Against the Knicks.

The Knicks were fun, this year. I haven't said that since 1999.

Toronto 109, Chicago 98

A pretty pathetic turnout for the Bulls, they went with a zone defense for some reason for long stretches, Tim Thomas played a little too long with Brad Miller on the court for my taste (those two can't play together, as Chicago gets killed on the boards), and something is obviously wrong with John Salmons (shooting 38 percent in April). Blogabull mentioned the same things, about nine hours before this post went up. Dammit.

And yet, as always seemed to happen to this team in 2008-09, the Bulls stumbled into something good. Orlando owns the Bulls. Boston? Not so much, at least with Kevin Garnett struggling to regain his typical form. A loss to the Raptors, as bad as it seems on the surface, likely helped this team. I'm not saying the Bulls can or will beat the Celtics, far from it, but it does mean they have a better playoff pairing. Without actually earning it on Wednesday.

34 points and 11 rebounds for Shawn Marion, who dished three assists and only turned the ball over one time in what is likely his last game as a Toronto Raptors. Unless he realizes that there is no way he's getting anything over an MLE contract this summer, if that, and stays with the team that can pay him the most money.

Orlando 98, Charlotte 73

We don't have a picture of Dontell Jefferson to put up on the right side of this page.

Miami 102, Detroit 96 (OT)

We do have a picture of Chris Quinn, though.

Phoenix 117, Golden State 113

Grant Hill actually got a technical with a minute left to go in the game. And Alvin Gentry was nearly tossed as a result. Shaq picked up a flagrant foul with 15 seconds left. This was an odd game.

Hill played his 82nd game, and you couldn't help but get a lump in your throat thinking about all he's been through since that ankle started acting up (to say the least) about this time nine years ago. He was feisty and he was shooting a lot and he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals. And, kids? He used to do this nearly every day. Every damn day. He was such a special player before April of 2000.

Anthony Morrow returned to his November of 2008 roots with 33 points and 12 rebounds.

Portland 104, Denver 76

Portland is very, very good. This is a dangerous team that is improving on defense and completely and utterly underrated on offense. They absolutely took it to the Nuggets on Wednesday, and really made as strong a case as ever for a solid rank as the West's second-best team.

Oklahoma City 126, Los Angeles Clippers 85

This game was almost like the Steve Francis trade. Not the Vancouver-trade, or the one that sent him to Orlando. It was, instead, like the deal that sent him to New York for Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway's expiring contract?

Why? Because it was like a bad Bill Simmons joke, come true. That's not a shot at Simmons, the dude is hilarious, but every so often he (or any of us other wonks) will toss in an aside the runs along the lines of, "what's next, is Isiah going to trade for Steve Francis?" And then Isiah does it.

What's next? Are the Clippers going to lose, at home, to the Oklahoma City Thunder by 41 points? Will Baron Davis have more turnovers than assists? Will Marcus Camby give up a tip-dunk because he forgot that the Thunder were only shooting one free throw at the end of an and-one? Will Shaun Livingston return to bring the game's best highlight, an alley-oop dunk on the same rim he crumpled underneath back in 2006? Will Earl Watson (16 and 14 assists) play like Steve Nash?

Will the season end, now? For the Clippers, thankfully, yes. Special shoutout to Eric Gordon (22 points on 15 shots), who cares, and plays damn well.

For the Thunder? Sadly, yes. I'm going to miss that team, too. And I have a sneaking suspicion that, once Monday rolls around, they wouldn't mind having a scheduled game that night to play. Next year, perhaps.

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