Ball Don't Lie - NBA


Oklahoma City 88, Minnesota 85

You're probably thinking, "bad pun, nice photo, and the Sonics ... er, Thunder probably put together a nice spurt offensively against that short Minnesota defense, and Dwyer is going to go on about how 88 points is somehow a great offensive number because of some stupid math that nobody but him -- it's a ‘he,' right? -- cares about."

Well, yes, it's a he; but no. Oklahoma City's offense stunk on Sunday night, as its level of efficiency was right around its 2007-08 league-low mark of a hundred points per as many possessions. What the Thunder did kick a little tail on was the defensive end, both in getting stops and demanding crucial turnovers from the Timberwolves.

And I still go to hit the "S" button every time I need to refer to this team, for either "Seattle" or "SuperSonics." For fans, this is an odd brand to watch, mainly because we haven't seen an NBA switch like this in a while, if ever.

Expansion teams draw on unwanted prospects and veterans from all over the league, and put them in a new uniform. You don't associate that new team with any of the players from their previous teams, because it's rare to get more than one player from a particular team, and they barely played for that previous franchise anyway.

Also, past movers like the Hornets and Grizzlies essentially kept the same uniform save for minor alterations. The Grizzlies overhauled their roster between 2000-01 (as Vancouver) and 2001-02 (as Memphis), but they still stunk of Grizzly. Same thing with the Hornets the following year, with an even greater stink as the Hornets basically kept the same (pretty good) team.

Oklahoma City has the distinction of walking, talking, shooting, missing, and looking like the SuperSonics of last year -- even though that was a brand new roster full of younger players with a new coach -- but the new colors and new name and town completely throw you off.

I anticipated a strange withdrawal in not having a team in Seattle to talk about, but this is a new wrinkle. For those who haven't seen the team and don't know what I'm talking about, imagine if this year's Bulls played in St. Louis next year, wearing the color mauve, with the name "BRAVES" stitched across their uniforms. You'd still think Hinrich a Bull.

Back to the game. Rookie Russell Westbrook looks fantastic, and not just defensively. Early on the in game he gave me the impression of a more compact and wiry Antonio Daniels, that's not a slight, but the point man improved and improved as the game went along. By the end, he was dominating in short stretches on both ends, and his offensive touch is way more refined than us non-NCAAniks had been led to believe. 14 points, two assists, three turnovers, two steals in 25 minutes for the UCLA product.

Surrounding him were solid performers who didn't play a ton but made an impact, such as Joe Smith (six points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and needed length in 16 minutes) and Nick Collison (after a slow start, 10 and 10 with three steals, two blocks, and an assist in 31 minutes). Chris Wilcox came through with 12 and 7 and a few more iffy attempts at doing something in the low left box, and Kevin Durant was inefficient but still gorgeous to watch with 21 points on 7-18 shooting 18 points on 7-21 shooting, thereby ruining someone's life in the process (see Comment 1).

Minnesota suffered from pitiful point guard play, it showed on the court and in the box score. Randy Foye and Kevin Ollie combined to play almost exactly 48 minutes, shot 1-16 together, with nine assists, six turnovers, and four points.

Worse, they couldn't penetrate the Oklahoma City defense much in the fourth quarter, and create easy looks for the Timberwolves' scorers. Just 12 points for Minnesota in that final quarter, which is just a crime for a team this talented on that end. OKC also dominated the boards (50-38) which wasn't that unexpected.

It was a fun game to take in, even if I had it on mute whilst listening to Jools Holland's show on my computer while taking notes. The home crowd was really into it, and you couldn't help but root a bit for the first win and first home win in the franchise's history.

Milwaukee 94, New York 86

An ugly game; even with two well-meaning coaches manning the sidelines and a pair of rosters that suddenly care, this wasn't as entertaining as I thought it would be. Let's pull some good stuff out of it, though.

Bucks coach Scott Skiles started Ramon Sessions, stuck with Ramon Sessions, and got 18 points, seven rebounds, five turnovers, and eight assists out of Ramon Sessions in 42 minutes. Not a great game, but a pretty good one. Malik Allen didn't play; Charlie Villanueva kept his head up and compiled 16 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute!

The rookie came through with 10 points and 10 boards in 35 minutes, with zero turnovers. That last one is big, because it's impressive for any NBA contributor to play that long in a game, against any defense, and not make one miscue; and this is a rookie. A rookie who was asked to bail out some plays with interior moves as the shot clock wound down. The UCLA product (there's that phrase again) also added three steals and two assists.

New York had a tough time scoring, with nearly as many turnovers (14) as assists (16), but things can't get much worse than this. Jamal Crawford, streaky though he may be, won't shoot 0-6 from the floor again this year. Stephon Marbury might be sent home this week, and there's no way David Lee (sorry fantasy owners) only grabs two rebounds in 20 minutes of action again this season. Otherwise, everyone looks to be in shape (how great is it to see Q-Rich, 28 points and nine rebounds, back?), and things will improve.

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