Ball Don't Lie - NBA

I was in front of the TV for nearly eight hours on Wednesday night, watching 11 out of 12 games and trying to keep up to the best of my abilities. So, as you'd guess, I was bound to miss something. As it is, if there's something missing from this BtB, swing by at about 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday for a BDL chat, and we'll hash it out. Hash, out.   

Toronto 95, Philadelphia 84

This was a fun game. The Sixers came out in the first quarter and made it look as if the Raptors weren't anywhere near Philadelphia's level, and it even looked as if we'd underestimated a Philadelphia team that we've been building up for months.

But then Philly decided to stop guarding the three-point line, the 76ers started going for way too many steals (in the end, it was the Sixers that turned the ball over once in every five possessions), and before they knew it the Raptors had caught back up and developed an offensive rhythm that the 76ers had no success in getting them out of.

No point in killing the Sixers over it, because good signs abounded. Lou Williams has to get crisper with his passes. Sam Dalembert has to keep defensive concentration. Elton Brand has to be featured more with his back to the basket instead of relying on a (still good, but still ...) face-up game. But the team looked fine, even in the loss. Andre Miller looks to be in good shape, assuaging one of my biggest fears entering 2008-09. That said, Sixers? Make shots. 34.5 percent from the floor. Ugly. Less ten-foot jumpers.

The Raptors were terrific, moving the ball and disarming Philly's pressure with spacing, passing, shooting and making (in that order). Apologies for giving most of the word count to the loser in this situation, but Raptors fans know what they saw. They saw some warming signs, and Chris Bosh working at a (USA Basketball?) level entirely different from everyone else on that court.

Jermaine O'Neal had nice stats (17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two turns, a block in 34 minutes), but he seemed so ... unimportant. That will likely change.  

Atlanta 99, Orlando 85

Playing at home and in a season where they'll be expected to take a significant step up toward the Eastern elite, the Magic really came out full of bleh in this game. Meanwhile, the Hawks were really working on the defense end, they dipped a bit in the second quarter, but Mike Woodson's crew really put together a sterling defensive effort on Wednesday.

Just 90 points per 100 possessions for Orlando in its opener, a sharp downturn (from 111 per 100 last season) for a team that didn't really change a whole lot over the summer. Credit the Hawks for that, they worked hard, but don't forget to blame the Magic for not matching Atlanta's effort and interest. The refs let a lot go in this game, but that was obvious from the first quarter, and the Magic should have adjusted.

Dwight Howard had a nice game with 22 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and five assists; but he's never going to be the next Moses Malone if he keeps missing free throws (6-13) and turning the ball over (four in 39 minutes). Meanwhile, I've been begging for J.J. Redick to get more minutes for two years now, and he missed all four shots and was a team-worst -18 in 19 minutes. I'm a dope. And four turnovers in 39 minutes isn't that bad.

New Jersey 95, Washington 85 

Boy, the Wizards look bad. And old, in spite of all that youth. And a little slow on the uptake, in spite of all those old people. And in spite of a few nice backdoor plays in this loss, they seemed too content to toss an off-kilter perimeter bomb up there and hope that it goes in.

For the second season opener in a row, the Nets have enjoyed a hot hand from an iffy baseline shooter (last year, Antoine Wright; this year, Jarvis Hayes), and Vince Carter was at his all around near-best (21 points and six assists) long enough to pull out the win. Yi Jianlian had a fantastic game with 17 points on just 11 shots, with six rebounds and two assists. This marks the fourth time in his career that he's topped one assist in a game.

These Nets have a fine future, with LeBron or without him. I'm loving this team's depth at this point, and their options.

New York 120, Miami 115

Had he been coaching Pat Riley would have kicked something after this. Check to see if Erik Spoelstra is limping on Friday.

Yes, the Knicks upped the pace in their season opener under Mike D'Antoni, piling up 103 possessions, but this final score had a lot more to do with a compact and efficient Knicks offense working the ball around and not really looking like what we've seen out of D'Antoni from 2003 onwards. Jamal Crawford came out hot, Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry never played, and the Heat never seemed to have a defensive answer.

And though Michael Beasley made the first shot of the game, a gorgeous spinning up-and-under move, he was downright Adam Morrison-like in his NBA debut. Nine points on 14 shots with three turnovers and four rebounds in 26 minutes for Beasley on Wednesday.

Dwyane Wade also had his efficiency issues, missing 15 of 24 shots, but he also should have gone to the line a few more times (Wade shot 8-9 as it was, but the refs swallowed a few whistles), and a few of those misses shouldn't have counted.

I'm not saying they can't keep it up all year (though I'd be surprised), and I don't mean to rain on any Knick fan's parade (surely they deserve one), but this seemed to be New York at its absolute best. Every player had a terrific game and everything was clicking offensively. Watch and tape the MSG replay of this one.

Milwaukee 98, Oklahoma City 87

Hey, look who played a ton in this one! Charlie Villanueva, enjoying life, offering 20 and 12 (and four turnovers) in 34 minutes of action. Good for him. Good for Scott Skiles.

Oklahoma City just never had a chance in this one, even against an Eastern Conference team that might struggle to win 30 games this year, at home. And the Bucks announcers (not to pile on, but it was the truth) even pointed out that after an initial burst, the Thunder fans had "turned into typical NBA fans" after a while, especially in comparison to the rowdy crowds that met the Hornets in 2005-06. It just seemed like a normal game, in terms of the aural sensation.

Kevin Durant sort of picked up where he left off last year with 12 points on 14 shots, the OKC starters shot 14-40 (35 percent) overall, and I'd be shocked if the Thunder (just even thinking about this roster, I keep wanting to type "Seattle") didn't end up last in offensive efficiency again this season.

The whole thing was just -- suitably, I guess -- underwhelming.

Detroit 100, Indiana 94

Yep, talked a big game on this one and then ... blammo! Blacked out.

The dish, not me.

Luckily, Indy Cornrows stays up late, too.

Minnesota 98, Sacramento 96

This game was terrific fun, a captivating match between two teams with plenty of 25-and-unders, and involving the first of what I'm expecting to be several dozen very close losses for the Kings this year. They'll try hard, and there is some talent there, but Sacramento won't be pulling a lot of these out.

For one, they'll need Kevin Martin to play better. He only shot 5-19 on Wednesday, missing eight of 11 from behind the arc, missing two free throws (!) and even tossing up an airball (!!) in almost 40 minutes. On the brighter side, Jason Thompson!!! Kings fans hate me for choosing to shoehorn a lame joke into our Kings preview instead of detailing his role in the rotation, but I'm sure they'll be quite chuffed with the rookie's 18 and 10-rebound debut. He looked great, and polished as well.

The Timberwolves moved the ball and finished well in the paint, which isn't that tough to do against the Kings, but let's not quibble. 25 assists on 42 field goals for Minnesota, who took in a +20 night (best on the team) from Kevin Love. The rookie managed 12 points, nine boards, a pair of assists, turnovers, and blocks in 18 minutes. He was a bit ruddy-faced, also, as Skeets pointed out.

You know what's weird? Kevin Garnett last played with the Timberwolves in April of 2007. Since then, they've changed their uniforms, and the color of their home floor. And yet I'm being serious when I tell you that several times during the course of the game I kept expecting (not sure if that's the right word) KG to flash toward the ball on the elbow when the rock was swinging around within the Minnesota offense. No joke. I can just see those arms.

Phoenix 103, San Antonio 98

This seems about right. I don't expect Grant Hill to shoot 6-8 again, but I also don't expect the Suns to just about ignore Amare Stoudemire until the fourth quarter again. So the fact that Phoenix topped the Spurs in Texas by just five points seems just about perfect.

Spurs fans better get used to this sort of stuff. Usually a home loss, even to a formidable opponent like the Suns, led to hand-wringing and appropriate-though-uneasy questions. This one shouldn't. The Spurs don't have Manu Ginobili. It's that simple.

Spurs opponents better get used to it too. With Ginobili out, you're still going to have to bring your absolute best in order to even compete much less topple the Spurs, especially at home. This team's drive and interest will be unwavering, with or without Manu. So don't expect a ten-point handicap being awarded to you at tip-off, because you're going to have to earn it with these guys.

And, if anyone didn't see it, the early-game Hack-a-Shaq moment Skeets linked to last night is further proof that Gregg Popovich is just about the coolest guy on the planet right now. It's between him and Georgie Fame.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined for 64 points in the loss, and if at one point in the season I tell you that they "combined for 73 of San Antonio's 80 points in the loss," you best not be surprised.

Houston 82, Memphis 71

At one point there were ten games going on at once in the season's second night, so you'll have to excuse me when I say I didn't get to watch much of this.

On big nights like this, Rockets and Grizzlies games always seem to get the shaft by me, mainly because they start up just as crunch time hits for the games from far out east, and roll into motion once the Western Conference matchups start to tip off. Wednesday was worse, partially because there were 12 games, and also because the Grizzlies and Rockets actually played each other.

Really, the less said about this one the better. And this is coming from me, the guy who can't stop talking about how great the Rockets will be and how interesting the Grizzlies are. Both teams combined to shoot 37 percent, and there were more turnovers (28) than assists (21). Also, the Rockets seemed intent to go to Tracy McGrady (7-18 from the floor) down the stretch instead of Yao Ming (21 and 10, 6-14 shooting). Not my cup of ... wait, next game ...

Utah 98, Denver 94

It's not just the 20 points and 10 assists that you miss when someone like Deron Williams goes down. It's his presence that counts for quite a bit more than that.

I'm not going to give you some bunk about how the mere sight of Williams tying his shoelaces sends his teammates into a tizzy and inspires them to set the screen of their life, but his presence on the court does so much for this Jazz team that you can't attempt to qualify his absence in sheer numbers.

It's about the way he positions himself after taking that screen, putting all five defenders on notice for that scary 3/4s of a second where Williams is open with lanes galore surrounding him, when you don't know if he's going to pass, pass the other way, shoot, drive, pull it out, drive and kick, drive and score ... the possibilities are endless, even if we only deign to call it a "two-man game." Not some stupid, Eckstein-ian notion about inspiration.

And tonight, the Jazz were without Williams, and they missed that bit of danger. Denver put up a good fight, Utah was a little sloppy with things at times, but the Jazz eked out a win. Meanwhile, the Nuggets would have had a win on their hands if they'd just been able to hit their free throws (18-28, 64 percent), or if Kenyon Martin and Linas Kleiza didn't combine to pull in just nine rebounds in 54 minutes.

Los Angeles Lakers 117, Los Angeles Clippers 79

Baron Davis' first shot as a Clipper was a flat-footed three-pointer after breaking a play. Sheesh.

The Clippers were without Marcus Camby, they barely know each others' numbers, and they were playing the Lakers. But that doesn't excuse the poor decisions from the top down. Chris Kaman and Al Thornton combined for as many rebounds (eight) in 62 minutes as Tim Thomas (formerly maligned for being one of the worst per-minute frontcourt rebounds in the NBA) had in 19 ticks.

They did have 24 assists on 30 field goals, which is good. I like the Clippers and the players on this team, and really like the direction the franchise could take from here on out, but this was a baaaaad start.

The Lakers are quite good.

New Orleans 108, Golden State 103

The Warriors really showcased an impressive grasp of the moment, working together and bringing the effort. Don Nelson also called a masterful game, utilizing his players the right way and offering the right plays especially out of dead balls. The problem is, as it often is with this team and this coach, how long will all this last?

It was enough to make for a great game on Wednesday night, but I never got a whiff of permanence from it. And though the Hornets have their holes, enough to make a road loss to Golden State sans Monta Ellis very possible, you still feel as if an early November rematch between these two in Alameda County could result in a 20-point New Orleans win.

Golden State played quite a game, though. Stephen Jackson didn't sit for a second, Andris Biedrins came through with 14 and 12 before fouling out in 29 minutes, Corey Maggette (27 points on 11 shots) lived at the line, and you can tell these guys truly enjoy playing with each other. The ball was moving and the Warriors were getting after it. New Orleans was better, though. Just good enough. And their pinstripes stink.

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