April 09, 2008
No team could have beaten the Trail Blazers tonight, they were way into calling an end to their mini-swoon, and though the Lakers did plenty wrong, Portland had this from the beginning. The team would not stop trying to penetrate the D, the bigs set good screens, the guards made good decisions, and the bigs hit tough shots, the guards gave good high-fives.
Portland won, more than Los Angeles lost, but after a while it became more interesting to pay attention to the Lakers losing, especially after coach Phil Jackson grabbed a technical foul in the second quarter.
Funny thing about a coach trying to get a technical: sometimes your players respond well, sometimes they respond poorly, but they always respond.
The players either think, "coach has our back, he knows we're getting screwed by the refs, let's just play;" or they follow the leader, think of the coach's T as a license to bitch, so they actually up the complaints. It really is a flip of a coin. The personnel of the team matters little, as does the coach.
On Tuesday, the Lakers wanted to complain. Kobe wanted to complain, the young guards wanted to complain, Pau Gasol wanted to (rightfully) complain, Lamar Odom wanted to complain, and Kobe wanted to complain some more.
I'm going to complain about Los Angeles' perimeter defense, mostly, because not one of the Laker guards could control Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, or Jarrett Jack, and that's a little unnerving heading into the playoffs. It's a lot unnerving. It's what I'm scared about most regarding the Lakers.
Los Angeles still played a good, if whiny, game. Kobe led a tough comeback in the fourth quarter, and it was a well-played contest throughout. Nothing was getting in front of these Trail Blazers, though. Game of the night.
The Hawks are starting to remind me of a team that is usually just happy to make an appearance in the playoffs, give an effort for a solid portion of a close Game 3 before getting swept, and shrug a few shoulders on its way toward a lottery appearance in 2009.
I know I've just mapped out the next, oh, 13 months of this team's life (after that, I had another sip of Coke), but you can't tell me this team was enthused to clinch a playoff berth on Tuesday night.
Sure, the Hawks have been just about a lock for a few weeks, and the road confines of a half-full Conseco Fieldhouse aren't as inspiring as a quarter-full Philips Arena, but you'd at least think Atlanta would show a bit more enthusiasm, rather then letting the Pacers move the ball and win big.
Josh Smith was great in the first half for the Hawks, but he stopped getting the ball in the third quarter, then he didn't get a few calls, then he whined a lot, then he threw a shoulder, got a flagrant foul, and hit the bench. It was a lovely thing to watch. Fourth year in the league, by the way.
TV's Ronald "Flip" Murray had an outstanding game, at point guard (!) no less. He lulled the Hawk defense to sleep before picking out cutters, initiated in the half-court, and took Mike Bibby (ohfer eight from the floor) right out of the game.
This one was blacked out to me, and I'm not exactly complaining. Reading the other re-caps, it appears as if two teams that haven't played intelligent or altogether dogged basketball all season got together on Tuesday night to play a spirited round of uninspiring ball.
Al Jefferson had 40 points and 10 rebounds, while Jason Richardson shot 5-8 from long range to extend his league-lead in three-pointers to 229 on the year.
So, it wasn't the game of the night. My bad.
A few things to point out before I write this off as an aberration for both teams (no way Utah, especially, and the Hornets play that poorly offensively again).
*Mehmet Okur (22 and 17, zero turnovers) hit a couple of early shots, his frown turned upside down, and he stayed interested and enthused for the entire game. Something to think about, Coach Sloan. Also, Utah's been pretty badass defensively recently.
*The Hornets had just 66 points, which is pretty miserable, but it reminded me of our expectations (or, mine, at least) of this team from last fall.
The team has been slowly improving on offense all year, but if you had asked me last October if I thought it wild and crazy that New Orleans could drop just 66 points (even against an up-and-down defensive team like Utah) in the midst of "a playoff race" (last October, I would have assumed it was for the eighth seed), I wouldn't have thought it out of range. This is a team that has to work to score, in spite of how great they've become.
*Congrats to the Jazz on winning the Northwest. This is a team that could have gotten fat and sassy (I love saying that) after last year's run to the WCF, but improved, got better as the moved along defensively, and were an aesthetically-pleasing watch all year.
No NBA cares less about playing a good game than the Chicago Bulls. No NBA team loathes having to suit up more than the Chicago Bulls. No NBA team hates playing for its coach as much as the Chicago Bulls. Shockingly, no NBA team has come close to being the disappointment that the Chicago Bulls have been this season.
Credit to the Miami Heat for listening to their coach (and, by inverse extension, having a good coach to begin with. Bummer about the GM), while having fun playing a game that can bring a lot of joy even in tough, tough times.
Part of me wants to slough this one off. After all, the Knicks boast actual talent, just mismatched talent, and they've underachieved all season. So, playing against the Pistons bench in Detroit, a win seems about right ... right?
But watching this game, it wasn't hard not to like all the double negatives surrounding Detroit's play. After all, Knick starters Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, and Zach Randolph only played (exactly, I might add) 24 minutes a piece.
Meanwhile, Wilson Chandler played 34 minutes, Jared Jeffries saw 23, and Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince played more than half the game. New York got out to an early lead, and Detroit never forced them to look back.
It's the Pistons and they've been in every Eastern Conference Final since [EDITED FOR CONTENT], but they've also played indifferent ball in each of the last two seasons starting in late March. We have to be dubious. We hope they'll prove us wrong.
I won't slough this one off. Milwaukee was playing its starters against Boston's reserves for most of the game, and should have won in a walk. The lack of thought that went into Milwaukee's play on both ends over the last two quarters plus overtime was galling. It was stupid basketball. And it came on the heels of a first quarter (with the Bucks mostly matching up against the Boston starters) that was among the very finest of their season.
Andrew Bogut (15 points, 15 rebounds, 10 turnovers, five assists, four blocks, two steals) may have finished with the Shawn Kemp Memorial Triple-Double, but a lot of those came off of broken plays where he was asked to bail out his guards. If Bogut greeted each of his teammates with a raised middle finger as it boarded a plane to Toronto on Tuesday night, I would not be surprised.
Here's how bad Memphis' defense is: several times in this game, Amare Stoudemire was going up for what is usually forced to be a runner, a lay-in, or a play that will get him fouled. As Amare rose - and believe me when I tell you this self-actualization was palpable - you could see him realize that "holy crap, I can dunk this instead," right before throwing it down. There are just things the Grizzlies let you do that no other team allows you to.
With Shaquille O'Neal out with a made-up Kung-Fu-related injury that he'll probably blame Steve Nash for when he gets traded to Denver in two years, the Suns let their reserves keep things close for a while, allowing the starters to rest (Phoenix plays the Spurs on Wednesday), before blowing things wide-open in the second half. Gordon Giricek (14 points on nine shots in just 21 minutes) was quite good in a return to the arena he once missed a lot of 21-footers in.
The SuperSonics are getting together. Yeah, it's the second week in April and they've already lost 142 games, but for the first half of this one, Seattle was moving on defense and attacking offensively. Dallas was playing great basketball against a team that might win the lottery next month, and there was nothing they could do to take even a two-possession lead.
Of course, things fell apart in the second half. That's usually the case when you pit a bunch of 21-year olds against a team that Dana Delaney often introduces you to on ABC Sunday afternoons, but it was fun to watch while it lasted.
Jason Terry had a 2004-05 throwback game (22 points on just 11 shots, six assists, zero turnovers), but Dirk is still a little gimpy (having trouble squaring his shoulders) and Josh Howard continues to give a fraction (not telling you which one) of the defensive effort he gave two years ago.
In the midst of a playoff hunt, the Denver Nuggets came out strong against a far less talented team.
Let's see if I can pull this off: what'chu want, a cookie?
OK, the Warriors won, but Kevin Martin scored 29 points in the loss on just nine shots. Nine shots! I can't tell you how much that helps. Getting teams in foul trouble, putting opponents in the penalty, making so that your teammates can get freebies from the line after being hand-checked or mugged on an offensive rebound. Guys like him make close games happen. Hopefully, someday he'll be on a team where he can make big wins happen.
The Warriors were great to watch, the Kings could stop their penetration and Golden State was smart to attack, attack, and attack without relying too much on the three-point attack. That's a relatively speaking attack, I submit, with GSW making 10-24 from long-range; but it could have been worse, and things might have been a little too close for comfort.
Actually, things were too close for comfort, at least for the Oracle Arena crowd. Warrior fans were loving the back and forth action, 272 combined points will do that, but Golden State never put Sacramento away - even when W's coach Don Nelson initiated a too-early bout of garbage time with two minutes left. There was a sense of unease, hard to create considering all the offensive derring-do, but it was there. Still a fun watch, though.
Monta Ellis started off with the all-around game and grew to be a scorer as things moved along: 16 points and seven assists with four rebounds in 33:52. And, I guess, if I mention Monta I have to mention Baron Davis, who nearly doubled his teammate up with 33 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.
Here's how lousy Sacramento is at rebounding: Golden State is pitiful on the glass, and the Warriors still owned a 48-31 advantage. No Brad Miller and Ron Artest in this one, but damn - forwards Mikki Moore and Francisco Garcia combined for two rebounds in 67 minutes.