This weekend's NBA landscape looks a little like this:
Saturday saw Boston fall to 0-3, losing a shootout (124-117) to Washington. With that kind of score, you'd expect some big individual performances, and here they are: Paul Pierce for 23 (and twelve rebounds; when did he become such a rebounding threat?), Wally World for 33, Bassy Telfair for 24, Caron Butler for 20 (and five steals), Antawn Jamison for 29, Antonio Daniels for 15 off the bench, and Gilbert Arenas for 44, including 15 from behind the arc.
The key was turnovers: Boston turned it over 23 times compared to just ten for the Wizards. That resulted in a +19 points-off-turnovers differential for the Wiz.
Cleveland, coming off a big win in San Antonio, lost in Charlotte. That's called a letdown game if I've ever seen one. LeBron shot just 3-13, though he did contribute with nine rebounds and seven assists. The recap claims that Adam Morrison, of all people, kept Bron-Bron off balance. Morrison, by the way, was hit with his first technical (and almost certainly not his last - he's not a player who hides his emotions) in the game, apparently for using inappropriate language while arguing a call. Big Z turned the ball over seven times for Cleveland, and added a technical foul, and Anderson Varejao fouled out in just 18 minutes off the bench.
Besides the fact that they won, fouls were the story for the Bobcats: starters Gerald Wallace (28 minutes), Emeka Okafor (22), and Jake Voskuhl (15) all fouled out. That's pretty remarkable in a win, but the starting backcourt for the 'Cats carried the team: Ray Felton and Brevin Knight combined for 40 points, 13 assists, three steals, and just four turnovers.
Detroit took care of business at home, beating the Grizz by nine. It's going to be a long couple of months for Memphis without Pau Gasol. Jake Tsakalidis played just 15 minutes in the game, and the only real big guy on the bench is Lawrence Roberts, a 6'9", 240 pound forward. Hakim Warrick and Mike Miller are nice players, but they're not going to carry this team to the playoffs by themselves.
Rip Hamilton was the leading scorer in the game with 24 despite fouling out. Chauncey Billups had a bad shooting night at 1-9, but he had ten assists to just one turnover, and Jason Maxiell, a second-year forward, picked up some of the slack, scoring 13 off the bench.
Five T's were whistled in the game, including one on Rasheed Wallace (you know he's not going to miss out on picking up a tech when that many are given out). Quote of the night comes in response after the game:
I know they're going to have to do something about this crazy zero tolerance law. That's retarded. In my mind, it's kind of like a slave and master or father and son. You've got your little son and [you say] don't say nothing back to me - and to me, that's totally wrong. It ain't like that in any other sport.
"That's retarded"? What are you, 'Sheed, 12?
Indy beat the Knicks by 14 in the Garden, led by Al Harrington's 32 points, which makes Donnie Walsh look like a genius. On the other hand, Marquis Daniels shot 1-5 off the bench, which makes Walsh look like an idiot.
Steve Francis fouled out for the Knicks after 35 minutes of playing time, but led the team with 25 points on just nine shots. Starbury scored just four points by shooting 1-9, turned the ball over six times, and only had one assist. I wonder who was guarding him. Maybe Daniels? Jamaal Tinsley isn't exactly known as a stellar defensive player (though nobody's going to bitch about D when you have 14 assists in a game). Nate Robinson had another nice game off the bench, scoring 13. If he keeps doing that, he'll garner some support for Sixth Man of the Year (and he's not one of those sixth men who's likely to play his way into the starting lineup, either, not with Francis and Marbury ahead of him).
Houston destroyed Dallas in what's being termed a statement game. Dallas fell to 0-2 by getting blown out by 31. Only Dirk had a good scoring night, dropping in 24, but getting to the line just three times and contributing only four rebounds and one assist. Yao Ming dominated for the Rockets, scoring 36 points and hitting all twelve of his free throws.
My two favorite things about Yao's game: his passing and his free throws. Both are rare in big men, and both are unprecedented in big men of Yao's size. Of course, Yao's size by itself is nearly unprecedented. But if we think about guys a few inches above players like Shaq, we're in to Shawn Bradley / Gheorge Muresan / Manute Bol territory. Yao separates himself by actually having skill. And remember, while it seems like he's been around forever and kind of disappointing, he's still just 26 and should have 5-6 more really good years in the league. In case you couldn't tell, Yao's probably my favorite non-Laker in the NBA.
Milwaukee beat Sacramento by 13, mainly by winning the third quarter by 21. The Kings had five players in double digits, but nobody over 18 (John Salmons), and Kevin Martin and Mike Bibby combined to shoot just 9-29, including 2-10 from behind the arc.
All five starters scored in double-digits for the Bucks, with three clocking in at over 20: Charlie Villanueva, 27, who had yet another good game with 11-17 shooting; Michael Redd, 26, who dropped in what seems like a totally-normal-for-him 4-6 from behind the arc; and Andrew Bogut, 21, who shot 7-10. Bogut did have five turnovers, and Mo Williams added six more, but both players contributed anyway: Bogut with his previously mentioned scoring, and Williams with twelve dimes.
Utah beat Golden State in Salt Lake by 24. The Jazz improved to 3-0 with the win, which is pretty remarkable, but really shouldn't surprise anybody who actually looks at their roster: Andrei Kirilenko is an honest-to-god force on the defensive end (three steals and four blocks in this game), Carlos Boozer is a very good all-around power forward (17 points and 14 rebounds), Mehmet Okur, while not the bangingest center in the league, has a lot of skill (21 points on 9-13 shooting, 12 rebounds), and Deron Williams was very highly regarded coming out of Illinois. Plus, there's an interesting quartet of shooters coming off the bench: Matt Harpring (12 points), Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek, and Williams's Illinois teammate Dee Brown.
The Warriors had another miserable shooting night, hitting just 38.4% of their shots. Troy Murphy had another odd game, grabbing exactly zero rebounds. Remember, this is a strong 6'11" power forward. How do you get no rebounds?
Portland beat Minnesota, sending the Wolves to their first loss, as the three-man bench overcame some mediocre games by the starters: Travis Outlaw had 18 points and 15 rebounds, Martell Webster scored 16 on 6-8 shooting, and Juan Dixon added 10, including the go-ahead three with six seconds left. Brandon Roy shot just 4-17 for the Blazers, though he got up to 16 points by getting to the line nine times.
Craig Smith got tossed for the Wolves, picking up a couple of technical fouls.
The Clippers sent the Suns to their third loss of the year, winning 114-108 in the Staples Center. The Suns shot 44% through a mixture of good games and bad ones: Shawn Marion was 11-19 (and 15 rebounds) and Steve Nash was 10-16 (and 13 assists), but Raja Bell, who hasn't gotten untracked at all yet, shot 2-10, and Leandro Barbosa was 4-12 off the bench. Bell also fouled out, along with Kurt Thomas, who contributed 15 points and 12 boards.
Corey Maggette exploded off the bench for L.A., scoring 23 and grabbing 12 rebounds. Shaun Livingston also had a nice game as a reserve, scoring 14 and dishing nine assists. Tim Thomas had 13 rebounds and five assists as the equivalent of a starting center for the Clippers, and Sam Cassell hit all eleven of his free throws to help overcome a poor shooting night (6-15).
The Suns added another player, by the way, picking up Jalen Rose, who had been waived by the Knicks. I'd have to guess this will cut into James Jones's playing time the most, with Marcus Banks perhaps also suffering, since Rose unlikely to replace Raja Bell (too much defensive value), Leandro Barbosa (a far better player at this point), or Amare Stoudemire (positional). In fact, re-thinking this, given the Suns proliferation of guys who can bring the ball up the court (Nash, Diaw, Barbosa, maybe Bell), perhaps Banks is the more superfluous as between Jones and Banks.
Sunday saw five games, led off by San Antonio beating Toronto by nine in Canada. Tim Duncan had his usual good game, with 26 points and nine rebounds, Brent Barry had a remarkable game off the bench, scoring 15 on 5-6 shooting, with his only miss also being his only shot from inside the arc (i.e. he hit 5-5 from three). Even beef jerky magnate Fabricio Oberto got into the act, hitting 5-6 for 12 points.
Chris Bosh had a Kevin Garnett-style game, scoring 19 and grabbing 17 boards, but the inability to keep the Spurs under 50% shooting sunk the Raptors, as they shot just 42%. The rest of the team numbers (rebounds, turnovers, free throws, fouls) are all very close, so the key really was just knocking down shots / stopping the other team. It's should come as real surprise that San Antonio did this better than Toronto.
Atlanta beat Orlando by 13, which is very disappointing to me as a newly adopted Magic fan. Carlos Arroyo had a great game for the Magic, scoring 22 points on 9-9 shooting off the bench, but nobody else was over 14 (that was Grant Hill), and a couple of players were very disappointing: Hedo Turkoglu shot just 1-10, and Dwight Howard had five fouls and five turnovers.
Joe Johnson continued to light it up for the Hawks, scoring 31 on 11-19 shooting. I honestly thought when he signed with the Hawks before last year that he'd be a Phoenix phenomenon, a guy who was vastly overrated by virtue of playing with Steve Nash and the up-tempo Sun system. He continues to prove me wrong with his scoring, and Atlanta has a .667 winning decimal, so he must be doing something right. I'll spoil this, though, and say that Atlanta fans should enjoy the present, because this kind of success shouldn't be counted on to continue throughout the year.
Philly improved to 3-0 by sending Miami to its second loss. Shaq sat out with a knee. Knee injury! Knee injury! Damn you Al Michaels! (Shades of Bill Simmons.) Alonzo Mourning started in his place but played just 15 minutes due to foul trouble (he finished with five). Antoine Walker scored 23 by shooting 6-10 from behind the arc, but Dwyane Wade chose a bad night to have an off game, hitting just nine of his 21 shots and turning the ball over five times (though he did dish eleven assists).
Allen Iverson shot the same 9-21 that Wade did, but also got the line twelve times, so he tallied 31 points in all. Kyle Korver had his second consecutive good game, hitting five of his six treys and finishing with 22 points, second on the team. Andre Igoudala did what he does best by contributing in multiple areas: 20 points, seven boards, five dimes, a steal, and a block. Iverson, it should be noted, also had 13 assists. That Alley-I managed to shoot the ball twenty-one times and still have 13 assists says a couple of things: Iverson is the center, almost the exclusive center, of the Sixer offense (and rightly so); guys were hitting shots when Iverson got them the ball.
A night after its statement game, Houston had a let down, losing to the Hornets by six. NOOK improved to 3-0, matching Philly and Utah as the only undefeated teams (the Lakers, as we'll see in the next note, lost last night). The Hornets won despite getting outrebounded by fifteen. The keys were five different players scoring in double digits, facilitated by Chris Paul's remarkable sixteen assists; five fewer turnovers; a far better rate of turning those turnovers into points (1.333 points per turnover for the Hornets; 0.875 for the Rockets, which is pretty horrible); and a seven-point advantage in shooting percentage, meaning that they made one more field goal despite taking nine fewer shots.
Yao Ming had seventeen and ten, but Tracy McGrady had his second straight mediocre game (5-15 shooting, five turnovers [though also seven assists]), and Shane Battier shot just 5-13 (though he was 5-11 from behind the arc, and added seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals - i.e. "glue guy").
Seattle beat the Lakers by 16, sending L.A. to its first loss. Ray Allen scored 32, Rashard Lewis had 25, and Luke Ridnour added 22. Three guys over 20 points by shooting 11-16 from behind the arc isn't going to get it done for the Lakers. That could be just a hot night shooting for Seattle, but it was probably caused at least in part by too many open looks, particularly for Rashard Lewis, who was 6-10 from three by himself. (Is it me, or were there a lot of huge three-point shooting nights over the weekend? Brent Barry, Lewis, Battier, 'Toine, ...)
Everybody got into the game for L.A., as they entered the fourth quarter trailing by 23. Even Shammond Williams got to play three minutes (and missed his only shot, a three). Kobe Bryant picked up five fouls and didn't shoot great (4-10), but it looks like he was playing the facilitator last night (nine assists to his ten shots), perhaps because of the foul trouble, or perhaps because his knee didn't feel explosive enough.
Lamar Odom only took six shots as well, and when you've got Odom and Kobe taking a combined 16 shots, that means a lot more attempts for guys like Smush Parker, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Jordan Farmar, and Vlad Rad. Now, I like all those guys. I think most of them are legitimately good players. But they're good players at what they do. Walton's good at creating things for other players and being a general nuisance on the offensive end (backing down a smaller player for a layup, hitting a backdoor cutter for an easy two, etc.). Bynum and Farmar (who combined for 10-11 shooting, actually) are still learning. Cook and Vlad are good shooters, but they need the ball in wide open spots. When they're shooting a combined 17 times, you have to guess that quite a few of those aren't wide open.