Thursday, January 6, 2011

Worst of the Night: January 5, 2011

shaq and timmy
For some reason, this picture makes me feel ancient.

The Cleveland Cavaliers: The Raptors had lost 12 of their last 15 games. The Cavaliers had lost seven in a row and were 1-17 since the end of November. Something had to give, right?

Well, considering how things have been going since The Decision, it should come as no surprise that what gave was the will of every player on Cleveland's roster. The Craptors, playing on the second night of back-to-backs after getting clobbered in Chicago the night before, gave up 38 points in the first quarter and then scored 40 in the second. By games end, Toronto had 120 points on nearly 57 percent shooting. Jose Calderon finished with 17 assists.

In related news, the Cavaliers lost by 15. At home. Make it 1-18 in their last 19 games.

Said Antawn Jamison: "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We need to find a cure soon."

Good luck with that, Antawn, because I've got more bad news for you. Your team -- currently 3-15 outside of Cleveland and in the midst of a 14-game road losing streak -- is going on a five-game road trip through Golden State, Phoenix, L.A. (Lakers), Utah and Denver. As bad as the Warriors and Suns are right now, I still see the Cavs coming home on January 19 having gone 1-23 over their last 24 games.

The Milwaukee Bucks: Stop me if you've heard this before. The Bucks were without Brandon Jennings (broken left foot), Carlos Delfino (concussion symptoms) and Drew Gooden (plantar fasciitis in his left foot). They shot only 39 percent and finished with a mere 87 points. Yet despite the injuries and sloppy offense, Milwaukee played hard and had a chance to win the game...only to come up short.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

You have to wonder how good the Bucks would be this season a) if they could stay healthy and b) if they could hit a f**king shot. Of course, you also have to wonder how differently a 10-point loss would have gone if the Bucks hadn't bricked 17 free throws. Yes, you read that correctly. Milwaukee went 15-for-32 from the foul line.

Said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles: "You have to give our guys credit for hanging in and trying to battle through it. We finally started making some plays, but once you get to that point you have to make every free throw. You feel like you have to make every shot and against a team of their quality it's very difficult to do."

Okay, I get that the Magic are pretty good, but they aren't allowed to defend free throws.

The Washington Wizards Generals: John Wall had 18 points and a career-high 14 assists. That was good. But the Generals allowed the Sixers to shoot a season-high 57 percent from the field. That was bad. And now the Generals are 0-17 on the road.

Said Washington coach Flip Saunders: "We fell behind and lost some of our confidence. We didn't make plays, we didn't make shots. Their guards got in the paint and destroyed us."

Bonus stat: Philly had a 38-18 advantage in free throw attempts.

Lou Williams, quote machine: Regarding their previous two losses to the Generals this season, which came on the road in overtime by a combined three points: "We just decided, it's not happening. Guys really rallied and said, 'Yo, it's still close. Let's go ahead, pull away and win this thing.' We gave them two games and didn't want to do it again."

The San Antonio Spurs: The Team on Pace for 70 Wins has had a rough couple days. One night after giving up a hundred and jillionty points in New York, the Spurs faced the Kevin Garnett-less (and Kendrick Perkins-less, and Delonte West-less) Celtics in Boston. And once again, defense was an issue. Sorry. It was the issue.

To wit: The Celts finished with an Offensive Rating of 115.6 and shot 61 percent from the field. According to STATS LLC, that's the highest shooting percentage for a Spurs opponent since 1988.

What's more, Rajon Rondo had 22 assists, a season-high 6 steals and put on a fourth quarter shooting display that sunk San Antonio's battleship. Oh, and his 12 points and 10 rebounds gave him a triple-double.

And then there was Ray Allen, who scored 31 points on 13-for-16 shooting. I now Ray's a great shooter and all, but c'mon. Hand in the face? Anybody? Bueller?

Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: "If it was practice ... I don't know if anyone in the league would hit 13 out of 16. He does it in a game. I think he's pretty good."

Added Ginobili: "This is a different game than New York. New York, we went out there and they beat us in every single area of the game. Today was different."

Yes, Manu. It was totally different. You "only" lost.

The Boston Celtics: They sure tried to give this game away, didn't they? With 4:55 left, Paul Pierce got tagged with a technical for bitching about a non-call, which allowed the Spurs to tie the score at 90-90. Then, in the closing minutes, Pierce and Nate Robinson turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and then Ray Allen -- one of NBA history's greatest foul shooters -- Shaq-fu'd two freebies with 8.1 seconds left and the Celtics up by only two points. Pierce preserved the victory by blocking Ginobili's three-point attempt at the buzzer...but damn.

Said Dod Rivers: "The fact that we shot 61 percent ... and won by two is a scary number, when you think about it. It took a 61 percent effort from us tonight to win a basketball game at home. That tells you how good that team is."

Or how bad.

The New Orleans Hornets: After three quarters, the Hornets were up 82-72 at home against a struggling Warriors team that was 5-15 on the road and had gone 8-19 since a 6-2 start to the season. Shoulda been a gimmie, right?


Remember: New Orleans can't score but that's pretty much all Golden State can do. So of course the Warriors opened the fourth quarter with a 27-7 run and finished the period having outscored the Hornets 38-21 for a 110-103 win.

That 38-point fourth quarter was the highest total surrendered by the Hornets this season.

Chris Paul, who was scoreless during the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter, said: "That was a bad loss for us."

Keith Smart, coach of the year candidate: "Teams think that all we want to do is run up and down the floor, but in the end we know where our guys have to be in order to score. They did a great job of getting to the spots where we can run our offense the right way."

The Minnesota Timberwolves: Fourth quarter lead lost? Check. Disastrous overtime period in which they turned the ball over five times? Double check. Heartbreaking homecourt loss to a lousy Bobcraps team that was without leading scorers Gerald Wallace (sprained left ankle) and Stephen Jackson (hyperextended left knee)? Triple check.

Kwame f**king Brown, who according to the AP recap had only two double-digit rebounding performances in his previous 66 games, had 12 boards in the first half. Oy.

Said Minny coach Kurt Rambis: "This was a very frustrating game. You could just feel it at the beginning of the ballgame that they didn't come out with the right type of focus and intensity to win a game in the NBA. They weren't ready to play."

Hey, Kurt? Um, whose job is it to get them ready to play? Just askin'.

The Houston Rockets: Kevin Martin scored 45. But the Rockets choked down the stretch and lost at home to the Frail Blazers. They are now three games under .500 with games at Orlando, versus the Jazz, at Boston and versus Oklahoma City on the horizon.

Said Martin: "That was a very bad loss for us. Anything between that is meaningless details."

I agree.

The Utah Jazz: The Mormon Musicians haven't exactly been lighting things up lately. A couple losses to the Frail Blazers. A narrow win versus the Grizzlies. A comeback against the Pistons. And now a blown out at home by the Hawks?

The Dirty Birds went 14-for-25 from beyond the arc, including 5-for-7 shooting by Joe Johnson. I get that Paul Milsap's absence hurt the Jazz...but was The Milman going to be putting hands in the faces of Atlanta's outside shooters? I don't think so. I guess, in retrospect, going with a zone defense against the Hawks last night isn't going to appear on Jerry Sloan's coaching resume any time soon.

Said Deron Williams: "[Milsap being out] definitely hurt. But we've had guys injured in the past. It's not an excuse to come out and get beat by 20 on your home floor. I don't know what you call it, but we don't have it. You can't keep getting down by 15 points in the first half and expect to come back. You can do it every now and then. We've done it a lot in the short season, but you can't rely on it. I don't think any coach in America has a game plan to get down by 15 and come back every game."

Random stat from the AP game notes: The Jazzercisers rank 28th in first-quarter scoring at 23 PPG.

The Chicago Bulls: For starters, here's the game-wining shot:

Now, allow me to quote myself:

I guess we should have seen this coming.

Sure, the Bulls had been winning -- five in a row and 14 of their last 16 games -- but there have been reasons for concern ever since Joakim Noah went down with a thumb injury. There was that loss to the Clippers in Noah's first game on the shelf. Then there were narrow wins against sub-.500 teams (Washington, Detroit, New Jersey and Cleveland) in which the Bulls played poorly but still managed to eke out the victory.

Yes, it's nice to win an ugly game here or there, but the Bulls were playing with fire. And when a team continues to give inferior opposition chances, that team is going to get burned.

That's what happened last night. It’s tempting to shrug off this loss as a case of Sasha Vujacic being at the right place at the right time. But it’s not fair to say the Bulls lost on a fluke play in the final seconds.

No. The Bulls played poorly and deserved to lose. There are numbers to back this up. As I mentioned in my game preview, the Nets are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. They came into the game ranked 27th in Offensive Rating (101.2) and 28th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.7). Against the Bulls — who began the night ranked second in Defensive Rating — New Jersey compiled an O-Rating of 108.7 and an eFG% of 52.6.

What’s more, Chicago gave up 50 points in the paint and got outscored 21-5 on the fast break. And I’ve already discussed how important fast break points are to the team’s success.

It also didn't help that the Bulls missed 10 of their 30 free throw attempts. Worst of all were the two freebies that Luol Deng bricked with 33.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter that could have tied the game. Again, we should have seen this coming. After all, a dirty little secret about the Bulls is that they rank 28th in the league in Free Throw Percentage (70.8). And Deng's FT% is at a career-low 68.8.

Said Deng: "I expect myself to make those free throws. I've been struggling with my free throw shooting this year. But it's something, I got to get on it. I can't be in that position and miss those free throws."

And while we're discussing Chicago's inadequacies against the Nets, we might as well bring up the fact that New Jersey played with more intensity and urgency. Take Kris Humphries. Here's a guy who averages 8.1 PPG but burned the Bulls for 20 points on 10-for-15 shooting of the Nets bench. He also finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, including five offensive boards. Humpries was 3-for-3 on layups and 3-for-3 on dunks.

Watching Humphries fight and scrap around the rim made me really miss Noah. After all, Joakim is Chicago's energy guy. The Bulls could have used his spark last night. Not to mention his interior defense, considering the Nets converted nearly 80 percent of their shots around the rim.

Bad defense. No fast break points. Poor free throw shooting. Lack of intensity. That’s a pretty solid formula for a loss to one of the league's worst teams. And I haven’t even mentioned how Carlos Boozer was benched for the entire fourth quarter. What was up with that?
The Denver Nuggets: Okay. Let me get this straight. The Nuggets shot 37 percent and got outrebounded 57-43 (including 19-10 on the offensive glass) by...

...the Los Angeles Clippers?!

Oh, yeah. It happened all right. Despite 31 points from Carmelo Anthony and the return of Al Harrington. You can expect a big double-double from Blake Griffin (22 points and 18 boards) and scoring from Eric Gordon (28 points and four treys), but the Nuggets probably didn't expect 20 rebounds and 6 blocked shots from DeAndre Jordan. Bad O, Bad D...did Denver do anyting right last night?

Said Nuggets coach George Karl: "We weren't good at either end of the court. Most nights this year, we've had something going, and tonight our defense wasn't good enough and our offense wasn't good enough."

I guess that answers that.

The Phoenix Suns: Same old story, right? The Suns played tough, limiting the Lakers to 99 points on 47 percent shooting. Hey, that's good for Phoenix, okay? But the Suns were just a wee bit too tiny and got outrebounded 47-31, including 14-5 on the offensive glass. Plus they finished with only four fast break points.

The Suns have lost six of their last seven and 10 of 13 overall.

By the way, loved this Tweet by J.A. Adande:

7 or 8 years ago, Kobe vs. T-Mac & Kobe vs. VC on back2back nights would be highlight of season. Now, just makes us all feel old
Update! Vince Carter: Getting his long three-point attempt stuffed by Pau Gasol at the end of the game was pretty much the way I will always remember the post-Toronto Vinsanity. And here's a little extra anti-Vince from Basketbawful reader AhmedF:

You want bawful? Vince Carter.

Since joining the Suns (4 games), he has:
67 FGA
29 FGM (43%)
1 FT (ONE!)
7 TOs

How does your starting shooting guard, in 129 minutes of playing time manage just one free throw? (which makes his 7 TOs look even worse since he is obviously just jump shooting now).

This deserves a special mention of bawfulness.
Alvin Gentry, coach of the year candidate: "We have nothing tangible to show for it, but I think over the long haul, it's going to help us win. ... Last time I checked, they are the world champs. You can talk about them struggling if you want to, but until June rolls around, they're still the world champs."

Phil Jackson, quote machine: Regarding back-to-back wins over sub-.500 teams: "Oh, we're a powerhouse now."

Kobe Bryant, quote machine: "[Ron Artest] has made big shots before when the money is on the line, big money is on the line. I have all the faith in the world in him."

Ron Artest, quote machine: "I still feel like a top-10 player in the NBA, but who cares? It depends on how we feel as a team. I work out a lot and I can take anybody in the post to the hole, get in rhythm and hit big buckets, but that don't really matter. We have a great team, and what matters is that we move together. There will be chances to do what you have to do but there is no need to force it."

Chris's Lacktion Report:

Generals-Sixers: Today is the 40th anniversary of the real Generals' last win...but Trevor Booker closed the chapter for the Association's equivalent with a 54-second Mario.

Spurs-Celtics: Luke Harangody tossed one brick in 4:27 for a celebratory +1.

Warriors-Hornets: Marcus Thornton had a trio of tepidity for the insects tonight: one brick, foul, and giveaway each in 4:20 for a +3.

Frail Blazers-Rockets: Patrick Patterson pounded out a rebound and free throw in 15:32, but also fouled twice and lost the rock once for a 3:2 Voskuhl.

Hawks-Jazz: For the dirty birds, Zaza Pachulia (in 16:40) and Josh Powell (in 8:13) each negated boards (and two points by Powell) with bawful big man play, both earning three fouls on their way to Voskuhl ratios of 5:3 (via two additional giveaways) and 4:3 (via one lost rock) respecticely.

Deseret's instrumentalists did their best to segue into their solos of sucktitude, with Francisco Elson treating the home fans to a 2:1 Voskuhl in 18:13 as starting center, countering a board with a foul and giveaway...and Kyrylo Fesenko finding his way back to the ledger in 12:57 despite going 75% from the stripe and garnering a board, as he fouled four times, bricked twice, and lost the rock once for a 5:4 Voskuhl.

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