Monday, March 2, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Nuggets giveth in a win Friday over the Lakers, and Sunday at Indiana, they gaveth away. Chauncey Billups was there with 27 points, seven assists and four steals, and Nene had a nice 12-point, 10-rebound night, but no one else bothered to show up as Denver went east for a quick Midwestern road trip. Carmelo Anthony needed 24 shots to make 20 points, and Kenyon Martin was 3-for-10 for eight points in the 100-94 loss. The bench went a collective 7-for-25 as the Nuggets shot a collective 36 percent. That still might have been enough if the defense had been able to hold Jarrett Jack, Troy Murphy and Marquis Daniels to the more pedestrian performances to which they are accustomed. Jack had 28 points, Murphy 22 points and a whopping 18 rebounds, and Daniels 19 points and six rebounds. Then veteran Jeff Foster came off the bench and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. The Nuggets can't allow this type of performance against an inferior opponent if they're going to wind up with the third seed in the West.

2. The Rockets, a game behind Denver right now, might jump up and grab that third spot instead. They're 6-1 without Tracy McGrady, and 5-1 since dealing away Rafer Alston. Rick Adelman shortened the bench in a 105-94 win Sunday over the Wolves, and the eight guys (seven if you consider Von Wafer played only nine minutes while everyone else went at least 25) looked like they fit together. Ron Artest, replacing McGrady at shooting guard, led the way with 23 points, while Alston's replacement Brooks had 22 points and 10 assists. Yao Ming and Luis Scola had 11 rebounds apiece and famous statistical anomaly Shane Battier was the only one amongst Houston's top seven who failed to shoot at least 50 percent and score in double figures. Yes, it was in Minnesota, an easy place to get a win. But it was a glimpse of the rotation the Rockets will probably use in the playoffs.

3. Short benches were the theme Sunday in Atlanta, too, but it was hardly by design. The Hawks, who have perhaps the greatest dropoff from starters to reserves in the league, met the Cavs, who are see-through thin in the post without Ben Wallace. Both teams used only eight players, and although it was Atlanta's bench that stepped up, Cleveland came away with a one-point victory. The Cavs got only six points off the bench, all from J.J. Hickson, but Mo Williams and LeBron James saved the day. Williams hit a three-pointer with 47 seconds left to tie the game, and then James drove the lane, drew the foul on Al Horford, and hit a free throw with 1.6 seconds on the clock to win it, 88-87. Those two were there all night, James with 26 points and 11 assists, Williams with 20 points, to power the undermanned Cavs. The Hawks got 14 points from Flip Murray and 11 points and eight rebounds from Zaza Pachulia, but couldn't overcome a pedestrian performance by everyone else except Joe Johnson, who had 21 points. Johnson could have been the hero if the decent look he got on the game's last play went in, but his 18-foot shot was just a bit too long.

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