Friday, March 20, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Portland was without LaMarcus Aldridge, out with a concussion, and Nicolas Batum, who has a sprained left ankle, rendering its usually stellar bench thin Thursday at Cleveland. It mattered little as Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw powered the Blazers to overtime against the league's best team, despite only two turnovers by the Cavs, which tied an all-time low. Outlaw had 11 of his 17 and Roy nine of his team-leading 24 in the fourth quarter, and Roy got an unexpected assist when LeBron James lept high in the air on Roy's head-fake with three seconds to go, resulting in a foul that sent him to the line for the tying free throws. LeBron missed a runner that would have won it on the other end, but set about for his atonement in overtime. His stamp was all over the extra period, as he either scored or assisted on every Cavalier basket as Cleveland pulled away for a 97-92 win. LeBron wound up with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, his seventh triple-double of the season and 24th of his career.

2. The Hawks had a textbook performance Thursday as they finished off a 7-0 homestand with a win over the Mavs. Joe Johnson led the way with 24 points and seven rebounds, while the rest of the offense was balanced amongst their top six, all of whom scored in double figures. Flip Murray had 19 points in a sixth-man role, and Zaza Pachulia filled in the gaps during 18 minutes of play, but no one else got significant run for Atlanta, which has had little depth all season. Still, it was enough for a 95-87 victory over Dallas, which was without Erick Dampier, sidelined with a swollen left knee. The game was a demonstration of the disparity that still exists between the Eastern and Western conferences. Atlanta, which now has a record of 41-28, has a four-game lead over the closest competitor for fourth place. Dallas has the same record but is holding on to eighth place by three and a half games over Phoenix. The Eastern Conference, like the Hawks, has some real talent in its first tier, but little behind it.

3. The Lakers are embarking on a seven-game road trip with some serious concerns. Defensive lapses continue to plague the team, and after blowing leads of 15 and 14 points in their last two games, they were in a tougher-than-expected fight against the Warriors on Thursday in their final home game before the trek. L.A. committed 22 turnovers and got caught up a bit in Golden State's frenetic style. Still, the Lakers persevered, as cold-shooting Sasha Vujacic broke out of a slump to go 4-for-4 and Lamar Odom provided some unusually clutch play. Odom's layup with 1:47 to go pushed a three-point lead to five, and he assisted on a huge 3-pointer by Trevor Ariza that doubled another three-point lead with 1:14 left. Odom then hit two free throws in the final minute that sealed a 114-106 win.

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