Sunday, April 19, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. It was a game that symbolized the systemic problems of the Orlando Magic. Sunday they got a stellar 31-point, 16-rebound effort from Dwight Howard, but their other two stars struggled and the team shot a combined 5-for-18 from the line as they blew an 18-point lead against the Sixers and lost 100-98. They were helpless after Howard got poked in the eye and left the game with his team ahead 79-61 in the third quarter. Courtney Lee gave the Magic 18 points, a lot more than they expected from the rookie, but it just wasn't enough. Hedo Turkoglu didn't hit a three-pointer all night and wound up with six points on 2-for-8 shooting. Rashard Lewis scored 15 points, but only three rebounds, three assists and not a single block or steal. Their bench was outscored by a whopping 42-13 margin. Part of that disparity came from Philadelphia's secret weapon. Veteran Donyell Marshall shot 4-for-5 and scored 11 points in 11 minutes, including eight points in the final 4:18, and nailed a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to tie the game. Lou Williams had 18 points, second only to Andre Iguodala, whose game-winning 22-footer with 2.2 to play capped a 20-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist night.

2. Dwight Howard isn't the only superstar from a Florida team that could use a supporting cast. Wade had an off night, scoring just 19 points and turning the ball over eight times, but the rest of the Heat was even worse. The Hawks held them to a season-low in points Sunday during a 90-64 thrashing in Game One of their series. Michael Beasley came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 10 rebounds, but no one else from Miami had double figures in any category as the Heat shot 37 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 50-35. The high-flying Hawks got plenty of looks around the basket, and no one had more of those than Josh Smith, who took advantage to go 9-for-14 from the floor, grab 10 rebounds and score 23 points. He was one of six players in double figures for the Hawks, including all five starters plus Zaza Pachulia, whose size off the bench was key. Pachulia had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Al Horford had 14 points and nine rebounds as the Hawks completely dominated the paint. Jermaine O'Neal, acquired at midseason to bolster Miami's pivot, scored just five points and pulled down only a pair of rebounds. The only good news for the Heat is that it can't get much worse.

3. There aren't many scenarios wherein J.R. Smith can go 0-for-7 from three-point range, Carmelo Anthony scores only 13 points and the Nuggets still win a playoff game. Yet that's precisely what happened Sunday. The difference was all Chauncey Billups. He exploded for eight three-pointers and 36 points overall to turn the game into a 113-84 Denver romp. Smith got hot from close range in the second half as he and Billups combined to score every point in a dazzling 21-0 run that put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter. Smith finished with 19 points, Linas Kleiza 13 and Nene 12 plus 14 rebounds to more than make up for Anthony, who was saddled by foul trouble and, when he was in the game, mostly deferred to Billups. Chris Paul had his hands full as one of three men who tried to guard Billups, but wound up with 21 points and 11 assists, far better production than any other Hornet in a familiar refrain. Peja Stojakovic had but 13 points, while David West went 4-for-16 for only 12 points. Tyson Chandler, who had six points and five rebounds, was clearly outplayed by Nene. Billups probably won't have quite so good a shooting night again in this series, but if Anthony comes back to put up merely his average numbers, the Hornets have quite a task in front of them.

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