Sunday, April 26, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. It wasn't going to happen every night for Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets difference-making point guard failed to score 30 points, unlike in Games 1 and 2, and committed his first two turnovers of the series in a 95-93 loss Saturday to the Hornets in Game 3. Billups shot just 3-for-10 from the field, but didn't exactly have a poor afternoon, scoring 16 and adding seven rebounds and six assists. Carmelo Anthony wound up with 25 points and eight rebounds on a night when the Nuggets were solid but not spectacular as they had been. That allowed the role players for the Hornets, the sort of guys for whom home court always seems to make a difference, to push New Orleans to victory. Sean Marks had a surprising eight-point, six-rebound afternoon, and Rasual Butler canned three of his four shots from behind the arc to power a 17-point, five rebound performance. James Posey put up 13 points and nine rebounds and some nagging defense, and David West put up his customary 19 points and nine rebounds. It was all in support of Chris Paul, who was once more brilliant with 32 points and 12 assists. Getting help for Paul is critical for the Hornets, especially as they continue to endure the struggles of Peja Stojakovic, who went 1-for-9 for four points. Stojakovic's ill-advised three-point attempt with 34 seconds to go left the door open for the late-charging Nuggets. Carmelo Anthony scored seven points in a minute and a half and assisted on a J.R. Smith three-pointer as Denver closed from down 11 to within three points. They got within one with 25 seconds to play, but Anthony wound up with just an off-balance shot with four seconds left and a half-court three-pointer as time expired, neither of which went in the basket.

2. Maybe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker should get into doubles tennis. They'd find the sort of two-man game they were playing Saturday is a lot more effective in that sport than it was on the basketball court in Game 4 against the Mavericks. Parker tied George Gervin's 1978 postseason team record for most points in a half with 31 and wound up with 43 points, while Duncan had 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The rest of the team scored only 22 points in a 99-90 loss that pushes San Antonio to the cusp of elimination. Gregg Popovich's insertion of Bruce Bowen into the starting lineup to replace Roger Mason provided little spark either offensively, where Bowen scored five points and Mason was scoreless in 17 minutes off the bench, or defensively, where Josh Howard got to the hoop consistently for 28 points. The Mavericks won for the second straight time without Dirk Nowitzki as their leading scorer, getting a throwback 17-point, seven assist and seven-rebound performance from Jason Kidd. Nowitzki had only 12 points, but grabbed 13 rebounds, key to a 49-35 advantage for Dallas on the boards. The Spurs outshot the Mavs 44 percent to 38 percent, but the extra possessions thanks to the rebounding edge, and the bench, which outscored San Antonio's 23-10, made up for it. It won't be easy against a team known for its toughness over the years, but the Mavs now have three chances keep the Spurs from the second round for the first time in 11 years.

3. There was no way Kobe was letting the Jazz off the hook the way he did in Game 3. He followed up a 5-for-24 shooting night with a 16-for-24 explosion for 38 points Saturday, as the Lakers stretched a seven-point halftime lead to 19 by the end of the third quarter in a 108-94 victory in Game 4. L.A. turned a rebounding deficit from Thursday into a 46-39 advantage thanks in large part to the 15 boards that Lamar Odom gave them in a return to the starting lineup. Andrew Bynum's disconcerting Game 3 performance led to his benching and sparing use Saturday, as he scored two points and committed two fouls in just seven minutes. He was hardly needed, however, as so many other Laker weapons were sharp on a 52-percent shooting night. Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Shannon Brown came off the bench for 10 points, and Sasha Vujacic canned three treys for nine points. Deron Williams had 23 points and 13 assists in a gutsy 46-minute outing, and Carlos Boozer put up 23 points and 16 rebounds, but it was not enough for Utah to keep pace with hot-shooting L.A. Mehmet Okur returned from a hamstring injury but struggled, going scoreless in just 13 minutes. Add his inability to contribute in the playoffs to the long list of injuries that completely derailed the Utah season, which appears headed for its conclusion Monday in Game 5.

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