Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Fouling is becoming a tricky proposition in the NBA, with flagrants and suspensions handed out if you're too forceful and no-call when you need it if you're not forceful enough. The League Office ruled late Saturday that Antoine Wright use the Mavs' foul to give on Carmelo Anthony with just seconds left in Game 3, meaning Anthony's subsequent game-winning three-pointer should not have counted. Yet Wright can be faulted for stopping before the whistle blew to protest the non-call, allowing Anthony an uncontested look that turned a two-point Denver deficit into a 106-105 lead with 1.1 seconds to go. That margin wound up the final score, allowing the Nuggets a 3-0 lead despite plenty of struggles on Saturday. Denver committed the majority of the 61 fouls committed in a parade to the foul line that made the no-call at game's end a bitter irony for Dallas. Birdman Andersen fouled out early in the fourth quarter, Nene and Carmelo Anthony wound up with five fouls, and Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith all had four. The Nuggets were forced to go small up front, with Anthony as a power forward. It didn't slow his production, as he wound up with 31 points and eight rebounds. Billups was the other force for the Nuggets, scoring 32 on 3-for-7 shooting behind the arc. Yet no one else scored more than Martin's 12 for Denver, including Nene, who struggled through a foul-plagued, 2-for-10, five-point outing after back-to-back 20-point games to begin the series. The Mavericks shot 40 percent from the field but put five players in double figures, including Dirk Nowitzki, put up another stellar performance only to lose once more. He's averaging 32 points and 11.7 rebounds a game in this series after 33 points and 16 boards in Game 3, yet only Saturday did his teammates give him enough support to keep the Mavs competitive. Jason Terry had 17 points and Brandon Bass 16 points and five rebounds. Josh Howard shook off his right ankle injury from Game 2 for 14 points and seven rebounds, but Dallas can only wonder what might have happened if he shot better than 5-for-15 from the floor. The Mavs will have all summer to think about any number of breaks that could have gone their way Saturday.

2. There is no debate: LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet right now. He was two points shy of his career playoff high and two assists shy of a triple double Saturday as the Cavs won 97-82 to beat back their first challenge of the series and take a 3-0 lead over Atlanta. LeBron scored 47 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists the Cavs, who clamped down after the Hawks went ahead 65-64 with 3:45 to play in the third quarter. Cleveland went on a 20-4 run in the next 10 minutes of play, with LeBron scoring 12 of his team's points and the Hawks simply becoming unglued. Zaza Pachulia argued a foul call with the Hawks down by just one point and earned a quick ejection, robbing Atlanta of the inside player it needed with Al Horford hobbled by a gimpy ankle. Horford, who was only supposed to play for short bursts, played from that point in the late third quarter until the final minute, but it hardly mattered who was out there for the Hawks as Cleveland turned it up on both ends of the floor. The Hawks got 21 from Joe Johnson, 18 from Josh Smith and 17 points from Flip Murray, but were murdered on the boards, giving up a 46-23 rebounding advantage to the Cavs. Anderson Varejao had 10 rebounds and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joe Smith added eight apiece, as the only real concern for Cleveland was bench play. Smith, who had seven points, was the only player to score in reserve for what has otherwise been a productive second unit. It's a problem, but one a lot of teams wish was their only one right now.

3. No one really blinked when Dikembe Mutombo went down with a knee injury in Houston's first series against Portland, since no one figured the league's oldest player could have that much of an impact, particularly given his short minutes. Now that Yao Ming has been diagnosed with a broken foot that will keep him out the rest of the postseason, having at least one legitimate center in the rotation would have come in handy. As it is, the Rockets look done, and one wonders whether they're finished for more than just this season. Yao has had his season ended by a broken bone in his foot three out of the last four seasons, and with Tracy McGrady having his season wiped out early by microfracture surgery this year, Houston may need to find players who can simply stay on the court. It's particularly unfortunate in the case of Yao, of whom so much has been expected, and from whom so much has been delivered, at least up until injury strikes. His 7-foot-6 frame just appears too fragile to handle the rigors of the NBA season.

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