Friday, May 15, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. No one gets up off the mat quite like these Houston Rockets. And no one has more egregious lapses than the Lakers. The Rockets responded to a 40-point blowout in Game 5 by evening up their Western Conference Semifinals at 3-3 Thursday with a wire-to-wire 95-80 victory over L.A. It's the second time in three outings the Lakers have trailed the entire game after holding a lead at some point in every game all season. The Rockets ran out to a 21-3 lead, and kept the Lakers at arm's length the rest of the way. L.A. came within two points in the third quarter after Houston started 1-for-7 coming out of the half, but Carl Landry converted a three-point play to re-energize the Rockets, whose lead was back to nine by the end of the period. Landry was a catalyst off the bench with 15 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting and nine rebounds, helping the depleted Houston front line dominate in an area where the Lakers are supposed to have an advantage. Luis Scola had 24 points and 12 rebounds while Pau Gasol had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Andrew Bynum went scoreless with seven rebounds in 19 minutes, and Lamar Odom had eight points and 14 rebounds off the bench. The lack of production from the L.A. post players represented more yeoman's defensive work from 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes, who once more started at center. It was the even smaller Aaron Brooks who carried the day for the Rockets, going 8-for-13 from the floor and nailing three of four attempts from behind the arc for a team-high 26 points. His production has been the barometer for the Rockets all series, as he's scored 19 points or better in three wins and 14 or fewer in three losses. It's his hot shooting and ability to penetrate that allows Houston to shoot high percentages, as they did Thursday with their 51 percent showing from the floor on Thursday, and negate the offensive production of Kobe. The Rockets defense kept Kobe relatively in check as well, as he scored 32 points, but took 27 shots to get there, and the rest of the Lakers struggled to get going on a 36 percent shooting night. The lone bright spot was the play of Jordan Farmar, who has been reinvigorated since starting for the suspended Derek Fisher in Game 3. Farmar was one of just three double figure scorers for L.A. with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, while Fisher struggled to 1-for-7 shooting for two points. Don't be surprised to see Farmar inserted back into the starting lineup for Game 7. The Lakers can use any spark they can get right now.

2. Point taken from Dwight Howard. The Magic fed their superstar big man early, and he wound up with 23 points on 16 shots in Game 6 Thursday instead of the 12 points on 10 shots he had in Game 5. Yet the Magic kept going to a hot hand whose success is just as critical, giving Rashard Lewis 18 shots for 20 points in an 83-75 Orlando victory that evens the Eastern Conference Semifinal series at 3-3. Lewis has been able to exploit the mismatch he has with Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine on the offensive end the entire series, so he continues to get the looks, and together with the involvement of Howard, who yanked down 22 rebounds, the Magic controlled the interior. The inside production was critical, because Hedo Turkoglu returned to his cold-shooting ways after an 18-point Game 5, struggling through a 3-for-13, seven-point performance Thursday. The starting backcourt of J.J. Redick, who was 0-for-7 for two points, and Rafer Alston struggled as well, until Alston nailed a go-ahead three-pointer with 4:01 left and sank a tear drop with 1:52 to go to finish with 11 points and give the Magic a three-point lead. Turkoglu followed with his lone highlight, a dagger of a trey that put Orlando up six with 1:23 to go. The Magic nonetheless wound up with just 37 percent shooting, enough only because Boston committed 22 turnovers to just 10 for Orlando. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins were the major culprit for the Celtics, giving away the ball five times each despite major production in other areas. Rondo went for 19 points, a team-high 16 rebounds and six assists while Perkins had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Paul Pierce scored 17 points and had nine rebounds, but the rest of the team struggled, and in particular Ray Allen, who was without his shot for the second straight game, going just 2-for-11 for five points. The Celtics need Allen to find some way to contribute in Game 7, just like the Magic need more out of their shooters. Orlando may insert Mickael Pietrus for Redick, while Boston's reserves will be asked to get it done off the bench, just as they did in Game 7 against Chicago.

3. Commissioner David Stern held court Thursday in Houston before Game 6 between the Rockets and Lakers, and it appears he, too, has concerns the right calls aren't always being made by the officials. He reiterated his desire for 100 percent accuracy, and said he'd be in favor of expanding the replay system to include a coach's challenge system like the one the NFL has. It's unclear whether such a system would have allowed Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to challenge the non-call on Antoine Wright that led to Carmelo Anthony's game-winner in the Mavs-Nuggets series, but it's clear the league must move in that direction. The spectre of the Tim Donaghy scandal still looms over the league and its officials, who continue to be perceived as, at best, incompetent, and at worst, criminally so. Any effort to make the outcome of games as clear and indisputable as possible is the correct one for the NBA right now, as is the further definition of flagrant and technical fouls. Stern said he won't loosen the reigns on the league's penalties for such transgressions, but the man who metes out most of the punishment, Stu Jackson, is open to more communication about just what the rules are. Players, coaches, fans and apparently officials could all benefit from greater clarity, as the ejections, suspensions and spectre of suspensions stemming from the violation of these loosely defined rules have been major stories in the playoffs. Stern draw the line wherever he wants, but he has to tell everyone where it is first.

4. A special note here to pass along the news that the NBA has lost another of its most intriguing figures to cancer. Wayman Tisdale, who provided size and offense off the bench for Indiana and Phoenix and was a 20-point scorer for Sacramento in the 1980s and '90s, died Friday morning at the age of 44. Tisdale was a force in college ball at Oklahoma, and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and after his 12 years in the NBA recorded eight albums, achieving a second fame as a jazz bass guitarist. A bone cancer diagnosis led to the amputation of his right leg in 2008, and disease continued to consume Tisdale. He received an award from the Greenwood Cultural Center in his native Tulsa, Okla., but appeared at the ceremony 30 pounds lighter than usual and in a wheelchair after battling acute esophagitis, which kept him from swallowing. He nonetheless had a 21-date concert tour scheduled for this spring and summer. His death comes on the heels of Chuck Daly's passing this weekend. Let's hope this is the last such news for awhile.

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