I can't tell who's flopping either.

The Phoenix Suns: Sometimes it's amazing how quickly a game can slip away from a team, and last night was Phoenix's turn to lose their grip on a game they'd been very competitive in. Trailing by only two points with under four minutes to go apparently Phoenix decided that would be a good time to let the Magic go on an 8-0 run, and unfortunately for them that put the game out of reach. After all, it's pretty tough to overcome a 10 point lead with less than two minutes to play in a game, and so what had been a 95-93 lead for the Magic turned into a 111-99 win for Orlando. What was the thing that sparked the Magic to the win? Well it all started with...

Shaquille O'Neal: The Big Diesel has really been playing great lately, looking like he'd turned the clock back five years or more; and last night was a pretty good effort as well, considering he was matched up against The Other Man of Steel (or maybe The Man of Steal, for stealing Shaq's Superman nickname? I dunno, I'll leave that up to you), Dwight Howard. Shaq finished with 19 & 11 and held Howard to 21 & 8. So why is he mentioned here? For a couple reasons. First, I don't know if all the scoring and minutes lately have worn him out, but Shaq really ran out of gas down the stretch in this one, making only two field goals over the last 18 minutes (one of which was a mostly uncontested dunk after the game was basically over). Now, when that happens you might think it's cause he was getting fouled and sent to the line a lot, but no, Shaq only had three free throw attempts on the night. Maybe The New Superman just wore him out? Anyway, the other reason Shaq gets a mention here is because he sort of was the reason the Magic went on that late run. His foul on Dwight Howard with 3:38 to go in the game and his subsequent technical for arguing the call suddenly put his team in a five point hole, which became eight with the next Magic trip down the floor. When you're trailing late on the road, that's a poor time to start whining about a rather obvious foul call. Then again, maybe he had a legit gripe...

Home cookin': Orlando had 38 free throw attempts compared to only 17 for the Suns. Mmm... you smell that? I'm just sayin'.

The Orlando fans: Booing Grant Hill? Really? You think he was faking all those injuries he had while he was a member of the Magic? You think he missed the prime of his career just cause he was lazy or something? You must have him confused with one of his former Orlando teammates: Knee-Mac.

The Chicago Bulls: While one might be tempted to give the Bulls a pass because they had a couple key players out with injuries (Luol Deng and Tim Thomas), keep in mind that the Bobcat team that beat them by 16 points has their own collection of walking wounded, with Raja Bell sporting an injured bicep, Gerald Wallace playing through hits to his previously cracked ribs, and Emeka Okafor and Raymond Felton playing on gimpy ankles. Maybe the difference is that the Bobcats lately seem like they're playing with a purpose, like they've got a goal in mind, while Chicago continues to be in a confused state of flux. Vinny Del Negro had this fantastic insight after the game: "I didn't like our effort. I didn't like our turnovers." I'd say that's about an 8 on the Dull Negrometer:

Raymond Felton, humility machine: Said Felton after the game, "We've got a lot of tough guys on this team. Raja, Gerald Wallace, that says a lot. I commend those guys, but I'm the same way." What a nice complement, Raymond. For yourself, I mean.

The Denver Nuggets: It was one of those games where you could blame the loss on a guy who didn't even play (ironically for Detroit you could credit the win to a guy who didn't play for them either, but more on that in a minute). Denver was playing without star Carmelo Anthony, who the team suspended for last night's game in Detroit for refusing to come out of the game on Sunday against Indiana when coach George Karl tried to sub him out. With Carmelo out of the starting lineup that opened the door for...

Linas Kleiza: Let's just say last night wasn't exactly his Wally Pipp moment. Presented with the starters' spot and starters' minutes, Kleiza made the least of them, going 1-4 for 2 points in 26 minutes of play. Oh well, at least Carmelo's starting job is safe. Kleiza's disappearing act at the small forward spot might not have been so bad if Denver's other starting forward had shown up to cover for him, but that didn't happen. Speaking of which...

Kenyon Martin: Neck Lips went for 6 whole points in 33 minutes, and he got 3 whole rebounds too! Maybe he was protesting the Carmelo suspension by mentally taking the game off?

Allen Iverson: AI missed his third straight game with a back injury. Detroit won its third straight game without him. Coincidence? I think not. Detroit's starting five all were fantastic, with each player scoring at least 16 points, and with all of them showing the kind of cohesive play that has earned them six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Wins over Orlando, Boston and now Denver w/o AI are not making the case for Iverson's importance to the team. When Iverson returns from his injury he reportedly will be coming off the bench, and that's probably a good thing, cause lord knows their bench could use some scoring, as evidenced last night by...

Kwame Brown, Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson & Walter Herrmann: Detroit's starting unit was great last night, but their bench only had 7 total points, and all of them came from Will Bynum as the only second string backcourt player. Detroit's entire bench frontline scored a grand total of zero points in 37 combined minutes. That's some serious lacktivity.

The Minnesota Timberwolves: You know, when Nellieball is clicking it's pretty damn tough to stop. Just ask Minnesota who went into the half last night down 66-37. At home. You know a game had a lot of garbage time when one team has five players off the bench who got more than 20 minutes of playing time. There's not a whole lot to say here so I'll let Kevin McHale do it for me: "That's as bad as you can play and there's no excuses for that. That's my fault. The guys weren't ready to play and that falls on me. We didn't get back. We didn't defend. We didn't do anything." No argument here. I'm guessing it's games like this one that made the Timberwolves decide to offer tickets for as low as $5 a game next season.

The Milwaukee Bucks: Honestly it's tough to get too down on these guys considering they're missing Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, but when you're sitting in the 8th seed and you're playing the team that's sitting in the 9th seed and it's a home game, that's a game you've got to win. That goes double when you're playing the Nets on a night where Devin Harris and Vince Carter combine to shoot 8-34 from the field and the starting SF/PF combo (Trenton Hassell & Yi Jianlian) combine for 6 total points. And while I'm in the advice-giving mood, you probably want to put a body on rookie center Brook Lopez (24 pts, 12 boards). Just FYI.

The Pacers-Kings game: Since the last time I did one of these I got an earful from Ziller for calling out Kevin Martin's scoring efficiency, and since Mr. Bawful is a big Pacers fan I'll just say this: both teams played hard. I should probably also point out that Troy Murphy had another great game with 23 points on 12 shots, along with 10 boards, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a partridge in a pear tree. Take that, David Lee fans!

Tracy McGrady: It's tough to say who's making a stronger case for Least Valuable Player right now (at least for players making more than $20m/season): Knee-Mac or Allen Iverson . Since Knee-Mac quit hemming and hawing and just hung it up for the season the Rockets have been unleashed. After beating Toronto last night the Rockets are now 8-1 since McGrady quit on them had season ending surgery, and are quickly climbing up the playoff seedings in the West, now ranked 3rd behind San Antonio and the Lakers. What a sad commentary it would be on McGrady's legacy if the first time a team he's on gets out of the first round of the playoffs they do so with him unable to play due to an injury.

Rudy Gay: Not only did he have one shot blocked and one shot stripped by Josh Powell, he also had two shots blocked by DJ Mbenga. That's a lot of ego-ectomies by the end of the Laker bench for one night:

Phil Jackson: Last night he gave further credence to my theory that he tends to play the Laker bench a lot of extended minutes in games that are still in doubt when the Lakers play a team he thinks they should beat. Against Memphis last night, even though the game was fairly closely contested for much of it, he decided to go with a 10 man rotation and didn't play anyone less than 18 minutes (nor did he play anyone more than 30 minutes). Then again he does have 9 championships as a coach, so maybe he knows what he's doing. The Lakers did win the game after all.

Kobe Bryant: After hearing that former teammate Chris Mihm had yet another season-ending ankle surgery yesterday, Kobe sent Chris a text saying "Sorry bout ur ankle. Good thing we traded u when we did, huh?"

Lacktion report: Chris is to lacktion what Bill Laimbeer is to being an evil bastard.

Nuggets-Pistons: With the Not-Answer firmly chained to the infirmary, former #1 overall draft pick Kwame Brown got to experience the thrill of being a human victory cigar for Detroit, fouling once for a suck differential +1 in 6:30 which also resulted in a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl. Amir Johnson decided to make himself fit in with the rest of Oakland County with a 2.3 trillion!

Warriors-Wolves: Don Nelson decided to change it up a bit, actually calling on Jermareo Davidson to play contributory basketball. Thus Rob Kurz was selected as the designated lacktator for Oaktown's team, bricking twice for +2 in 1:53 at the Target Center.

Rockets-Raptors: Some things in life are constants - Bill Simmons being a homer, Vin Baker looking at his child support statements, and...Jake Voskuhl living down to lacktivity. Despite a blocked shot in his 5:59 of fail, he again generated his namesake stat, a 2:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl via one foul and one giveaway against a brick.

Grizzlies-Lakers: Greg Buckner did block a shot and even bothered to pilfer the rock from the residents of Staples Center in his 6:48 on the floor. But a brick from downtown led to a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl via foul.
About the author: Wild Yams is a frequent reader of Basketbawful and many other basketball blogs, and is just as much a pain in the ass here as he is on those other sites. Like LeBron James, he likes to refer to himself in the third person, but unlike LeBron James, he has not mastered the crab dribble.

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Blogger The Dude Abides said...
It's pretty obvious that Phil realizes that:

1) if the Lakers are going to achieve home-court advantage and have something left in the tank for the playoffs, then Mbenga has to be able to ease Gasol's burden in terms of minutes played

2) Mbenga >> Mihm...by a huge margin

It's obvious that the guy has worked really hard at his game, and the more meaningful minutes he plays, the more he will improve. He's never really played significant minutes before, but the sequence where he trailed Rudy Gay on the pick and roll, caught up to him and blocked his running bank shot, then caught the ball on the secondary fast break and swished an 18-footer, is something that poor Chris Mihm is incapable of doing.

The more the other Lakers play together with Mbenga, the more they'll see what he's capable of and what he's not capable of doing, and the more effective he will be. Yes, it was against the Griz, but Rudy Gay ain't chopped liver.

Blogger Jundi said...
not sure if this is the type of stuff that gets u into the wotn but i am sure u guys will find this interesting .. i heard it on the radio today coming into work ..

so apparently shawn marion thinks blu-rays are too expensive .. this guy makes how much million a year??


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Orlando fans boo Hill for bolting for Phoenix after he said he will resign with the Magic 2 seasons ago. Also noted he wanted to play for a "contender".
Karma is a bitch sometimes.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was going to comment about the reason Magic fans boo Grant Hill being because he left for Phoenix.

But I still think magic fans (I'm a big one) are being douches about it. Hill didn't owe the Magic anything, yea he was pretty much injured for 6 years and the team expected more out of him, but it's not Grant's fault. His contract was up, he could go anywhere he wanted, and he decided to go somewhere else to get a fresh start. I just don't understand why some magic fans feel like he owed us a couple years with a minimum contract. Guys get hurt, and it's not their fault (usually, Monta...), and you can't blame them for it.

Blogger Wild Yams said...
The Dude Abides - I added DJ Mbenga's highlights from last night's game so people can see what you were talking about. Also, you're right that Phil definitely has long-term goals in mind with the way he controls the rotations in games like last night's. Still, it does carry the risk that the Lakers could get burned here and there and drop a game or two to teams they really have no business losing to.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I honestly think that Iverson's game is starting to go down since he was first on the Sixers. The money i believe has taken his eyes of the true prize and enjoying the game.

Blogger chris said...
Knee-Mac getting hurt, folloewed by that 8-1 run...reminds me of how the Lakers went on that epic winning streak in '72 after Elgin Baylor retired.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Orlando fans were VERY supportive of Grant Hill the whole time he was injured. I understand the desire to play for a championship, but I think joining a team that is already built for a championship is way overrated. It's tougher, and therefore a lot more meaningful to stick with a tough situation and HELP turn it around then to piggyback a championship after someone else did the hard work. We boo Grant Hill because he took Orlando's $100 million, he took all the suuport we gave him during the injuries, and then he left us when we were down. It seems to us like there should be some obligation for him to reciprocate, and help the franchise when it is down, rather than run off and chase a championship with a team that was already in the conference championship. It's not like he would have been playing for free in Orlando.

Blogger Viscant said...
Right now the Lakers 2nd unit is undergoing a serious struggle. They're as responsible as the starters for the disasters that just happened in Phoenix and Denver.

So early on Phil decided that this game was well in hand so he decided to give the bench guys a chance to grind through it and hopefully get something going. Phil usually lets Kobe play the whole 1st quarter unless fouls become a problem. Last night while Kobe couldn't miss in the 1st (4-4, 11 points) and went on a little scoring run by himself to put the Lakers up 15, Phil IMMEDIATELY took Kobe and the rest of the starters off the floor.

Side note: We all know that there's no gambling in the NBA, but it stands to mention. The spread last night was 15.5. Every time the Lakers were holding a double digit lead and looking to extend it, Phil would do something wacky substitution wise. I'm 100% convinced that if the Lakers had extended it to 20 or so with 4 minutes left, Phil would have taken out DJ Mbenga and told Adam Morrison to play center or something.
One game doesn't prove anything, and yes, the Lakers by virtue of having the #1 record in the NBA very often have massive double digit spreads in their games. But it seems like Phil goes out of his way to not cover the spread in games like this.

Then again, we all know there's no gambling in the NBA.

Blogger Wild Yams said...
Viscant, you really think Phil Jackson is worried about the spread in these games? The guy gets paid over $10m per year to coach, I doubt he needs the money so bad that he'd bet on the other team and take the spread (thus risking a lifetime ban from basketball and a permanent tarnishing of his legacy and reputation). In any event, I think your theory is flawed, especially in this instance, just based on his substitution pattern at the end of the game. With the subs in the Lakers extended their 4th quarter lead up to 21 with about 7:45 left in the game. Phil made no substitutions after that for the next three minutes, when he subbed in Gasol for Mbenga after the Grizzlies had trimmed the lead to 11. If Phil was looking to make sure the lead never got back above 15, why would he take out Mbenga for Gasol like that?

Also, Adam Morrison couldn't have been inserted for Mbenga because Adam Morrison was on the bench in street clothes in favor of Sun Yue (who got a DNP-CD). Speaking of Sun, if Phil really wanted to trim the lead, how come he didn't put Sun or Shannon Brown in once the Lakers stretched the lead to 21?

There's obviously gambling in the NBA, but I think with the amount of money that the coaches and players (the ones who can really make a difference, anyway) are getting paid, it's pretty ridiculous to assume there is point shaving going on. The much more likely reason for Phil's substitutions is what The Dude Abides said it was: just trying to keep all the role players ready for what lies ahead. I don't disagree that this is what Phil Jackson was doing, I just wanted to point out that occasionally it can backfire if the other team is allowed to stay close all game and gain confidence in their shots.

Blogger chris said...
WY: At the same time, Jackson's bench strategery can also work as a form of intimidation, if you put in your human victory cigar midway through the second quarter!

Blogger Unknown said...
About the letter that Kobe sent to Mihm, I thought he put Luke's name at the bottom.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Honestly, as an Orlando fan, I can speak for all of us when I say Grant Hill can go fuck a desert duck.

We paid him 93 million dollars and supported him for 7 years. His first healthy season? He bolts.

And get this. He bought a house in PHX for $5 mil... when his contract there paid him $3 mil a year. THAT'S OUR MONEY.

So yeah, I'll be classy around him when he shows some class himself.

Although it helps that his house is probably now worth $100,000 and that we got farther in the playoffs last year than his "championship contender" did.

Blogger Viscant said...
As someone who bets on sports and someone who watches a lot of Lakers games, it's just something I've noticed. As it stands right now, the Lakers are 9-16 against the spread in games where they're favored by double digits and a couple of those were miracle covers by the back end of the bench. In the gambling community it's been a running gag for awhile that the Lakers are somehow shaving and games like last night don't help their reputation any. It's not to the point where people are actually monitoring it seriously, but it's one of those "everybody knows" things about the NBA.

You can look at it a few ways. Phil looking to get his bench more minutes to play themselves out of their funk. Phil not respecting the opposition enough to push Kobe/Pau. The Lakers playing down to their opposition. All of these have merit and some basis in reality.

But the numbers are getting interesting. Next game the Lakers will have Minnesota minus their best player at home. They'll probably be favored by 15 again. It'll be interesting to see who's playing in the 4th quarter with the Lakers up 10 or so.

Blogger Clifton said...
@ Yams: "Also, you're right that Phil definitely has long-term goals in mind with the way he controls the rotations in games like last night's. Still, it does carry the risk that the Lakers could get burned here and there and drop a game or two to teams they really have no business losing to."

Woe betide the team that lulls itself into thinking it's so much better than everyone else that it can just flip the switch and turn it on only when they need to. See also: '93-'94 Sonics, etc.

Blogger Andrei said...
So here's the recap from Denver's Sunday game against Indiana from this very site:

"The Denver Nuggets: Okay, so let me get this straight. They followed up their hope-lifting win over the Lakers with a gut-wrenching loss to the Danny Granger-less Pacers? Uh...wow? Troy Murphy (22 points, 18 rebounds) went wild on them, and Jarret Jack (28 points, 7-for-14, 8 assists) outplayed Chauncey Billups. Oh, and it took Carmelo Anthony 24 shots to score 20 points.

Note the 24 shots for 20 points for Carmelo. This was of course followed by him getting suspended against the Pistons due to refusing to come out of the game against the Pacers. His explanation for this insubordination....he had a hot hand. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3952603

Blogger chris said...
Andrei: That hand's so hot, he could grab a can of beer from the fridge and have it nice and cold by the time he walks to the fridge.

CAPTCHA: "implated" so close to a word!

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Jundi -- I've read several stories that talk about Marion's fiscal responsibility (buying clothes on sale, reparing his car himself, etc.). He's apparently terrified of going broke someday. Ironically, his behavior in getting traded away from Phoenix may have increased the possibility that will happen.

Faris -- No way Iverson could keep playing the way he did forever. He was bound to slow down eventually. And that's extra bad for him and whatever team he's playing for since he's such an inefficient player.

chris -- Regarding Houston's Knee-Mac-less run: Don't forget that, last season, the Rockets had that record-setting win streak with McGrady but without Yao.

Andrei -- Erk. Yeah, I had seen that. I might have to go back and append Worst of the Weekend...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Last night grizz lakers. Darko takes five shots, three of them get blocked. Free Darko!

Blogger lordhenry said...
Nice job, Yams. Way to represent for the L.A. fans out there.

I like what Phil has done with the rotation, mostly. Getting guys like Josh Powell and Mbenga minutes is great, they need to get their confidence level high by playing well against teams like the grizzlies so that later on, they can be productive against tougher teams. I definitely think Phil is looking at the long-term investment. Also, I like seeing the Sith Lord cheering them on from the sideline. As much as we hear about what an asshole the Mamba is, it's nice to see him actually cheering the lesser guys on the team on and attempting to be a leader.

Blogger chris said...
Bawful - True, which makes me wonder: are the Rockets designed to work best when one of their stars is on the injured list?

CAPTCHA: "ovenfat" - Oliver Miller will be PROUD I tell ya.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hey, I might be a Lakers hater, but I have a deep respect for Phil's talents. Besides, I'm an old Bulls fan (grew up in IL), so he's in with me.

I'm sure Phil is taking the long view here. And yes, records and playoff races are important, but having your team better prepared is MORE important. I feel confident that Phil would rather lose home court in the Conference Finals in the West as it stands, and in trade have a deeper, more confident bench that meshes with his first unit. That is his style of coaching--he will tune up the best possible team for his playoff run. Remember, the man knows they have a good shot at the title this year. The fans and management expect them to get close or win it. So, Phil is tooling his team for that purpose, as well he should.

The great coaches do this (and have the luxury to do so). Coach Pop does it too. His yearly rodeo trip is designed to get his team sharp for the playoffs, and we'd have to say that he's done an exceptional job.