Washington Wizards 98, Houston Rockets 91
It's only fitting that John Wall had his best game as a pro with Magic Johnson sitting courtside. And yes, this was his best game as a pro. I'm not saying this simply because he put up a triple-double, because he came pretty close to doing the same against Philadelphia earlier in the year. I'm saying this because those numbers obscure just how well he played, if that's possible.
Wall's problem early on this season has been turnovers. Coming into tonight's game, he was turning it over on 23.7-percent of the possession he ended, which is unbelievably high even for a young point guard. I've excused a lot of these turnovers because he's trying so hard to make plays with this awful roster, and I'd rather him attack and sometimes fail than sit around and not make any sort of impact. But the fact remains: Wall often gets out of control.
That wasn't the case in this game, though. Wall had just one turnover, and it came on a questionable out-of-bounds call late in the game. When he attacked, he made sure to make plays. When the play wasn't there, he made the right decision. The Rockets, like everyone else, gave him room, and tonight, Wall stepped in and confidently stroked the mid-range jump shot. So many of his turnovers come because he's not confident taking that shot. If he can continue to knock it down, team have no chance.
The other thing that goes unnoticed by his numbers is his defense. On the whole, the Wizards held the fifth-most efficient offensive team in the league coming into the game to 91.9 points per 100 possessions, and Wall was a huge reason why. He did an outstanding job of double-teaming the Rockets' post players and then rushing back to his man. That ability to roam killed so many Rockets possessions down the stretch and keyed the Wizards' ability to hold the Rockets scoreless for a four-minute stretch at the end of the game. Those are things that don't show up in the stat sheet, but were instrumental to the win.
So yeah, Wall was even better than his stat line (19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds) indicated, if that's possible. Sure, it helped that he spent most of the night going against Ishmael Smith, and sure, Yao Ming's early-game injury helped because it removed the imposing giant in the middle. But Houston, despite its record, can play, and Wall dominated them. In his sixth game. That's simply incredible.
As for the Rockets, they aren't 1-6 bad. But at some point, they need to fix that leaky defense. Even last year, they were in the middle of the pack without Yao, so what gives? One theory is that having Kevin Martin for a full season hurts because he is such a poor defender -- but Martin's man, Kirk Hinrich, didn't do much tonight. No, there are other issues. Shane Battier looks like he's lost a step, and he didn't even play down the stretch due to injury. Smith couldn't guard Wall, and the frontline had trouble keeping up with Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. Perhaps their three key veteran bigs --Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller -- are just showing their age. Throw in the loss of Yao and the absence of Aaron Brooks, both of which hurt the offense, and the results aren't too shocking. They also don't get to the free-throw line enough -- only Martin (15 times) and Scola (four times) got to the line. That's not good.
Al Thornton looks way better than he ever has. He shed a lot of weight this summer, and it shows in his ability to get by people off the dribble and in the post. He really lit up Chase Budinger when the two matched up against each other.
Oh, and Gilbert Arenas played. He was bad. Kirk Hinrich, somehow, was worse.
Play of the Game: When a Wizards fan sees this, they say "See! Wall and Arenas can get along!" When a non-Wizards fan sees this, they say "Look! Arenas is, quite literally, passing the torch to Wall."
Utah Jazz 104, Orlando Magic 94
Yesterday, we talked about how the idea that Jerry Sloan's teams don't make mid-game adjustments is silly. I phrased the whole thing poorly, making it seem like the Jazz abandoned the Flex offense against the Heat when really they just went to different options off the initial cuts (something a reader pointed out to me). But the larger point is this: Sloan, like any coaches, makes mid-game adjustments that change games. He should get more attention for that rather than being known as a hard-nosed, disciplined system coach.
We saw those adjustments on full display again tonight against the Magic. In the Jazz's win over Miami, Sloan's major adjustment was on offense, as he started running more plays for Deron Williams and spacing the floor with shooters. Tonight, it was a defensive adjustment that changed the game. Sloan switched a 2-3 zone late in the third quarter, which got Orlando out of its rhythm. The Magic responded by launching jumpers, which sped up the tempo and allowed the Jazz to avoid having to go against Dwight Howard in their half-court offense. As Orlando Pinstriped Post writes:
Utah stymied Orlando's offense by switching to a simple two-three zone defense, which the Magic were unable to solve. The Jazz essentially let the Magic own the offensive glass for the privilege of not allowing them a good initial look in the first place. Rather than attack the seams of the zone or try to involve Dwight Howard inside, Orlando passed the ball around the perimeter and took difficult jumpers, thus wasting great efforts from Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter.
That got Utah back in it. But eventually, the game slowed down again ... and that's where Al Jefferson took over. Jefferson was really bad against Miami and didn't even play in the fourth quarter and overtime. He looked like he wasn't quite sure what to do in Utah's system yet. But Jefferson came up big against Howard once the game became a half-court war. Jefferson hit a number of flip shots over Howard, bailing the Jazz out when their offensive sets bogged down. That may be his role going forward, and if so, he gives Utah a dimension they never had with Carlos Boozer.
The Magic simply need to get Howard more touches. He only took eight shots in the entire game, and that's not good enough. Without Howard getting shots, the Magic are just a bunch of deep shooters that aren't go-to guys.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Deron Williams' final line: 30 points, 14 assists. That's after having his problems shooting the ball early in the game. He's outstanding when he asserts himself.
Play of the Game: This whole game was fun.
From the blogs: Orlando Pinstriped Post discusses all the warning signs this game provided for the Magic.
Golden State Warriors 122, New York Knicks 117
This game was pilled as a battle between former Knick David Lee and current Knick Amare Stoudemire. It was supposed to be our first look at whether the Knicks made the right decision to sign Stoudemire and trade Lee away. But the truth is that this game showed why both players are perfect for their new teams. The Knicks needed a dynamic player that can create his own shot and be a threat in isolation situations. They have that in Stoudemire. The Warriors needed a guy who can be efficient, score without dribbling much and facilitate ball and player movement. They have that in Lee.
Both guys had really good games. Lee had 28 points and 10 rebounds on 17 shots, while Stoudemire had 33 and 10 on 15 shots, albeit with six turnovers. It helped that they were going up against each other for much of the night, but the bottom line is that they pretty much cancelled each other out. Instead of crying over spilled milk, let's just be happy that both players are in good situations for their styles.
In the end, it was guard play that decided the game. The Warriors closed the game well, because they have Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis to run high pick and roll. When all else fails, those guys can make plays for you. The Knicks, on the other hand, don't have that dimension. Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas aren't there yet, even though they have been very good this year. The Knicks didn't execute on many key possessions late, including one where they got three offensive rebounds without Stoudemire touching the ball once.
Both teams had their hot shooting stretches, which explains why there were so many swings in the margin. Those guards, however, were the difference for Golden State.
Play of the Game: Amare really is one of the most breathtaking dunkers of all time.
Milwaukee Bucks 108, Atlanta Hawks 91
The Hawks got exposed tonight. All that wonderful talk about their new offense that was actually going to move the ball went up in smoke tonight. The Bucks hit a few shots in a row, and the Hawks responded by trusting nobody but themselves. They stopped running their sets and instead stood around. Eventually, that attitude seeped over into their defense in the second half. If I'm Larry Drew, I'm incensed after this one. All the work he did to change this team's style of play meant nothing tonight.
It's not like the Bucks did anything they don't usually do. These guys go through scoring droughts, only to get rescued by their second unit. They hit hot spells when their jumpers are falling, and from there, they rely on their defense. We've seen them ride this formula for over a year. Atlanta should know better. Hell, Atlanta especially should know better, since that formula minus Andrew Bogut nearly beat them in the playoffs last year. That they still fell back into their old pattern is extremely discouraging.
The Hawks scored just 97.8 points per 100 possessions tonight, which isn't going to work. Al Horford had 12 points in the first 18 minutes and two points after that. Hey Hawks, you might want to think about giving him the ball more.
Play of the game: Just look at all these awful Atlanta possessions.
Minnesota Timberwolves 98, Sacramento Kings 89
I hate to pour cold water on Michael Beasley's 42-point performance, but I didn't notice him doing anything remarkably different than usual. He just made shots he normally misses. Consider that Beasley mostly got his points in isolation situations. Only six of his 17 field goals were assisted, and only one of his shots came at the rim. Beasley mostly got to 42 because he was an obscene 10-15 from 16-23 feet. Let's just say that will not happen again.
In other words, what this showed is simply what we already knew about Beasley: he can fill it up when he gets hot. I wouldn't make too much of it.
Sacramento lacks cohesion on both ends of the floor. They have talent, but the pieces really don't fit. Tyreke Evans really struggled before fouling out with nine minutes to go, and the minutes distribution by coach Paul Westphal was strange. Thirty-six minutes for Samuel Dalembert and only 14 for DeMarcus Cousins? The Kings were playing pretty well with Cousins starting and Dalembert off the bench, so I'm not sure why Westphal switched it up. I worry Couins will try to get his coming off the bench instead of playing good team basketball with the starters.
Play of the Game: Again, just look at some of these shots by Beasley. He can't hit these consistently.
From the blogs: Canis Hoopus writes that the Timberwolves' win was about the whole team, and not just Michael Beasley, while Sactown Royalty writes that the Kings need to start playing hard on every possession, lest they become the worst team in the league.
GAMES I BARELY SAW
- Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Philadelphia 76ers 103: The Thunder keep letting bad teams hang around, because they aren't defending consistently and because they don't have a third scorer to supplement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Philadelphia, with turnover-prone Jrue Holiday leading them, is a bad team. Elton Brand needed more touches down the stretch.
- Dallas Mavericks 106, Memphis Grizzlies 91: Dallas hit 22 of their 27 shots at the rim tonight. That can't happen if you're Memphis. Shawn Marion, all by himself, was 10-12 at the rim.
- New Jersey Nets 95, Cleveland Cavaliers 87: Mo Williams got hurt, taking away Cleveland's "closer," if you will. That was the difference down the stretch. Credit New Jersey for displaying more coherence in their offensive sets than they did the night before.
- Charlotte Bobcats 101, Toronto Raptors 96: Toronto is talentless and poorly coached. Charlotte should have won by more.
- San Antonio Spurs 107, Los Angeles Clippers 95: Typical Clippers. They hang around, show flashes of their talent, but ultimately aren't disciplined enough to beat a really good Spurs team.
J.J. Hickson does his best Amare impression on Kris Humphries.