Miami Heat 123, Phoenix Suns 96
If we're going to preach patience when the Miami Heat suffer a couple early-season losses, we also need to tell everyone who thinks all their problems are now solved to chill out. (And no, I don't mean chill out like Chris Bosh means chill out). Truth be told, the Heat got a really good matchup in Phoenix, a team without any inside presence that pushes the pace, forcing Miami to follow suit. Considering all their athletes, the Heat are better in the open floor anyway, which explains the blowout.
We especially need to chill out when we're talking about Bosh. It's great that Bosh finally had a good game (35 points on 17 shots), but there's nothing Bosh and the Heat did that was fundamentally different than usual. The ESPN broadcasters were marveling at how the Heat were going to Bosh early, but anyone who has actually watched the Heat play this year knows the Heat do that every game. They were running the same off-ball movement that folds into a Bosh isolation, except this time, the Suns were too porous defensively to stop it. So again, nothing new.
The difference for Bosh tonight was twofold: his jump shot was falling, and he was playing the Phoenix Suns. Well, threefold, I guess, since he did also manage to shoot 11 free throws. But for the most part, Bosh still lived on the perimeter. He took more shots from 16-23 feet (nine) than he did from anywhere else (eight), and he just so happened to hit eight of his nine 16-23 foot jumpers. For all the other stuff, you have to keep in mind that the Suns have nobody to guard him. Hedo Turkoglu started, but after giving up eight points early, the Suns switched Channing Frye onto Bosh. They also tried Hakim Warrick. That's not exactly a murderers' row of defenders right there, to say the least.
So again, good for Bosh, but let's not pretend this is a turning point just yet. It's more likely that it's an anomaly, and the turning point will come later.
The Suns tried on offense, but Miami's defensive rotations were just too good. Because of their speed and athleticism, it's very difficult to get clean looks on Miami when you're merely moving the ball on the perimeter. The old adage that the ball moves faster than the player is true, but Miami sure closes that gap better than any team in basketball. The Suns don't have the inside presence to soften the Heat up, and it showed. Miami will always beat teams like this.
Jason Richardson had a rough game (11 points on 14 shots). Credit Miami for identifying him most of the game.
Play of the Game: Now this is an impressive finish.
These are two flawed, but good teams that have played two outstanding games this week. Last night's game was just as good as Monday's thriller, if not better. It certainly wasn't the best-played game, but you could feel the intensity.
The Mavericks ultimately lost for the same reason they lost to San Antonio in the playoffs last year: they are severely deficient in the shot creation department. The key stretch of the game happened when Dirk Nowitzki picked up his fourth foul on a weird play tripping David West up the court early in the third quarter. Dirk went out at the 7:26 mark with Dallas leading by four, and returned at the 3:45 mark with Dallas trailing by 10. Three turnovers and a bunch of missed jump shots will do that to you. Without Dirk, the Mavericks have to hope their non-shot creators can get it together for a short stretch. That time, they couldn't.
This was supposed to be the problem that was solved with last February's trade for Caron Butler, but Butler was in his first game back from injury and has been a huge disappointment regardless. There will be games when Jason Terry has it going, like he did tonight, but he's not nearly as consistent of a threat as he used to be. Failing those two, who creates shots other than Dirk? Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion are too old to do it, and J.J. Barea is too erratic. There's just nobody. That explain how New Orleans is able to clamp down on Dirk and switch effectively once the ball is rotated.
This isn't to say Dallas has a scoring problem, per se. Rick Carlisle runs very complicated sets, and those can manufacture points for about 70-75 percent of the game. But for that other 25 percent, you need more than one shot creator. Right now, they have just one.
New Orleans got a balanced effort in this one, and did a great job forcing turnovers and getting their hands on a lot of balls. Their starters all played very well, but they need to get more out of their bench. When Willie Greene isn't hot, he's useless. They really need to give Marcus Thornton more of a look. They also did a poor job cutting off the three-point line yet again.
Barea was 2-13, and yet, he was the one initiating the offense late in the game and taking the critical shot with 30 seconds left in a two-point game. How does that happen?
Play of the Game: You get full highlights for this one.
San Antonio Spurs 103, Chicago Bulls 94
You know how people say that sometimes a team's offense goes through lulls? That same stuff happens on defense too. The Chicago Bulls suffered a bit of a lull defensively in the third quarter after shutting down the Spurs in the first half. Nothing too serious, mind you, but the kind of lull that happens for a few possessions to any team, even one as good defensively as Chicago. I bring this up not to bash the Bulls' defense.
But usually, a team is good enough offensively to prevent these lulls from making a difference. It's not as big a deal if you struggle for a few possessions if you at least score. The problem is that the Bulls just can't score consistently against good defensive teams without Carlos Boozer. Derrick Rose is brilliant, but nobody else can get you points when your defense struggles. Luol Deng's much-ballyhooed improved shooting range didn't show up (1-6 from three-point range), and Taj Gibson's shot wasn't falling. Eventually, the misses added up, and the Bulls' second-quarter lead went poof.
The Spurs made a key adjustment to really push the ball in the second half. They realized they couldn't score against Chicago's halfcourt offense, so they made a point to get up the floor quickly and go to mostly quick-hitter plays before the Bulls could really dig in defensively. Even when the fast break wasn't there, they attacked quickly with simple sets rather than more elaborate stuff. It helped that they stepped up their defensive effort, but they made sure to capitalize on it.
Derrick Rose took 27 shots, but he had to with the way his team was playing. He's improving, flashing more range, a more proficient mid-range shot and better finishing ability around the rim. When Boozer comes back, watch out.
Play of the Game: Manu Ginobili teaches us that you can do a fake around-the-back move.
I'm still trying to decide whether Michael Beasley is the kind of player that can contribute to a winning team. Fair or unfair, I wonder whether he'd occupy the kind of role he occupies on any team other than Minnesota, where he has the freedom to go and create his own shot all the time. But there is absolutely no denying that he has incredible scoring ability. Beasley is not a high-flyer, and he's not a great driver, but he's capable of scoring from anywhere on the court. All night long, the Clippers announcers were saying that he's only good going to his left. Then, on the game-winner, Beasley went to his right. Very impressive.
It's just the Clippers, but this kind of line (33 points on 23 shots) is becoming par for the course for Beasley. Given how much Bosh, Beasley's power forward replacement in Miami, is struggling occupying that same role in the Heat ofense, it's becoming reasonable to assign some blame to Erik Spoelstra for Beasley's failures in Miami. Now, he's in those positions, and for what it's worth, the Timberwolves are at least somewhat competitive. As long as we bash David Kahn for pretty much everything, he deserves props for taking on Beasley for just two second-round picks.
Next step: fix the rest of the team. On the five Timberwolves possessions before the game-winner, Beasley didn't even touch the ball. That can't happen.
Play of the Game: Your damn right this was a big-time play.
GAME I WATCHED, BUT WANT TO AVOID WRITING ABOUT
- Boston Celtics 114, Washington Wizards 83: The Celtics had more assists (32) than the Wizards had made field goals (31). As a Wizards fan, I'm blotting this one out.
- Toronto Raptors 94, Philadelphia 76ers 86: How do you know you stink? When you score less than 91 points per 100 possessions against the Toronto Raptors. THE TORONTO RAPTORS.
- Los Angeles Lakers 103, Detroit Pistons 90: One night after their bench gave them a lift against the Bucks, the Lakers won on the strength of their top three (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom). This team is so unfairly good.
- Oklahoma City Thunder 116, Houston Rockets 99: The Thunder should play Serge Ibaka more. The Rockets don't play defense. I promise I didn't copy and paste those from previous Scores and More articles.
- Utah Jazz 98, New Jersey Nets 88: Avery Johnson deserves a ton of props for instilling a defensive mindset with the Nets in a short period of time. They didn't win, but they held the Jazz to just 40 percent shooting on the road. Utah just took great care of the ball and got to the line. The Nets will get there when they get more talent.
- New York Knicks 113, Sacramento Kings 106: Few people are talking about it, but what's wrong with Tyreke Evans? He had 23 points, but needed 22 shots to get there, and made a critical error late in the game when he jumped to pass and threw it right to Raymond Felton. There's all this talk about the poor chemistry in Sacramento and the fiery nature of DeMarcus Cousins, but Evans is supposed to be a leader. When will he pull the Kings' together?
AND FINALLY ...