Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

A day of upsets throughout the league. Some observations from the pieces of games I saw:

Raptors over Magic
This might be a stretch, but I kind of think Roko Ukic looks like John Francis Daley:

Anyways, going into the season I was a little worried about the Raptors point guard depth, and have found that worry mostly well-founded throughout the season, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Roko Ukic and Will Solomon play so well filling in for an injured Jose Calderon in this one. They combined to score 23 points on 9-14 shooting, with 11 assists and just 4 turnovers between them. Solomon played a really strong first half while Ukic came on strong late (including the game-clinching shot at the end) and it'll be interesting to see if that was a one-game fluke or if Ukic is starting to get comfortable. Also, Anthony Parker is really good at moving without the ball. In this game, it led to 26 points on 13-16 shooting. 

Pistons beat the Clippers, but barely
The Pistons needed a game-winner from Allen Iverson to beat an injury-depleted Clippers team, and even after that they almost lost on a shot by Eric Gordon that just missed. Not to sound cliche, but the Clippers played hard throughout this game that they had no business being in (Rasheed Wallace was out, but the Pistons still had a huge talent advantage), and they deserve a ton of credit. It is remarkable that the Clippers were down to their fifth-string point guard throughout this game (Mardy Collins, who played 42 minutes), and yet only committed 10 turnovers. They did have some trouble creating offense at times, as Eric Gordon and Al Thornton were the only guys who could create a shot in the halfcourt (Collins did somehow end up with 12 assists, though). 

Mostly, I'm mentioning this game because of how well Eric Gordon played, and has played lately, particularly with Baron Davis out. I haven't written nearly enough about him, but he's quite accomplished as a scorer. It seems like he should be a better rebounder than he is, but as a scorer he is aggressive, skilled, and poised. In this particular game, he's the main reason the Clippers were able to stay in the game in the fourth quarter. I would write more about his game, but there is a writeup far more eloquent than anything I can do up at ClipperBlog, and I'd say that's a must-read. Like, feel free to just ignore the rest of this post, as long as you read that. 

Grizzlies crush the Mavericks
I flipped over from the Clippers-Pistons game just in time to see the Grizzlies pull away in the fourth quarter. I didn't see enough to gather much of the story, but I did notice a couple of things worth mentioning. 

First of all, Hakim Warrick is having a great season, and had another nice game in this one.

Second of all, the Grizzlies held Erick Dampier without an offensive rebound in 24 minutes. There have only been four other games this season when Dampier played at least 10 minutes and didn't register an offensive rebound. Oddly, one of those four was also against Memphis. So props to Marc Gasol, for helping hold one of the better offensive rebounders in the league without an offensive rebound for almost 48 full minutes through two games.

Secondly, Memphis put Hamed Haddadi and Darius Miles into the game for the last two minutes. This was my first time watching Haddadi this year (it's only the second time he's played). He didn't do anything notable, but he didn't look like a stiff either. He was tentative and seemed lost, at one point forgetting to get his hands up in the air for a rebound, but that's to be expected at this point. As for Miles, his playing in this game is notable because if he appears in 10 games this season, his previous salary amount goes back to counting against Portland's salary cap, somewhat restricting their ability to sign free-agents this offseason. His 2 minutes were completely inconsequential to the Grizzlies on this afternoon, but might have profound effects for the Trailblazers for years to come. 

Lakers over Trailblazers
This was the only Sunday game not resulting in an upset or near-upset, and it might have been much closer had Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez not missed a bunch of wide-open shots in the first half that they almost always make. They combined to shoot 10-29, but many of those attempts were without a Laker anywhere nearby -- the Lakers were extremely fortunate to have a one-point lead at halftime. The Lakers then went on to really tighten up their defense in the second half (as well as clean up their turnover problems, with just 3 in the second half after 10 in the first). The Lakers' final defensive performance of 101.2 points per 100 possessions and an effective field goal percentage allowed of 44.5% was reflective both of the strong D they played in the second half and their good luck in the first half when the Blazers' guards missed easy shots. 

Stu Lantz spent some time criticizing Lamarcus Aldridge's game in the third quarter, which was odd since Aldridge played a solid game and ended up with 22 and 11 on 11-19 shooting, with 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block and just 2 turnovers, and he was the only Blazer besides Nicolas Batum who could hit a shot (both Lantz and Myers also spent a lot of time complimenting Aldridge, so go I'm nitpicking a little).

I was interested in the rebounding battle in this game -- Portland came into it as the best offensive rebounding team in the league, while the Lakers' only real weakness on defense is their average defensive rebounding rate. I thought the Lakers actually did an acceptable job on the boards in this game until one Portland possession in the fourth quarter where Portland worked their way to 5 shot attempts before finally nailing a 3. If it weren't for that possession, the Lakers would have held Portland to a solide 24% offensive rebound percentage. As it was, they allowed Portland to grab 30.6% of their misses, which is below Portland's average but still too high an amount for the Lakers to be allowing. 

It was also fun to watch the battles in the post between Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum. At this point in his career, Oden only has one move when he receives the ball in the post -- a jump hook spinning into the paint that he can hit with either hand. Since he doesn't have any moves going towards the baseline, he can be pretty predictable to defend. The first couple of times he caught the ball against Bynum, Bynum allowed him to spin to the middle to get off his shot (he made one of two). Bynum was really quick to adjust, though, and throughout the rest of the game whenever Oden caught the ball in the block (which wasn't often, since Bynum did a great job through much of the game of fronting Oden), Bynum leaned on his inside shoulder. Instead of using a drop step or spinning baseline, Oden continued to shoot his jump hook in the paint, but the shots were all awkward, off-balance, fading away, and contested (Bynum even blocked one of them). I can see a more polished Oden in the future adjusting to Bynum's adjustment and spinning baseline and getting some easy dunks (which he did do against Gasol at one point . . . why couldn't he do that against Bynum? Not sure). 

Lamar Odom played excellent defense, as he has all year. He allows the team to be really agressive with their traps because of his quickness and precision in his rotations, and he once again led the team in net plus/minus. For the whole season, he leads the team in net plus/minus, and the Lakers sport an elite defense when he's in the game. The Odom/Bynum pairing in the frontcourt is particularly strong defensively.

Finally, a couple of Laker injuries were announced just before the game. Sasha Vujacic played despite tonsilitis, and I assume he'll continue to do so until he gets surgery. Luke Walton, though, was out due to a toe injury that is "commonly associated with long-distance running or dancing." Maybe he hurt himself dancing at home to Tupac Shakur? Anyways, it was a little surprising to see Trevor Ariza get the start instead of Vladimir Radmanovic. Since being pulled from the starting lineup, Radmanovic has barely seen any playing time at all, averaging fewer than 8 minutes per game in the 10 games leading up to this one. He did eventually get into the game, though, and while he was in he played excellently at both ends of the floor, looking like someone who is doing everything to prove that he belongs in the rotation.

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