I don't care much for those new NBA commercials that feature the mini tour bus. The Lebron James spot is pretty funny when he is in the locker room singing "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper. But the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol and Greg Oden spots just fall flat. They aren't funny at all. And why, oh why did they constantly pimp the film: "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" yesterday, during the ball games? The film stars Kevin James (from King of Queens) and looks absolutely awful based on the trailers. The NBA desperately needs to find better sponsors. Third, enough with the NBA Cares commercials! We get it. You are trying to rebuild the image of the league after the Detriot brawl, the recent ref scandal, and the off-season stupidity of some of the NBA players. But those ads come off as being very pretentious, un-genuine, and more annoying than inspiring. I much prefer the T-Mobile ads with Wade and Barkley. Now those are entertaining. But enough about that, below are my comments on the 5 games yesterday.
Game 1: New Orleans Hornets vs. Orlando Magic
I only caught the second half of this game, but it was an absolute blow-out. This is a perfect example of why I think the Hornets aren't true title contenders. Despite having one of the best players in the game, Chris Paul, they have little depth and don't get consistent effort out of their role players. With Stojakovic out, they struggled to score points. And just were not able to get into a good rhythm. This allowed the Magic to hone in on Chris Paul and David West and limit their productivity. Chandler has struggled all year long, and was in foul trouble for most of the game. His numbers are down across the board. Chris Paul's steals streak was ended today also, which is just insult to injury. They don't have an answer at SG. Neither Devin Brown, Rasual Butler or Morris Peterson can give them a consistent effort.
On the flip side, Orlando looked fantastic. I haven't watched them play too much this year, but I got an understanding of why they are a top 5 team this year. Jameer Nelson is playing out of his mind and has elevated his game dramatically. He's scoring in bunches, and is a capable leader on this team. Dwight Howard continue to beast, and will defend his slam dunk crown this year. Even though he struggled to score in this game, he rebounded and defended well. Turkoglu, Lewis and Pietrus are excellent outside shooters that just lit up the Hornets. Another difference from last year's squad is the return of Tony Battie. He and Gortat are providing some solid play at the PF/C spots to backup Howard. This team is still over dependent on the jump shot, but are much improved from last year. It's amazing that they won by 20 points considering they only hit 1 FG in the last 9+ minutes of the game, and only scored 27 points in the second half.
Game 2: San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix Suns
The Spurs have the Suns number. Plain and simple. They seem to always pull out on top and win all of the close games. The Suns completely reinvented themselves beginning from the second half of last season in order to beat the Spurs, and they still lost. It must be demoralizing for them. I've been impressed by the play of the Spurs role players. Mason, Bonner, Hill have given the Spurs some much needed energy and youth. And has allowed the Spurs to cut down on the minutes of veterans like Bowen and Thomas. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili continue to carry the majority of the load. Duncan was huge down the stretch on the defensive end, playing with 5 fouls. And Parker was able to get to the basket at will against Nash. He setup Roger Mason for the game winning 3-pointer. Interestingly, that was the first time that Mason entered the game in the 4th quarter. Clutch. This Spurs team is resilient, having been able to weather the storm with injuries to Manu and Parker at the start of the season. Never count out the heart of a champion. They are still contenders.
The Suns have one of the best starting lineups in the league; on any given night, any of the starting 5 can score 20 points. The problem is that they don't play good defense on a consistent basis. Nash continues to get exploited on the defensive end. Also they are struggling to find a consistent offensive identity. Are they a Run-And-Gun team, or are they a half-court team that runs through Shaq? Shaq and Amare were dominant in this game, conbining for 45 points, 25 rebounds, 3 steals and 6 blocks. But they still managed to lose. Ouch. Richardson is a nice addition to this team, but will take some time to really gel with this team. He is a big improvement over Raja Bell at the SG position, however. I like the strategy of resting Shaq on back-to-back games; but the problem is the Suns have a lack of depth at the 4 and 5 spots. Amundson and Lopez are not reliable big men yet. Barbosa looks completely lost this season and is struggling to get consistent minutes off of the bench. I like the duo of Hill/Barnes at the SF spot, though. They are a work in progress.
Game 3: Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers
An excellent game that lived up to all of the hype. But I just think the Lakers wanted it more. This snaps the Celtics 19-game winning streak. The Big 3 (plus Rondo) were superb, but they got little production from their bench. Which was the difference in the game. The Celtics bench was a combined 6 for 20 from the field. I'm pleased to see the continued growth of Rondo, however. His playmaking skills have been superb this year, and he continues to be an excellent ball thief. But he still needs to develop a consistent jump shot. That will help elevate his game to the next level. I'm not sure if he's deserving of an all-star bid yet. Garnett could not miss a shot yesterday. And got quite a few uncontested dunks and layups. Pierce had a nice run in the third quarter to bring the celtics on top temporarily, but was scoreless in the 4th quarter. Ray Allen had a mediocre game yesterday. I think they missed Posey in the clutch; his 3-point shooting and defense. This was a tight game up until the closing minutes.
The Lakers did not back down and matched the physicality of the Celtics. Their defense was a huge key to their win. Amazingly, Pau Gasol was clutch in the final moments of the game. And carried his team on his back. 20 points 3 rebounds is not exactly what you want coming from your starting PF, but they were able to pull out the win. Bynum looks lost at times. He still has plenty of room for improvement. Starting Bynum and Gasol together has produced mixed results. The Lakers team seem to play better when they have an extra outside shooter and don't have two big men clogging the middle. Odom's production has taken a big hit this year, but he did hit a pair of clutch 3's for his team. Kobe played superb and continues to be this team's MVP. Fisher looks a step slow. They may want to consider upgrading that position during mid-season. But this has to be a huge confidence booster for this Lakers team to pull off the win against the Celtics. They seem to be on track again now after losing 2 straight games earlier this month. They miss Jordan Farmar off the bench who gives them scoring, energy, and another play-maker.
Game 4: Washington Wizards vs Cleveland Cavaliers
I elected to skip most of this game, but apparently, it was a much closer game than I thought it would be. The Wizards led for nearly the entire game. But with a couple minutes left and down by 7 points, the Cavs clamped down on the Wizards on the defensive end, and scored 11 straight points to pull out the win. They still are unbeated at home. Very impressive. Mo Williams hit some big shots for this team down the stretch. That's the reason why they acquired him over the offseason. Lebron had a solid, but not spectacular game. Big Z was invisible, and Delone West missed 12 shots in the game. It's amazing that they were able to pull off the win. Varejao, of all people, hit 2 clutch free throws to clinch the game. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds off of the bench. He's a very underrated player. I noticed that 10 of the 11 shots that Wally World and Boobie attempted were 3-pointers. Crazy. Overall, a very valiant effort by the Cavs to pull off the win. Though I have no idea how the Wizards were able to stay competitive in this game. A Xmas Miracle?
On the flip side, the Wizards were led by Jamison and Mike James. Caron Butler struggled against Lebron James, but managed to contribute 10 assists to offset his bad shooting night. Young gun McGuire got his second start of the season and contributed 10 rebound and 7 assists. That's back-to-back games with double digit rebounds. Nice. But besides that, there were very few bright sides to this team. There is a reason why they are the second worst team in the league right now. I'm sure that Arenas is not in any rush to get back to this team. They are roughly 8-9 games out of the last playoff spot. And are 4-23 on the season. Other young guns Nick Young and Andray Blatche have been really inconsistent. With so much money devoted to their big 3 and a mediocre supporting cast, the Wizards are going nowhere quickly. They'll be a borderline playoff team even when everyone is healthy, over the next few years. I think it was a bad idea to fire head coach Eddie Jordan. He managed to get solid production out of a mediocre roster during the past seasons.
Game 5: Dallas Mavericks vs Portland Trailblazers
An excellent game between a declining team (Dallas) and one of the rising teams (Portland) in the league. The Mavs were able to use their experience and toughness to squeeze out a close win. They ended the game on a 12-2 run. Dirk Nowitzki was on-fire in the first half, before fading away in the second half. Jason Kidd and JJ Barea were huge at the G positions. Combining for 20 rebound. Yikes. Rarely does a player impact the game without scoring points like Jason Kidd. He only hit 1 FG, but also added 12 rebound, 10 assists, and 2 steals. Josh Howard showed his immaturity by getting ejected from the game. He doesn't look 100% healthy yet. And he's struggled in the past few games to do anything but score points, averaging a mere 1 assist and 1.5 rebound in the past 7 games. Jason Terry looks like a lock to win the 6th man of the year award. He's killing it off of the bench. Devean George might be the worst starter in the league and the Dampier/Diop combo isn't intimidating anyone.
Brandon Roy is the truth. He's been on fire lately, which includes a 50-point outburst a few games ago. Too bad the rest of his team is not playing at the same level. Greg Oden looks lost out there, and not very agile. He has 4 pts and 5 rebounds yesterday, after a 0 pts and 2 rebound stinker in the previous game. He's not the savior that this franchise hyped him up to be. At least, not this season. Blake looks like a very capable PG for this squad, making the big passes and hitting some big shots. Aldrige was in foul trouble and didn't contribute anything. He needs to work on consistency and crashing the glass. I think he relies too much on his jumper also. Batum doesn't much of anything at SF. Outlaw, Fernandez and Przybilla provide a huge spark for Portland off of the bench. Outlaw came up with some clutch steals in this game, but it was not enough. He doesn't get consistent minutes, so it looks like whenever he is on the floor, he will shoot the ball whenever it comes to him. Rudy had some exciting plays and is an excellent 3-pt shooter. I'd be curious to see how he'd fare in the slam dunk contest, if he is voted in.