The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Friday's ActionDallas' quest for 70 wins ends after a bizarre game in which the Mavericks barely score 70, while Kobe Bryant carries the Lakers to a win and that deafening sound you hear is the roar of the stampeding Bulls.
The Score: Denver 75, Dallas 71
The Key Stat: Other than the fact that the score looks like a typographical error--both in terms of the totals and who won the game--the stat that sticks out is Dirk Nowitzki's line: 9-23 field goal shooting (.391) and six turnovers; on the positive side of the ledger, he did have 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists but just a little bit more production from him could have turned this into a win for Dallas (which is not meant to excuse Jason Terry's 6-20 shooting or Jerry Stackhouse's 2-12 brick-a-thon).
The Bottom Line: Dallas lost All-Star Josh Howard early in the game to a sprained ankle, which certainly contributed to the loss, but something seems a bit off with the Mavericks recently. When Charles Barkley mentioned this during TNT's telecast on Thursday I was initially inclined to agree with Kenny Smith, who basically laughed it off by pointing to Dallas' overall record as well as their mark in the past 10 games. You have to wonder, though, why Dallas looked so lethargic against Phoenix on Sunday, even if the game was not critical for the Mavericks in the standings. Last year Detroit got off to a torrid start, then faded down the stretch and looked wobbly in the playoffs against Cleveland before losing to Miami. While Dallas' place in the standings is relatively secure, it is important that the Mavericks get back to playing good basketball before the playoffs begin; one early home loss in the first round could bring a ton of pressure on to a team that proclaimed that its 2007 motto is "Finish," a reference to the way they went off track in the 2006 Finals literally within sight of the finish line.
The Score: L.A. Lakers 112, Seattle 109
The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant had 46 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals, including 31 points in the second half as the Lakers rallied from a 57-49 halftime deficit.
The Bottom Line: Center and point guard are often called the two most important positions on a basketball team. Smush Parker, the Lakers' starting point guard, produced three points on 1-5 shooting and committed five turnovers. For some inexplicable reason he is apparently engaged in some kind of feud with Coach Phil Jackson over playing time, which will only hasten Parker's seemingly inevitable departure from the team. It will be interesting to see where he ends up (can you say NBDL?) if/when the Lakers let him go. Kwame Brown is injured, so Andrew Bynum--the youngest player in the NBA--started at center and had zero points, two rebounds and four fouls. The saving grace for the Lakers--besides Bryant's customary heroics--was the production of Lamar Odom (20 points, seven assists, four rebounds, 9-11 shooting) and great energy off of the bench from Brian Cook (11 points, six rebounds) and Ronny Turiaf (10 points, four rebounds). The Lakers are 12-4 this year when Bryant scores at least 40 points; he is carrying a team that gets little production at center and point guard to a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Score: Chicago 105, New Jersey 74
The Key Stat: Three Bulls--Ben Gordon (27), Luol Deng (24) and Kirk Hinrich (20) scored at least 20 points; Chicago outrebounded New Jersey 49-41 despite being without the services of Ben Wallace (sinus infection), Andres Nocioni, Tyrus Thomas and Adrian Griffin.
The Bottom Line: The Bulls are peaking at the perfect time and will be a very deadly playoff force once Wallace and Andres Nocioni return to action. Chicago has received a lot of criticism during the season for supposedly overpaying for Ben Wallace but the Bulls are currently seeded second in the East, just two and a half games behind Detroit. The Bulls have improved their record since last year and the Pistons are markedly worse without Wallace, even though his loss has been mitigated somewhat by having Chris Webber fall into their laps. Of course, the real tale of the Wallace move will be told in the playoffs. I liked this Chicago team before the season started and think that the Bulls are capable of beating anybody in the East in a seven game series. As for New Jersey, we won't talk about my prediction for the Nets. What can I say? I grossly overestimated this team, which was underachieving even before the season-ending injury to Nenad Krstic.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:16 AM