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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Action Packed Friday

Friday night's action featured several close contests and perhaps the most watched regular season game in NBA history. Here are some things that caught my attention.

The Score: Houston 104, Milwaukee 88

The Key Stat: Perhaps 250 million people in China tuned in to check out the Yao-Yi matchup; Yao Ming finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, while Yi Jianlian had 19 points and nine rebounds.

The Bottom Line: Tracy McGrady had an excellent game (21 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) for the 5-1 Rockets, who have already have posted wins over each of last year's Western Conference finalists, the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz. If Yao and McGrady stay healthy then Houston is a legitimate championship contender.

The Score: Cleveland 93, Sacramento 91

The Key Stat: LeBron James scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half, including Cleveland's final seven points in the last 1:49.

The Bottom Line: Cleveland's winning formula is simple: defend and rebound every night and rely on James to be the best player on the court most nights. The first two parts of the equation are easy to overlook but they are the reason that this team will be in almost every game at the end, which gives James the opportunity to take over down the stretch. Cleveland held Sacramento to .400 field goal shooting and outrebounded the Kings 49-41. Even though Cleveland also did not shoot well (.380), the Cavaliers kept the game close, enabling James to seize control with one burst. Just as impressive as his late scoring, though, is that James played excellent defense to thwart Kevin Martin's attempt to nail a tying jumper as time ran out.

The Score: Utah 103, Seattle 101

The Key Stat: Kevin Durant finished with 21 points but he shot just 7-21 from the field and had four of his shots blocked. He shot 1-8 from three point range and only had one assist. Durant attempted 103 shots in the first five games of his career, the fifth highest total since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger and the ninth highest total of all-time.

The Bottom Line: Durant had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds but he went up with a soft, double-clutch shot that Andrei Kirilenko swatted away to preserve the win. I have no problem with people praising Durant's brief college career or mentioning that he has a lot of talent but what I don't understand is the rush to crown him as a "sensation" and as a shoo-in to be Rookie of the Year. Why can't we simply let his performance dictate the accolades that he gets instead of writing the storyline before the games are played? Maybe Durant is the best rookie but that is certainly not a slam dunk--which is what he should have tried on the last play, ensuring that he either scored or drew a foul.

The Score: Denver 118, Washington 92

The Key Stat: Denver shot .511 from the field and held Washington to .383 shooting. Gilbert Arenas finished with 18 points, four assists, four steals and four turnovers, shooting 5-13 from the field (including 2-8 from three point range). He had the worst plus/minus score (-16) among Washington's starters.

The Bottom Line: Denver missed three alley-oops in one quarter, committed so many miscues that Coach George Karl quipped that he would mix the game film in with Abbott and Costello outtakes--and the Nuggets still won by 26 points. The Wizards are 0-5, the worst start for the franchise since 1966, when the team was known as the Baltimore Bullets. Washington Coach Eddie Jordan offered this take on the carnage: "We just weren't disciplined. We didn't stay organized. We didn't rebound. We didn't share the ball. We didn't execute. It's one of the most disappointing games I've been involved in." Other than rebounding, every shortcoming that Jordan listed is largely the responsibility of the point guard--the one and only Agent Zero. I realize that Arenas is not completely healthy at the moment but there is a lot of truth to the old school credo that you can play hurt but you can't play injured. If Arenas is just hurting a little, then he needs to stop talking about it and find a way to play better; if he is truly injured to the extent that this is really the best that he can play right now, then maybe he should shut things down until he is healthier. I don't know how badly Arenas is hurt; all I know is that his performance right now is hurting his team.

The Score: L.A. Lakers 107, Minnesota 93

The Key Stat: Lamar Odom had 18 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high +22 plus/minus score in his 2007-08 debut.

The Bottom Line: Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 30 points on 9-19 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Lakers' big men Andrew Bynum (10 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Mihm (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Ronny Turiaf (11 points, two rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots) had productive games, a crucial element that was missing for the Lakers for most of last season. Derek Fisher (11 points, nine assists) continues to provide steady point guard play. Al Jefferson (24 points, 15 rebounds) was the lone bright spot for the winless Timberwolves.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:01 AM



At Saturday, November 10, 2007 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, are you really going to pin a 26 point loss on one player? An astute basketball analyst like you say to be should know better than that.

Basketball is a team game, it's not just the point guard who plays it.

Unbelievably naive. We know you don't like Arenas, but can you shake that and really analyze the game, rather than just cherrypick on your own predetermined feelings?

At Sunday, November 11, 2007 12:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I did not pin the loss on one player; I mentioned what Coach Jordan said after the game, which speaks for itself. Who do you think Jordan was talking about? Obviously, more than one guy shares the blame but who handles the ball and runs the show?

I don't dislike Arenas. I do think that he is overrated; he is a very good All-Star, not an MVP candidate. I also think that, while he is obviously entitled to write or say whatever he wants, some of the things that he has said and written have not helped him or his team. I don't understand why the media views Arenas and Chad Johnson as endearing but criticizes Terrell Owens and Randy Moss--but my criticism in that regard is directed at the media, not Arenas.

During the ESPN telecast, Van Gundy had a similar take to mine regarding Arenas' injury: if Arenas is too injured to play then he should sit out but if he is going to play then he should stop talking about his knee, the MRI, etc.

I don't wish Arenas or the Wizards any ill. I picked them to miss the playoffs simply because I don't think that they are one of the top eight teams in the East. The early returns seem to support that but it is a long season, so we'll see what happens.


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