The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Flash Recharges the Diesel, Celtics Romp, Durant Gets Schooled by NetsThe return of Flash has helped to power up the previously sputtering Diesel; Dwyane Wade had his best game of the season and the extra attention he attracted helped Shaquille O'Neal have his best game of the season as the Miami Heat defeated the suddenly slumping Houston Rockets, 98-91. Meanwhile, the three-headed monster in Boston proved to be too much for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and Kevin Durant continued to (mis)fire from all angles as Seattle lost yet another game. Here are quick takes on several of Friday night's games:
The Score: Miami 98, Houston 91
The Key Stat: Shaquille O'Neal set season-highs in points (26) and rebounds (14), while Dwyane Wade set a season-high in points (31).
The Bottom Line: No player, regardless of how great he is, can get the job done by himself at the NBA level; if he does not have adequate help then opposing teams will simply feed him a steady diet of traps and dare the other four players to beat them. Shaquille O'Neal's presence in the paint induced the Dallas Mavericks to double-team him in the 2006 NBA Finals, providing a lot of openings for Wade to attack single coverage. O'Neal is no longer the player that he used to be but he can still be dominant in short stretches. When he is on the court with the dynamic Wade the opposing team's defense is stretched to the breaking point. Wade made just five of his first 13 field goal attempts but he warmed to the task down the stretch, hitting six of his final 11 shots and scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in the final 2:53 as the Heat closed the game out with a 10-5 run.
The Score: Boston 107, Lakers 94
The Key Stat: Boston center Kendrick Perkins scored 21 points on 8-10 shooting and posted a game-high +30 plus/minus rating; his L.A. counterpart Andrew Bynum scored just four points on 2-7 shooting.
The Bottom Line: The "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combined to produce 59 points, 21 rebounds and 16 assists but the hidden reason behind Boston's early season success is great team defense; the Celtics held the Lakers to .422 shooting from the field and Boston ranks first in the league in this very important statistic. Prior to Friday, the Lakers ranked second in defensive field goal percentage but the Celtics shot .506 against them. Even a great night by Kobe Bryant would not likely be enough to overcome that kind of poor defense; Bryant had a slightly below average game by his lofty standards, scoring 28 points on 9-21 shooting, grabbing four rebounds and dishing off three assists.
The Score: New Jersey 98, Seattle 93
The Key Stat: Kevin Durant finished with 12 points on 4-12 shooting; he was also burned several times on defense by Vince Carter.
The Bottom Line: Durant shot his typically poor percentage but he did not jack up quite as many shots as he normally does and that is part of the reason that Seattle only lost by five instead of the nearly nine points that they have typically lost by this year. ESPN commentator Hubie Brown made some interesting observations about Durant during the game. Brown noted that Durant's 6-10 height should give him an advantage at shooting guard but because Durant has no back to the basket game that advantage is largely nullified; meanwhile, at the other end of the court Durant has to chase around smaller, quicker scorers on a nightly basis. Brown added that Durant must gain upper body strength and lower body bulk so that he can hold his ground on the block and finish strongly at the rim. Brown expects that Durant will eventually be a small forward.
When Dan Shulman said that Durant should be used to dealing with double-teams, Hubie Brown pointed out that at the high school and collegiate level Durant could simply elevate over inferior athletes; that is not an option in the NBA and Durant's decision making versus the trap is very poor precisely because he never has had to make such decisions previously. During the Heat-Rockets telecast, Jeff Van Gundy said that he had thought that Durant would be a better rebounder. I noticed these flaws in Durant's game during the summer league and cautioned even at that early stage that if Durant cannot rebound and pass effectively against fringe NBA players during the summer then he would struggle during the regular season--and this has come to pass exactly as I suggested, contrary to what so many "experts" have been saying for months now. During the halftime of the Heat-Rockets game, Bill Walton acknowledged what I have been stressing from the beginning--Durant has some nice tools but he has a lot of work to do mentally and physically to truly be a standout NBA player.
The Score: San Antonio 101, Memphis 88
The Key Stat: Tim Duncan (28 points on 14-17 shooting, nine rebounds) and the Spurs met little resistance in the paint, outrebounding the Grizzlies 48-39. The absence of second leading rebounder Darko Milicic did not help but Memphis has been outrebounded by nearly two rpg this season even though he has played in most of the games so far.
The Bottom Line: My initial preseason thought about the Grizzlies was that they would be much improved simply by virtue of having a healthy Pau Gasol for the whole season--then I saw how softly they played during the NBA Europe Live Tour and I revised my outlook for their prospects downward, which led one Memphis fan site to to award me its "first ever Overreaction Award." This loss dropped Memphis to 3-9. Maybe the Grizzlies will turn their season around but right now it seems like I can trade my "Overreaction Award" in for a "Nostradamus Prize." No hard feelings, guys; I wish the Grizzlies no ill well but I have to call them as I see them when it comes to analyzing games and making predictions. Unlike other commentators, I have neither a personal agenda nor am I part of a television network that must hype up certain players, teams and matchups.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM