1. Good Offense Beats Good Defense
ESPN Los Angeles
MIAMI -- Ron Artest was trying to plead his case that his dominant defensive streak was still intact.
In his last four games, he'd made more stops than a traffic light stuck on red, holding Indiana's Danny Granger to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting (13.8 points below his average), Denver's Carmelo Anthony to 21 points on 7-for-19 shooting (7.6 below), Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala to 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting (4.1 below) and Dallas' Shawn Marion to 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting (one below, which still counts, Artest insisted).
"I thought I played pretty good D; there was just a lot of screens the whole night," Artest said. "It's hard to guard the player and the screen, but I got through a lot of screens."
As he continued to play back the game in his head as he intermittently answered reporters' questions and shoved pieces of sushi in his mouth -- the chicken sandwiches and French fries that the rest of the team were eating didn't jibe with the new diet he's on that's responsible for his dropping 14 pounds since the All-Star break -- even he didn't believe what he was saying.
He swiped a box score out of one scribe's hand, looked it up and down like a parent examining a child's report card full of failing grades, and tossed it to the side of his cramped locker the way David Letterman throws those blue index cards away from his desk when he's finished telling a joke.
"Horrible," Artest said.
Artest didn't have a lone defensive assignment in the Heat's 114-111 overtime win over the Lakers on Thursday; he defended both Quentin Richardson and Dwyane Wade, but instead of adding their two names to his hit list, Artest ended up being the one who got hit.
Richardson surpassed his 8.1 points per game average by halftime while being checked primarily by Artest, scoring 11 of his season-high 25 points before intermission.
"I watch 'SportsCenter,' I saw the stuff they did on [Artest's run of solid defense]," Richardson said. "I'm a sports fan so I see all of that stuff, but none of it affects me."
It wasn't just improbable that Richardson was the one to break Artest's defensive "rhythm" (as Artest calls it) -- it was really almost unbelievable that Richardson was the one shooting down the defending champion Lakers. This is the same guy who, from June 25 to Aug. 13, was traded from the Knicks to the Grizzlies to the Clippers to the Heat.
"He's tenacious, he gets up into you, he doesn't back down from anybody," Richardson said. "I think he embodies what a real defensive player should be. But he's not going to be able to do that 82 games out of the year and just stop everybody."
Artest drew Wade (27 points overall) for most of the second half and overtime and had his moments, like the two occasions when he straight-up stripped Wade to build toward his five steals on the night ("Nobody does that to D-Wade," said Artest, sneaking a proud smile across his face), but was exposed by Wade's quickness at other times in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers cut a nine-point Miami lead down to three with less than five minutes left in regulation. But when Artest overplayed Wade high into the passing lane, trying to deny him the ball, a simple backdoor cut gave Wade a wide-open trip to the hoop from the wing. On the Heat's next possession, Artest sagged back to prevent that from happening again and Wade hit a 3 to boost Miami's lead back to eight.
In overtime, Wade used his penetration on Artest to set up Udonis Haslem for the game-winning bucket, his patented baseline jumper from 15 feet out. It was Wade's 14th assist, a season high.
"I love playing against a guy like Ron because he makes me play better and focus a little bit better," Wade said. "He got me a couple times on turnovers but I got him a couple times on quick attacks."
Artest can't shut guys down every night just like Richardson and Wade can't go for season highs in points and assists every night, but when one doesn't happen and the other does, the first-place team in the West can end up on the same level as the eighth-place team in the East.
Dave McMenamin writes about the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
2. How Much Will The Mavs Miss Terry?
DALLAS -- Less than 13 hours after getting clocked under the eye socket, and less than 24 hours before undergoing surgery to determine how badly his left orbital bone is cracked, Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry was his typically optimistic self Thursday.
"Not long," he responded via text message about his absence. Then he chimed, "Be back soon."
Terry believes the injury suffered Wednesday that left him bloody and woozy, with his left eye nearly swollen shut and his orbital bone broken courtesy of Corey Brewer's elbow, won't keep him down long. The streaking Mavericks, reinvigorated not only by the All-Star break trade but also by the resurgence of Terry's shooting stroke, can only hope.
Early indications are that Terry could miss 7-10 days following Friday morning's surgery, according to a source. The Mavs, winners of nine of 10 since the All-Star break and seeking a 10th straight home victory Friday night against Sacramento, know the time frame could grow depending on the severity of the damage, and that won't be known until the surgeons complete their work.
The timing isn't good for Terry, who was finding his rhythm again, averaging 20.8 points on 49.4-percent shooting over the last five games. A streaky 3-point shooter, Terry is the Mavs' only dependable scoring source off the bench, and the longer he's out, the more it would tax a starting lineup that already logs heavy minutes. Jason Kidd sat out of Wednesday's game simply to rest.
"His history is that he's played through injuries many times before, and frequently he's come back earlier from injuries than people expected," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Terry. "He's an extremely tough guy, and I know in this case he'll get back as soon as he can. But this is a difficult injury in a sensitive part of the body. We've got to make sure we take the proper precautions and don't put him in any harm's way in the short term.
"In the meantime, it's definitely a tough loss for us."
To read the entire Caplan column, click here
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Another Big Double-Double For Randolph
Zach Randolph scored 31 points and pulled down 18 rebounds to lead Memphis to a 105-96 win in Chicago. It was Randolph's fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds this season. Though Randolph is in his first season with the Grizzlies, he has already tied the career record for most 30-point, 15-rebound games by a Vancouver/Memphis player, a mark he now shares with Pau Gasol.
• The Heat's 114-111 overtime win over the Lakers marked the fourth consecutive game between the two teams that was decided by a margin of no more than three points. That's the longest current streak of its kind for any matchup of two NBA clubs.
5. Extreme Behavior
Dwyane Wade, Heat: Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 39 points, but Dwyane Wade shook loose for 27 points and a season-high 14 assists to help Miami even its record with a 114-111 win against the Lakers.
Phoenix Suns: The Suns took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter but stopped playing defense, getting outscored by 19 in the game's final 12 minutes in a 116-108 home loss to the Jazz.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It's official now. I'm soon to be a Celtic."
-- Veteran swingman Michael Finley, who recently received a buyout from the Spurs, confirming that he will be joining the Celtics
6. Matchup Of All-Star Point Guards
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Lucky Lefties
ESPN Los Angeles
MIAMI -- The marquee matchup Thursday was Kobe Bryant versus Dwyane Wade. The most intriguing matchup was Andrew Bynum versus Jermaine O'Neal, if only for the "what if?" aspect of it (there was a rumor of a swap between those two in the summer of 2007). But the rarest matchup was Lamar Odom versus Michael Beasley.
Or should I say, lefty versus lefty.
"Every time we play each other, we have fun," Beasley said. "He was one of my favorite players growing up just because he was left-handed, he's 7 feet almost and can do all the things he can do."
Odom laughed when asked if this could be a passing-of-the-torch type of game for lefty supremacy in the league, but did call Beasley a "great offensive player, just great."
"Left-handers basically have an advantage in the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There was a reunion for the Knicks [1969-70 championship] team a week ago, Monday. I was thinking about that team; we had five left-handers on that basketball team, I think. It was a very unique team because of it. It's an element that's an element of surprise. I rarely could guard Billy Cunningham; he's one of the guys I had a tremendous amount of difficulty with and he's a left-hander, so I know what it's like."
I had a high school baseball coach who used to videotape baseball games by dominant southpaw pitchers and watch them in a mirror placed next to his television because it made it look like they were throwing right-handed and he felt like he had a better eye for judging right-handed pitchers than lefties.
There's just something different about them.
Beasley said that being left-handed doesn't help him when it comes to guarding somebody who is a lefty.
"It's going to be a tough matchup going against a left-hander," Beasley said. "I'm used to guarding right-handers all the time.
"Left-handers, we got an advantage because everybody is so used to playing right-handers and people going up for layups with their right hands. And shot-blocking, we can use that advantage with shot-blocking, too. It's cool.
"We got a unique style of play."
Beasley would find a place for Zach Randolph on that squad, calling Memphis' All-Star forward the best lefty in the game right now.
"It's gotta be Zebo," Beasley said. "Zebo, you don't really know he's left-handed until he takes you out 15 feet and you're like, 'Whoa, timeout. He's setting up to shoot the other way?' By then you're already messed up."
9. Udrih, Evans Perfect Together
When the Kings traded Kevin Martin to the Rockets, it was assumed that either Tyreke Evans would move to the shooting guard position (while Beno Udrih stepped in to play the full-time point) or the Kings would go big by keeping Evans at the point and sliding someone like Donté Greene to the 2-spot. Instead, what they've done lately is keep Tyreke as the main point guard and start Beno Udrih as more of a combo guard next to him.
While the possessions and pace of the game have actually declined a bit by doing so, the fast-break points for the Kings have seen a boost from playing two point guards at the same time.
Before Martin was traded, the Kings were averaging 15.3 fast-break points per game (good for top seven in the NBA). Since the deadline deal, the Kings have seen their fast-break points jump to 16.4 per game. Not to mention, if you throw out the offensive debacle that was the 84-81 win over Houston on Wednesday night, the Kings are averaging 18.1 fast-break points per game since Martin was dealt.
The reason for this jump has something to do with Martin being gone and a lot more to do with the presence of two floor generals on the court at the same time. Martin was never a strong dribbler and therefore struggled to push the ball against transition defenses. Beno and Tyreke don't have that problem. They're both very adept at pushing the tempo and finding easy scoring opportunities in the open floor. The big men can get the ball to either guard and push the defenses back on their heels immediately. Easier points equal easier wins for the Kings. They're 3-1 since going back to a backcourt of Tyreke and Beno.
To read the entire Cowbell Kingdom blog, click here