1. After Push(es) Came To Shove(s), Blazers Win
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that played out Sunday in an unusually chippy battle between two struggling teams. Portland ultimately ended a six-game losing streak and kept the Clippers winless on the road with a 100-91 win, one that was as much donated by the losers as earned by the victors.
Alas, this game will be remembered much more for the illegal plays than the legal ones. League discipline czar Stu Jackson is likely to have a very busy Monday morning that could see him suspend as many as three players following a heated second half.
The festivities began with four seconds left in the third quarter, when the Clips' Brian Cook took down Joel Przybilla on a dunk attempt. He was sent off with a flagrant foul 2 that also will likely see him earn a one-game suspension, given that it was virtually identical to recent plays that saw Philadelphia's Elton Brand and Washington's Hilton Armstrong suffer similar penalties.
Although the play happened in front of the Clippers bench, Portland's Wesley Matthews appeared to break through a picket line of Blazers assistant coaches and advance up the sideline outside his team's bench area. If so, he would also face an automatic one-game ban.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Matthews, who led the team with 26 points.
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"I know I didn't get on the court. There was no intention for me to go out there, it was just a spur-of-the-moment type thing, so hopefully I'm all right. David Stern, I didn't do anything. I'm just an intense player and I love my teammates."
Matthews may skate on a technicality, however, as the TV broadcasters I talked to said there may not be video evidence. Unlike playoff games, most regular-season TV broadcasts have just a main camera (which was focused on the fracas at the other side of the court) and one baseline camera (which also, I'm told, was on the baseline by the Clippers bench). Their limited view of the happenings along the Blazers' sideline may inhibit definitive proof of his guilt.
Portland's Andre Miller, however, is unlikely to be as fortunate. Midway through the fourth quarter, he turned himself into a human battering ram and torpedoed a blindsided Blake Griffin into the stanchion under the Clippers' basket; unlike Matthews' transgression, this one has abundant corroborating video. At the very least, Miller will likely have a flagrant foul 1 added to his file. The normally calm Griffin was upset enough to have a heated conversation with ref Pat Fraher over the unbelievable fact that none of the three refs saw it.
"There wasn't [a] foul called," said Miller. "I got my opportunity to get a lick in."
That isn't all Jackson will have to deal with. Another fourth-quarter play saw Rudy Fernandez land a shot across the face of L.A's Craig Smith; while Smith was unable to get close enough to retaliate in kind, he left ample enough verbal evidence of his intentions that he was immediately ejected.
Finally, reviews of hard shots by Baron Davis (on Nicolas Batum on a breakaway with 24 seconds left) and Marcus Camby (a smack across the face of Griffin, which was ruled a flagrant 1 at the time) will occupy some of Jackson's morning, as will the brief skirmish after Cook's flagrant 2, which led to a confrontation that saw Przybilla, Batum, Davis and Smith get T'd up.
Overall, the Clippers seemed to get the worst of the deal in terms of technicals and flagrants; while Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro seemed unwilling to risk a fine merely for the sake of improving my story, he was livid with the officials for much of the game. Assistant Dean Demopoulos also earned a technical foul in the second quarter for protesting a call.
Additionally, the Clippers lost center Chris Kaman to a sprained ankle in the third quarter. If he and Cook aren't available for Monday's game against Sacramento, the struggling Clippers would be left with a paper-thin frontcourt.
As for the rest of the contest, this game matched 8-11 against 4-16, and it looked the part. After a dismal first half, L.A. rallied from a 22-point deficit with the help of the familiar second-half offensive implosion from the hosts and the overpowering physicality of Griffin (21 points, 15 rebounds).
The Clippers, however, showed why they're the league's favorite homecoming opponent. L.A. handed the game back by missing 17 free throws, getting two players ejected and absorbing five technical fouls, and committing two key turnovers in the final minute.
The Clippers were still in the game after all that, until a positively brain-dead foul by Ryan Gomes with 31 seconds left in a one-possession game effectively ended their hopes. Miller hit two free throws to extend the lead to 96-91, Baron Davis missed a desperate 3-point heave, and it was all over.
This isn't nearly over for the league office, however. It'll be reviewing large chunks of this game in the next 24 hours, and likely meting out some additional justice as a result.
2. Parker, NBA-Leading Spurs Turning Up 'O'
With Sunday night's 109-84 defeat of the New Orleans Hornets, the San Antonio Spurs went to 14-0 when scoring 100 points or more. 14-0 is impressive, but what is, perhaps, more surprising is the Spurs are scoring 100 points or more with regularity and ease. In fact, going into this contest, San Antonio was averaging an eye-poppingly uncharacteristic 106.6 points per game.
What gives? Whatever happened to the slow and old, gritty but boring Spurs?
In an effort to keep up with Western Conference elites, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs' front office have redefined the team in recent offseasons, gradually moving away from aging offensive liabilities such as Bruce Bowen, and slowly surrounding their core with youth and scoring.
Nearly every lineup the Spurs place on the floor features four capable shooters, and the Spurs lack a single five-man configuration that doesn't supply some offensive capability at every position.
The Spurs shot 11-22 on 3-point attempts against the Hornets, and much of that was fueled by a second-quarter unit of Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner, four of five of whom can dial from range. It was this unit which put the game away, scoring five 3-point baskets in the first 4:28 of the second quarter.
The Spurs' largest lead of the game was 38, which brings us back to the question of San Antonio's newfound offensive potency. San Antonio dealt 29 assists on 41 baskets. It's the epitome of cliche, but the Spurs share the basketball.
Tony Parker, in particular, elevates San Antonio's offense when he transforms his game from simply scoring the ball and becomes a scorer and a passer. Parker had six assists in 27 minutes against the Hornets. He's averaging a career-high seven assists per game this season.
The win against the Hornets provided a perfect case study on the refreshingly offensive-minded Spurs, and the game was a drawn-perfect diagram on how their offense has pushed San Antonio to a league-leading 17-3 record.
3. Bench Boosts Celtics
By Chris Forsberg
NEWARK, N.J. -- Buckle up.
That was the instruction Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave to his assistants as Boston trotted out a second unit of Avery Bradley, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O'Neal to start the second quarter of Sunday's game with the New Jersey Nets.
Boston's reserves have struggled to maintain leads and Rivers frequently has kept a starter on the court with them to prevent lapses. But playing without Rajon Rondo and adamant about limiting minutes for the Big Three, Rivers sent out the untested collection in a two-point game and crossed his fingers.
He was rewarded with inspired defensive play from a group clearly lacking offensive firepower. So even though the shots of Boston's reserves didn't fall, neither did attempts by New Jersey. And by the time Kevin Garnett capped the trickle of starters returning to the floor with 5:43 to play in the half, Boston boasted a 13-point cushion that only grew from there en route to a breezy 100-75 triumph at the Prudential Center.
"We were going to rest our guys and I told our coaches, 'Hey, put your seatbelts on,'" said Rivers, who managed to keep captain Paul Pierce on the bench for the final 12:08 of the first half. "No matter what the score was we had to give our guys a blow. And [the reserves] came in and they changed the tempo, defensively, of the game."
4. What Ails Struggling Bucks?
By Tom Haberstroh
Heading into the season, the Milwaukee Bucks were widely considered to be knocking on the door of the Eastern Conference's upper echelon. Over the summer, an ESPN panel of 93 NBA contributors forecast that the Bucks would win 46 games en route to the sixth seed in the postseason standings.
A lot has changed since then.
With a 6-11 record, the Bucks don't look like a playoff team, much less one that was supposed to make some noise in the postseason. The team's only win over the past seven games came at home against the Charlotte Bobcats, another 2009-10 playoff team that has fallen off the map early -- and it was by only three points. To make matters worse, four of the Bucks' past six losses were by double digits. Sure, we can hand them a free pass on the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz blowouts, but not the ones to the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.
Perhaps the most interesting part of their slide is that practically no one saw this coming. In fact, none of the 93 ESPN panelists voted Milwaukee for "Team Turmoil" -- the team that would suffer the most problems in the upcoming season. The Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and the Chicago Bulls each drew at least one skeptic in the crowd. But not the Bucks. They were safe.
So what happened?
For starters, the offense has been nothing short of abysmal. The Bucks score 97.1 points per 100 possessions, making them the least efficient team in the NBA. It doesn't matter how many offensive rebounds Drew Gooden and Andrew Bogut collect. It doesn't matter if Corey Maggette toes the line 15 times. A team won't score consistently if it can't shoot. And the Bucks can't buy a bucket these days.
5. Extreme Behavior
Nene, Nuggets: On a night when Melo and J.R. were getting majorly masonic, Nene, Arron Afflalo and Gary Forbes combined to shoot 24-for-31 (77 percent) in a 108-107 win over Memphis. Nene had 11 boards and six dimes to boot.
Travis Outlaw, Nets: Way back in the day, when Tex Winter was discovering geometry, black-hatted outlaws ruled the matinees. But this Outlaw didn't, as the Nets lost 100-75 to Boston with the help of TO's 0-for-7 day from the field.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I'm not sure we're going into the games with the same confidence that we had earlier in the season. Somehow, someway, we got to get that confidence back, that swagger back."
-- Chris Paul after his team was drubbed by the Spurs, the Hornets' sixth loss in their past eight games. Oh, and the NBA seeks control of his team.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Cloud Hangs Over Nuggets
For most NBA fans the Denver Nuggets are little more than Carmelo Anthony's future former team. They are in fact Carmelo Anthony's current team, which is something the Nuggets went to a great deal of trouble to remind everyone of earlier this season.
Despite the Nuggets' best efforts to ignore the various rumors and realities they are facing and their solid performance on the court there is a cloud hanging over the team. The Nuggets thrive on forcing turnovers and running their opposition off the floor and the fans are usually individual sticks of dynamite just waiting to explode when Denver starts rolling. The truth is the fans certainly seem to sense the cloud as well.
The Pepsi Center has been far from full so far this season and even when the Nuggets go on one of their electric runs the response has been tepid at best. During a first quarter Sunday complete with 10 Memphis turnovers and plenty of fast-break points by the Nuggets, the noise from the fans could have been overpowered by the sound system from a 1976 Dodge Dart. In fact, some of the loudest noises emitted by the patrons over the first 40 minutes of the contest were boos of dissatisfaction after the Grizzlies' second-half run resulted in a three-point lead for the visitors.
Those boos proved the crowd was still invested in this team and from that low point the Nuggets recaptured some of that excitement they had been lacking all season long. Denver pushed the pace fueled by defensive stops and a couple of steals as the home team forced its way back into the lead. The crowd responded and for a few short moments in the Pepsi Center the speculation and doubt disappeared and the cloud was dispersed.
Surprisingly, even with the uncertainty and lukewarm home support from the fans, Denver has the best home record in the NBA, which is a testament to the level of talent on the roster. It is certainly only a matter of time before the next wave of Melo trade rumors surfaces, but at least for a few minutes on a crisp December night in Denver the overcast skies cleared and things seemed normal again for the Nuggets and their fans.
8. Tony Territory
9. Nash Rolls Perfect Game
Steve Nash scored 20 points, shooting 8-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 from the foul line, in the Suns' 125-108 win over the Wizards. Nash was the third player this season to score at least 20 points without missing a shot of any type, but his total of 17 assists was by far the highest in such a game in NBA history. The previous high was 10 assists by Lester Connor in a 20-point perfect-shooting game for the Warriors in 1985.