Game of the Night: Dallas’ defense isn’t all that, but it’s good enough

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Dallas came into Wednesday night with the second best defense in the NBA. It’s true. We didn’t believe it either but they are giving up just 90 points per 100 possessions. Which is damn good. (The Heat are tops, by the way).

Of course the reality was they had earned that against the Bobcats, Clippers and banged-up Grizzlies — three very weak offensive teams. It’s a small sample size party and the Mavericks were invited.

Wednesday night it was Denver. A real offense. A real test.

When the going gets tough, the tough go zone. Or at least Dallas did. They went to it for much of the game, particularly down the stretch.

It didn’t work well, but it was still good enough. Dallas watched a Carmelo Anthony game-winning rim out and hung on for a 112-111 win.

Dallas’ defense gave up 108.6 points per 100 possessions for the game. Not great. But they won.

Denver threw smaller looks at Dallas as they had to go without Nene — Gary Forbes got the start. And who is Gary Forbes, you ask? He’s the guy who dropped 12 in the first half. He’s an undrafted player out of UMass who bounced around Europe and the D-League, played for the Rockets at Summer League and impressed them so much they didn’t even give him a good camp invite. So Forbes took one from the Nuggets and made the team with his play in the preseason.

The smaller Denver lineup meant some crisp ball movement, which got them good looks. They also got quality chances in transition. Then, there are the nights when Chauncey Billups knocks down those pull up threes that cause Nuggets fans to yell “noooo” at there televisions. It really does happen.

Denver was getting the ball inside and hitting the chippies. But it was the ball movement that got them those looks.  Dallas did what they wanted in the first half — shut down Denver’s primary option. Anthony was just 1-8 shooting. But Forbes was 6-11, Aaron Afflalo 5-8 for 12, Billups 4-7 for 13. You’re usually in for a rough night when the guys you dare to beat you do.

Then Anthony woke up (he was 7-12 shooting in the second half). Part of what makes Anthony fun to watch is the reason you don’ really want him on your team — he loves the contested long two. He hits them at a better rate than maybe anyone, and when they go in you are awed because they are hard shots and he looks good doing it. But it’s still not smart.

However it was working against the 2-3 zone Dallas employed especially late in the game. Denver stopped getting in the middle, they settled working the ball around the perimeter with no movement inside. The only time it did go inside is because Anthony took it there. And he scored.

Dallas made a key play, eating about a minute off the clock late thanks to two offensive rebounds. But still Denver hung around. And got closer. The Nuggets got to the point where they had a chance to win it.

That final play it was Shawn Marion on Anthony. ‘Melo got the ball a couple feet above the elbow, made a step then stepped back. Created the space, got the shot up, Marion was with him and got a hand up. The ball rimmed out.

The defense wasn’t that good. But it was good enough.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.