The Starting Lineup: Utah’s Rookies Shine In Win Over Lakers

When the Jazz win on the road, it’s news. When the Jazz beat the Lakers in Los Angeles… well, it’s the headline.  You may recall that I planned to pay close attention to this game because I wanted to see how Derrick Favors would fare against Andrew Bynum.  Favors had exploded for 23 points and 17 rebounds against Golden State on Saturday… but that’s Golden State.  I consider LA’s twin towers the ultimate measuring stick for front-court players.  If you can do it against the length of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, you can do it against anyone.  Anyway, Favors didn’t have a bad game, but he didn’t have a great one either.  He finished with a double-double–12 points and 10 boards on 5-10–but I didn’t feel that he was as impactful as those numbers may indicate.  Offensively, he certainly wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he was against the Warriors… and he couldn’t handle Andrew Bynum defensively (Utah sent doubles fairly effectively early on, but Bynum got going in the second quarter).  I suppose he had an alright game, but I was disappointed by his lack of assertiveness.  He never had a standout stretch, good or bad, because he didn’t try to do a whole lot.  I suppose the stage probably got to him.  This was his biggest dance to date (in the NBA, at least), and he was a wall flower.

Good thing Enes Kanter checked in and played HUGE. The Big Turkey finished with a new career high of 17 points on 6-7, grabbed 8 rebounds, and turned the ball over just once in 23 minutes.  Although no one could contain Andrew Bynum (33/11 on 12-14), Kanter did the best job of anyone.  At the offensive end… man, he was downright spectacular.  I think he may have gotten away with a travel or two, but I’m not going to nitpick about that.  The 19 year old came in and played aggressively against one of the best bigs in the league… I don’t think I give a sh!t if he shuffled his feet once or twice.  Skip to the 3:30 mark to watch Kanter score 11 points in less than 8 minutes…

Did you finish the video? Yeah, how ’bout Alec Burks!  He matched Kanter (and set a new career high) with 17 points of his own, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter.  The kid didn’t miss a shot in the second half.  Maybe after this stellar performance people will finally stop calling him Alex.

It should probably be noted that Kobe Bryant played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen from him.  He went 3-20 from the floor (1-7 in the fourth quarter) for 15 points while turning the ball over 7 times.  I’ve seen Kobe have off nights, but this one was different.  He never impacted the game at all.  Even when Kobe has an off night shooting the ball he tends to make his presence felt in a positive way at some juncture… but not in this game.  The Lakers went to Andrew Bynum on their first four or five possessions, and when Kobe finally tried to establish himself he missed six shots in a row.  He was never able to find the range, and to be perfectly honest he ended up shooting the Lakers out of it (again, 1-7 in the fourth).  Andrew Bynum had 33 points on 14 shots.  The Lakers should’ve gone to him almost exclusively down the stretch.

Vinny Del Negro did something right yesterday: up one on the Pistons with 22 seconds to go he subbed out Blake Griffin and inserted Kenyon Martin.  He did it two possessions later than he should’ve, but at least he did it.  Better late than never, right?  The reason this swap needed to be made was because Greg Monroe (23 points, 15 rebounds) had been abusing everyone who tried to guard him all game long, except for Kenyon Martin (ZERO points scored with K-Mart in the game).  During regulation, Monroe had driven past an unengaged DeAndre Jordan as if he was bolted to the floor… twice… in two possessions (pathetic defensive showing from DJ; he had just 2 rebounds in the game).  In the closing minutes of overtime, Monroe took it to Blake Griffin in the post for four consecutive Piston points.  Del Negro could have been doing offense/defense substitutions the entire time, but elected not to do so until his Clippers absolutely needed a stop.  Kenyon delivered, stifling Monroe as he tried to drive to the basket.  A wild shot went up and a jump ball ensued.  The tip went to Chris Paul, who quickly delivered the ball to Randy Foye for the layup that essentially sealed it.  Detroit may have been able to extend the game a little longer, but Ben Gordon missed a free throw and Lawrence Frank had used up all of his timeouts.

Detroit had an eight-point lead entering the fourth quarter. They had really put the clamps on the Clippers over the previous two quarters.  It wasn’t just a case of LA’s offensive ineptitude, although I’m sure that was part of it… Detroit really did play stellar defense as they held the Clipps to just 33 points in the second and third quarters combined.  While their D remained pretty solid down the stretch, their offense completely faltered.  They scored just NINE points in the fourth quarter, and…

…I feel like Lawrence Frank really f@cked up in the final minute of regulation. In need of one bucket to seal the deal, he chose to run two consecutive isolation plays for Tayshaun Prince.  The results were ugly–two contested mid-range jumpers, the second of which never even had a chance because it was knocked out of his hands as he went up with it.  Although Prince went on to finish the game with 20 points, I didn’t understand the decision to make him the go-to guy at all.  He’s simply not much of a one-on-one scorer.  Also, Rodney Stuckey had f@cking Randy Foye guarding him.  Stuckey was having a rough night, but sh!t… that’s your best perimeter scorer against their worst perimeter defender.  Why would you not try to exploit that match up?

So… If Vinny Del Negro made a good decision late in the game, and Lawrence Frank made a couple bad ones… does that mean Del Negro out-coached somebody?  Well I’ll be damned!

I suppose Del Negro did have a big advantage. I mean, it kinda helps to have Chris Paul in late game situations.  For the second game in a row, Paul killed it down the stretch.  Nine of his 19 points came in OT, and he although he only scored 6 in the fourth quarter he was obviously the most dominant player on the floor.  The Clipps scored seven buckets in the fourth, and CP assisted on three of the ones he didn’t score himself.  He finished the game with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 15 assists, and not a single turnover.  He really has been a f@cking monster in the clutch this year.  It’s the first three quarters that LA struggles with.

The Suns have gone and won another one. They defeated the Rockets with ease (99-86) to make it 9 of 11 in March and 11 of their last 15.  Steve Nash (11 assists) and Marcin Gortat (15/10) continue to get the job done, but lately Phoenix has been getting surprising contributions from sources you wouldn’t expect.  For example, Michael Redd went off for 25 points (14 in a row in the second quarter) on 10-13 last night.  That’s the most points he’s scored in over two years!  Also, in the big Nash-less, Hill-less win against the Clippers, Shannon Brown led the way with a season high of 21.  Other bench players who have been contributing include Sebastian Telfair, Markieff Morris, and even Robin Fropez (to an extent).  Phoenix has an extremely tough stretch coming up, though.  Five of their next six are on the road, and they’ll be seeing Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, Indiana, and Los Angeles (Clippers).  They only trail the banged up Rockets by a half game in the race for the 8th spot, but this string of playoff opponents could knock them back a little bit.

Courtney Fortson still doesn’t have a name on the back of his jersey. Maybe Daryl Morey told him he doesn’t earn that privilege until he scores a basket as a member of the Rockets.  Poor guy has more turnovers than points and assists combined.

Every commentator has his signature phrase, but Mike f@cking Breen has to be the most repetitive motherf@cker on TV.  Bang! Ahooo! I swear, it’s like a damn video game.  Once you’ve played it for a few months you’ve memorized all 15 things the commentator can say, and you can basically predict which one you’re about to hear in any situation.  For example, I used to have this game called NFL Quarterback Club ’99 for Nintendo 64.  Every time a receiver dropped a pass it was “get that guy some stickum!”  When a player got hurt?  “Oh, that’s a stinger, but he’ll be back in a few plays.”  That’s Mike Breen.  Mike “Nintendo 64″ Breen.

Box Score Observations: The T-Wolves are slippin’.  K-Love and company (well, he was actually missing most of his company, but still) lost to the Kings by 16.  Marcus Thornton led the way with 24 points.  Chris Bosh got Miami off to a strong start with 12 first-quarter points, and the Heat went on to beat Orlando 91-81.  Dwyane Wade finished with 31.  Quentin Richardson had 15.  Reality has set back in for the Portland Trail Blazers, who got whipped up by the Thunder (111-95).  Russell Westbrook had 25 points and–I can’t believe that this is true, but I’ve triple-checked–ZERO turnovers.  Ivan Johnson scored 10 points on 5-5 as the Hawks beat the Cavs, and Rudy Gay dropped 27 for the Grizzlies, who defeated the Wizards.

Highlight Recap, Donte Greene Edition: Donte Greene sightings are few and far between these days, but they still tend to be fairly spectacular…

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