Behind the Boxscore: Coach Pop and the wrong foot

GOOD MORNING PEOPLE!!

San Antonio 126, Phoenix 124

Gregg Popovich can sod off, none of us are interested in watching the Spurs beat Phoenix by more than we have in our savings account.

Phoenix is shitty but it plays tough defense sometimes, Suns step into shots that you wouldn’t expect — bad looks, basically. The roster is full of competitors who will let the last possession bother them on the next time down, that’s not ideal but at least something’s ticking in there.

Josh Jackson again needed 14 shots for 14 points but he was burrowing all night on either end, head up, searching for what excited him.

DeAndre Ayton sat which meant Richaun Holmes (six fucking fouls) could play, rookie Mikal Bridges stepped into 17 points (three three-pointers) and Kelly Oubre was the growl the game needed.

10-day contract hustler Emanuel Terry was delightful to watch at center, I think, and Jamal Crawford slid in where he fit in.

Anything to keep Jamal Crawford off of Players Only broadcasts. We don’t need Isiah Thomas stepping on this guy all over again.

Popovich wanted his team to expect the sets that they’d seen before, and to crisp up the bacon on defense.

He presumed the Spurs would begin to confuse Phoenix by some late point but San Antonio couldn’t slap the smirk off its own face, and Rudy Gay hitting the game-winning buzzah wasn’t going to help the mug.

Spurs: 30-22, Suns: 11-42

Milwaukee 115, Detroit 105

Giannis draws so much goshdarn attention, on the break or bumping butts around the paint in the half-court.

It was clearly bashed over Detroit’s head to deny, deny, deny but Antetokounmpo (11 assists, 8-16 shooting) is too good for that, half the reason the Bucks are the best in the East.

The other half put the Pistons away, Detroit couldn’t stop shiiiiit.

Eric Bledsoe barged in for 20 points, seven assists and dude didn’t turn the ball over. Pat Connaughton was way the hell more important than his 16 bench points (four boards, two assists) would suggest. Tony Snell finally found someone who couldn’t guard him: Luke Kennard.

D.J. Wilson bit on a hilarious pump fake (Blake Griffin finished with 18 points on 16 shots, Giannis helped quite a bit), Brook Lopez is your favorite everything and George Hill looks good now.

There are only a few good ways to use Andre Drummond right offensively, and Detroit isn’t into any of them.

Bucks: 36-13, Pistons: 21-28

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Oklahoma City 126, Orlando 117

Paul George ran masterful throughout but the Magic wanted a game out of this, the home team was smart enough to recognize OKC at something less than full burr. Orlando struck when the Thunder ceased clicking.

George swooped for 31 points in the first half and Dennis Schröder piled up 18 in the final period to secure OKC’s win, but the Magic worked up a credible performance: Mo Bamba plipped in some scores and Evan Fournier slid off the schneid, Terrence Ross hit four threes to impress each potential suitor.

Orlando makes bad decisions but the team earned good looks. It wasn’t like the Thunder were hustling them, conniving them, giving them the old Franklin Co. Flim-Flam, the old Cinco Bayou Kriss-Cross, your Tarpon Springs Tag-Along.

Thankfully, the Thunder showed no interest in setting up a classic Horseshoe Beach Boomerang, or even a Cooper City Grab-n-Hold.

Nah, the Thunder just played bad defense, poor by anyone’s standards, and Nik Vucevic hit for 27 points and 11 rebounds. Five assists and two blocks and a steal in 33 minutes.

Then Dennis started hitting from all over. Russell “Thunder” Westbrook collected a triple-double in the win.

Thunder: 32-18, Magic: 20-31

1984

Cheryl Lynn with the soundtrack.

Larry Bird with his “summer hair.”

Cleveland 116, Washington 113

Trevor Ariza was the only Wizard awake in the first quarter, he’d been up since ‘All Things Considered’ came on anyway, minding the local weather, picking at his steel cuts.

Washington was so bad to start and even worse to begin the second half. Cleveland emerged from the muck gracefully, a hallmark under Larry Drew’s tutelage. There is a beat to these Cavs, remember, the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland.

Cedi Osman (26 points) filled in the spaces he saw, I don’t know how well his act would work on a really good NBA team but I don’t care to find out anytime soon, his spark and athleticism keeps Cleveland interesting. Jordan Clarkson hit for 28 points on 10-15 shooting and Osman clinched it late with a two-armed steal.

Washington was only in it because the reserves ran stellar: Jordan McRae didn’t miss in five field goal attempts (two threes) and Gary Payton II added three steals and four assists to his 11 points. Ran all over Cleveland’s prevent D.

In the end, I choose to believe the difference was one of Matthew Dellavedova’s three three-pointers:

This is how the baby thinks daddy talks.

Cavaliers: 11-41, Wizards: 21-29

Brooklyn 122, Chicago 117

Chicago ran out and earned itself a competitive game, each committee was at its absolute best throughout this loss, this loss to the Nets.

There is little hesitation in Zach LaVine’s approach these days, the sorta hitch you see when the Bull decides his way into 34 points on 32 shots. LaVine squared his shoulders toward 17 points in the first half and 26 (20 shots) on the game, he’s a fun dude to watch at all times but especially when he demonstrates that sorta equanimity.

The Nets weren’t going to lose this, though, that’s been the determination since the sun started going down mid-afternoon. Joe Harris (17 points on 11 shots) was bent on avoiding another one of those games, not against the Bulls.

(Bulls coach Jim Boylen earned a technical foul for arguing with the Bulls down five points in the fourth quarter.)

The Nets turned it over only eight times, in a billion-possession game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (7-10) finally couldn’t miss and Shabazz Napier picked up 24 points, four assists and three steals in 25 minutes.

It was a very fast contest, D’Angelo Russell relished the extra chances. His touch convinced BKN that they had the visitors outclassed, probably should have realized that earlier. D’Angelo finished with 30 points and three steals, seven assists. He shot 10 free throws, making eight. Very fast.

Brooklyn didn’t play Theo Pinson (10-24 on threes in January) or Mitch Creek (Australian), which was disappointing.

Nets: 28-24, Bulls: 11-40

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Philadelphia 121, Los Angeles Lakers 105

This game was over even before the Rockets stopped shooting free throws, the Lakers were uninterested to start and not-as-good-as-other-teams to finish.

The Lakers never led, the Sixers moved the ball and didn’t overthink good-enough looks.

PHILA was kind enough to run T.J. McConnell and Ben Simmons during the middle bits, the Lakers feasted when Philly went weird, the Lakers were able to chip at what was a 24-point lead.

Brandon Ingram contributed his best game of the season, and it turns February in a few days.

Svi Mykhailiuk was also a strong part of Los Angeles’ second quarter comeback, the 2018-19 Lakers were fine until their best player developed a fifth quadrant deep into December.

Sixers had too many spotters, Jimmy Butler would duck in for an easy score (7-9 shooting) or a free throw (20 points all day).

Wilson Chandler hit three three-pointers, broccoli florets falling from the ball as it spun, and Joel Embiid (28 points) hit on everything else.

76ers: 33-18, Lakers: 26-25

New Orleans 121, Houston 116

We watched NOLA give it away in the first quarter and it felt familiar, life loosening up a little too much before tip. The Rockets relented slightly and the Pelicans remembered why they were in Houston to begin with, Alvin Gentry gets some asses in gear at halftime and suddenly New Orleans is great at this, again.

We got to see Darius Miller deliver, as he’s done all year, Tim Frazier stalking around someone else’s court like he was looking for something stolen. Ian Clark stood straight up and delivered three three-pointers and Solomon Hill sopped minutes.

Jahlil Okafor does what he is able to do, points (27) and rebounds (a dozen), and nothing else. Frank Johnson dove and tumbled, Jrue Holiday gobbled up James Harden, who the hell is Kenrich Williams.

The team isn’t only missing Anthony Davis. E’Twaun Moore is out, Nikola Mirotic is out, Elfrid Payton is out. Just the biggest parts of something that still means a lot.

The Pelicans never turned the corner because ownership doesn’t care enough to want to understand basketball, leftover gym teachers filtered up through the Saints’ sewer and into whatever the Pelicans were left to try with Anthony Davis. These are the men you hire as 8th grade history teachers because they’re available, and bellicose.

Dell Demps is a general manager that we all said was gunna be great and he turned out to be barely good, if that, within this crucial context. He played in tune and finished the song, but stage ate him up. That’s how this shit goes, sometimes.

There’s still a team here, though. A rotation for Gentry to yell at, a lineup to diminish the burden on Jrue Holiday’s legs, a setting for Payton to thrive and for Mirotic to do his best impression of whatever the NBA wants out of basketball in 2019.

Losing that is heartbreaking enough. This version of the Pelicans still has promise, it still has room to grow, but nobody in the training room had the sense to stagger vacations.

My wish above any other in this league would be for the healthy Pelicans to play out this season’s string. Something about basketball reasons.

Pelicans: 23-28, Rockets: 29-21

HOLD ON LOOSELY

Good advice, in temperatures like these.

Howdy there, thank you for reading. We do this all the time and would love for you to be part of it, more often.

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Lotta games on Wednesday.

(More to come.)