Lion Face/Lemon Face 11.5.09

I’m off to Chicago this afternoon to pow-wow with Blowtorch and Graydon from 48 Minutes of Hell at the Paroxysm Chicago Branch, but how can we not comment on last night’s set?

Your primer, as always:

LION FACE: TNT

Do you realize that since the opener, we’ve gone TWO Thursdays without Boston or LA? And the result has been competitive games that also serve as incredibly fascinating? See, and this way when we DO get LA next Thursday versus Phoenix, we’ll get to see them in a game they’ll gear up for, they’ll have Gasol back, and it’ll be a fun game, even if it is a blowout Well done, TNT.

LEMON FACE: Inside the NBA

No mention of the D-League draft over on NBATV? Come on, now. Even if Barkley just makes fun of it for five minutes, that would be good. Maybe it happened and I missed it, though… because I was watching the D-League draft.

LION FACE: Derrick Rose

This is about to get numbers heavy, so hold on. I promise I’ll come back to actual basketball in a sec. If you look at Rose’s actual line (6-15, 14 points, 0-2 3pt, 40% fg%, 2 boards, 11 assists, 2 turnovers in 32 minutes) it doesn’t look hot. Nor when we start looking at the advanced does it seem great, with a 40% TrueShooting Percentage making you vomit all over your keyboard. The 11 assists, though, translated to a 61% assist rate.  That’s pretty outstanding. Then you have the fact that he ended up with a 12% Turnover rate. Factor in this fourth ranked Possession percentage at 26% and that’s pretty phenomenal. He also scored on 6 of his 26 possessions, second behind only James. What does all this lead to? A plus/minus of +1. Which was the actual margin of victory. Sure, you can interpret this as fitting the data to the story, but it also makes a lot of sense. Rose attacked the basket, kept his turnovers low considering how much he has the ball in his hands, and got his teammates involved, and that was the difference in the game.

From a basketball standpoint, his consistency and confidence in decision making is what has blown me away so far. His moves aren’t dramatically improved, nor is his conditioning or speed, but when the Bulls needed a score down the stretch he came off the high Noah screen, buzzed to the elbow and paused. Last year he would have taken 2 to 3 seconds to figure out where he’s at, where his teammates are and what the defense is doing. Last night? Paused and immediately burst to the one handed runner. Knowing what he’s doing and being confident to make those decisions are going to make him phenomenally better this season.

LEMON FACE: Cavs’ man-help.

Remember two years ago, when someone in the Cavs-Boston series would try to get in the lane for either team, and immediately would find a low player swarming to close off the penetration, forcing an ill-advised lob or a kick back out to the perimeter? And it was effective and disciplined, and intense? Yeah, Boston still does that. They’re undefeated. The Cavs do not. And they are not.

In the fourth quarter, the Bulls scored 14 of their 23 points in the paint or on free throws, with only two from the stripe. So the one thing you can’t let a team do defensively, which is get to the basket for layups, the Cavs did. Now, four of those were 7-8 foot jumpers. I’m not trying to pile on here, but we all know the Big Shaqephant in the room. The rest of that team is trying so hard to recover from O’Neal’s pick and roll defense that they can’t rotate fast enough. Against Chicago it lead to layups. We’ll have to see if it leads to three pointers against Orlando like it did last year.

LION FACE: Carlos Boozer

Hey, the guy’s disloyal, a distraction, overpaid, and inconsistent, but he can ball. He had the fadeaway from the middle paint working last night, and when Boozer has that going, he’s hard to slow down. How about a Help Value of 20 with a plus/minus of 10? How about an offensive rebounding rate of 19%? How about 27 points on 20 shots, and showing some fire for once? Great game by Boozer.

LEMON FACE: Carlos Boozer

Of course, he was blocked four times, skyrocketing him up the BlockClocked ranking to #2 currently. I’ve been ragging on this for two years. When is Boozer going to learn that against Duncan he needs to rely on his jumper and mobility? He keeps trying to go straight at him. Last night his aggressiveness was an asset, but seriously, dude! Try a pump fake now and then!

LION FACE: Vinny Del Negro

I commented on Twitter last night that every time I see the Bulls go down, they fight back. Now, the argument can be made that VDN is part of what gets them in that position, but I don’t think so. Shooting percentages, defensive whereabouts and rhythm help in those first quarters, and he hasn’t done anything insanely dumb with the lineups yet outside of the Taj Gibson-Tyrus Thomas thing and that’s a whole other deal. Meanwhile, for this team to fight on defense after it goes down like it does is huge. Because they fight most when the game is still in reach but slipping, and that’s where I find most teams get lost. Noah helps a ton here. Every little opportunity for him is not just a chance to make a play, but something that can get something started. Once you wind him up with a defensive opportunity, he’s good for five more minutes of inspired play. Absolutely phenomenal play from him. He’s managing minutes well, and whatever he’s selling to them, they’re buying.

LEMON FACE: VDN

Why? That last possession. Look. I like Brad Miller. I really do, I think he’s been great on this team. I think he brings a lot. But at what point is VDN going to look and realize that the defense specifically tries to funnel the ball to Miller at 18 feet to force him to make a decision? Miller’s a solid passer, but when you need a great pass, he’s not the guy. And yet he keeps ending up with it, which is what results in nightmare fuel like that last possession for the Bulls last night.

LION FACE: LeBron James

Why? He went to the bucket. Everyone’s bagging on him for not trying to score more. But if he was trying to do that, he would have done what he normally does, which is dribble dribble pull-up. That’s not his strength and we’ve been screaming for him to go get to the line for years. So I’m not going to bag on him for that. He didn’t get the call, it was borderline, didn’t go his way. No blame on anyone’s side. Good drive, good defense, good no call, didn’t work out.

LEMON FACE: Manu Ginobili (Pooh God!)

3 of 8 from the field, 4 of 6 from the stripe, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers. 21% of the possessions, scoring on 5 of 10, which isn’t bad, but a 19% turnover rate for 2 out of 10 ain’t great.  I don’t see injury fatigue on Ginobili and there are several plays where he looks like Manu of ancient yore, but his conditioning ain’t quite where it needs to be. So this isn’t a big Lemon face, not like a Warhead or whatever, but still not tasty.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.