A Nellieball Christmas: Warriors 109 Blazers 102 + Heat 96 Lakers 80 + Magic 86 Celtics 78

Two late great Warriors wins in a row, what a wonderful feeling after these long weeks of teeth-grinding misery. And this one against a former Western Conference powerhouse, a team that the Warriors are going to be competing with for that 8 seed, if Monta Ellis’ prediction comes true. I say former because Brandan Roy’s bone on bone career is currently in doubt, and trade rumors are swirling around Andre Miller.

I’m going to get to this great Warriors win. But first, in honor of Christmas — which is my favorite holiday on a spiritual level, and now also on an NBA basketball level as well, thanks to the decidedly unspiritual David Stern — and also in honor of Don Nelson, whose style of basketball was greatly honored today — I’m going to gift-wrap you some bonus coverage.

Something very special happened today, something that must have Joe Lacob and the Director of Basketball Operations scratching their heads in befuddlement. Their cherished Celtics Model got crushed. In all five games that were played.

And it was a lot more significant than just these five games. Because today a loud Liberty Bell was rung. A thunderous cannonshot of revolt was fired. A resounding, reverberating signal was sent around the NBA that is going shake to the establishment of the league to its core.

On this Christmas day it became clear that a new order is ascendant in the NBA. An unconventional, perpetually out-of-favor, yet surpassingly beautiful style of basketball emerged out of the mists of the past — like the very ghost of the Havlicek-Cowens Celtics, or the Showtime Lakers, or RunTMC, or the Nash-Nowitzki Mavs, or the Nash-Stoudemire Suns, or We Believe — and once again asserted its dominance on the hardwood.

And a new World Champion was all but crowned.

I’ve got news for the number-crunching, walk-it-up-and-dump-it-in-the-low-post-loving Owner-GM of the Golden State Warriors.

Something wicked this way comes.



In just the second and third games since they overhauled their roster with two blockbuster trades, the struggling Orlando Magic busted the San Antonio Spurs’ 10-game winning streak 123-101, and the Boston Celtics’ 14-game winning streak 86-78.

The biggest reason for these resurgent victories did not have to do with the additions of Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson (for Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter). Those players, who will eventually be very good for the Magic, are currently lost in the Magic system, and having their minutes and roles restricted.

The biggest reason has to do with the player that was overlooked in these trades. The player who has suffered through one and a half miserable seasons playing for the over-matched Toronto coach Jay Triano, who had no idea how to use him, and for the over-matched GM in Phoenix, who had no clue that he was a terrible fit alongside the ball-dominant Steve Nash.

Hedo Turkoglu.

When they picked up Turkoglu and Arenas, the Magic overnight went from having two score-first combo guards and zero point guards, to having three score-first combo guards, and one point-forward. Coach Stan van Gundy frequently runs the Magic offense through Turkoglu, because he is a fantastic play-maker and distributor. He is especially terrific at getting the ball to Dwight Howard in the paint, something Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick (and Arenas) are miserable at. Turkoglu was the most important piece the Magic were missing after they let him go in free-agency. And he has stepped seamlessly back into his old role, putting up two terrific games in a row, much to the shock of the national media.

The second biggest reason behind Orlando’s resurgence is that they have transformed themselves overnight from a grind-it-out halfcourt basketball team that emphasized defense into a running team that will emphasize offense. They are now pushing the tempo, to match their personnel.  Before the Spurs game, van Gundy left a note for Arenas on his chair in the locker room. It said, “Go out there and play your game. Just push the ball.” And that’s what Arenas did, to the tune of 14 points and 9 assists off the bench.

The Orlando Magic are now a Nellieball team.

You might find that a strange thing to say about a team with Dwight Howard in the middle. But it’s true. Don Nelson’s best teams have alway featured shot-blocking defensive anchors at the 5. Of course, he never had a monster like Dwight Howard. But he did have Bob Lanier, who wasn’t too shabby.

Now take a look at the rest of the roster. Brandon Bass got the bulk of the minutes at the 4 against the huge Celtics. Bass is an athletic, sweet-shooting, undersized power forward in the mold of Jeff Green and Anthony Tolliver. He doesn’t shoot the three yet, but his jumper is good out to 20 feet.  It was good enough to draw Kevin Garnett out of the middle, which allowed Bass to drive right around him. Bass put up 21 points and 9 boards going against Garnett and Shaq. I think van Gundy might feel he found something there.

But when Bass is off the floor, the Magic go to Turkoglu, a true small-ball player, at the four. And in certain matchups, as against the Spurs, Turkoglu may even get the bulk of his minutes there. Which would move Jason Richardson to the three.


As for the rest of the team, well, they shoot the three. Man, do they shoot the three. Turkoglu, JRich, JJ Redick, Nelson, Arenas, Quentin Richardson off the bench — lights out.  And let’s not forget their backup center now that Lurch, errr… Gortat, is gone: 6-10′ Ryan Anderson, 36% from three.

And they run. Man, do they run. Even Dwight Howard is going to run. And that is truly scary.


I’m still not sure if the Magic will be good enough to beat the Celtics this year. It’s too hard to handicap right now, as they probably would have lost this game if Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins had played. But the Magic are going to get a whole lot better too between now and the end of the season.

They’ve got a puncher’s chance now against the Celtics. The same kind of chance that Run TMC had against the David Robinson Spurs and the Stockton and Malone Jazz — and the Nash-Nowitzki Mavs had against the Duncan Spurs — and We Believe had against the number one seed in the NBA.


As the great Ralph Lawlor would say:  “Oh me Oh my…”

World-class athletes running and finishing on the break. Pushing the tempo. Looking for early offense. Looking for the quick three.

In the half-court, a sweet-shooting power forward built like a gazelle, spreading the floor, beating his man to the hoop. An ancient center who stands 20 feet out, draining jumpers. A point-forward averaging 7 assists a game. Two offensive geniuses freed to create by means of simple high picks, surrounded by deadly three point shooters stretching the defense. Never once a low-block post-up.

Is that Nellieball? You bet your ass it is.

Some sound-bytes from the game:

“Our speed, USE IT. We just have to keep being active with our speed.” — Erik Spoelstra in the Heat huddle.

“That’s not set offense, that’s getting a rebound and pushing the ball down the throat of the defense.” — Mark Jackson on the Heat offense.

“Don’t try to walk it up, that’s when they were a bad team. Put pressure on the defense by pushing it down their throat. You have the best players in the world, force the issue offensively.” — more Mark Jackson on the Heat.

“They’re just running one screen-roll back to another screen-roll.” — Phil Jackson, in his mid-game interview, his voice laced with contempt.

“Look at how they’re swarming!” — Jeff van Gundy, describing all the problems that Jackson’s post-up triangle offense created for the Heat defense.

“Our big guys did a great job on Gasol, Bynum, and even Odom. We didn’t have to help much.” — Dwayne Wade post-game, describing all the problems that Jackson’s post-up triangle offense created for the Heat defense.

Let me pose a few questions to my readers. If Don Nelson were coaching Kobe Bryant and a front-line of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, on a roster that included Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, would he walk the ball up the court? If he had the most offensively-gifted off-guard of his generation, and the most offensively versatile 7-footer of his generation at his disposal, would Don Nelson mire the off-guard in a passing offense, and insist on posting up the 7-footer in the paint against behemoths that outweigh him? If Don Nelson had one of the best pick and roll combinations in the history of the game at his disposal, would he refuse to run pick and roll?

Well Phil Jackson is not Don Nelson, and he never will be. Phil Jackson will never allow the Lakers to be a running team, he will never free Kobe Bryant to create with simple high picks (except when losing in the fourth quarter), and he will never run pick and roll with Kobe and Pau Gasol (except when Gasol is growing sick of being frozen out). Because if he did that, he would no longer be Big Chief Triangle. He would just be the guy who lucked into Jordan and Pippen, and Shaq and Kobe, and Kobe and Gasol.

That’s the reason Phil Jackson lost to the Celtics with the best team in the 2008 Finals, and that’s the reason why he’s going to lose to the Heat with the best team in the 2011 Finals.

On the very first day of last season, I predicted that Lebron’s last Cleveland Cavaliers season was dead on arrival, and that the Boston Celtics would come out of the East. But the defeat that the Cavs suffered on their home court on that day was nothing, nothing, compared to the soul-crushing, eye-glazing massacre that the Lakers suffered in Staples against the Heat today.

I’m a little late this season, because it’s taken this long for the newly assembled Miami Heat to face the Lakers. But after watching this game, I am now completely confident that if the Heat come out of the East, the Lakers will not three-peat. There is no way the Lakers can beat this Nellieball Heat team.

Not with Phil Jackson as coach.

Portland Trailblazers 102 Golden State Warriors 109

I tried to keep this recap short and sweet, to keep my faithful readers’ eyes from glazing over like the Lakers’ in the fourth quarter, but on this glorious night of this glorious day, I just couldn’t do it. So with apologies for my effusiveness,   let’s begin, with the hero of the game.

Keith Smart: I’ve been awfully hard on Keith Smart this season. But after watching this game, I’m ready to admit that I may not have been doing him justice. It’s possible that he really does know exactly what he should be doing with this great Nellieball roster. It’s possible that he just wanted to test out a few wrinkles. It’s possible that he lost confidence in the team’s capabilities when first Lee and then Curry got injured, and he turned around and saw he had no replacements on his Lacob-designed bench. It’s possible that he suffered some game-management growing pains.

And it’s very, very possible, quite probable in fact, that this rookie coach with a one year contract and his career on the line has been walking a political tight-rope, trying to balance his team’s needs with the needs of his incompetent, meddlesome Owner-GM. It’s possible he had to demonstrate to Lacob that Andris Biedrins is not a low-post center. It’s possible he had to demonstrate to Lacob that David Lee is not a low-post power forward. It’s possible he had to demonstrate that Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are phenomenal creators when given a simple high pick, but mediocre when mired in a passing offense. It’s possible he had to demonstrate that the Warriors are far better running the ball than walking it. To demonstrate that the Warriors are not, in fact, the Boston Celtics.

We’re going to find out soon whether this game was just a mirage caused by the absence of Andris Biedrins, but Keith Smart got everything right tonight. Everything. The Warriors pushed the ball throughout the game. The pick and roll was unleashed. Monta Ellis was unleashed, and allowed to carry the load. Vlad Rad got 17 minutes at the four, alongside David Lee at center, including the exhilarating four crunch-time minutes in which the Warriors seized the Blazers by the throat.

And David Lee was obviously instructed to play LaMarcus Aldridge soft in the first half and stay out of foul trouble. Lee didn’t pick up a single foul in the first half, and Aldridge romped to start the game. But that all changed at the start of the third quarter. Lee bodied Aldridge all the way out of the key on the Blazers’ first possession, and that set the tone for the second half. Lee and Udoh wound up holding Aldridge to 15 points on 7-21 shooting, playing him straight up.

A dastardly trap worthy of Don Nelson.

Monta Ellis: He’s now an obvious superstar, a finisher, a team leader, a distributor, a dangerous defender, a closer with an instinct for the big play at the right time on both offense and defense. No play in this game was bigger than his steal and fast-break finish in crunch time.

Will David Stern let this superstar play in the all-star game?

Stephen Curry: If he had his legs and his shot, this game would have been a blow-out. But look at those 11 assists against 2 turnovers. If Smart gets the Warriors offense right, my prediction that Curry’s assist numbers this year will astound the pundits will prove correct.

David Lee: The jump shot blew up. The pick and roll blew up. David Lee is about to blow up, in the greatest offense he’s ever played in.

And the passing. That open-court touch pass back to Monta at 9:25 2nd Q? Better than a sip of Lagavulin.

He played some pretty good defense, too, for the second game in a row. As predicted by absolutely nobody. By nobody, that is, but one lonely, obscure blowhard with a blog.

Lou Amundson: I’m about to say some nice things about Lou, for a change. But first I need to talk to Joe Lacob about something.

Hey Joe, what was Lou’s Lacob Quotient (rebounds/min) for this game? And what was his Lacob Quotient on the defensive boards? (Unless your computer can handle infinite numbers, it’s bursting into flames right now.)

The nice things: Lou is extremely quick, as he demonstrated on a great dive cut, and a couple of nice isolation face-ups and drives around Marcus Camby. (Hey Coach Smart, how about using Biedrins the same way?)

I’ll also say this about Lou Amundson:  He tries very, very hard.

DWright: I’ve been pretty hard on DWright this season too, and like Keith Smart, it’s possible I’ve treated him a little unjustly. Watching this game, it struck me that DW’s forte on defense is as a help defender. He has a lot of responsibilities given Curry and Ellis’ occasional difficulties, which sometimes force him to neglect his own man. He’s also great at reading the passing lanes and coming up with steals. And in this game, for once, he also helped out big time on the boards.

But once again, DW’s strong defensive effort came in a game in which he had his offense rolling. I’d like to see him give a similar effort in the games in which he can’t hit a thing.

And the Warriors need even more from him. They need a stopper.

Vlad Rad: Who had the best +/- on the Warriors in this game? The incomparable Monta Ellis? Nope, it was Vlad Rad, at +11. And that was no accident. Lee at 5 and Vlad at 4 is currently the Warriors’ best lineup.

But that may be about to change, due to…

The Nightmare: LaMarcus Aldridge’s offensive troubles began in the 2nd Q, when Ekpe Udoh picked him up. Udoh shut him down man-to-man. A rookie in his what, fourth game, against an all-star. Just shut him down. Aldridge’s shots against Udoh, when they weren’t blocked outright, missed badly. Udoh’s arms are extraordinarily long, he moves his feet extraordinarily well, and his anticipation is extraordinary.

Udoh is going to be an extraordinary player. A defensive star. There is no doubt in my mind now. Three blocks in 16 minutes. He did struggle on the boards, as I believe Frank predicted, but I think that had a lot to do with him being drawn out of position as a help defender. And also a little something to do with the great Marcus Camby.

Udoh is also, I think, going to be an extraordinary offensive player. It’s a bit of a stretch to see right now, as a lot of the time he appears lost in the offense. But we saw two great moves against big-time defenders tonight, a spinning feather-soft jump hook with the shot clock expiring, and a short turn-around jumper, also off the dribble.

But what’s really going to make Udoh extraordinary on offense is the same thing that makes David Lee extraordinary. Intelligence. Vision. Passing.

This already intriguing Warriors season has now taken on an intriguing subplot.

Thank you, Don Nelson.

Jim Barnett: When, with a two point lead and 2:30 left in the game, the Warriors pushed the ball after a rebound, and Monta Ellis drove the lane and passed out to a wide-open Reggie Williams, who buried the early-offense three, the great Jim Barnett let it rip:

“That’s what you do! You play to win!”

I love you, Jim Barnett.

On Basketball and Computers: The Warriors lost the rebounding battle to the Blazers by 53-32, yet won the game by 7. The Knicks lost the rebounding battle to the Bulls 48-44, yet won the game by 8. The Thunder somehow managed to outrebound the Nuggets by 1, but put the game away down the stretch with an undersized frontline of Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green against Nene and Kmart.

How in the world could this happen?

Kirk Lacob’s computer is smoking. The hard drive is grinding. The Windows operating system has frozen. It can’t find the answer, and never will.

But we already know the answer, don’t we?


20 Responses to A Nellieball Christmas: Warriors 109 Blazers 102 + Heat 96 Lakers 80 + Magic 86 Celtics 78

  1. That was quite a read. I’m exhausted!

    “Lacob quotient” – too funny, although I have a lot more patience with him than you.

    Feltbot, I think someday soon we’re actually going to see a starting five with size, all capable of making a 15 footer. And if Lee plays better D like he’s shown flashes of, they’ll defend well enough. Nellie’s dream?

    I loved Udoh last night. Nice spin moves in the lane. He goes left off the dribble with ease. This is fun. Where are the traveling violations and dumb fouls we’re supposed to see from a rookie in his 4th game? Meanwhile, the Kings are considering sending Cousins to the D-League. Oops.

  2. One more thing on Udoh. I’m guessing that spin move will get scouted and eventually he’ll have somebody right on him after he makes it. So, what does he do then? I’m waiting to see him go left, not spin back, and shoot a fadeaway in the lane. If he gets unpredictable, watch out.

  3. Really enjoyed the write-up. Just sorry you decided to keep it short. An interesting look at the overall day, certainly a perspective you are not going to get anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the year after Nellie’s last run the style finally wins a championsip. I was surprised by your eary call on Udoh and had not seen him play until last night, but those 2 nice moves in the paint at crunch time were huge. If you are right about Udoh, this could be the key to the 8 seed playoff run. Udoh can be a player on both ends, something the Warriors have been lacking for a long time from a big.

  4. Very nice write-up feltbot; a pleasure to read. As was the Warrior game was to watch. I was extraordinarily agitated by the Warriors going down by 6 in the 4th quarter as I knew the Trailblazers have a strong tendency to blow leads in the 4th quarter (that’s all the local paper talked about this morning, that and how good Monta was.) But damn, you need to give them a chance to self-destruct by not turning the ball over! I was so pleased when Curry was finally pulled from the game and they went with the lineup that blew the Blazers away. Because of the success of Batum, etc. on the boards, each missed shot by Binky was the same as a turnover, and Curry’s shot required lead-based paint it was so rusty.

    Vlad had a great game; I was keeping a count of very-great plays vs. brainfarts and I came up with a 7-1 ratio. Also, Monta showed the nation there is a player on the left coast getting no publicity who deserves the all star game. As badly as he was limping (when he went to the locker room I thought the game was lost!) I wanted him to pull up after the steal and work the clock; but NO! he steaked the length of the court to put the game away and the camera stayed on him as he showed he was doing greatness on one ankle. THAT was outstanding.

    A terrific game.

  5. Feltbot, I wish that when Smart he watches video of last night’s game he will hear and take to heart Barnett saying over and over again that Warriors are killing themselves by double teaming so much and running at players.

    Smart is very predictable and opposing coaches make mince meat out of what he does defensively. I feel like the team has to beat it’s opponent and it’s coach.

    I also wish that Smart would start Udoh. He is better then Udoh right now and forever more. I guess Smart would argue that he needs a strong unit and therefore that is why he is not starting Udoh. But, the Warriors getting down the first quarter in virtually every game is ridiculous.

    I agree with you that the Warriors should continue to push the ball which is Nellie ball, but such did win last night’s game. Portland shot only 42% last night, and Sacramento only 39%.That is how you win games and Udoh was a big factor defensively in both games. Such offset Portland garnering 24 offensive rebounds last night to our 7. I find myself wishing for Biedrens return. I think that teams will continue to shoot poorly if Udoh gets many minutes and Smart does not have him chasing perimeter players.

    I hope that D. Wright continues to limit himself to taking no more then 10 shots per game, so other better shooter’s get more shots, and limit himself to shooting three’s, driving from the outside, and running the court. That is his game. By taking fewer shots he can concentrate on other aspects of the game.

    Udoh, is left-handed who can shoot hook shots with either hand. I can’t wait to see his drives to the hoop and shooting from the left of the foul line.

  6. Very, very nice, FB. I was in the mood for a win and an upbeat analysis. The team, I fear, has been holding you back.

    At least now the team has two sets of experiences for comparison: they tried one plan and got those results. Now they have what they’re doing now. Maybe everyone will be persuaded. One of the ESPN commentators noted that Lee performed better with NY because they spread the floor and he had more room to move.

    Very charitable remarks on Amundson. I kept telling the screen to put Vlad in. Vlad last year didn’t have the chance to play alongside a player like Lee. I’m wondering if he’s ever had a chance to play for a team that takes advantage of his size and abilities.

  7. One futher thought. Udoh is a tremendous offensive rebounder, but he can’t garner offensive rebounds by chasing perimeter players. Smart, wise-up.

  8. Upon reflection, I have deleted a post from this thread. I think it’s the first time I’ve done so. Look, I hate censorship. I welcome all points of views here, and I will allow posters the widest latititude possible in their use of language. But I will not extend the same latitude to over-the-top personal attacks, or the use of offensive imagery. (This was not an attack directed at me, btw.)

    To the poster whose post I deleted, please feel free to repost an edited version, if you choose. But please bear in mind what I’ve said. Thanks.

  9. Great article on the development of Udoh’s offensive game at Baylor that I just came across:


  10. Was at the game, terrific column, but if the rest of the league figures out Nellie Ball, will they be able to beat us?

    Seriously, besides Monta who has matured 180 degrees this year, you are starting to get us turned around on Vlad/Rad who did well.

    Udoh is funn!

  11. bloodsweatndonuts

    What I find puzzling is that pushing the tempo is a very simple concept that many so many basketball people fail to grasp: It’s easier to score before the defense is set up. If you don’t get a high-percentage shot opportunity out of it, you still have just as much time (if not more) to run a play as you would have had you walked the ball up. It’s reward without risk, who doesn’t like that? Hence the claw-marks on the inside of my skull from my brain trying to escape from having to process Keith Smart’s offensive philosophy.

    It’s nice to hear someone, other than Jim Barnett, who champions this basic fact with any sort of regularity and vigilance. Great stuff, I’ve been reading all season, just wanted to convey my appreciation for the content.

  12. Feltbot, bookmark this post, so we can come back later and reanalyze. I’ve had some of the same “It’s possible” theories about Keith Smart. Example: I have theorized that Smarts been running half court structured sets instead of pick and rolls because he’s been told to by Lacob. I’ve also held off on judging Smart as a head coach because it’s only been 29 games. Rookie players get some leeway to make mistakes and learn, so why not rookie head coaches?

  13. Felty, nice post. I watched this game on ESPN and the two commentators were simply raving about Monta the entire game. One note, I think Batum was the only player on the court that even made it difficult on Monta. He is a tough defender because of his smarts and length. Also, he’s the Portland garbage man, making putbacks and grabbing offensive rebounds. However, I loved the high pick and roll with Lee knocking down jumpers – It’s perfect for Lee.

    By the way — go back and watch the tape. Wright is still soft. He did OK rebounding on the defensive end, but other than that he was weak, as usual.

    You didn’t comment on Carney’s game at all — his three from the corner in the 4th was clutch and he played hard on the defensive end.

  14. Pete, I confess to not watching Carney much, but I did notice that 3 and I agree, it was clutch. If he keeps taking minutes away from Reggie Williams, I promise you I’ll pay more attention. Personally, I’d like to see Carney playing some four against guys like Jeff Green, Landry, Bass, Turkoglu and Tolliver. Or even Dirk Nowitzki, ala Stephen Jackson. Like Vlad Rad, he’s the perfect guy to defend the guys that are too fast for Lee.

    And omg would that make the Warriors a fast team end to end.

  15. Marcus Thompson’s coverage:
    –Smart appears to have turned a corner on the running game.
    –Udoh is moving up in the rotation, but needs to get in better game shape.
    — Smart appears to be focused on Udoh’s post up game, which makes sense if he’s going to be playing alongside Lee or Vlad Rad, and taking minutes from Biedrins and Amundson.
    — The end of Brandan Wright?


  16. Frank: Udoh’s left handed? Uh no.

    Felt: Lacob’s not micromanaging Smart. I see no evidence of this. Smart slowed the offense down when Curry first was hurt, probably a misguided attempt to keep Monta fresh to play 48. Smart and Curry also said this was part of Smart’s not so Smart strategy to help their rebounding. Huh? It was not “Smart” but now with Curry back and Smart having seen that his other slower scheme was not working, maybe he’s adjusting? Smart’s defense also is not Smart. That needs some serious adjusting but it looks like Udoh gives him a nice head start. I agree that our initial looks at Udoh have been exciting.

  17. Another team where half-court basketball has just died: The Charlotte Bobcats.


    Can you imagine having Raymond Felton at the point, Stephen Jackson at the 2, Gerald Wallace at 3, Boris Diaw at 4 and Tyson Chandler at 5, and playing half-court basketball? Can you imagine what Don Nelson would have done with a squad like that?

    Larry Brown committed a crime against basketball by making that team walk the ball upcourt. But now Paul Silas (wasn’t he Don Nelson’s teammate on Cowens’ Celtics?) is vowing to get the team running. The players are apparently overjoyed.

    It’s too late though. Jordan let both Felton and Chandler go over the summer. Adding to the legend of the man who drafted Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison.

  18. Uhoh’s interior defense is so good, it’s like having a 15 point shooter on the court without taking a shot.

  19. Have you considered a job in public relations? You have a gift. I’m not sure if I’m being tongue in cheek or not.

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