NBA D-League Game of the Week: Albuquerque Thunderbirds Defeat LA D-Fenders 111-99

January 17, 2009

Los Angeles, California – The Albuquerque Thunderbirds used some hot-shooting and superior inside play from their big men to cruise past the struggling Los Angeles D-Fenders 111-99, in NBA Development League action on Friday. The Thunderbirds were led by David Monds’ 25 points, and David Noel’s triple-double performance of 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was the seventh consecutive victory for the surging Thunderbirds.

Meanwhile, the D-Fenders dropped their sixth game in a row, and fell to 4-15 overall on the season.

The D-Fenders entered the contest short-handed, as they only dressed the mandatory minimum of 8 players. To compensate for that lack of depth, Los Angeles Head Coach Dan Panaggio elected to start a four-guard lineup.

After a 45-point explosion last week, Los Angeles swingman Joe Crawford tried to get the D-Fenders off to a solid start. In some of the best moments of the first quarter, Crawford outdueled his Albuquerque counterpart Keith McLeod, outscoring him in their back-and-forth exchange, 16 to 12. Crawford would later finish with a team-high 24 points.

Despite Crawford’s effort, the "small ball" didn't lead to much success, as the D-Fenders still found themselves down by a count of 37-29 following the opening frame.

Nevertheless, the second quarter started out well for LA, as Crawford and Dwayne Mitchell were able to break down Thunderbirds’ guards for easy scores. When Mitchell single-handedly beat an Albuquerque full court press with a nice dribble and dish to center Gabriel Hughes at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter, it looked as if LA might be able to go on a nice run to close out the first half.

However, the Thunderbirds’ bigs quickly eliminated that notion, as Jasper Johnson and Monds responded with some great interior passing. The two big men worked well with each other in Albuquerque’s high-low sets, leading to several buckets.

Panaggio tried to counter the Thunderbirds’ interior game by closing out the half with both Hughes and the 7'1" Rashid Byrd in the lineup. Despite that adjustment, a Monds’ jumper before the half-time buzzer gave the Thunderbirds a 63-53 lead at the half. Monds had 22 of his game-high 25 in the first half.

In the third quarter, the D-Fenders’ veteran backcourt of Crawford, Mitchell, Darren Cooper, and the heady Brandon Heath, once again showed their resiliency by slicing into the deficit. Mitchell twice cut the Albuquerque lead to just five points with a pair of his patented, aggressive forays to the hoop. When Cooper later nailed the second of his four 3-pointers, the Albuquerque lead had dwindled to a mere four points, at 77-73. Heath then found Mitchell all alone for an easy bucket on the break, cutting the Thunderbirds’ lead to just a basket at 77-75.

However, the Thunderbirds countered with a tough three-point-play out of a time out from Will Conroy, the D-League's second-leading scorer. Soon after, Noel made two layups, and the Thunderbirds had once again established a comfortable 90-82 lead at the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the more experienced and cohesive frontline of Albuquerque continued their efficient play. In particular, the deceptively smooth and more-agile-than-he-looks, Jasper Johnson, hit a pretty baseline fadeaway, followed by a sneaky lefty runner in the lane. Those two buckets gave the Thunderbirds a fourteen point bulge, at 98-84.

From that point onward, the Thunderbirds’ efficient execution allowed them to preserve their advantage, as Los Angeles appeared to be out of sync defensively on a few possessions down the stretch.

The final statistics were quite revealing, as the Thunderbirds held a 7-point advantage in second chance points, and a 12-point advantage in points-in-the-paint. Equally important in the Thunderbirds’ victory was the effective play of their big men against LA's raw and inexperienced frontline.

After the game, LA Head Coach Dan Panaggio stated that his team's ineffective interior defense “needs to get better, simple as that. Aside from a definite need for improvement in the rebounding and interior defense departments, I would also like to see us get better at running the break and executing our triangle offense in the half court."

The D-Fenders’ leading scorer Joe Crawford also was kind enough to speak about yet another tough loss in what has become a difficult season. On the various injuries that have depleted the D-Fenders’ roster, Crawford said, "we all have to pick up the slack and take our games up another notch or two, especially being short-handed."

On being forced to play out of his natural position due to injuries, Crawford said, "it’s definitely not something that I am used to – having always played one of the guard spots – but it's something that you have to do as a leader and a veteran, make sacrifices for the greater good of the team. I think it definitely helps me develop more as an all-around player on both ends, and hopefully, it will help the team as well."

Guard Brandon Heath graciously offered some of his own astute observations, as well. He spoke about the D-Fenders’ small lineup, and said, “I know we definitely don't look at that as a weakness, or a forced move. I think it can definitely be exploited to our advantage, having four guys who can all handle, pass, shoot, and score the ball out there."

When asked about the team's struggles, as they relate to the triangle offensive system currently employed, Heath stated, "it’s always going to be difficult when you are trying to implement new guys into a system that they aren't familiar with, especially this one. With the triangle, you're not going to pick it up right away, in one or two games, or even in 4 or 5 games. It really just takes time, repetition, and recognition in this offense."

On his role as one of LA's more experienced players, Heath said, "I definitely feel like I need to be one of the guys, along with Joe and Dwayne, that need to step up and not only lead by example, but help to make sure that guys are understanding the offense and how to properly execute it. The spacing, the timing, the cuts, the passes, it’s all stuff that is still fairly new to some of our guys, especially our bigs."

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...