Predicting the Finals (The Long Way)

Predicting sports events is a losing endeavor. There is a reason that gambling is a such a lucrative business, for the bookmaker that is. Professional gamblers, like “psychics”, want to sell you their “knowledge”. Even wonder why don’t they use their “gifts” to make themselves rich without your money? Nobody can see into the future, and nobody’s system is good enough to beat Vegas’ odds consistently.

However for those that write about sports, predicting teams is a winning proposition (as long as there is no money on the table). If the prediction is correct, I can refer to it later. If it’s wrong, I’m sure no one will care, since it’s foolish to be held to that kind of accountability. Everybody has their own way of picking who will win. Some people decide which team is more hungry. Some people use which team has more heart. Other will look at which team has more playoff experience. I’m sure these people have varying degrees of success with these methods. I don’t know how anyone could quantify which team has more heart without getting a cardiologist involved.

I prefer something more tangible. As I’m typing this right now, I don’t know who I will predict to win. I’m going to look over all the data I have & make an educated guess at the end. I’m going to use Dean Oliver’s four factors of winning. Despite digging around, I haven’t found how he came to these results. This bothers me a little, but since his work in Basketball on Paper is so thorough and logical, I can let it slide for now. There are actually 2 sides to each factor, an offensive and defensive component.

Factor 1. Shooting (eFG%)

OFFENSIVE

L.A.	48.1%	102%	7th
DET	46.1%	98%	20th

[NOTE: The first number is eFG%, the second is their percentage of the league average, the last is their rank.]

Los Angeles has the advantage here, and it should be no surprise. Shaq led the league in eFG% with his massive FG% (58%). Payton, Malone, and Kobe all had better eFG% than the Pistons’ team average.

On the other hand Detroit is a poor shooting team. Adding Rasheed (47%) slightly improves their percentage, but their big scorers Hamilton and Billups have an eFG% of 46%. Meanwhile Larry Brown’s Ben Wallace experiment has me scratching my head. Wallace’s offensive contributions used to be limited to put backs and easy shots, which gave him a near 50% FG%. This year Brown has asked Wallace to take a more active role, and he’s been horrible (42%). Brown’s logic is to keep teams honest by using a defender on Big Ben, which should give the other Detroit shooters a small edge. Either it hasn’t worked as Detroit is 20th in eFG%, or the Pistons are a worse shooting team than I expected.

DEFENSIVE

L.A.	47.1%	100%	15th
DET	44.1%	107%	2nd

This is where the Pistons shine. Although L.A. is simply average, Detroit is awesome, only behind the Spurs. Which brings an interesting comparison, since Los Angeles beat the Spurs earlier this year. Here’s a little chart of L.A.’s big 4 scoring in that series.

Name	1	2	3	4	5	6	1-2avg	3-6avg
Shaq	19	32	28	28	11	17	25.5	21
Kobe	31	15	22	42	22	26	23	28
Payton	4	7	15	8	5	15	5.5	10.8
Malone	10	13	13	9	7	8	11.5	9.3
?????	32	33	28	23	28	25	32.5	26

Los Angeles lost the first two games, but won the next 4. The difference seemed to be Kobe Bryant, who averaged 5 more points in the Laker’s wins. The last row is Bruce Bowen’s minutes, Kobe’s main defender. Granted Kobe torched him in game 1, but it’s apparent the less Bowen played, the more points Bryant scored. The reason Bowen played less is the Spurs’ offense fizzled and they needed more scorers on the court. San Antonio’s offense was ranked 14th, slightly better than the Pistons. Detroit should learn a lesson from the Spurs. They have to stay close in the game, so Brown won’t be tempted to take his defenders out for more firepower.

Factor 2. Turnovers (TO/100poss)

OFFENSE

LA	14.2	109%	5th
DET	16.2	96%	20th

DEFENSE

LA	15.4	99%	16th
DET	16.5	106%	7th

Again, the Lakers are better on offense, while the Pistons are better on defense. However the Lakers have the edge here. How? They turnover the ball 14.2 times per 100 possessions, but force turnovers 15.4 times, which is a net of +1.2. Meanwhile the Pistons give it up 16.2 times, and get it back 16.5 times, which is a small +.3 net.

Factor 3. Offensive Rebounds (oREB%)

OFFENSE

LA	28.1%	98%	16th
DET	30.1%	105%	9th

DEFENSE

LA	26.7%	108%	5th
DET	28.3%	101%	12th

Getting this far is seems that these two teams have strengths & weaknesses in the opposite areas in just about every aspect. Detroit is better on the offensive glass, while the Lakers are better on the defensive. I can’t tell who has the advantage here. The Lakers’ great offensive rebounding is tempered by their below average offensive rebounding. Detroit is above average in both respects, but nowhere near the Lakers’ efficiency on the defensive end. I would guess that Detroit has a slight edge, but not by much.

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)

OFFENSE

LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th

DEFENSE

LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

I guess I spoke too soon about their strengths & weaknesses. Detroit is clearly superior here at both getting to the line, and keeping their opponents from the charity stripe. One thing to consider is how will Shaq change this? Surely the Pistons will foul Shaq when it suits them, so will this negate this advantage? For example, maybe the Pistons can get away with a foul here & there, because their big men don’t foul often. Giving a few free fouls to Shaq, will that put them in the penalty sooner? It might, but I don’t think it’ll be as much of a factor, since Detroit is so good in this respect.

SUMMARY:
Detroit has an edge in the weaker categories, free throws & rebounding, and Detroit’s defense should put them over the top. However Los Angeles is very efficient when it comes to scoring and not turning the ball over, combined with Detroit’s weakness in these same categories gives the edge to the Lakers. In simpler terms, Los Angeles has a good offense, and an average defense, while Detroit has a good defense, but a bad offense. It’s Detroit’s lack of offense that will hurt them.

Does this mean that the Lakers will definitely win? No. I’ll spare you from the all too familiar “anything can happen in a 7 game series.” Instead I’ll say that the statistics don’t tell the entire story. This entire column is based on the regular season stats. However, Kobe only played 65 games, Shaq 67, and Malone 42. On the other side of the ball, Rasheed only played in 21 games for the Pistons. We really don’t know exactly what these teams are like at full strength. I won’t write off Detroit yet, but I do think they’ll have to do a few things to keep themselves in the game.

No one can stop Shaq for a long period of time. The Pistons will likely do what everyone else has done, which is to put a body on him as best they can & foul him when it’s profitable. Detroit needs to stop the rest of the gang, especially Kobe. If L.A. can jump out to a lead, they’ll force Detroit to do something they’re not good at, which is try to score. The Pistons move at a slow pace, and turning out lots of points very quickly isn’t how they got here. The key for Detroit is to keep the games close. They can do that by keeping the non-Shaq Lakers from scoring, and getting good production out of Hamilton, Billups, & Rasheed.

The key for the Lakers is to score and put the pressure on Detroit. They need points out of someone other than Shaq & Kobe. Malone has done well enough (13PPG), despite facing two great defenders in Garnett and Duncan. Gary Payton has all but disappeared from the offense, scoring 8.8PPG in the playoffs. The Lakers need production from the rest of the gang, whether it be Fisher, George, or Rush. They’ll want to score points off of turnovers, while minimizing any damage the Pistons might cause on the offensive boards and at the free throw line.

I said I would make a prediction at the beginning of this column, and I’ll stick with it. If Detroit wins I won’t be surprised (or sad), but I have to go with the evidence I have. I know I said over a month ago that the Lakers wouldn’t be holding the trophy by summertime, but I’m going with the Lakers, in a hard fought 7 game series. The Lakers’ offense and the Pistons’ lack of offense give Los Angeles the edge they need.

Karl Malone vs Kevin Garnett… Part 2

My column last Tuesday must have been a hit, because I received a stream of emails larger than any other column before. Yes I beat my personal record of 1 email, and received 2 whole emails on the topic. Technically this will be the third posting in this series, since the one last Tuesday was an email response to my column on May 20th.

…my only point was that since both were all-D 1st team they are by definition comparable (of equal value, etc – the very best for a specific season). often we get people posting to the APBR groups who are young and have seen the players of today but not those of yesteryear (not that malone was great all that long ago). not knowing who you were/are, i had to wonder if you saw malone play. my point was that anyone who had seen karl malone play alot during that time would have come away thinking he was a helluva defender…

my personal belief is that he was a great defender for a long time but himself did not get the recognition from the sports media and public as one of the best because a) he was also a great offensive player, and often people think the two do not go hand in hand, and b) he played in utah, not the mecca of pro hoops, and the jazz were not center stage until 96-97 and 97-98, having lost in the finals both times to the bulls….

bob chaikin

I have to agree with Bob in that I haven’t seen Malone play alot. Being a Knicks fan, and living on the East coast didn’t give me many opportunities to see Malone’s defensive abilities. Maybe I’ve saw him play once or twice a year. Bob is right in a way, that since Utah is a West coast team without appearing in the Finals until late in his career I can’t judge Malone’s defensive game. When Malone did appear on the main stage (for us right coasters), he was a bit older & played against an offensively challenged player in Dennis Rodman. By that time in his career, Rodman’s sole abilities were rebounding & defense. Defending against an offensively challenged player is hardly a way to show your defensive skills.

Bob claims that Malone doesn’t get the respect he deserves because of his offensive skills. So is being a good offensive player is a detriment to winning defensive acclaim? Here are the All-NBA Teams for two recent years.

2002-03
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Doug Christie, Sacramento
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

SECOND TEAM
Ron Artest, Indiana
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers
Jason Kidd, New Jersey
Eric Snow, Philadelphia

2001-02
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Gary Payton, Seattle
Jason Kidd, New Jersey

SECOND TEAM
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Clifford Robinson, Detroit
Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Doug Christie, Sacamento

The awardees seem to be primarily in one of two groups: either great offensive players (Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, Shaq, etc.) or horrible offensive players (Wallace, Mutombo, Bowen, etc.). There is a third group with offensively mediocre players (Artest, Christie), but I don’t see how being a great offensive player hurts your chances of getting acclaim for your defensive play.

Bob wasn’t the only one to have an opinion on the Garnett vs Malone defensive matchup:

…I think Garnett’s defensive ability is something that might be deserving of a whole column/blog entry. He’s got all the All-Defense nods, but there are also those that think his rep vastly overstates his actual ability (Kobe Bryant falls into this category to an even larger degree).

I recall a few years ago, the Sonics coaching staff said at a season ticket-holder Q&A that Garnett could be beaten if you went at him — in other words, he’s an excellent team defender, but not as good one-on-one. Dean Oliver said something similar when I asked him about Garnett recently (we were watching Game 7 of Kings-Wolves).

His opponent performance by postition (http://www.82games.com/03MIN12C.HTM) is pretty good, but not in the stratosphere of Tim Duncan (http://www.82games.com/03SAS15C.HTM). Does his team defense make up for that?

Kevin Pelton

I’m sorry to say I can’t answer any of those questions. Right now I think it’s safe to say that nobody can give a definitive answer as to how good a player’s man-to-man defense or help defense is. I think in time we might be able to extrapolate +/- data in such a way that we can verify how good each player’s defense is. Maybe there will be a more advanced way in the future to figure these things out.

One question that we can start debating about is whether being able to play good defense against your man (man-to-man) is greater or less than being able to play good help defense (team defense). I would imagine doing the former wouldn’t show up anywhere on the box scores other than maybe a drop at the opposing player’s points scored (or eFG%, TO/48, etc.) at the same position. For example if Garnett is a good man to man defender, it’s possible that all the PF who’ve played against him will score less than their yearly average. Of course there are many ways this data could be corrupted as well. [For example a team may have a great shot blocker or play a slow tempo game (with few possessions).]

Without evidence to the contrary, I would say that being a good team defender is more important than being a good man to man guy. Being able to stop your opponent is a good thing, but let’s say you’re a SG, and your opposing team’s best scorers are the SF & C. You aren’t able to help your teammates as much. But if you’re a good help defender, you should be able to help your team whoever their scorer is, whether you’re Garnett helping out with a block, or Jason Kidd doubling down to getting a quick steal.

Impartiality

It’s amazing how your ability to be impartial gets impaired the more emotional you get about something. I’m sure it happens to people on a host of topics, including religion, politics, and sometimes sports. I’ve been banned (rightfully so) by my wife from discussing the first two, since it usually becomes a hot topic with yours truly. When a conversation turns highly emotional there is no exchange of ideas, since you’re not going into that kind of debate looking for a deeper understanding of your views. The emotional attachment blocks your objectivity.

I want to go on record and say I am not rooting for the Lakers for a few reasons. Shaq seems like a pleasant & intelligent guy off the court. In fact I agree with and understand most of what he says in interviews. However, on the court he is a brute. That quasi-legal rough style of play is my least favorite to face on the court, so I tend to root against him.

That’s not my only reason to root against L.A. Unless my team is involved, I usually root for the underdog, and L.A. is anything but an underdog with their recent string of championships. In addition, I have my reputation on stake with the T-Wolves, as I picked them in my own blog bracket contest. Finally I find it hard to root for Kobe, Payton, and Malone right now, each for their own reasons.

Because I’m rooting against the Lakers, there are a few things I’ve discovered about myself while watching game 6. First is that I start to hate some of the other Lakers. (Hate is too strong a word for what I feel, but in this respect I hope my readers that are sports fans know exactly what I mean). My roommate & I call Devean George and Derek Fisher scrubs, getting their rings by riding on the coattails of Shaq & Kobe. Of course I know they aren’t “scrubs”, just role players performing to the best of their limited abilities.

Another thing I noticed is that I was judging the officials’ job by how they call against the Lakers. Early in the game Shaq pushed Madsen with his arm, not once but twice before getting the ball on the blocks. Of course this illegal push resulted in an easy dunk, and I was irate (too strong a word again – but you get the picture by now) yelling at the referee to make the call. A little bit later in the game, Oliver Miller was setting illegal screens all over the court. I know it takes a lot of force to get such a large mass to stop and move, but Oliver wasn’t even trying to set himself. Miller was just bulldozing guys, & I watched as this went uncalled for about 5 minutes. When the refs finally called him on it, I was upset. It took me a minute to realize that I had witnessed him doing it for a few minutes. For the most part I was in denial. I was holding the refs to another standard when it came to the team I was rooting for. I didn’t care if the officials missed this call, because I wanted Minnesota to win.

Gladly I was able to realize I wasn’t being objective, and was able to think rationally about the game. I know that the officials called a good game. At the worst they gave the benefit of the doubt to Minnesota, as most of the Lakers were in foul trouble and the officials handed three technical fouls to Los Angeles. Now that I am a public writer (albeit with a tiny audience), I feel a bigger obligation to stay level-headed about things. Fans have the right to be as biased as they wish. In fact it’s expected of them to think their team and their players are better than anyone else’s. It’s easy to be a fan and let your emotions take over. I have a great respect for those that have been writing or announcing for years with their objectivity in tact.


As for the series, it seemed obvious that Minnesota struggled without Cassell. Their offense was in disarray, and even getting the ball across midcourt has been an issue. No one was able to pickup the slack. I said in an earlier column that Hoiberg and Szczerbiak should try to pickup the slack. However their abilities come in an offense where they are not the primary scorers. Without a second scorer to take the pressure off Garnett, or a PG that can penetrate or distribute the ball, they were unable to fill the hole left by Cassell. On the offensive end Hoiberg all but disappeared in game 6, scoring 2-4 with 0 treys – his main weapon. I hoped he wouldn’t, but Sprewell tried to pick up the slack, but shot 8-22 with 0 threes (36% eFG%). It wasn’t all that bad, as he shot 11-11 in free throws to give him a nice 1.22 PPS (points per shot).

Using FG%, it might appear that they shot at the same percentage (.432 to .449), but the Lakers hit 9 three pointers to the T-Wolves 2. Using eFG% shows the Lakers with a decided edge (.506 to .446). Minnesota also turned the ball over more often 18 to 10. Certainly these are two areas where Cassell would have made a big difference. In any case I have to give credit to the Lakers, who certainly are the favorites to win the championship right now.

Foul? What Foul?

The other day I had a dream. I happened to be walking behind an NBA referee, and he dropped his rule book on the ground. I opened it up to Rule 12, Part B, Section 1. It read:

Section I–Types
a. A player shall not hold, push, charge into, impede the progress of an opponent by extending a hand, forearm, leg or knee or by bending the body into a position that is not normal. Contact that results in the re-routing of an opponent is a foul which must be called immediately.
b. Contact initiated by the defensive player guarding a player with the ball is not legal. This contact includes, but is not limited to, forearm, hands, or body check.

In handwriting, the official had scribbled something in the ledger that said “Ignore – Final Two Minutes.” I immediately woke up and the world made sense for a second, until I realized that was all a dream.

Referees try not to call fouls in the last minutes of a game. I can only guess this is because they don’t want to be the one to decide the fate of the game. No one wants to be remembered for giving Larry Johnson a four point play, although I highly doubt Jess Kersey is a household name. In the above example, the player is remembered for his accomplishment, not the official who made the call. If the whistle is blown, no one will blame the official if there was a foul on the play. What’s not debated is whether L.J. was fouled or not. What is debated is if he should have been granted the continuation. Often it seems that the referees are reluctant to blow the whistle at all. The end of a close NBA game sometime resembles the rough parks in NYC, where the motto “no blood, no foul” is taken seriously.

There are certain game ending plays that I’ll always have in my mind as questionable, because of the possibility that a foul (or two) might have went uncalled. Charles Smith’s blocked layups (4 cleanly shots blocked?), Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 16 seconds(did he push the inbounding player to the ground?), Jordan’s shot against Utah (did he use his left hand to push Byron Scott aside?), etc. I’m not saying there is evidence to fully prove there were fouls during these times, but I can question the validity of these plays because of laissez faire approach taken by NBA referees in the closing moments.

These playoffs have given me at least two more moments to burn in my memory regarding last minute no-calls. First is Mark Madsen trying to foul Shaq. Mark wanted a foul. Shaq wanted a foul. The referee wanted to hide under his bed. Mark Madsen figured that hugging Diesel wasn’t enough, so he took Shaq’s arm and placed it around his neck. Still no foul. I think Minnesota should add Tracy Morgan to the roster, to give shack another spanking.

The second is Reggie Miller at the end of the Pacers/Pistons game. We’ve all seen it a million times. Miller pump fakes. The defender jumps. Miller jumps into the defender. Foul shots ensue. Apparently the referee didn’t feel that body to body contact was enough to call a foul. You can question whether this common Reggie tactic is a foul, since Miller is jumping into his defender. However if this play happened in the first quarter of a regular season game, I’m sure Reggie would get the call. That’s the whole point. What is a foul at one point of the game, should be a foul for the entire game. Referees need to be consistent with the rules right up to the very end of the game.

Karl Malone vs. Kevin Garnett?

There is nothing greater to a blogger than to get a response via email. It means that someone out there is actually reading. Writing a blog is a solitary act. It’s very different from responding to a message board, or talking basketball with the person that happens to sit next to you at the bar. I don’t have to validate my work to anyone when I write my blog. For all intents & purposes, I write in a vacuum.

Getting an email is joyous to a blogger. It means that someone out there is not just giving you a ‘hit’ by quickly scanning the page for something of interest. Not only did they actually read my entire blog (so I hope), but the fact that something inside of the blog made them yearn for more. They wished to contact you. And although it seems easy to scan the page for the email me link, few people exercise that right. Whether it’s from a lack of a following, or a lack of desire for my readers to actually care about anything I write is up in the air. By receiving an email, I know that I may be writing alone, but I’m not alone in my thoughts.

So I was thrilled tonight to check my email and see one from:

From: May Sorensen
Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 6:25 PM
To: knickerblogger@kurylo.com
Subject: University Certificates, No Classes Needed, ID: T8618U75

ID: m421OO14

Academic-Qualifications from NON??–ACCR. Universities.

No exams. No classes. No books.

Call to register and get yours in days – 1.203.286.2403

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I’d be interested in putting a university certificate right next to my university diploma. However right now I’m too busy getting my penis enlarged (sfw), and helping that poor Nigerian banker get his money out of the country. Some people might say that the random words inserted at the bottom are to fool spam blockers, but if you went to their University, you would know exactly what they are trying to say in that sentence.

I’d put May in the category of readers that just glanced over my blog. I also got another email, and I’m pretty sure that this guy might have read a few of the sentences:

From: BChaikin
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 10:38 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: KnickerBlogger

In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

kevin garnet may be a great defender now, but karl malone was 1st-team all-D for three straight seasons, from 96-97 to 98-99, during which time some other great defending forwards were scottie pippen, p.j. brown, charles oakley, tim duncan, and others. while some may write off one 1st-team all-D nomination as a popularity contest, i doubt they would 3 straight…

i saw karl malone play alot, and there’s no question in my mind that he was an excellent defender for a long time. for that matter his 1st team all-D nominations didn’t come until his 12th-14th seasons in the league – he was an awfully good defender pnrior to these seasons also…

bob chaikin

Now as much as I appreciate May Sorensen’s input, she will never have the understanding that Bob Chaikin does about basketball, and neither will I. Bob is a contributing member of the APBR. He’s created various computer simulation modeling programs that have been used by a few NBA teams. If you didn’t know all that, then you might recognize Bob as a regular poster in the APBR_Analysis group. Needless to say Bob knows basketball.

At first glance I thought Mr. Chaikin was disagreeing with me. All the normal clues are there. He’s begun by using my quote, and stating some facts. But nowhere in his email does he say that Malone at any time was as good a defender as Garnett is now, which was my claim. Instead he notes that Malone was a very good defender using both observational and statistical data.

I agree. Malone was a three time 1st team all-defensive team member. Garnett has already been honored in that fashion for 4 consecutive years, and he’s only been in the league for 9 years. In no way shape or form is that the only way to measure a player’s defensive abilities. However beyond that, I don’t have evidence to the contrary. Maybe Malone was a better defender but his contemporaries were better defenders than Garnett, which is why he won less awards. Maybe the voters had something against Karl. It could be that Malone’s defensive abilities were such that he held opponents to a lower FG% than Garnett would have. It’s possible that Garnett’s higher shot blocking statistics is due to his teammates letting their defenders beat them more often that Malone’s.

That’s an argument for another time, when we have the tools and understanding to better gauge a defender’s effectiveness. Right now I’ll be happy to take back any implications that Malone wasn’t a great defensive player in my statement, but stand by it as well by believing that Garnett is the better defender of the two.

Round 3

Let’s get another update in the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket.

BLOG:	1st	2nd	Total Points
Ron 7 4 11
Michael 7 4 11
Me 8 3 11
Jon 7 3 10
Kevin 6 4 10
Scott 6 4 10
Tim 6 4 10
Matt 6 3 9

In the lead are Ron (Hornets247.com), Michael (Knicks Clicks), and myself. I put myself third because they have the 4 teams still alive, while I only have 3. I could really use Minnesota to knock off LA, which might clinch the championship for me. There is a 4 way tie for 4th place, with 3 of those guys also having 4 of the teams still alive. Poor Matt from Bulls Blog is bringing up the rear. We won’t hold it against him since he picked these teams before he earned his college degree.

What A Difference A Game Makes

In an earlier column about the Timberwolves, I said that Minnesota improved their team on the defensive end. This is exactly how that they beat the Lakers last night. In game 1, LA had a field day, having an effective field goal percentage of 51%. Last night their eFG% dropped 10 points, to 41%. To put these numbers in perspective, 51% would have been an average night for league leading Sacramento, while game two would have looked bad even for this year’s Bulls (44.5%).

Only Derek Fisher (1-2, 1 3PT) and Luke Walton (1-1, 1 3PT), had an eFG% of 50% or better. Karl Malone went from a robust 8 of 13 in game 1 to a meager 2 for 5. Malone also had a dubious distinction of getting called for traveling by getting run into by his own teammate during the act of shooting. Gary Payton’s game 2 eFG% (40%), while better than his game 1 (36%), still leaves much to be desired. Kobe still scored a lot of points, but his 10-24 night lacked any hits from beyond the arc (0-4 3PT). Even the Timberwolves brand of hack-a-Shaq worked like Kryptonite against the Laker center, as Shaq went 4-10 from the field and 6-14 from the line.

The other thing that is radically different between games 1 and 2 in the box scores is the offensive rebounding. Minnesota only had 3 offensive boards (7% oREB%) in the first game, but more than tripled that amount in the next game with 10 (18% oREB%). It was a combined team effort as no Timberwolf had more than 2.

The Timberwolves may have more problems coming up. In addition to losing the home court advantage in the series, and heading to L.A. for the next two games, they might have to deal with the loss of Sam Cassell. Cassell has been fighting back problems, and had to leave game 2 after a few seconds. To make matters worse, he’s not Minnesota’s only injured PG, as Troy Hudson is out with a bad ankle. Journeyman Darrick Martin filled in nicely enough on the stat sheet (37 minutes, 4-11, 1 3PT, 6 AST & 0 TO). However the T-Wolves’ chances have to be decreased without their second best scorer. Cassell and Martin couldn’t be more different. Going from one player with a 52% eFG% that scored just under 20PPG this year, to a player who hasn’t played regularly in 4 seasons, with a career 44% eFG% will hurt their offense.

They will need someone or a group of players to pick up the slack. Latrell Sprewell shouldn’t be the one, since his 43% eFG% isn’t suited for the task. Even baseball guru Aaron Gleeman knows that Minnesota had more of a Big 2, than a Big 3. Of their top eFG% players, you can eliminate defensive specialists Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen & Oliver Miller. (Did I just call Oliver Miller a defensive specialist? I guess that’s what happens when you have 6 fouls to give against Shaq). This means Minnesoters should be rooting for Hoiberg (56%) and Szczerbiak (49% in limited time, 52% last year) to shoot the rock more often. If there is anyone that should be picking up the scoring it’s Wally, whose role was reduced this year by the acquisition of Sprewell.