Heat 113, Knicks 91

December 17th, 2010, is a date that has been circled on my calendar since the league announced this season’s schedule. Tonight was the city’s chance to shout out our new opinion of LeBron to his face for the first time. Long wooed by the city, with Knicks fans applauding his accomplishments on our home court, his “Decision” changed everything. The fans who once longed for James in orange and blue now despise him.

And boy, did MSG do its part tonight. From before tipoff throughout the first half the crowd was electric, with thunderous chants of “DE-FENSE” every time the Heat touched the ball, and loud Boos ringing out each time it was passed to LeBron. The crowd even reserved a special chant for when Chris Bosh would shoot free throws: “OVER-RATED“, no doubt a result of the Heat’s implied belief this summer that Bosh was the best free-agent power forward, a belief any Knicks fan would now contest. Moreover, the team was giving us a reason to cheer, overcoming a 13 point second quarter deficit to lead the game with 3:24 left in the first half on a Landry Fields tip-in. Though the Knicks and Heat entered the half tied at 59, the game was soon to turn, with the Heat outscoring the Knicks by 16 in the 3rd quarter, with LeBron shooting 6-9 in the quarter for 14 points. The fourth quarter left nothing to doubt, as the Knicks were unable to find any offensive rhythm. Despite the horrific 2nd half, I don’t believe that tonight’s loss should be a cause for major alarm. My thoughts on the matter and analysis of the box score below.

  • First and foremost, this was not Amar’e’s night. During the recent win streak, Amar’e had appeared perfectly in control, a combination of power and grace that could not be stopped. Tonight was the polar opposite- everything Amar’e did seemed rushed and slightly out-of-control. 24 points on 28 shots is not the efficiency we’ve come to expect, and four turnovers certainly didn’t help. However, I doubt this problem will continue. For one thing, it appeared that Amar’e was hit on the arms every time he drove towards the hoop, with nary a call. It’s questionable tonight whether it would have helped- Amar’e shot an incredibly poor 2-7 from the free throw line- but other refs may well have been blown the whistle. Every superstar has a bad night now and then, and tonight easily could have been the result of the incredible minutes per game D’Antoni has been playing Amar’e. Perhaps the best thing tonight’s result could do is force the Knicks to lean a bit more on someone like Anthony Randolph (who looked hungry for playing time during the few minutes of garbage time he received) to spell Amar’e. Amar’e finished with a +/- of -22, which was poor but hardly the worst on the team.
  • That honor would belong to Raymond Felton, who posted an incredible +/- of -33. I wonder if the heavy minutes are again a suspect for the poor play, specifically because some of the things Raymond is best at (driving the hoop for a lay-up, for example), were absolutely beyond him tonight. Raymond hit the underside of the rim at least two times on drives- ugly. ┬áHe shot 3-12, was 0-3 from 3, and while the box score shows he dished 10 assists, he had no impact on the game. Not a result you would like against a team which is widely considered not to have a point guard. I’m not sure who we can look to to give him rest though, so this one is questionable.
  • Interestingly enough, the only positive +/- on the night belonged to Shawne Williams. This is attributable largely to his presence on an interesting second quarter line-up featuring four players shooting over 36% from three- Gallo, Chandler, Williams, and Fields- and a 5th, Toney Douglas, who is not shy to shoot. This was quite the interesting lineup. Wilson Chandler was the player presumably playing at center, if one had to be designated as such. ┬áThis group erased much of the deficit, and gave the Heat plenty of trouble defensively, mainly because the Knicks knocked down a few shots, but, alas, this particular lineup was not to return in the second half.
  • Thank goodness Gallo was dialed in to start the game, or it might not have remained close for even a half. Gallo’s 21 points before halftime were inspired. One could sense that he was playing with a great deal of confidence. Unfortunately his shot, along with the rest of the team’s, went away in the second half. Regardless, his 25 points were a game-high.

So why am I not particularly worried? First, I think Felton and Stoudemire are better than they showed tonight. Given proper rest, I would doubt they perform as poorly the next time they play the Heat. Second, their free throw shooting was just atrocious tonight (56.5%.) Making the ten free throws we missed wouldn’t have won the game for us, but considering the quality our players normally demonstrate at the charity stripe, shooting such a low percentage is an anomaly. Third, LeBron and the Heat were just incredible tonight, but in a way that could be hard to repeat. If you disregard a late miss by James Jones in garbage time, the Heat shot just under 59% from 3 tonight. Furthermore, LeBron knocked down a number of long two-pointers. While one is hard-pressed to call it great defense when his shot is dropping, the defenses of teams who have played the Cavs in the playoffs have designed their scheme to force him to take that exact type of a shot. On another night, his shooting percentage could quite easily be below the 60% he had tonight, including 50% from deep. This shooting contributed to the largest +/- on the night, at +31. However, this is why we wanted him on the Knicks. LeBron James is really good at the game of basketball. While the Knicks couldn’t ‘Beat the Heat’ tonight, despite the rowdy support of the MSG faithful, there are some losses to which one doesn’t need to overreact, and I count this among them.

Top 10 Ways the LeBron Special Goes Down

10. LeBron announces his decision 30 seconds into the special, then turns to stunned ESPN studio guy and says back to you.

9. James encourages viewing audience to play a drinking game with him. Every time an ESPN montage shows a dunk – drink!

8. LeBron reveals that we’re all in a sideways universe, and that we should be remembering soon that we are all friends. Except for Ben Linus.

7. James decides he’s going to remain in Cleveland, but instead of the Cavs selects to play for minor league baseball team the Akron Aeros. Says he needs to get out of Jordan’s shaddow & surpass his .202 batting average.

6. James announces he’s going to sign with Chicago. Newly signed free agent Carlos Boozer comes on stage with the contract. LeBron rips it up & throws it Boozer’s face yelling “SEE HOW IT FEELS?”

5. Citing too much pressure, LeBron decides to play in Miami as long as he’s considered the third wheel. Says he prefers to come of the bench and just be a regular NBA rotation player. Asks if anyone knows what kind of donuts Wade & Bosh like?

4. Steven A. Smith and LeBron James re-enact the infamous Piper’s Pit with Jimmy Snuka.

3. After 55 minutes of build-up including videos of James’ history, speculation of the future landscape of the NBA, and that cool touch screen ESPN uses for free agency LeBron says he’s staying in Cleveland. The result is 25,000 people tweet the same exact thing at the same exact time “WTF?”.

2. James announces that Akron is now an independent nation. A coronation ceremony follows, with James being crowned King to Devo performing “Whip-It.”

1. LeBron James says he’ll allow each team to give him one task. The first team that selects a task that he’s physically unable to do will be the team he chooses to sign with. The Cavs owner asks for a 720 slam dunk. LeBron takes the ball jumps in the air & spins twice before jamming it. The Bulls owner requests a blindfolded three point shot. LeBron covers his eyes & sinks it with ease. Miami owner challenges LeBron to score against their two best players, Bosh and Wade. LeBron beats Wade with a crossover and dunks on Bosh. The Knicks owner steps up and says “sign with the Clippers.” LeBron James says “New York it is!”

If I Were The Knicks GM, I’d…

With one day of the NBA’s 2010 free agency in the books, some developments have occured that might alter New York’s plans. What would I do with how the chips current lie?

Plan A – This is still LeBron James. A lot of speculation was that New York needed to sign James along with a second superstar to make a championship caliber team. Of course signing another top tier free agent would be ideal, it’s not necessary. First, New York has Eddy Curry’s contract that they can use in a sign and trade anywhere between now & the trading deadline. At worst they can let it expire & use that money to sign another player.

Second, I’d say that James, along with re-signing David Lee would make New York one of the best teams in the league next year. Why? New York theoretically could surround James (60.4% TS%) and Lee (58.4%) with Gallinari (57.5%), Walker (65.1%), and Toney Douglas (57.1%). That would be an incredibly efficient lineup. Although they might be lacking on the interior especially with rebounding at the 4, that would be one heck of a difficult team to shut down defensively. They could easily lead the league in offense with enough room to cover an average defense, much like D’Antoni’s 60 win Phoenix teams. Additionally Lee would give them some extra cap room to sign a few players for depth.

Plan B – See above, but substitute Dwayne Wade for LeBron James.

Plan C – Here’s where things from day 1 make it interesting. In the likely event that James and Wade go elsewhere, supposedly the Knicks were high on pairing Joe Johnson with another big man (Bosh? Amare?). But it appears that Atlanta has put the kibosh on that plan by throwing a max-ish offer at Johnson. (At this time the rumor is unclear if the offer is for the full 6 years, or just 5). New York’s backup option was likely Rudy Gay, but that option has been taken off the table by Memphis’ deal worth $86M over 5 years.

So let’s assume that LeBron, Wade, Johnson, and Gay are all off the table. What are the Knicks to do? The obvious option would be to bring back David Lee along with one of the top big men Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh. Bringing Lee back would be key, considering that he would likely cost less than Bosh or Amare, giving the Knicks the ability to sign another mid-tier free agent. Perhaps a player like Mike Miller or Josh Childress would come to New York for a discount. If not they should be able to land someone decent, if not one or more of the bargain bin players that Ted Nelson brought up earlier in the week.

A lineup of Stoudemire/Bosh, Lee, Gallinari, Miller/Childress, and Douglas with the bench of Chandler, Walker, Fields, Rautins, and James should easily make the playoffs. Depth would be a concern (especially at center & point guard), but the team would still have Curry’s contract to use for an upgrade at those spots.

Plan D – If Bosh and Stoudemire go elsewhere, the Knicks aren’t likely to have a good 2010. Their best option would be to make a trade for a superstar. Of course this is where Walsh’s mid-season trades hurt them, because they lost some assets they could have used in a deal. Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony could be possibilities, but the team inevitably would have to send their prized youngster (Gallo) along with a few other players. Depending on how this plays out, they could still have Lee (or not) and cap space (or not). The idea would be to grab a superstar now and hope to eventually surround him with talent. Paul or Anthony surrounded by marginal talent would be an upgrade for New York, but depending on the cast might struggle to win half their games.

Plan E – Hope New Jersey gets some free agents and wait for them to move to Brooklyn. Sell all my Knicks related stuff on eBay.

OK so it’s probably an overstatement, as the team would be best served by going lean for another year & hold onto their cap space. The worst part about this scenario is that Walsh’s past year would have been one big mistake. Not resigning Lee to a moderate contract, and trading some future draft picks (plus Hill) to get rid of Jeffries’ contract will have hurt the team tremendously. For another year they would be a losing team without the benefit of having their own first round draft pick. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t be hamstrung by a handful of overpaid players for the first time in what seems like a generation.

Knicks 93 Heat 115

The Knicks lost the 2010 opener in Miami 93 to 115. New York tied the game at 46 on a Lee layup with 2:49 left in the 2nd quarter. But the game fell apart for them shortly after. Miami would score 10 consecutive points in the next 2:19 and then outscore the Knicks 34-15 in the third quarter.

Some notes on the game:

  • Jeffries took the opening tip, but that’s the closest he came to being a center. Immediately after the tip, and for most of the game, he defended the SF position.
  • Continuing from last year, the Knicks continued their strategy of switching on nearly every pick. There were a few communication issues in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, where Miami got players undefended in the paint.
  • One quirk Darko Milicic has is to tip defensive rebounds to his teammates, which might explain his low rebounding numbers. He took hook shots with both his left & right hand, sinking both. And his passing is certainly underrated (3 ast in 17 mins), especially in the half court set. He could have had at least 2 more assists, but Knick players were unable to convert close to the hoop.

    The defense looked good with him on the floor, and the Heat did their biggest damage (late 2nd, early 3rd) with him on the bench. He didn’t register a blocked shot, but a few times players were unable to get a shot off or make their shot in the paint due to his presence. Milicic hurt his knee in the second half, but did return to the bench.

  • The Knicks were ice cold from three point land in the first half. They hit only 4 of 19 (21%).
  • Wilson Chandler’s first three attempts were all of the 18-21 foot variety, he hit only one of them.
  • In his first NBA minute, Toney Douglas committed a foolish foul on Daequan Cook’s attempted three pointer, running into him after the shot.
  • Danilo Gallinari got hot in the second half, and finished with 7 three pointers on 13 attempts. Most of them were wide open, but he hit one at least 5 feet from behind the arc. However he didn’t do much else on offense, and only had a single shot from inside the arc. It was a drive off of a three point head fake, and was blocked by Joel Anthony.
  • David Lee started off the game well, with some baskets in the paint and he hit a jump shot. But he picked up 2 fouls early, and had to sit out most of the first half.
  • Al Harrington had a Crawford-esque line: 5-14, 0 reb, 0 ast, 2 to. At one point when the Heat were pulling away in the 3rd, his inbound pass got intercepted by Dwayne Wade for a spectacular layup.
  • Jared Jeffries had 2 points in 35 minutes. He helped in other areas, (5 reb, 4 ast, 2 blk, 1 stl), but he also had 3 turnovers. Two of them for inexplicably stepping out of bounds near the three point line.
  • More Quotes From David Lee

    David Lee answered some more questions pre-camp on 9/28/09.

    [On his upcoming season.]

    I’ve [gotten better each year] my first four years. And I’ll continue to do that this year. I think I have a pretty well defined role because a lot of the same people are back and the coach is back. We’re running the same system this year, so I know what coach wants out of me.

    [On whether the number of players entering free agency next summer will be a distraction to the team this year.]

    No because people were talking about it last year. We’ve got a lot of guys on one year deals right now and a lot of people finishing up their contract. Everyone’s motivated from the standpoint that we’re tired of losing. It’s the matter of coming out and having a great training camp. That’s the first step – having everyone on the same page. There’s really no controversy like in years past, like what happened with this guy or that guy. This year things are pretty settled down and we can focus on basketball.

    [On his contract negotiations this summer, and if he’s happy to be back.]

    We came in last summer looking for a long term deal and we couldn’t get that done and that’s unfortunate. Yet at the same time I understand what the Knicks are doing. I told Mr. Walsh when we had a meeting about a month ago that I don’t want to be a part of the problem, I want to be a part of the solution. And the solution right now is for them to save their [financial] flexibility next summer, and hopefully I’ll be a part of it long term. As of next summer, we’ll see what happens. I’m very happy with how the Knicks treated me there’s no bad blood on either side. We came to a great compromise and both sides are excited. They’re excited to have me here and I’m excited to be here… This is where I want to be, this is where I started out the summer wanting to be, and I’m just happy that things worked out and I’m still a Knick.

    [On whether back in July did he thought he’d be a Knick.]

    I had daydreams where I thought there was no way, and I had days where I was sure I would be back. In the end [beacuse of] the restricted free agency situation a lot of things have to fall into place to get anything done. And I’m glad they didn’t fall into place because I’m happy to be back. Coach [D’Antoni] is the best coach I’ve ever played for and I’m happy to be back here. And I have a lot of teammates that I”m excited to play alongside with.

    [On what he did in the offseason.]

    The offseason I got a little bit of a late start because of the contract proceedings but I’ve been in here every day since August 1st working out with the guys. Big changes [this year is] we’ve got a lot more guys that are in New York working out in the facility. In the past we’ve had people working out in their hometown and come back a week or so before [training camp started]. But this year for a solid month and a half we’ve had the same core guys working out with our coaches and that makes a big difference because we have guys that are willing to play with one another and everybody’s doing what the coaching staff wants.

    [On whether the Knicks have to make the playoffs to attract LeBron James.]

    I can’t get into LeBron’s, Dwayne Wade’s or Chris Bosh’s heads to know what they want. But I think that’s going to be something that all those guys will look at next summer. The biggest thing is this year, regardless of what happens next summer, we need to have a good year for us, and for the guys that are here, and for the fans of New York. We’re planning on doing that and whatever happens is going to happen. A lot more of it has to do with a lot of our futures, and which ones of us stay around. It’ll probably have a lot more effect on us than it will on Wade or LeBron.

    [On all the expiring contracts making it like everyone is trying out for next year’s team.]

    One thing we need to do is make a positive out of it – and the positive side is that we have a lot of guys that have a lot to prove this year. We have a lot of guys that really want to make their mark on the Knicks franchise because the future is sort of unknown. The other side of it is that you want to avoid is how you hear about contract guys going for their own, but we don’t have those types of guys on this team that are going to shoot the ball 30 times a game this year. I don’t think we have those kinds of guys no matter what their contract situation is. I think we can make this into a positive and realize that we all need to play for this year and not look towards the future because there’s not a lot of security there.

    [On whether he thought he picked the wrong year to be a free agent.]

    There’s a lot of factors. Our team is trying to get under the cap. And they want to save their flexibility for next summer. And with the economy and with base year compensation which is something I learned about a lot this summer – one of the more complicated aspects of restricted free agency – it was kinda like the perfect storm had hit me for getting something long term done. But once again I’m very happy with how things ended up working out and I’m looking forward to this season. The Knicks were more than fair with me, and I’m very happy about that.

    2008 Dog Days of Summer – The Rise of the East?

    So it appears the dog days of the offseason are upon us. While there’s a possibility of some roster movement before the Knicks preseason starts, it’s likely that on most days there will be no changes. So until there’s serious NBA news, each week I’d like to come up with a topic for everyone to discuss. This week I’ll stick with the NBA, but as the summer moves on, I promise nothing.

    The rise of the East?

    It seems that since Jordan’s second retirement, the NBA has been dominated by the West. For years the NBA’s biggest matchups involved the Lakers, Spurs, Kings, Mavs, or Suns depending on the year. Although the two conferences have split the last 6 championships, it’s generally thought that the West has more teams of championship caliber. For instance if the West’s 6th best team by record, the Utah Jazz, won the title it would be more plausible than the East’s 6th best team (Toronto).

    Eventually imbalances like this even out. For most of the 80s & early 90s, the NFL was dominated by the NFC as the AFC would go 14 years without winning a Super Bowl. But since then an NFC team has been crowned champion only 3 times in an 11 year span. So it’s not a question of if the East will catch up, it’s a question of when.

    This NBA offseason seems to have benefited the East. Lost in the Baron Davis/Elton Brand/Clippers story was that the Sixers were the big winners. Between Dalembert, Iguodala, and Brand Philadelphia might have one of the league’s best defenses. If Brand is healthy, the Sixers go from a middle of the road team to an Eastern powerhouse. The Chicago Bulls were a 49 win team two seasons ago and ended up with the #1 overall pick this year. Derrick Rose should give them production at the point guard position where Kirk Hinrich regressed heavily. Similarly the Miami Heat added the #2 pick, and Michael Beasley combined with a full season from All Stars Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion could make them a strong rebound candidate in 2009. Meanwhile there are a few Eastern teams led by young stars that could take a step forward next year, like Orlando, Cleveland, and Toronto.

    Last year the league’s two best teams were in the East. The Celtics won 66 games and the Pistons won 59. Although Boston has already lost a key role player (Posey), Detroit’s roster remains largely unchanged. If one or two of the other Eastern teams can break the 55 win barrier, then it’s likely that the gap between conferences may no longer exist.

    2007 Playoff Predictions: Round 1

    [UPDATE: http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-23-101/Introducing-TrueHoop-s-2007-Stat-Geek-Smackdown.html
    and
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/playoffs2007/news/story?page=Smackdown07]

    I was asked by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop to join an NBA playoff prediction contest against other number crunching analysts. I figure I have a head up on the competition, being that I used to run the blogger’s bracket. Nonetheless I took to the task seriously, using as much information as possible. Not only do I take into account numbers from my own stat page, but I also looked back at 16 years of playoff data to come up with my predictions. And wherever needed, I asked my 7 day old daughter to assist (yes yours truly became a father last weekend — and like a true Knick fan, KB2.0 already hates the Nets).

    This was my submission to Henry, so I apologize if it appears elsewhere and you accidentally read it twice. Wish me luck as I go against some of the NBA’s best statistical gurus.

    Dallas in 4
    The Warriors have 2 main strengths: forcing turnovers and good shooting. Unfortunately for them, those strengths don’t match up well against the Mavericks. Dallas is good at keeping the ball and holding their opponents to a low field goal percentage. Nellie’s poor rebounding team will be their undoing, as the Mavs are the most well rounded rebounding playoff team in the West.

    Phoenix in 6
    While it’s possible that Kobe Bryant will have a scoring explosion, the Lakers are awful on defense. And guess which team lead the NBA in offensive efficiency? Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), which adjusts for three point shots, is the best measure of a team’s shooting prowess. And Phoenix’s 55.1% eFG is 3 points higher than the NBA’s second best shooting team. Despite the disparity, the Suns energetic offense and the Kobe-Raja matchup should make this one of the most entertaining series.

    San Antonio in 6
    The Spurs have the league’s best point differential in the league. This is important because point differential corresponds better in year to year winning than wins and losses. So if you’re a Spurs fan, this bodes well for next year’s performance as well. Why haven’t I given any analysis for this series? There have been 11 non-strike playoff seasons since a #1 or a #2 seed lost in the first round. Even if it were going to happen this year, this isn’t the series anyway.

    Houston in 7
    These complementary teams should have a close series that goes 6 or 7 games. Utah’s main weakness is sending opponents to the free throw line (30th in FT/FG), but that’s a weakness that Houston won’t exploit on offense (26th in FT/FG). Meanwhile the Rockets have the 3rd best defensive efficiency, but they are evenly matched by the league’s 3rd best offensive efficiency. Instead the game will be won on the other end of the floor, where the Rockets average offense (14th) faces off against a sub par Jazz defense (19th).

    Detroit in 4
    The Pistons do one thing better than anyone else in the league: keep the ball. Detroit is first in the NBA in turnovers per possession. Unfortunately for Mickey Mouse and his neighbors, Orlando is the NBA’s worst team in holding onto the ball. Detroit won all 4 games during the regular season (with the turnover advantage in 3 of those 4), and I see the same thing happening in the playoffs.

    Cleveland in 5
    With Arenas and Butler injured, you can put the Wizards on the hibachi.

    Toronto in 6
    This series will be a litmus test for the term “playoff experience.” The Nets trio of Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter has appeared in 184 post season games in their career. Meanwhile Toronto’s sextet of Bosh, Parker, Ford, Bargnani, Garbajosa, and Peterson has only played in 18. But clich?s aside, the Raptors are clearly the better team here. Finally Canada gets justice for Vince Carter dogging it in his final season up north.

    Miami in 6
    Everything statistically points to Chicago over Miami. The Bulls have a fantastic point differential, and Miami is one Dwayne Wade crash to the floor from dipping their toes in the sand. But the Bulls point differential is misleading (in my opinion) due to an inordinate amount of blow out victories. And Miami’s injury filled regular season may not be a true example of their strength. Here’s a stat that pushed me over the edge: Shaq’s team has beaten a better team in 5 of the last 6 playoffs.