What A Weekend!

This was a great weekend in the NBA. Friday night the Nets & Pistons put on a long but exciting triple OT game. While Minnesota took a 3-2 lead over the Kings. Saturday, Jeff Foster had the game of his career against the Heat, only to be topped by a nightcap of the Lakers eliminating the Spurs.

If that wasn’t enough Sunday brought it’s own brand of excitement. In the early game, obviously with the thoughts of the Roy Jones Jr. fight still in their heads, Peeler & Garnett traded elbows. Meanwhile the Pistons, on the road in a “must win game”, beat the Nets in a tight game. It was so tight, the Nets were down by only 2 with less than a minute left.

So Monday morning everyone (at least those at my work that follow basketball) will be talking about at least one of these great games. So with basketball fresh on everyone’s mind, what does the NBA have scheduled for Monday night? Nothing.

That’s right folks, with three series still going on, and basketball on everyone’s mind, the NBA has decided to show nothing. By 8pm on Monday, the Pacers & Heat will have gone at least 48 hours since their last game. There is no Monday Night Football to compete with, Frasier’s series finale was last week, and the Friends finale will be on Thursday.

It’s possible that the Spurs/Lakers game 7 would have been shown (if nec.), but couldn’t the NBA switch things up a little bit in lieu of that series ending early? Oh well, Monday I will have to find something entertaining to do. Maybe something with money, humor, mystery, international intrigue & sex?

(OK there is no sex in that link, but I’m trying my best to get you to read it. It’s well worth it, especially if you use Ebay, or fall for scams. If you’re the impatient type, just scroll down 1/3 of the way until you see the pictures & you’ll understand what’s going on.)

2AM EST

Last night, one of the announcers said something to the effect of “It’s a shame that no one on the East Coast will see this game, since it’s almost 2am over there.” Well, I hate to prove announcers wrong, but I was watching from my NYC appartment. I’m certainly part of the minority, since I’m sure not everyone has an understanding boss & flexible time schedule as I do.

His sentiment was correct, since it was a shame that virtually half the country (or more) is basically shut out from watching what was the most entertaining and hard fought game I’ve seen so far. If it was 2am over here, that means it was 11pm on the West Coast. Isn’t the NBA depriving itself of viewers over there by having the game on so late? I’ve always been a nightowl, but I know a lot of people that don’t stay up that late, especially children. Wouldn’t you want to appeal to as young a viewer as possible?

When I was a very young, and had to go to bed early, my father would stay up to watch the hockey game. Sometimes I would sneak out & try to watch a little bit, but as soon as they caught me it was back to bed I went. If hockey was on earlier my father and I would have been able to watch together, and maybe I would have an appreciation for the sport, that I now find just plain awful.


Back to the game, I understand Bibby being upset after fouling out, but didn’t he see the 3 (or was it 4) one and a half calorie calls against his counterpart in the 4th?

If the Twolves lost, how many columns do you think would be out there questioning Kevin Garnett’s playoff experience (never made the second round until this year) after he couldn’t get a shot off in regulation?

I mean he doesn’t have that “game 7 pixie dust” that the Heat players all have, right SVG?

Not that the Heat will see another game 7, and that’s a shame. If they did manage to go 7 against the Pacers & no one writes a column questioning the existence of “game 7 pixie dust” that would be an easy entry for me.

Round 1: 2004 NBA Bloggers Bracket

Thanks to the stubborn Hornets, Round 1 is finally over. Here are the updated standings for the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket:

Blog	IND	NJ	DET	MIA	MIN	LAL	SAS	SAC	PTS
Me 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 8
Jon 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 7
Ron 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 7
Matt 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 7
Michael 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 7
Kevin 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 6
Scott 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 6
Tim 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 6

Alone in first place is yours truly. Being spineless has paid off for me so far, because I didn’t think there would be any upsets in the first round. Jon and Michael had Dallas bumping off Sacramento, while Ron showed his home team pride by sticking with the Hornets. Three contestants thought there would be 2 upsets, with the popular upsets being Memphis & Dallas.

Interesting enough, the bottom 5 guys not only have the Lakers (down 0-1) upsetting the Spurs in this round, but they have the boys in yellow & purple taking the trophy back home to L.A. If the Lakers lose, there will be a big divide between those two groups. Nobody has the Pistons (1-0) nor the T-wolves (0-1) getting upset this round. However I will be affected if Minnesota’s playoff hopes end against the Kings, since I have them making the Finals.


This morning while groggily watching ESPN, I heard the Miami coach Stan Van Gundy at a press conference say something to the effect of it being ludicrous that the Heat had any kind of advantage being at home. (I was a bit too tired to remember the quote in it’s entirety). This is just baffling to me, because Stan watched every second of a series where the home team won every game. Not only that, but the Heat have been a 71% team at home this year, better than the NBA average (about 60%-65%). They are riding a 16 game home win streak, and he doesn’t think his team has any advantage at home?

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s doing it as a psych job for his players (“don’t get lazy at home!”), and not because he really believes it.

NBA First Round – Necessary?

I received an interesting & at first cryptic email today. The entire email was:

Houston. #6. 1995.

Need I say more?

The email was from Page 23’s Kevin Pelton. It took me a second to realize what this meant. It was in reference to my last entry where I wrote:

Off the top of my head I can’t think of a team past seed #5 that went two rounds other than the strike season Knicks.

I had been too busy (read: lazy) to actually research which low seeds have gotten far in the playoffs. Luckily I have readers astute enough to do my work for me. Of course Kevin’s point is made even more poignant by the fact that the 6th seed Rockets not only went past two rounds, but they were the champs as well.

The Rockets playoff team was a bit different than the one that earned them the 6th seed in the West. Midseason they traded Otis Thrope for Clyde Drexler. Drexler only played 35 games for the Rockets during the regular season. Similarly the 8th seeded 99 Knicks went through some changes as well. The newly acquired Camby and Sprewell were still trying to find their identities on the fly, especially in the playoffs when Ewing went down with his injured Achilles. The strike didn’t give them a chance to jell during the season, and who knows what their record would have been had they played the full 82 games.

If we wanted to take 20 years worth of data, let’s go back to 1983. Since then (and excluding 1999) there have been 5 teams that were either the 6th, or 7th seed to go at least as far as the Conference Championships (no 8th seeds have made it that far). The aforementioned Rockets, the ’94 Pacers, the ’89 Bulls, the 87′ Sonics, and the ’84 Suns. All of those teams were 6th seeds, except for the 7th seed Sonics.

In 20 years, there is a 4% chance that one of those teams (#6-#8) will make the conference finals, and and a .8% chance that one of them will make the finals and win it all. If you think I’m tilting the tables in my favor my excluding the strike season Knicks, the chances go up to 5%, 1.7% (to make the Finals), and .8% to win it all. Another thing to consider for the furture is the possibility of a first round upset is now lower with the expanded series (7 games from 5).

In other tournaments like March Madness, the NFL playoffs, and the World Cup, teams have better opportunities for upsets because it only requires one win to move on. The longer series gives the favorites a better chance at winning.

Sunday’s two games underscores the point between the first and second round games. The early game, a first rounder between the Heat and Hornets, meant little to me. It wasn’t because it wasn’t exciting, because tempers were flaring all over the court. One reason was that I couldn’t imagine either of these teams beating Indy in 7 games, and then the winner of Detroit/NJ on the road. The other was that it game 6 of the series. The Hornets were fighting for their lives, but Miami wasn’t. The other tournaments I mentioned above are all single elimination. Each game is important for both teams, not just the one with their backs against the wall. Tthe longer series makes each individual game less important as well.

The second round matchup between the Lakers & Spurs was another story. Since both of these teams have won the last 5 titles, I felt that the winner could possibly go all the way. The Lakers were the early season favorites, with their new additions of Payton & Malone. It was a GREAT game to watch. Even though it was only one game, it was the first of the series, and an upset on the Spurs floor would have tilted the series in the Lakers favor. That the winner of this series still has to face the winner of Minnesota/Sacramento to just reach the Finals is an awesome thought.

To conclude, really low seeds (7th & 8th) have virtually no chance of getting far in the playoffs. You can’t eliminate the first round altogether, because as pointed out by Kevin, 5th & 6th seeds do have a (very slim) chance of making a magical run. I can’t think of a playoff format that would make the first round more exciting without going to single elimination, or even a quick best of 3. The NBA will never allow such a hit on their wallets, even if it would make the game more exciting for their fans.

Seeds

Here I am sitting with my NBA bracket. All empty & waiting to be filled out. I’m more curious about the thought process that goes into such an endeavor. What would make someone choose one team over another? If logic is in play, shouldn’t I always pick the higher seed, since they have home field advantage and are usually the team with the better record? Or do I use my gut feeling? What information am I using to base my picks on? Do I go with the hot/cold teams (SAS, MIN, IND, DET, and MIA are hot; NJ, MEM, HOU, and SAC are cold)? Do I take the teams with more playoff experience (LAL, SAS, NJ, & DET) over the ones that aren’t playoff tested (NY, DEN, MIA, & MEM)? Where can I find solace in my decisions?

A good place to start is to look at recent history. I don’t have a team of experts at my call (this is a one man blog, not ESPN). So I’ll quickly use the last two years as a starting point, to find out what kind of team is most likely to pull off an upset. Here are all the underdog winners over the last two years:

Year	Rnd	TEAM	Seed	OPP	Seed
2002	2	BOS	3	DET	2
2002	2	LAL	3	SAS	2
2002	3	LAL	3	SAC	1
2003	3	NJ	2	DET	1
2003	2	DAL	3	SAC	2
2003	1	LAL	5	MIN	4

Out of the 16 first round games, there has only been one upset. The 5th seed Lakers played without Shaq for 15 games, and only missed the 4th seed by one game. However with their center (and franchise player) healthy, they took the Wolves in 6. They were as easily dismissed by the Spurs in the second round 4 games to 2. Of the latter rounds, it seems that the #3 seed has the best chance of survival. Subtracting the well documentated Lakers 2002 championship, 2 of the remaining #3 teams have won their second round game. Both teams were offensive orientated teams that just got hot at the right times. Boston behind the shooting of Walker & Pierce, and Dallas with their myriad of scorers. Twice the #1 seeds have been upset one series before the finals.

So with my extremely small sample size, what kind of data am I armed with? First round upsets are rare, but the further you go in the playoffs, the more perilous it gets. This should be obvious because the disparity between the teams gets smaller (instead of a #1 playing a #8, it’s a #1 playing a #4 or #2). In my small sample size, no team lower than a #5 seed is likely to pull of an upset. In history there have been lower seeded teams to move on past the first round (Knicks & Nuggets). However the odds seem too slim when given even odds (as a picking out a bracket is).

Leaving open the option that a #6 could slip by, I’ll take a quick gander at those two matchups. #6 Memphis isn’t likely to upset the Spurs. San Antonio still has the best defensive team in the league, and I think that makes it a little tough for an underdog to unseat them at home. Similarly with other #6 team, the Bucks. They are facing the #2 defensive team in the league, and I don’t see the Pistons losing with home court advantage.

The 5th seeds have a little better chance at unseating their opponents. According to me, a few days ago Miami only had a 17% chance of taking the 4th seed. Their opponent the Hornets were in the 6th seed. Thanks to the Bucks who mailed it in the last few games (why does that sound familiar?) those two get to play each other. Miami seems to have every edge, home court advantage, hot team going into the playoffs, and the better record. The Hornets only have their playoff experience, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to unseat the Heat.

Dallas-Sacramento is the matchup that could go either way. Both teams are great on offense. However the Kings have an average defense, while Dallas ranks among the bottom 5 teams. It’s not without the realm of possibility for the Mavs to take this series, especially if their offense explodes. However I can’t get over their defense being that bad, especially while facing the league’s best offense.

So in the first round, I’ll be a wimp and take all the favorites:
East: IND, NJ, DET, MIA
West: MIN, LAL, SAS, SAC

To keep my street cred, I’ll have to go out on a ledge in round two. So here we go. I’ll predict both 3rd seed to win their series. Detroit and the Spurs are ranked #1 & #2 in defense, and both teams finished with better records than their 2nd seeded counterpart. Not many people are taking the Nets over the Pistons, but enough people are not only picking the Lakers to win in the second round, but to go all the way. I can’t find a good reason to pick either of these teams to knock off the top teams, so I have an Indiana-Minnesota finals.

Second & Third Round:
East: IND def MIA, then DET
West: MIN def SAC, then SAS

For the finals, I’ll take Indy over Minnesota. Despite my hatred for the Pacers due to their rivalry with the Knicks, the East needs a to win a championship to gain any type of respect from the media. While the talent disparity is still there, an East team winning it all will let free agents feel they can win a championship in the East. Recently I’ve felt that players are going to or staying out West because they think it’s their best chance at winning a championship. Logic dictates that while it may be easier to reach the finals in the weaker East, the West is pumping out the rings faster than Sauron. In any scenario, I will be rooting for whoever represents the East in the Finals

Finals:
IND over MIN score of the final game: 91-84

Veeck, Blog Maverick, and Ideas To Improve the NBA

In case you didn’t know Mark Cuban runs a weblog just like this one. Well maybe it’s not like this one, because when I sell ice cream I don’t get thousands of fans showing up to meet me. (Also when I insult the common workers of Diary Queen, there aren’t teams of reports waiting to print what I say in the papers.)

I like Mark, because he reminds me of a modern day Bill Veeck. He criticizes the establishment of the NBA on a constant basis. Owners like Veeck and Cuban are great for sports, because in general people are afraid of change. Especially when those people are owners with billions of dollars at stake. The NBA has been forced to make changes, because despite having the most popular American athlete since Babe Ruth, they are behind MLB and the NFL in terms of popularity. Granted on any Saturday I can find a game of pickup basketball to play, unlike football or baseball. However the NBA is still America’s third leading sport (neither fake wrestling nor car racing are sports in my book).

I admire Mr. Cuban’s ability to try and change the NBA for the better, but I don’t agree with all of his ideas. Similarly, when I read Bill Veeck’s book, I disagreed with some of his ideas as well. Mr. Veeck said flat out that unless the minor league system would radically change, non-major league salaries would spiral out of control, bankrupting the league. While the money given to draft picks and draft-exempt foreigners has gotten larger and larger, MLB is financially better than it’s ever been, by expanding to more and more franchises. On the other hand Bill Veeck had many good ideas that were “before their time.” Regarding racial equality, he wanted to purchase a franchise and fill the whole team with Negro league players. Mr. Veeck’s Cleveland Indians were the first AL team to have a black player (Larry Doby). He advocated interleague play almost 50 years before MLB would schedule it. Veeck he had a willingness to improve the game.

Mark Cuban seems to be the same way. Take for example this entry called “Is this cheating…” He has some great ideas to improve the game:

While I?m on the topic, here are a couple things that again apply to all levels that I just can?t figure out.

1. Why isn?t the 24 sec clock or a clock on the court used to count down the 5 secs for an inbounds play? Talk about drama as the fans, players etc see the clock. There would be more violations as well with good defense rewarded.
2. Why is it that officials will confer and can and will take as long as they need to correct the 24 sec clock, yet won?t for just about any other play or issue that arises?
3. Why is it that everyone says that Shaq is so hard to officiate? Just because he is big and when guys hammer him they don?t impact his shot, doesn?t make it not a foul. On the flipside, if he lowers his shoulder or powers through someone, its a foul. The big guy should probably go to the foul line and foul out three times as often as he does.

I agree 100% with each of these. There is no logical reason that the 24 second clock shouldn’t be used for 5 second violations. While watching an inbound play the no one else (fans or players) knows how much time is in the ref’s head. It’s worse than the penalty time in soccer. Wouldn’t the ref be better able to watch what’s going on without counting at the same time?

It shouldn’t be that hard to implement a change like this. The ref hands the ball to the inbounding player, blows his whistle, and the 24 second clock changes to 5 seconds and starts to count down. The clock buzzes when the 5 seconds are up. If the ball is inbounded before the 5 seconds are up, the time keeper hits a button & the clock changes from that 5 second timer to whatever was left on the 24. Mark’s two other ideas are just as logical.

Just as I agree with some of them, I disagree with others. For example in another of his entries he states “why in the world do we allow secondary defenders to take charges?” I don’t have any numbers handy, but I would imagine this “secondary defender” charge makes up a large percentage of charges called. Mark tries not to make it sound like this is coming from a Mavs fan perspective by saying his team has “several guys who are good at it: nash, najera among others.” If anyone thinks that Dallas is one of the best teams in the league at taking charges, raise your hand. I can’t help to think Mark has some added incentive to get this type of rule passed because his team would benefit since they are one of the top offensive teams in the league. I wonder if he owned that other Texas team (the one with the #1 defense in the league), would offensive charges still be an issue?

The Mavs owner states among his many reasons: that the dunk is more fun to watch than a charge, the numbers of players flopping would reduce, and there would be an increase in blocked shots. The dunk is more fun to watch, but if people wanted to see dunking, then wouldn’t the slam dunk contests still hold the same interest it did years ago? As for flopping, as soon as Vlade Divac retires, flopping in the league should reduce by about 80%. I don’t see how blocked shots will increase by getting rid of charging. You usually see a player trying to take a charge when he is smaller than the aggressor. Get rid of these types of charges, and you’ll just see more fouls committed by the small guys. Dean Oliver agreed & said:

“I personally thought that this idea was one of the worst I have ever seen. Taking away the ability of help defenders to draw charges would completely kill the concept of help defense. If I’m an offensive guy, as soon as I get by my man, I look for a defender to bang into just so I can draw a foul. Hell, I charge into him madly and throw up a shot because, by rule, that cannot be a foul on me. The game actually gets more dangerous if it isn’t just ludicrous.”

The only charge I would like to see banished is the charge called when a player is passing the ball (not shooting). Sometimes this occurs on fast breaks, when the opposing defender is usually a smaller guard whose only hope is to take a charge. Other times this is called when a player hasn’t even left his feet. Nate Duncan couldn’t have put it any better in his APBR_analysis post:

Another possibility is to give an offensive player immunity from a charge after he’s released the ball for either a shot or a pass. One of the most maddening things i see in basketball is a player coming down the lane on a 3 on 1, dishing to a guy running in on the wing for a dunk, and having the passer called for the charge after he’s already passed the ball.

Maverick fans should be happy that they have an owner that is so accessible. Mark doesn’t have all the ideas to help the league (no one in the world does), but I’m happy that the league has an owner that is willing to improve and adapt the game, instead of just sitting on his big pile of money watching the world go by.