Knicks 96 Chicago 82

The Knicks clinched a playoff spot yesterday with a win against the hapless Bulls (and a Cleveland loss to Memphis). It’s great to be in the playoffs again, after a two year absence. Unlike the last few Knick playoff teams I don’t have expectations for the Knicks to get past the first round. Why? Well look at the last 20 or so games the Knicks have played. I’ll split their opponents into two groups, the games they won & the games they lost.

Won:	OppWin%
Chi .282
Phi .423
Por .519
Tor .397
Atl .321
NJ .584
Wash .308
Mil .519
Was .308
Tor .397
Phi .423
AVG1 .407
AVG2 .390

Out of those 11 wins, only 3 were against winning teams. One of those wins (New Jersey) was without their opposition’s two best players (Kidd & Martin). Of the 2 other teams, neither would be considered great, as they are only slightly above average (.519). The first average (AVG1) is the average winning percentage of all the teams they’ve beaten. AVG2 is the average of those teams, minus the victory against the hobbled Nets.

Now for the games the Knicks lost:

Lost:	Win%
Ind .734
NJ .584
Det .654
Chi .282
Phi .423
Bos .449
Den .519
Lac .346
Pho .338
Sac .701
Cle .410
Uta .526
AVG1 .497
AVG2 .556

Of their 12 losses, 6 were from winning teams. The average of all these teams is just below .500, but take away the losses from the embarrassing teams (Bulls, Clippers, and Suns), and the average raises to .556. In their last 23 games, while fighting for a playoff spot, they have played 9 teams with a winning record. They’ve only won 3 of those. None of those were against a team with a record better than .520, except the Nets game. They are 8-6 against sub-.500 teams. It’s obvious looking at these numbers that the Knicks have been feasting on the weaker teams, and not putting up a good enough fight against the top dogs. In the playoffs they won’t have the Wizards, Hawks or Bulls to push around.

You may think I’m a pessimist spending a whole column on the Knicks’ slim hopes to make it to the second round. However, without expecting them to win, I can enjoy watching the games. I’m already prepared for the worst, but if they happen to pull off the upset I’ll be that much more elated.

Heading Into Conseco

Just to be lazy and combine the last two columns into a new one, here are the rankings & odds for the Knick’s game tonight:

Ind
#8 Offense
#3 Defense
#2 Overall

Knicks
#22 Offense
#15 Defense
#19 Overall

The Pacers currently hold the best record in the league, and they’re doing it primarily with defense. Their defense ranks #3, tied with the Nets, and right behind the Spurs and Pistons. Despite being one of the slowest teams in the league (they only average 86 possessions a game, only Portland and Utah are slower), they are among one of the top teams in turnovers per game. Meaning their turnovers per game are better than they appear. That’s not their only defensive strength. They also are among one of the best teams in opponent eFG% (sometimes called aFG%), including the third best team in defending the three (32%).

Unlike Detroit, who only has an average offense to go with their excellent defense, the Pacers rank 8th in offense. They are getting very efficient production from Reggie Miller (55.1% eFG%), and Jamal Tinsley (52% eFG%), who would be among the league’s top 15 if they qualified. Meanwhile they are getting almost 40 PPG from their defensive minded players Artest & O’Neal.

The Knicks odds of winning tonight’s game on the road is a low 28.4%. However, the last time they played, the Knicks won at home 97-90. It was supposedly a win for Isaiah, who is apparently bitter over his removal from his old team. Five Knicks scored double digits that night, including Marbury, Van Horn, Thomas, Hardaway, and Doleac. Tonight they won’t have Van Horn & Doleac, but instead Thomas and Mohammed. The Pacers have clinched the top spot in the East, but they’re not going to give the Knicks a freebee. Brown (& Bird) aren’t going to give their team a vacation before the playoffs, so dropping a home game to a 7th or 8th seed isn’t in their plans. To add to the drama, some of the Pacers still hold grudges from the last game & accused the Knicks of celebrating like they won a championship.

Playoff Odds 04/05/04

Curious at how the seeds to the playoffs might turn out, I got a little ambitious. It all started from something I learned a while back. That is you can calculate the probability of a team winning a game if you know: the home team’s record at home, the road’s team record away, and the league’s home win %. I used this little formula in a previous column to talk about the Knicks’ chances to win their 5 next games.

I decided to see how far I could take this. So I inserted all the home/road records of every team in the league into a spreadsheet. Then I put in the remaining schedule for the entire league. I determined probability of the winner of each game using this formula. Based on these odds & using Excel’s random number generator, I played out the rest of the season 1000 times.

The East:

Team	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


IND 59.9 .730 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
DET 54 .658 .00 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
NJN 48.5 .591 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIL 42 .512 .00 .00 .00 .77 .19 .04 .00 .00 .00
MIA 40.9 .499 .00 .00 .00 .17 .58 .23 .02 .00 .00
NOR 40.1 .489 .00 .00 .00 .05 .22 .62 .09 .01 .00
NYK 38.3 .467 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .09 .66 .24 .00
BOS 37.5 .457 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .02 .22 .70 .05
CLE 34.8 .424 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .03 .96
PHI 34.1 .416 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .99
TOR 32.2 .393 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ATL 27.3 .333 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
WAS 25.6 .312 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
CHI 23.8 .290 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ORL 20.3 .247 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
[Ewins = Expected # of wins, EW% = Expected winning percentage]In the East, the top 3 seeds are already set in stone. Indiana, New Jersey and Detroit will be the top 3. New Jersey clinches the #2 spot, due to winning the weak Atlantic. Milwaukee has a 77% chance of taking the 4th seed (a.k.a. the last home field spot for the first round), followed by Miami (17%), and New Orleans (5%). More good news for Bucks’ fans, they won’t likely have worse than a 5th seed (4%). Miami can fall as far as the 7th seed, but even that is a small (2%) chance.

Speaking of that 7th seed (we know Penny Hardaway isn’t anymore), the Knicks appear to be the favorites here, with a 66% probability of facing the Nets in the first round. After the events of this weekend, that should prove to be a most interesting matchup. Boston might win the 7th seed, and the Hornets have a 9% chance of falling that far as well. If either Cleveland (4%) or Philly (1%) makes the playoffs, it’ll be at the expense of the Celtics.

The West:

TEAM	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


SAC 56.73 .692 .55 .02 .31 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
LAL 56.23 .686 .25 .18 .45 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIN 55.69 .679 .12 .41 .11 .36 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
SAS 55.53 .677 .07 .39 .13 .41 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MEM 52.55 .641 .00 .00 .00 .03 .77 .20 .00 .00 .00
DAL 51.41 .627 .00 .00 .00 .00 .20 .80 .00 .00 .00
HOU 44.77 .546 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .90 .07 .03
UTA 42.6 .520 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .43 .54
POR 42.43 .517 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .04 .32 .64
DEN 42.09 .513 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .18 .79
GSW 37.09 .452 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
SEA 36.93 .450 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
LAC 28.94 .353 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
PHO 27.83 .339 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
The West isn’t as simple. Four teams are vying for the #1 seed. Just looking at the expected wins column, and there is little to separate them (barely more than one win). The Kings are the favorites, but at 55% are hardly locks for the top spot. If you add in the Lakers’ 25%, there is an 80% chance that the Pacific will have the top seed.

Minnesota (12%) and the Spurs (7%) can still land the top spot. However since there is an 80% chance that the Pacific gets the #1 seed, then that means there is the same probability that these two teams will have the #2 seed. The Timberwolves (41%) have a slight edge over the Spurs (39%) here. There is the tiniest chance (2%) that the Lakers or Kings will slip to the 5th spot, and in that scenario, the Grizzlies would grab the last home field spot (#4).

There are 6 teams that can avoid the lottery. Actually Dallas and Memphis have guaranteed them no worse than the 6th spot. The Rockets only have a 3% probability of missing the playoffs, and will likely get the 7th seed. That leaves Utah (46%), Portland (36%), and the Nuggets (21%) to fight for the final spot (although technically any of them can be as high as #7). It’d be nice to see the Nuggets win that 8th seed, and hopefully critics won’t blame only him for not being able to get out of the first round, like they do to Kevin Garnett.

Points Per Possession – The April Edition

If you don’t know what points per possesion is, go back and reread my former column about team stats in the NBA. I had some free time & took the team data from 82games.com & put it into a spreadsheet. Here are the teams ranked by points per 100 possessions:

Offense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	OpPts
1 SAC 103.6 91 113
2 DAL 104.5 92 113
3 MIL 98.6 90 109

4 SEA 97 88 109
5 MIN 94.5 87 108
6 LAL 98.6 90 108
7 MEM 97.3 90 107
8 IND 91.1 86 106
9 DEN 97.1 91 106
10 POR 91.2 85 106
11 LAC 95 89 106
12 SAS 91.5 87 105
13 GSW 93.1 88 105
14 ORL 94.6 90 105
15 DET 89.9 86 104
16 HOU 89.3 86 104
17 MIA 90 86 104
18 BOS 94.8 91 104
19 NOR 92 88 104
20 UTA 88.7 85 104
21 CLE 93.3 90 104
22 NYK 92 89 103
23 PHO 94.1 90 103
24 NJN 89.5 87 102
25 PHI 88.3 87 101
26 WAS 91.9 91 101
27 TOR 85.7 86 100
28 ATL 91.2 90 100
29 CHI 89 90 98

Since I did this a little over a month ago, the Knicks have gotten a little better. They were 24th offensively, and now they’re 22nd. The Spurs seem to be the big winners, moving up 7 spots to #12. I guess that’s what happens when you win 17 straight games or is it the other way around? Maybe improving their offense (combined with the best defense in the league) helps you win a bunch of games in a row. The Nets were previously near average at 18th, and now they’re among the bottom at #24. That seems about right with the injuries they’ve had, especially downgrading from Jason Kidd to Lucious Harris.

The top 6 teams are relatively the same. Sacramento & Dallas are still far beyond everyone else in scoring. Milwaukee has crept into the top 3, while Minnesota dropped to 5th, but at that level the changes aren’t significant.

Let’s check out the other side of the ball.

Defense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	dpPts
1 SAS 85 87 97
2 DET 84.7 86 98
3 IND 86 86 99
4 NJN 87.1 88 99
5 HOU 87.2 86 101
6 MIN 89.7 88 102
7 PHI 90.3 87 103
8 TOR 88.6 85 103
9 LAL 94.2 91 104
10 MEM 94.2 90 104
11 MIA 89.9 86 104
12 DEN 96.1 91 105
13 BOS 95.9 91 105
14 NOR 92.2 87 105
15 NYK 93.4 89 105
16 SAC 97.7 91 106
17 GSW 93.8 88 106
18 UTA 89.9 85 106
19 CHI 95.6 90 106
20 MIL 97.3 90 107
21 CLE 95.7 89 107
22 WAS 97.4 91 107
23 ATL 96.7 90 107
24 POR 92.3 85 108
25 PHO 97.7 90 108
26 DAL 100.3 92 109
27 SEA 97.7 88 110
28 LAC 99.1 89 110
29 ORL 101.5 89 113

Over the last 5 weeks, Detroit has upped their ranking to #2, from #5. We all remember the 75 point streak, and you have to wonder how much of that is due to Rasheed Wallace? Same with Boston who has done the most dramatic change. In February, they were ranked 22nd, and now they are 13th! Is John Carroll that much better than Jim O’Brien?

The Knicks’ defense has slipped 4 spots to #15. So the Knicks have gotten better offensively, and worse defensively. Could this be due to the replacing of Mutombo with Nazr Mohammed?

Just to give you a little perspective on how the teams ranked combined in offense and defense, I’ve computed their net points per 100 possessions. This is done by taking the number of points they score per 100 possessions, and subtract it from the number of points they give up per 100 possessions.

Net Points

Rank	Team	OpPts	dpPts	NetpPts
1 SAS 105 97 8
2 IND 106 99 7
3 SAC 113 106 7
4 DET 104 98 6
5 MIN 108 102 6
6 LAL 108 104 4
7 DAL 113 109 4
8 NJN 102 99 3

9 HOU 104 101 3
10 MEM 107 104 3
11 MIL 109 107 2
12 DEN 106 105 1
13 MIA 104 104 0
14 BOS 104 105 -1
15 NOR 104 105 -1
16 GSW 105 106 -1
17 SEA 109 110 -1
18 PHI 101 103 -2
19 NYK 103 105 -2
20 UTA 104 106 -2
21 POR 106 108 -2
22 TOR 100 103 -3
23 CLE 104 107 -3
24 LAC 106 110 -4
25 PHO 103 108 -5
26 WAS 101 107 -6
27 ATL 100 107 -7
28 CHI 98 106 -8
29 ORL 105 113 -8

Dallas is a surprise at number 7, because they have the 4th worst defense in the league. It just shows you exactly how good their offense is. The converse is true with the Nets, who have trouble scoring, but excel at keeping their opponents from doing the same. I wonder if the teams could help each other with a trade, or if they would loose their edge by dealing from their strength?

Don’t start placing your postseason bets solely on that chart above. There are many factors that aren’t covered by the above list. First is injuries. If the Nets’ don’t get Kidd & Martin back, they’ll be lucky to get past the second round. The Lakers have had their players injured for most of the year, and will probably be healthy for the playoffs. Secondly, home court advantage is a big factor in the playoffs. San Antonio might have the best combination of offense & defense, but right now, they’re a 3rd seed. Having to win a series or two (or three!) on the road will diminish their chances at a championship. Finally there are the unforeseeable events, including getting an extra defender.

Pistons 100 Knicks 85

Thank goodness I decided to watch the NCAA games yesterday instead of the Knicks game. This way I saw one of the most exciting games of the year, instead of another disappointing loss. There is one aspect where a blow out loss doesn’t get reflected, the box score. With the Pistons up by 23 to start the 4th quarter, “garbage time” began. The Knicks (bench) would finally outscore the Pistons (bench) 18 to 10, to make the game more respectable. And they still ended up losing by 15.

How bad was last night’s game? First Darko Milicic played 9 minutes. The teenage first round pick who’s played in all of 28 games this season. Second, is that he’s not even listed (at this writing) in ESPN’s box score of the game. I can only guess that the logic of Milicic playing in a game was too much for their computers to handle, like one of those Kirk vs. the computer episodes of Star Trek.

Even without the garbage time, the stats look terrible for the Knickerbockers. The Pistons had large advantages in FG% (46% to 39%), turnovers (8 to 15), and PF (27 to 22). Just to show you how garbage time affects stats, take away Darko’s 0-5, and the Piston’s team FG% rises to 49%. It’s tough to win when you let the opposing team score half of the time.

In our continuing sagas, DerMarr Johnson played major minutes (39), and looked good. I can’t say that entirely first hand, but the stats showed it, and when I caught part of the game on MSG Rewind, the announcers said so. He shot 5/12 which is a decent 42% FG%, but account for his 3 pointers and it becomes a very respectable 50% aFG%.

Othella Harrington also played 14 minutes, and had more fouls (3) than points (2). Yesterday I complained that Sweetney only had 20 minutes, instead of 27, and tonight I got my wish. He had 4 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 fouls. Other than the rebounds, the numbers were a little disappointing.

DerMarr could see a big hit in his playing time when Thomas or Penny comes back, but Sweetney should continue to see playing time this year. It’ll be curious what Lenny does in the playoffs with Sweetney & Othella. Will he trust the rookie, or go with the less talented veteran?