Indiana 107 New York 86

First Half Notes:

Two shocking moments for Knick fans in the first half. First is Lenny Wilkens getting visibly angry. The usually reserved Wilkens “lost it” when Tim Thomas got called on a dubious offensive foul against Ron Artest. No technical called on the Knicks coach. Maybe the refs were too shocked to call a T.

Second, a Dekembe Mutombo sighting! When Deke came in the second quarter, my jaw almost hit the floor. It was good timing, since the Knicks had been getting killed by Pacer defensive rebounds.

After Thomas’ foul (see above) DerMarr Johnson subbed in. Johnson made a nice play on a missed Indiana shot that won’t show up in the box scores. With the Pacers in good position for (another) offensive rebound, Johnson came from under the hoop. DerMarr, using his height & leaping ability, tipped the ball out to a Knick to save the rebound. He won’t get any credit for the play, but he should have.

Shandon Anderson got stripped by Jamal Tinsley twice in the first half. I could swear that he just dribbled the ball towards the Pacer’s PG and practically handed Tinsley the ball.

Penny Hardaway ruined an easy 4 on 2 fast break. Even I know when you’re going down the court, and you have the option, you give it to your big man (Nazr). Mohammed was open on the wing, but instead Penny passed it to the trailer behind him. The Pacers easily stole the ball & had a break of their own.

Nazr Mohammed started off 4-4. It should have been 5-5. Mohammed had head faked his defender & had a clear path to the hoop. Nazr (6’10), instead of going strong to the basket, tried to lay it in from a late helping Ron Artest (6’7). Artest got called on the foul, but Mohammed missed the shot. Had the Knicks’ center taken it strong, he most likely would have gotten an opportunity at a three point play.

Michael Sweetney played excellent in the first half. He stopped the bleeding that was the Knick’s defensive rebounding, by pulling a few down. Of course as soon as he got started, he was back on the bench again. At least it wasn’t in favor of Othella Harrington (0 first half minutes).

Second Half:

One of the announcers was talking about Nazr Mohammed’s development. He said that Mohammed is growing every day, because this was his first year starting. A moment later, he tried to qualify his statment by saying that he had started in the past, but that it was only spot starts, and this was Nazr’s first real year as starter. If starting 73 of 82 games in 2001 doesn’t count as being a starter, then I don’t know what does.

Mohammed blocked 4 shots tonight. The last time he did that, was January of 2003, against Portland.

It’s shocking to see Andy Pettitte in another uniform. The Astros/Giants game on ESPN2 was infinitately more enjoyable than another one of those New York Met commercials. I almost expect them to be fully endorsed by George Bush.

Vin Baker has just lost it. He’s fouled Jermaine O’Neal 4 times in a row, and if that wasn’t showing his frustration enough, he’s earned a technical foul for arguing as well.

The Knick announcers, with a 19 point lead and 9 mintues left, were discussing since the Knicks have a home game tomorrow, Lenny Wilkens will have to decide when to give up on tonight’s game, and save the player’s energy for tomorrow. Well if Lenny had the “game state matrix”, he would know that the Knick’s chance of winning on the road at that time, was less than 2%.

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.

Disappointed

Disappointed a few people
When friendship reared its ugly head
Disappointed a few people
Well, isn’t that what friends are for?
What are friends for?

— “Disappointed”
P.I.L.

There’s nothing like a loss to bring out the worst in fans. Lurking around the message boards, you’ll see some posts titled: Knicks are the WORST defensive team in the League, New York Quitters, and FIRE LENNY WILKENS. Ouch!

The Knicks have been a lottery team the past two seasons, but this year we’ve all but locked down a playoff spot. No we’re probably not a threat to take the East, and we’re nowhere near a championship level team. Most likely a first round exit is in order. However isn’t this better than Knick fans expected at the beginning of the year? Expectations were much lower when Scott Layden was at the helm.

Isaiah Thomas has done a respectable job with the mess he inherited. I won’t pretend that I liked every move, or that he is maximizing the team’s strengths. I’m happy that he’s brought in at least one top tier player in Marbury. I don’t mean “top tier” as in McGrady, Duncan, Garnett, or Shaq, but it’s unmistakable that Marbury is one of the best PGs in the league. The Knicks haven’t had anything close to that since #33 roamed the Garden floor.

It’s impossible to expect anyone to turn a 37 win team into a 50 win team midseason. Those are unrealistic expectations. I’ll be happy with a playoff appearance after a long absence. I’ll be happy that we have a 27 year old PG to build our team around. I’ll be happy that we’ll go into the offseason with a GM that couldn’t be worse than the last. If Dolan wants to win now, and won’t allow the team to rebuild, then he better win now. This year a 7th seed will make most Knick fans happy, but next year we’ll all expect more.

Nets 108 Knicks 83

“If the Nets are injured and not playing well, whoever faces them is definitely going to have a good chance of beating them… But they’re going to play hard. They’re defending Eastern Conference champs for the last two years. So they’re not just going to give up.”

Penny Hardaway was right with one part of his quote. The Nets played hard last night and didn’t just give up, trouncing the Knicks 108-83. For the most part the Nets dominated the entire game. The closest the Knicks got after the beginning was a 6 point deficit in the third. It was the type of game where points came fast and furious in spurts. As soon as the Knicks were that close, they were back down by 13 only a few moments later.

New Jersey exposed New York’s weakness, interior defense. I tried to keep a play-by-play account using Dean Oliver’s method from his book, Basketball on Paper. I got through a little more than a page, before deciding to give it a rest. The Nets first play of the game was to post up Rodney Rogers. The play didn’t net any points, but I’m sure that was coach Frank’s game plan. According to my score sheet, they went into the post 4 times in the first 6 minutes.

Not that you needed a score sheet to know that. You probably wouldn’t have to watch the whole game, since I’m sure the dunk Jefferson had with 6:00 gone in the first quarter on Kurt Thomas will be shown coast to coast. That dunk gave the Nets a 18-9 lead, and forced Lenny Wilkens to call a time out.

Right after the timeout, my score sheet shows Tim Thomas missing a shot near the foul line. What would happen next would prompt me to drop my pen and forgo keeping track of the game. Jefferson got the ball to Collins in the post. The Nets center missed the easy shot, but quickly got his rebound. He did this two more times, until the Knicks were able to get the ball away from him. He didn’t end up with any points on the scoreboard, but he had made another point: the Nets owned the paint. I dropped my pen part in anger because Collins was able to get his missed shots back so easily & part because it happened so fast it was hard to keep up with.

The Knicks’ aren’t going to be able to compete if they don’t protect the basket. If Dekembe Mutombo were healthy, I’m sure he would have seen action early in this one. None of the Knick’s other big men are great defenders, not Nazr, not Baker, not Sweetney, not Harrington, and not Thomas. Kurt Thomas is a good man-to-man defender, but as Jefferson found out tonight, he’s not a great help-defender. The Knicks will have to address this flaw in the offseason.


If you’re the optimistic type, you’ll be happy to know there was plenty of garbage time. Coach Wilkens gave playing time to Sweetney, DerMarr Johnson, and even Frank Williams. Frank Williams is back on the active roster because Allan Houston went on the IL. Unfortunately non of the Knicks’ young players did anything special. Hopefully we’ll see more of Williams, and I’m not hoping for more garbage time either. He can’t be any worse than Moochie Norris.