What You Can Learn At the Game

At about 4:30 Wednesday two tickets to the Knicks game fell on my lap. Unfortunately due to personal circumstances it wasn’t a good day for me to go. So I tried to unload the tickets. I sent an email to a few writers on my site, but no one was able to go. I sent a second email to a few commenters, again with no luck. I tried to call up a few friends, but to no avail. In essence I couldn’t give the tickets away. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

So I had two options: let the tickets go to waste or go with my daughter to her first game. I really didn’t want her first Knick team to be this one that wins one out of every four games. You really have to be careful not to scar your children. One wrong move and she could end up a Nets or Celtics fan. But in the end I figured that a 8 month old wouldn’t remember the event anyway.

I got to my seat about 25 minutes before game time, and my daughter seemed more interested in the flashing lights than the on court action. Considering the state of the franchise, that’s probably a good thing. The Rockets took the floor to practice first and immediately began with two layup lines. They had two different variations or this excersize. The first a traditional layup line, where the player receives the ball from about the free throw line extended and drives towards the hoop. The second is where a player receives a pass only a few feet from the hoop. The latter operates at a faster pace than the first, as players arrive at the basket nearly one on top of the other. It’s nearly Harlem Globetrotteresque in its speed.

As Houston is warming up, the Knicks enter to applause. David Lee leads the charge and is the first on the court. The Knicks start a layup line of their own, but disperse it quickly for an informal shoot around. In fact it seemed as if the Rockets and Knicks both started their shoot around at the same time, despite Houston begining their warmups a few minutes earlier.

During the shoot around, you can see a stark contrast between the two sides. On the Rockets side, nearly every player is on the perimeter working on their shot, or some sort of move to potentially gain separation from a defender. It seems that on their side of the court, there’s always a ball in the air. On the Knicks end there are only 3 or 4 players that seem interested in practicing while the rest of the team socializes. Zach Randolph is one of the more notable socializers, chatting it up with anyone who’ll lend him an ear. He goes from one side to another, and spends nearly the entire time talking. Meanwhile, David Lee asks a few different players for tips as he practices his jumper from a few different locations on the floor. In lieu of shooting, Malik Rose plays defender and tries to pass some of his knowledge on to some of the other Knicks.

Oddest of all is the behavior of Renaldo Balkman. One of the stars of the summer league, Balkman has been buried on the bench for most of the year on a Knick team struggling to find production at the swingman spot. There’s a lot of questions surrounding his lack of use. Rumors have spread that either Balkman is physically unable to play or has earned his way into Isiah’s doghouse. Balkman barely breaks a jog when doing layups, and spends most of the pregame doing promotional work with some youngsters. It appears that he’s physically unable to play, until he explodes to the hoop for a two handed slam. Balkman then heads to the bench with the rest of the team.

At the introductions, most of the Garden is fashionably empty. Since Yao Ming brings an influx of Rocket supporters, Houston players get a few cheers as they are announced. At least they do until the Knick faithfuls catch wind of what’s occurring. By the third Rocket, Knick fans attempt to drown out the cheers with a chorus of boos.

The first Knick to be announced is Isiah Thomas, whose name is met with a boisterous derision from the crowd. As the players are announced I decide this is a good opportunity to teach my daughter the all important skill of clapping. However I find it hard to cheer for the Knick starters. Quentin Richardson? Zach Randolph? I wrestle with my conscience and decide teaching her to clap is more important than my dislike of Isiah’s choice of starters. We cheer each player on in unison. Last is Stephon Marbury who receives just about the same reaction from the crowd as Yao Ming. A loud mix of cheers and boos.

Unfortunately the action is good, but my daughter is still interested in the bright lights around the arena. As the game wears on, she grows restless. Every parent of a young child knows this is their nice way of saying “I want to go to sleep now.” I give her credit for lasting until halftime. Luckily I live close enough to the garden to know I won’t miss much of the action, and I catch most of the rest of the game from home.

The next day I receive a call from my wife. “Wait until you come home and see what your daughter is doing.” When I got home, my daughter showed me her new skill: clapping.

Wow, What a Game!

The Utah Jazz just defeated the Golden State Warriors in overtime to take a 2-0 series lead. This is one of those games that has legend written all over it. Not only did it have intense, end-to-end action (well, at least until the overtime period), but it has so many ongoing subplots. Derek Fisher’s daughter’s cancer diagnosis and surgery. His gameday flight from New York City to Salt Lake City. His Willis Reed-type entry into the game, stellar defense on Baron Davis, and HUGE overtime three pointer. Dee Brown’s injury. (Our best to both young Miss Fisher and Dee Brown–get better soon.) A hobbled Baron Davis continues to astound–yet another flat-footed three pointer from the wing with the shot clock winding down and a defender in his mug; to quote my man Thirst, “king sized water bed, plasma screen, blah blah blah.” Golden State continues to hit an ungodly percentage of their three-point attempts (and grouse about an even higher percentage of foul calls). Andrei Kirilenko wipes away the tears from his disappointing first round performance and channels the great ghosts of point forwards past, right in front of Don Nelson. And, Deron Williams matures right before our eyes.

Discuss.

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.