Tempered Enthusiasm

There’s a memorable line from the poker film Rounders that goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” This applies to basketball teams as well. If you can’t pick out the easy games that should definitely win on your schedule, well, then you are the easy games on the other teams’ schedules. Luckily, the Memphis Grizzlies still definitely qualify as the “sucker at the table,” and the Knicks took care of them last night in a generally all-around pummeling, although it was unsettling that the Grizzlies actually cut the lead to five at one point towards the end of the game.

When Eddy Curry plays like he has been playing the last few games, the Knicks look so much better, as a strong Curry is a definitive advantage for the Knicks, with so many teams out there playing small lineups.

Marbury had a strong game, and Francis didn’t play poorly (Jamal Crawford did, though).

It was great seeing the Knicks just get so many easy buckets. It was practically a clinic, except, and here is the tempered enthusiasm part, it WAS only the Memphis Grizzlies, who I am astonished have won four games with this line up.

Isn’t it interesting to see Steve Francis leading the NBA in free throw percentage? How weird is THAT? I doubt it will stay that way all season, but still, very impressive job by Francis.

With Curry playing so well offensively recently, it is starting to look more and more like it will be Francis who will be replaced by Jeffries. Man, I would not want to be in Isiah’s shows when he has to decide which players to play…there are going to be some interesting minute crunches when Jeffries and Frye return.

In any event, this was a good win (except for the comeback at the end, where the Knicks were lucky the Grizzlies are so bad, as the Knicks practically GAVE them the comeback). Let’s hope they can keep it up on the homestand. 7-13 doesn’t look awful – 10-15 would look a lot better.

Knicks 118 Grizzlies 117, 3OT

First Quarter

Damon Stoudamire killed the Knicks by blowing past Stephon Marbury, and Curry offered no help. Meanwhile Mike Miller was lighting it up on the outside. Francis is forcing up shots. The Knicks are down by 5 at the end of the quarter

Second Quarter

The Knicks start off the quarter with their small lineup. David Lee is the center, accompanied by Balkman at PF, with a 3 guard lineup of Crawford, Marbury, and Robinson. It’s obvious the Knicks want to run against the slow paced Grizzlies, but to do so New York must force stops on the defensive ends. When they grab a defensive rebound, they are able to run the court well. Unfortunately they’re only able to prevent Memphis from scoring about half the time.

Nate Robinson earned a technical under the new league rules on outbursts. Unless Robinson is a quick learner, expect to see more of this as he’s the most demonstative Knick.

With Curry back in, the Grizzlies are still penetrating the lane with their smaller guys. Eddy is too slow to help out. To my astonishment, the Knick announcers Gus Johnson & Walt Frazier state that Eddy Curry isn’t in foul trouble because the Grizzlies aren’t an interior team to challenge Curry. True they don’t have a post presence, but they’ve created a lot of plays by getting past the Knick guards into the paint and Curry hasn’t been there to help out.

On a Memphis possession, the Knick announcers say “a Gay turnaround jumper.” Chuckles heard in the KnickerBlogger household.

Quentin Richardson is on fire. Forget what I said about his shooting yesterday, at least for tonight. At the end of the half, he has 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting. Counting the 3-3 from the field, and I have his eFG at a remarkable 130%. Curry has quiet 10 points at the half as well, but also has picked up his 3rd foul. The Knicks are up 51-46 at the half.

Third Quarter

One promising tidbit from the MSG announcers, they state that Isiah Thomas doesn’t care about how many points the Knicks give up per game. All he is concerned with is opponent FG% and the point differential. Although I would have been happier with eFG% and points/possesion, I’m satisfied that Isiah Thomas understands that pace can affect per game averages.

During this quarter he has two goaltending calls. Up until this point Eddy Curry is just about useless on defense, until now. His first block of the game is a vicious rejection of a Roberts attempted dunk. Curry’s big size allows him to land standing. Marbury lets 10 seconds run off the 24 second clock for Curry to make it up court. The replay shows Eddy just standing there after the block. Maybe Eddy is just as shocked with the block as the rest of us. It’s not all bad for Curry as he has grabbed a bunch of boards, and is the Knicks second leading scorer at this point. He has a double-double on the stat sheet. With a moderate defensive game, he’d be an All Star.

Rookie Renaldo Balkman looks nervous. Off a steal, Balkman has a few steps on the rest of the Grizzly team, but attempts to pass the ball to a trailing teammate. The ball sails out of bounds.

By the end of the quarter, the Knicks are up by 11.

Fourth Quarter

The Knicks looking to keep their lead come out charging. Unfortunately charging is illegal in the NBA. New York’s offense is all charges and forced shots. Curry earns his fifth foul, which sends him to the bench. Before he does, one of the Memphis forwards spins around right past him and dunks. It happened so fast I wasn’t sure if it was Warrick or Gay.

Almost unbelievably, the Knicks blow the lead and the game is tied at 89. David Lee preserves the tie by blocking a shot with 20 seconds left to give New York one last possession. Crawford has the ball for the last shot. He lets the clock down to a couple of seconds before attempting a three point shot. Walt Clyde Frazier hits the nail on the head when he calls the play “stupid.” Let me count the reasons. First, why not move the ball around to find an easy shot? Second, why not give it to Curry who was back in the game for the final 20 seconds? Third why not drive to the hoop & hope a double team opens a teammate or draw a foul? Finally, why a three point shot when you only need 1 point to win?

Memphis outscores the Knicks 29-18 in this quarter.

Fifth Quarter

Curry is back in and helps turn the tides for New York with his defense. With 3 minutes left, Eddy blocks a Lowry drive with authority. The block leads to a Knick fast break that Marbury finishes up by spinning past a defender and draining an open jumper. If Eddy could just do that more often…

Francis fouls out, and the Knicks replace him with David Lee. Lee is obviously rewarded for his blocked shot in the fourth quarter. Lee has an up & down quarter, as most of the action surrounds him. He commits a charge on the offensive end, but then a rebound and a quick outlet pass leads to another Marbury fast break. Lee’s contrasting quarter continues when he gets his shot blocked by Rudy Gay, forcing a shot clock violation. However Lee tips in a Crawford miss to give New York a 1 point lead.

On Memphis’ last possession there is a Kelvin Cato sighting. Cato replaces Curry as a defensive specialist, but the Knicks still end up fouling Memphis. Miller proceeds to miss both free throws, however New York allows Warrick to get the rebound, and fouls him with a couple of ticks left on the clock. Warrick hits one of two, and the game goes into double overtime.

Sixth Quarter

Quentin Richardson is keeping the team afloat. Curry tips in a missed Nate Robinson shot. I’ve said some negative things about Curry, but it’s been about his defense not offense. Eddy Curry has been out there for over a quarter now with 5 fouls, but the Knicks are ignoring him on offense. And it’s a damn shame. Marbury & Francis are both relegated to the bench with 6 fouls. Instead of forcing the ball in to the Knicks best option, the guards are taking shot after shot from outside. A few times Curry has decent position in the post, but the Knick guards either ignore him, or swing the ball to the other side. Both Crawford and Nate ignore Curry time after time.

Everyone is tired, including bloggers following the game. KnickerBlogger puts his pen and notepad aside with his cramped hand, and instead of keeping notes he reserves his energy for yelling at the tv.

Despite having the lead for nearly 4 minutes in the quarter, Memphis ties the game with less than half a minute. The game goes into triple overtime.

Seventh Quarter

Good news for New York, the Grizzlies start off the 7th quarter by missing their first three shots. The bad news is that the Grizzlies start off with 3 offensive boards, and end the possession by having Eddy Curry foul out. Channing Frye, the prodigal son, re-enters the game. Crawford finally hits a shot to make him 4 of 21. Maybe John Starks needed 3 more shots in 1994?

Unlike the last quarter, the Knicks spend most of the 7th trailing the Grizzlies. Crawford begins to redeem himself for a poor shooting night and blocks a shot. In a wild series, Frye nervously passes the ball off a referee & in the confusion David Lee is left free under the hoop. The Knicks retain the ball, and find Lee for an easy bucket.

With less than a minute left, Nate Robinson forces shot with 3 guys on him. It’s blocked, but Robinsons ends up with the ball and calls a time out. Again Nate drive to the hoop with 3 defenders trailing. However he’s fouled, but only hits one of two to leave the Knicks down by one.

Again Crawford comes up with a defensive play by stealing the ball. Crawford hits Richardson on the ensuing break, and Richardson is fouled. Despite the positive results, I’m not happy with the play. Crawford gave the ball up way too early, causing Richardson to leave his feet further from the hoop. Every basketball player learns not to give up the ball too early when you have a 2 on 1 advantage.

Richardson sinks both, and the Knicks have to make a big defensive stand to keep their one point lead. Like Cato three quarters ago, there is a Mardy Collins sighting. New York plays smart on the last possession, and it saves them the game. First they used up half the clock before committing their last team foul. Second was the fabulous defensive effort by Richardson on Mike Miller. The Grizzlies inbounded the ball to Miller on the extended elbow. Miller dribbled towards the paint, and Richardson stayed right with him, even when Miller showed an elbow on a turn around dribble. When the Grizzlies forward attempted the final shot of the game Richardson held his ground, never leaving his feet. It was a textbook defensive play, and gave the Knicks the game.

Post Game Thoughts

New York’s problem was going away from the offense. It served them well for 3 quarters, but they abandoned it shortly afterwards. Instead of moving the ball, the last 4 quarters consisted of one guard either settling for a jumper or driving madly to the basket. I’ll say it again, it was a serious mistake for the Knicks to ignore Curry in the extra quarters.

Channing Frye was the forgotten man. He didn’t look comfortable, only shot 2 of 10, and almost fumbled away the ball in the second overtime. Fortunately Lee looked fabulous. His rebounding was sorely needed, and while he had his bad moments, he made a lot of plays that led to the Knicks’ win. He’d be the player of the game, if it wasn’t for Quentin Richardson.

Richardson played phenomenally well. I won’t expect him to hit 10 of 13 every night, including a perfect 5 of 5 from downtown. However if tonight is any indication, it’s possible that Richardson is back to his productive self. Quentin also played tough defense and hit those clutch free throws to give the Knicks the game for good.

2006 Round 1: Odds & Rants

Only a few weeks ago the NCAA had one of it’s most exciting tournaments in recent history. There were plenty of upsets, as few people expected teams like Bradley and Wichita State to make the Sweet 16, and even fewer had George Mason getting to the Final Four. Even the one-sided championship game had enough acrobatics to keep viewers involved. For those that followed the NCAA closely, the opening round of the NBA Playoffs will seem like having War & Peace read aloud in Klingon: too long and quite unnecessary.

Long time readers of KnickerBlogger.Net know that I’m not a big fan of the first round of the playoffs. Mathematically most of the teams don’t have a fair chance of winning the first round. There is a well known equation that given a season’s winning percentages, you can predict the chance of any team winning a single game. If Milwaukee (.488 winning % on the season) played Detroit (.780) in a single game, they have a 21.2% chance of winning that game. Poor odds for the Cunningham family, but certainly doable. However, if the Bucks have to win 3 out of 5 games those odds drop to 6.7%. Make it 4 of 7 games, and it plummets further to 4.1%. All the above calculations were made using a neutral court. Factor in home court advantage, and well, the Bucks have already jumped the shark on their 2006 season.

Obviously I cherry-picked my example, as Detroit has the best chance of winning their 7 game series (96.1%). However the Spurs aren’t that far behind with a 92.4% chance. Despite the Grizzlies having the highest win% of all the road teams, their opponents, the Mavericks, are the third most likely to win at 80.8%. Granted not all the series are this lopsided. The second worst matchup is the Nets, but they still have a robust 72.6% chance of winning. If the Nets-Pacers played NCAA style, one game in a neutral arena, the Nets would only win 59.8% of the time.

It’s obvious that the collegiate style of tournament play would make for a more intense game, but unfortunately the league runs on money. Two weeks of television commercial revenue, ticket sales, and concessions mean more to the league owners than the integrity of the playoffs. As if the too long playoff system isn’t enough, the NBA has given critics another reason to ridicule the league. By David’s Sternpidity, the West’s 7th best team will get a home round advantage for the first round against the 6th best team. Had the NBA kept the 5 game series, the Nuggets would have about the same odds as winning one game in a neutral court (46.4%) as they would 5 with 3 games at home (46.1%). But the NBA’s expansion of the first round into 7 games, drops their chances down to 45.5%.

Outside of the Nuggets & Clippers, fans of the Wizards, Pacers, and Lakers have a reasonable chance of an upset. Meanwhile the rest of the games are not likely to be meaningful unless a home team suffers an injury to an integral player. The real excitement of the NBA playoffs come in the later rounds, where the difference between the teams are less pronounced, and the stakes are higher.

TEAM
One Game
(neutral field)
One Game
(home game)
5 Game
(neutral field)
7 Game
(neutral field)

5 Games
(modified for home field)*

7 Games
(modified for home field)*
Pistons
78.8%
84.8%
93.3%
95.9%
93.4%
96.1%
Heat
63.4%
72.2%
73.9%
77.3%
75.3%
78.7%
Nets
59.8%
69.1%
67.9%
70.6%
69.6%
72.6%
Cavs
59.9%
69.1%
68.0%
70.7%
69.7%
72.6%
Spurs
74.1%
81.1%
88.6%
92.0%
89.0%
92.4%
Suns
61.4%
70.4%
70.6%
73.6%
72.1%
75.3%
Nuggets
46.4%
56.5%
43.2%
42.1%
46.1%
45.5%
Mavs
64.7%
73.4%
76.1%
79.6%
77.3%
80.8%

Note: Odds “modified for home team” are approximated using the binomial formula with the home team odds as (4*chance of winning game at home + 3*chance of winning game away)/7.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part III)

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net’s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always, I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

In part two I evaluated the NBA draft for Eastern Conference teams based on their strategy, either best player available or need/fit. Now, let?s take a look at the Western Conference teams. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

* No selections in this draft

Denver Nuggets

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and Resubmit (minor changes)

20. Julius Hodge (6-7, 7-0-1/2, 202.2#), G, N. Carolina State

27. Linas Kleiza (6-8, NA, 235#), F, Missouri?

35. Ricky Sanchez (6-11, NA, 215#), SF, IMG Academy JC (FL) ?

55. Axel Herville (6-9, NA, 230#), PF, Spain

? Denver acquired the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection) for the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection).

Denver?s top priority is a (big) scoring guard, preferably one with good range. However, a reasonably deep free agent class coupled with veterans facing their impending release via the new ?amnesty? provision (e.g., Allan Houston and Michael Finley) in the CBA and the Nuggets could wind up with a quality 2nd tier free agent SG for their MLE, or perhaps even just part of it. Given this I generally like what Denver did in the draft. Hodge was asked to carry a lot of dead weight this season at N.C. State. He was asked to create offense for others and to score. Having so much asked of him affected his offense in my opinion. He is a better shooter than his final season indicated. He is a superb ball handler, a leader, very adept at getting others involved, and capable of putting a team on his skinny little shoulders at times as we saw against UConn in the NCAA tournament. Linas Kleiza has nice versatility. He?s tough, a physical rebounder with some range on his shot. However, I rated Wayne Simien and David Lee higher. Of course, the fact that Kleiza can develop overseas without costing the Nuggets any money may have played a role in his selection.

Golden State Warriors

* Strategy: Need/Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (minor changes)

9. Ike Diogu (6-8, 7-3-1/2, 255.4#), PF, Arizona State

40. Monta Ellis (6-3-1/4, 6-2-3/4, 176.6#), G, Lanier HS (MS)

42. Chris Taft (6-9-1/2, 7-1-3/4, 261.0#), PF, Pittsburgh

It appears that Golden State was poised to take the best power forward available, whether Channing Frye, Villanueva, or Diogu. During the leadup to the draft it became more and more difficult to find people who think Diogu won?t be able to translate his game to the NBA. For all the talk about Diogu being undersized he measured only one-half inch shorter in shoes than Sean May and has a broader wingspan by more than two inches. Diogu will be able to play power forward in the league. What?s hard to miss about Diogu is that he takes the punishment and lives at the free throw line, where he?s a good free throw shooter. The downside of picking Diogu is that he scores from some of the same areas on the floor as Troy Murphy. Neither player can reasonably be switched to small forward so it is unlikely they can play together. In the second round they picked one-time lottery projection Chris Taft. While the tales of his attitude problems have been well chronicled from a pure basketball standpoint it was the tape measure as much as anything that did him in. He measured at less than 6-10, and there is little about his game to suggest he can move out on the floor at all.

Houston Rockets

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

24. Luther Head (6-3, 6-5-1/4, 178.8#), G, Illinois

This was a guy I?d hoped would fall to New York at #30. So I like Head. He played his ass off in Chicago. Though his ability to run the point has been called into question his defense and shooting are more than solid, which is really what matters to Houston since McGrady often dominates the ball. My problem with this pick is that the team has so little depth at small forward or power forward. McGrady is the only small forward currently under contract and Juwon Howard, who has been breaking down rapidly, is backed up by Clarence Weatherspoon and Vin Baker. Luther Head is somewhat similar to their other combo guards (Bob Sura and David Wesley). Houston may have rated Head higher on their draft board than Wayne Simien (probably because of Simien?s shoulder problems) but they may regret passing on him.

L.A. Clippers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Reject

12. Yaroslav Korolev (6-9, NA, 215#), SF, Russia

32. Daniel Ewing (6-3, NA, 185#), PG, Duke

Back when the Dallas Mavs traded the draft rights to Robert ?Tractor? Traylor to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk Nowitski I rated it as one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history. Of course at the time I thought Milwaukee was getting the better end of the deal. So I?ve learned not to overreact to such deals. This kid may turn out to be a player. But this pick was bogus; a classic case of bidding against yourself. Korolev stayed in the draft based solely on an early promise from the Clips. It?s safe to assume that the Clippers will once again be moribund next season, especially if Bobby Simmons walks. Korolev?s Russian team was not likely to play him much more next season, if at all. So in all likelihood he?d be on the board next season around the same spot, but after another piece to the puzzle had already been put in place for a year. I know the official story is that Mike Dunleavy fell in love with this kid but I smell Donald Sterling here. In round 2 the Clips were probably hoping that either Nate Robinson or Salim Stoudamire would fall to them. No such luck. Still, Ewing should be a solid role player/part time starter for them.

L.A. Lakers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

10. Andrew Bynum (7-0, NA, 300#), C, St. Joeseph?s HS (NJ)

37. Rony Turiaf (6-9-1/4, 7-1-1/2, 237.8#), PF, Gonzaga

39. Von Wafer (6-5, NA, 210#), SG, Florida State

I?m in the clear minority of people who felt like the Lakers, when forced to choose between Shaq and Kobe, had to keep Kobe and trade the Big Aristotle. However, I never liked the deal they made for Shaq. They created a glut of small forwards bigger than the one on Team USA this summer. Kobe, Lamar Odom (even if disguised as a PF), Caron Butler, Devean George, Jumain Jones, Luke Walton, and Tony Bobbitt all play small forward. The Shaq trade influenced what the Lakers did in this draft. Instead of drafting a player to help them in the top ten they drafted a player to help someone else. I think Bynum?s days with the Lakers will be relatively short; maybe this summer, maybe trade deadline, next summer tops. He is the pretty bow to tie around a package that includes one or more of the small forwards for a point guard or center who can help them in the next 2 years. Turiaf should take Brian Grant?s place in the rotation once he is released. Wafer is a scorer to bring off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

19. Hakim Warrick (6-8-1/2, 7-2, 215#), PF, Syracuse

Given the impending roster fluctuation in Memphis it?s hard to argue with West taking the ?best player.? The one real downside to Warrick is that he?s a ?tweener, which means he cannot play for every team. But Memphis features a number of ?tweeners, including G/F Shane Battier, G/F James Posey, SF/PF Brian Cardinal and PF/C Pau Gasol. So clearly that?s not a problem for Jerry West. The open floor style they favor also emphasizes Warrick?s athleticism. Also, much like with the slender Gasol I don?t think the Grizzlies will shy away from posting Warrick in certain matchups. The other potential direction West might have gone would have been for a point guard, like Jarrett Jack, given that Jason Williams and/or Earl Watson won?t be back. I know they like Antonio Burks but he?s still more of a combo guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

14. Rashad McCants (6-4, 6-10-3/4, 201), SG, N. Carolina

47. Bracey Wright (6-2-1/2, 6-10, 186.8), G, Indiana

ESPN?s Jay Bilas, who is usually not a taker of pot-shots said, ?If I had a nickel for every time Rashad McCants really got down and guarded somebody I?d have a nickel.? Now that is being called out, and the sad part is that even Tar Heel fans must admit that this is true. McCants is a talented scorer who has been taken out of games (e.g., @ Wake Forest and vs. Illinois), as all scorers are occasionally, but I have yet to see him make a significant contribution with any other part of his game. I have a difficult time with this pick for Minnesota because McHale & Co. took a player whose sole contribution is his scoring over Granger and Wright who score and defend. McCants doesn?t rebound. He doesn?t handle the ball. He doesn?t pass. And prolonged exposure to defense appears to produce in him something similar to anaphylactic shock. The Wolves, facing the likely departure of Sprewell and great uncertainty about Fred Hoiberg’s health (good luck to The Mayor of Ames, Iowa), certainly need a wing player but they also need someone apart from Garnett who plays both ends. Bracey Wright is a nice fit considering that he is something of a shoot-first point guard with passing skills, similar to Sam Cassell.

New Orleans Hornets

* Strategy: Best player available/Need

* Review: Accept

4. Chris Paul (6-1, 6-4-1/4, 178#), PG, Wake Forest

33. Brandon Bass (6-7-1/4, 7-2-1/2, 246#), PF, LSU

Chris Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the nation this past season. He shot a high percentage (52.3% efg, 1.54 points per shot), created for teammates (2.4 to 1 assist to turnover), and lived at the free throw line (5.8 attempts per game @ 83%). There is little to be disappointed with in his sophomore season, well, other than socking Julius Hodge below the belt and getting bumped early in the NCAAs. (Wake simply didn?t play enough defense to make a deep run in the tournament. They were the classic upset-prone high-seed.) Paul was absolutely the right move for New Orleans. I like the selection of Brandon Bass in the second round too. Bass is a multi-talented player who simply wasn?t getting coached at LSU. Though he measures only 6-7 he has shoulders right out of the Karl Malone catalog, long arms, and an expanding game. This kid will always be a rebounder but has the potential to be much more, particularly on a team with steady point guard play that likes to run.

Phoenix Suns

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

54. Dijon Thompson (6-8, 6-9-3/4, 195.8#), G/F, UCLA?

Cash??

? Phoenix acquired F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection) from the New York Knicks for G/F Quentin Richardson and G Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection).

?? Phoenix traded the rights to C Marcin Gortat (the 57th overall selection) to the Orlando Magic for cash.

Phoenix?s primary interest was in getting Kurt Thomas and clearing cap space to re-sign Joe Johnson and Steven Hunter. Dijon Thompson is a talented offensive player, especially in the mid-range area. He?s not such a threat from long range (which makes me wonder why everyone lists him as a guard when he played the SF almost exclusively at UCLA). Even if Phoenix does re-sign Joe Johnson the team would be remiss if it did not explore other options at the backup point guard.

Portland Trailblazers

* Strategy: Best player available/need

* Review: Revise and resubmit

6. Martell Webster (6-7-1/2, 6-11, 229.6#), SG, Seattle Prep HS (WA)

22. Jarrett Jack (6-3-1/2, 6-7-1/2, 197.6#), PG, Georgia Tech?

? Portland acquired the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection) from the Denver Nuggets for the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection).

Webster and Gerald Green will always be linked as the last ?pre-age restriction? class. The two will always be compared to each other, even apart from the other high schoolers chosen in this draft; a bit like LeBron and Carmello but rarely LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Unlike Green Webster is a big (i.e., chunky) kid. I don?t know that he?s in NBA caliber condition but he is thick. I like the trade for Jack, who can play some shooting guard, and really helps shore up the defense.

Sacramento Kings

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Accept

23. Francisco Garcia (6-7, 6-10-3/4, 189.6#), SG, Louisville

Garcia won?t help the Kings get key stops but he will add depth and another shooter. Make no mistake about it though the window has closed on that group. They?re 7th or 8th seed material for the foreseeable future. If they?re smart they?ll begin moving pieces (e.g., Brad Miller) that they can get value for now.

San Antonio Spurs

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept

28. Ian Mahinmi (6-10, NA, 230#), PF, France

You have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to international talent. They scout overseas more extensively than any other team. The Spurs don?t really need anything out of this draft so it hardly surprises that they would pick a player who can be stashed overseas to develop. Most of their key players are in their primes and locked up long-term. So in one sense there?s no sense in paying first round scratch to a kid who is not going to contribute in the foreseeable future when they could use that money to keep Horry and/or Glen Robinson. Mahinmi is only 18 and it may be 2-3 seasons before he is ready to play in the NBA.

Seattle Supersonics

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

25. Johan Petro (7-1, NA, 250), C, France

38. Mikael Gelabale (6-7, NA, 210), SF, France

Seattle went big and young in last year?s draft, taking Robert Swift. They follow it up with the athletic Petro from France. He is said to be very athletic, a skilled shot-blocker, but raw. Seattle could lose both Jerome James (especially if Nate McMillan does not return) and Vitale Potapenko, robbing them of their size. It seems unlikely that either Swift or Petro is ready to contribute in the upcoming season should Seattle?s current centers walk. Nonetheless, given what was available (primarily power forwards) and persistent rumors that the team is unhappy with Swift?s progress Seattle likely made lemonade out of lemons. Much like Damien Wilkins last year, Gelabale is an athlete who?ll probably be invited to summer league. While it appears Seattle is poised to re-sign Ray Allen the odds of re-signing Antonio Daniels seem a bit lower. Seattle might have considered using that second round pick to take a flyer on a backup point guard (e.g., Alex Acker or John Gilchrist)

Utah Jazz

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

3. Deron Williams (6-2-3/4, 6-6-1/4, 202.4#), PG, Illinois

34. C.J. Miles (6-6, NA, 207), SG, Skyline HS (TX)

51. Robert Whaley (6-9, 7-2, 269.4#), C, Walsh

I love Deron Williams, particularly in Jerry Sloan?s system. He?s the right player for what they do. He also plays defense, which will allow him to stay on the floor for Sloan. (Defense is something Chris Paul doesn?t do; at least not yet.) However, I?m not in love with anything Utah did in the second round. Bad teams have to make second round picks pay dividends. C.J. Miles apparently never hired an agent and may honor his letter of intent to attend Texas; much like Vashon Lenard went through the draft but stayed in school years ago. If Utah was going to take a flyer on a high school kid why not take Andray Blatche, the 6-11 high school kid from CT at 34 then Dijon Thompson from UCLA at 51? Robert Whaley played his tail off in Chicago but seems more of a priority free agent.

Revisiting Nash?s MVP Season: Short-Shorts and Culture Clash in the NBA

[Today’s article comes from the mind of David Crockett. “Dr. C” is the director of KnickerBlogger.Net’s Culture & Marketing Department. In his spare time, David Crockett is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

I don?t generally pay too much attention to regular season awards but the subject of Steve Nash?s MVP award has stayed on my mind throughout these playoffs for two reasons. First, Nash has played out of his mind offensively in the playoffs. (Amare Stoudemire was just on another planet but that?s for another day.) Heading into last night?s final game of the Western Conference Finals he had posted 24.1 points and 11.4 assists per game on 57% efg shooting with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 26.1, and made it look easy against good defensive clubs (Memphis, Dallas, and San Antonio). The second reason is that the announcers have cooed and squealed like schoolgirls with every assist and every jumper. Some pundits, like Suns fan Neal Pollack at Slate.com, have gone so far as to claim that Nash and the Suns have ?saved the NBA.?

Despite being a fan since Nash?s freshman season at Santa Clara, I really only began following his MVP season closely after Kevin Pelton?s positively inspired two part series on Nash?s MVP credentials (Part I, Part II). Nash, as we all know, was ultimately named the MVP. (See his regular season stats here.) The announcement was almost immediately followed by the inevitable racial mini-controversy about his MVP worthiness. Now I?m not one to gossip, but Michael Sweetney and Trevor Ariza had yet to see their first days of kindergarten the last time a white player (the ?hick from French Lick?) won the award back in 1986. In a business where more than 80% of the work force is black (and has been so for more than a generation now) it should surprise only the most naive that awarding the highest honor to a white player would meet with some skepticism.

The Nash controversy piqued my interest as both an NBA fan and a scholar. In my day job I research the ways that race, class, and culture are part of the marketing and consumption of products. Perhaps the National Basketball Association is more invested in packaging and selling race, class, and culture than any other business and certainly no chief executive has been as successful at it as David Stern. So the racial dynamics surrounding Nash?s MVP award are important and they certainly warrant comment but I thought I?d wait until after Phoenix?s run to comment on it, especially with Nash getting extended play before a national audience really for the first time this season.

Officially, Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard in his May commentary was the first to point to race, the big elephant in the room. He argues that by the traditional measure ? most productive player on a contending team ? Shaq is by far the more deserving MVP candidate. If voters are taking something else into account, he opines, Nash?s racial novelty is likely a part of what is being considered. Clearly Nash, one of only a handful of whites who played American college ball in the entire league, is something of a novelty. Though Le Batard has been roundly criticized for ?bringing race into it,? I found his comments much more balanced and reasoned than those offered by his TV and talk radio critics, even when I disagreed. For instance, it is easy to dismiss his claim that plenty of black players (or any players for that matter) have had a season like Nash?s. Indeed no one other than John Stockton, the short-shorted one himself, has had a passing season like Nash?s 04-05 in more than a generation ? not once you account for pace and league context. (I feel confident in speculating, however, that most MVP voters did not account for pace or league context when making out their ballots.) Yet Le Batard goes out of his way to avoid reducing Nash?s MVP award to a case of ?best white guy available.? He notes that race may be one of numerous things the voters considered and that it may have been no more important than anything else ? or perhaps not important at all. He writes, ?Who is to say that, given the same stats as Nash, 5-5 Earl Boykins, who is black, may not have gotten the MVP vote, too, because he is so tiny?? Trust me, as a Knicks fan having to defended Le Batard?s honor is a painful thing but he really didn’t say anything out of order.

Although Le Batard is totally legitimate to raise the issue of race ultimately he is unable to do so in a way that generates much insight. (It?s at moments like these that Ralph Wiley’s untimely death stings the most. Insight is the rarest of gifts.) Le Batard swings and misses ? or at least swings and foul tips ? on the important race question by merely wondering out loud whether MVP voters are biased against Shaq, even if only subconsciously. The question about race begging to be answered here is NOT why is Nash MVP instead of Shaq? Rather, the far more intriguing and important question is how Nash won the award when John Stockton never came close. As Kevin?s series presaged, Nash won the MVP award in 2005 with the type of low scoring/high assist season routinely produced by Stockton throughout the 80s and 90s. Stockton posted PERs that exceeded Nash?s 22.0 six different times (according to basketball-reference.com). He posted equivalent or superior passing and PER seasons to Nash?s in both 1988 and 1990. Not only did Stockton fail to win the award he never made the top five in balloting. Why, you ask? Low scoring/high assist seasons have traditionally been seen as the stuff of sidekicks rather than leading men. Consequently, such players have been frozen out of MVP consideration; that is until Steve Nash this season. Nash is the first sub-20 point scorer to win the award since Bill Walton in 1978 and has the lowest scoring average in the history of the award. I took the liberty of re-posting Kevin Pelton?s adjusted assists per game chart, adding in PER for each player, along with the actual MVP winners so you can see what voters valued during some of the greatest passing seasons ever.


Player
Year Team 05APG PER MVP

------------------------------------------------------------
John Stockton
1990 UTA 12.0 23.9 Magic Johnson
John Stockton 1988 UTA 11.5 23.2 Michael Jordan
John Stockton 1991 UTA 10.9 23.4 Michael Jordan
John Stockton 1992 UTA 10.8 22.8 Michael Jordan
John Stockton 1995 UTA 10.6 23.3 David Robinson
Steve Nash 2005 PHO 11.5 22.0 Steve Nash
John Stockton 1994 UTA 10.1 22.5 Hakeem Olajuwan
John Stockton 1996 UTA 9.8 21.9 Michael Jordan
Magic Johnson 1991 LAL 9.8 25.1 Michael Jordan
John Stockton 1993 UTA 9.8 21.3 Charles Barkley

Nash?s MVP in light of Stockton?s unheralded 88 and 90 seasons strongly suggests that the league has undergone a major shift in what it thinks an MVP is. What could account for such a shift? How could Nash win the MVP based on production that garnered Stockton all of one first place MVP vote in his superior 1990 season? I think an insightful approach is to consider the role race plays in the context of the ongoing tension between the league?s players, owners, and fans. Race, which I use here as a proxy for culture, style, and aesthetic, may be quite useful in shedding light on the climate change necessary to make MVP voters now value what Nash does.

Kansas City Star columnist and ESPN Sports Reporters panelist Jason Whitlock laid the groundwork for understanding the ongoing cultural climate change this past summer when the USA Basketball slapped Allen Iverson together with 11 virtually identical forwards from the Borg Collective and simply assumed it would win gold. As they bricked and hacked their way out of Olympic gold medal contention Whitlock speculated that many white fans actually rooted against the Olympians, or at least rooted for a style of play euphemistically labeled ?international? or ?European? to prevail. (This label has ever-shifting boundaries and is often based on some pretty crude categorizations.) This public sentiment basically represented, in Whitlock?s view, a vote of no confidence on the NBA by its white patrons. The league has unmistakably come to be seen by many as too closely associated with a hip-hop urban youth subculture whose studio thug imagery sometimes crosses the line into the real thing. In a phrase the NBA has become ?too black,? a point raised repeatedly by a wide array of commentators. Whitlock, like Le Batard, was roundly criticized for ?bringing race into it? but he was basically correct in pointing to widespread ambivalence about the league. Even while it remains popular, large sections of the NBA-watching public are criticizing the ?urban? style of play (another label, also often predicated on crude stereotypes) as overly reliant on athleticism and lacking in fundamentals. The failure of the men?s team to win was an ?I told you so? moment for this growing chorus of critics. Undeniably constructed to run fast and jump high (but apparently not shoot straight), the Olympic team?s failure turned what was a simmering cultural conflict into a full-blown cultural crisis over how the game ?should? be played. This crisis is perhaps best exemplified by the rapid disenchantment with soon to be ex-Memphis Grizzlies point guard/alter ego ?White Chocolate,? the one time hope who is now largely seen as having gone native. Fans and journalists are actively seeking something new. Or, as Neal Pollack at Slate would have us believe, the game needs saving and the ?European? style championed by the Suns is the savior.

It is only in the context of this barely-beneath-the-surface cultural battle involving players, journalists, and fans that Nash?s season could even become part of the MVP discussion. The particular merits of his performance really are not at issue. What is at issue is what the voters value at a given historical moment. It is only in a rapidly changing cultural climate that Nash?s performance could be considered the stuff of a leading man rather than merely that of a sidekick. The aesthetic or stylistic qualities of Nash?s play that have come to be seen as the cure for the league?s rampant hip-hopism are a huge part of why his season generated so much interest.

Personally, I?m glad to see that the voters can deviate from their often stilted and scripted understanding of what Most Valuable Player means. I hope awarding the MVP to Nash foreshadows a much broader consideration of what constitutes ?value? on the basketball court. I would like Nash?s MVP season to be seen by the league and fans for the outstanding performance that it was. But alas, I must confess my skepticism. I fear that awarding Nash the MVP was less a case of updating the script than replacing an old rigid script with a new one that may be just as rigid. Journalists, by rewarding the best player whose style fit their aesthetic preference, may simply have been firing a shot in an ongoing culture war rather than truly expanding what can be considered MVP worthy. That is, since Nash is the antithesis of the hip-hop teenie-boppers so many journalists swear are killing the game I fear they?ve simply fixed the intelligence around the policy so to speak, substituting their sense of style for analysis. (The graceful Nash represents what the game should be and how it should be played.) As a fan I?ve made my peace long ago with the fact that awards handed out by journalists for anything other than journalism will inherently favor whatever passes for ?good copy? over good analysis. I have learned merely to hope that analysis won?t be asked to leave the room.

At the end of the day what I find most disturbing is how these currently competing basketball aesthetics (the so-called European and urban styles) are so highly reliant on cultural fictions and stereotypes their supporters appear blind to how each style informs the other. As a fan I?m greedy. I want to be able to appreciate the similarities and differences between Nash?s game and O?Neal?s without them needing to represent opposing cultural worlds. Maybe we could just let them represent themselves and go from there.

Brrr?. Is There a Draft in Here?

[While KnickerBlogger has been ignoring his blog by shmoozing it up with close friends visiting from out of town, KnickerBlogger’s Head College Expert David Crockett has been busy thinking about the Knicks future. In an attempt to become the Mel Kiper Jr. of the NBA, “Dr. C.” has gone over the Knicks’ needs for the June draft.

David Crockett is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

On May 24th the 2005 Draft Lottery will take place in the NBA studios. At that time the Knicks will know where they will draft in what is shaping up as a reasonably talented draft, depending on which early entrants hire agents and stay in the draft. Of course the playoffs will determine where the team?s second first round pick, obtained from the Spurs (via Phoenix), will be chosen. I knew it was time to think about a draft column when I got an email from a buddy of mine, a bona fide Jayhawk backer and Duke hater, comprised of three short sentences:

I hope you?re sitting down when you read this?
I just heard that Shavlik Randolph is going league.
I am incapable of rational thought right now.
So even though much is still to be determined between now and June I thought I?d fire up my Mel Kiper wig and dig into the NBA draft a bit.

First, We Need a Guard
So what do our beloved Knickerbockers need heading into the 2005-2006 season? Well, in a sharp departure from many of the pundits I believe the Knicks? first priority is in the backcourt rather than at center.

Stephon Marbury had one of the finest offensive seasons by a New York Knick in recent memory in 2004-2005. Though he is not the league?s best point guard, a claim for which he was waaaay overcriticized, ?Starbury? demonstrated the kind of skill and maturity ? e.g., moving off the ball to facilitate Crawford?s development ? few thought possible. According to Knickerblogger’s stat page Marbury?s assist ratio (27.3 assists per 100 possessions) ranked him a somewhat pedestrian 14th in the league among those playing at least 25 minutes per game. However, he was one of only five players on that list who also had a turnover ratio under 10. 82games.com lists Marbury?s PER as a lofty 23.3 and Knickerblogger reports it as a tad below 23; both numbers are clearly in the high-rent district. Marbury?s efg was over 50% and he went to the line frequently, making 35 free-throws per 100 shots from the floor.

Of course, offense was not the problem at the world?s most famous arena this season. Offensively, the Knicks? 103 points per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency) was middle of the pack (16th) ? a far cry from Phoenix?s 111.8 but better than that posted by these playoff teams: Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Sixers, and Grizzlies. Unfortunately, in an all too familiar refrain the Knicks sucked eggs defensively this season; just like last season. However unlike last season when the available statistical evidence failed to provide undisputable proof that the backcourt was the primary problem, this season?s stats are much more sympathetic to this point of view. Marbury and Crawford were, simply put, terrible. According to 82games, in 2003-2004 Marbury held opposing point guards to a surprisingly respectable 14.5 PER. (Average PER is set at 15.) This season he allowed an opponents? PER of 16.5. Marbury gave up more penetration (26% in-close FGAs vs. 21% in 2003-2004) and more free throw attempts per 48 minutes (4.7 vs. 3.6). His opponents shot 48.6% efg and had over 8 assists per 48. These incidental numbers strongly suggest that Marbury?s shoddy defense requires him to post phenomenal offensive numbers just to remain a net positive and that his offense comes at the price of major stress on the frontcourt to cover for his deficiencies.

Certainly, a large part of Marbury?s inconsistency and ineffectiveness on defense comes from his indifference. However, we are also starting to see the ill-effects of 8 consecutive seasons of 38+ minutes per game (mpg) on his body. He has fatigued at the ends of the last two seasons and his knee became a problem as this season wore on. Is it any wonder? He just completed his ninth season averaging 40 minutes per game and a career high in total minutes, 2nd only to Lebron James. Only in Marbury?s rookie season did he average fewer than 38 mpg. It would simply be foolish for the Knicks to continue to play Marbury 38-40 minutes per night without expecting his body to break down even more rapidly and eventually impact his offense. Marbury can be more effective playing fewer minutes. Jason Kidd has had seven sub-38 mpg seasons, including each season in New Jersey. Steve Nash has yet to average 38 mpg in any season. This season he averaged 34 (not even among the top 50), managing the league?s most efficient offense without a ?true? backup point guard no less. If these two guys are playing around 34-35 mpg Marbury should be playing no more.

At the shooting guard position Jamal Crawford looked every bit the ?instant offense? third guard he really is this season. At times he was indefensible but as his minutes increased to 38+ his warts became more visible. According to 82games.com, in his minutes at shooting guard Crawford shot almost 50% and had a more than respectable 16.8 PER. However his 18.2 opponents? PER made everyone he guarded look practically like Peja Stojakovic. Crawford, like his backcourt mate, gave up tons of penetration to opposing guards (26% in-close FG%), and ever the gentlemen, regularly ushered them to the free throw line (5.3 FTA per 48). Whatever additional pressure Marbury put on the frontcourt to mask his defensive shortcomings Crawford matched, only without the consistent offensive production. The Knicks don?t want to be forced to play Crawford more than 20-25 mpg, much less the 38+ he played this season.

The Knicks desperately need backcourt help. On a per 48 minute basis the opposing backcourt is taking more than half its shots from in close and taking 10 trips to the free throw line. The key to defensive improvement is cutting down on the penetration from opposing guards. A shot-blocking center that can erase penetration is a luxury; one most teams must live without. Such players are in woefully short supply and the Knicks would not be wise to pin their hopes on acquiring a ready made center in the draft or the free agent market.

The wiser course of action is to look to the draft for backcourt help. The value appears to be at point guard, with high-quality collegiate point guards available into the 2nd round. The shooting guard position looks weak by comparison. Which point guards and shooting guards should the Knicks consider with their three picks? I?ve listed a few players the Knicks might consider just to whet the appetite. More will come after the Chicago pre-draft camp and workouts. (Note: comments on college players only.)

Point Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Chris Paul, Wake Forest Early first round, 2nd (New Orleans) to 6th (Milwaukee), depending on team needs and workouts Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive perimeter player in the nation this season. He absolutely lived at the free throw line; amazing for a sub-six footer. On the other hand, Paul doesn?t defend. The Knicks don?t need anymore of that.
Deron Williams, Illinois Early first round 4th (Utah) to late lottery 16th (Toronto) depending on workouts I really like Williams even though he doesn?t fit Isiah?s ?athleticism? mantra. He?s a high IQ, instinctive player. He?s a bit like Andre Miller without the post-up game but a much better jump shooter. He?s best-suited to run a half-court screen-roll or a passing and cutting offense but he can get up and down too.
Raymond Felton, North Carolina Early first round 4th (Utah) to mid-lottery 12th (LA Clippers) No college player is better than Felton at pushing the ball at the defense. He?s smart, fearless, he defends, and his jump shot is developing. He?s tailor-made for an uptempo team that asks its point guard to penetrate-and-kick. He strikes me as a comparable, though better prospect than T.J. Ford because of his strength.
Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech. Mid-lottery 8th (Knicks) to end of round 1 30th (Knicks) depending on workouts Declared but hasn?t hired an agent. Opinions are all over the place on him. His detractors generally point to his turnovers. I love Jack?s all around game, particularly his on ball defense, and his athleticism. If he goes to Chicago and plays well he could solidify his status in the mid-to-late lottery.
Nate Robinson, Washington Early 2nd round Robinson is an exceptional on-ball defender and may be the best pound-for-pound athlete in the draft. Unfortunately, he also may have hurt his draft status more than any other player with a disappointing NCAA tournament.
John Gilchrist, Maryland Early to mid 2nd round He has everything you could ask for from a physical standpoint. His basketball IQ just isn?t there yet. He should have gone back to school.
Luther Head, Illinois Early-to-mid 2nd round Luther is a combo guard who will find his way onto a team as an excellent passer, defensive stopper, and a guy who will take a big shot.
Aaron Miles, Kansas Late 2nd round/free agent Miles has all the intangibles ? basketball IQ, pure point guard skills, feel for the game, leadership, toughness, unselfishness ? but lacks size and anything resembling a jump shot. He?s small and light. He has to find the right situation, or as I heard someone put it recently, ?Hit the Chris Duhon lottery.?

Of the point guards listed I think Williams, Felton, and Jack have the most to contribute to the Knicks immediately. Each could run the second unit. Each pushes the ball and thinks pass-first, but can score if needed. Most importantly, each will play their first NBA summer league game as a better on-ball defender than Marbury or Crawford is right now.

Shooting Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Antoine Wright, Texas A&M Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) Played his entire career on really awful teams but put up good numbers. He?s a willing defender and a potentially dynamite scorer. He has an NBA ready body.
Kennedy Winston, Alabama Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) There is a lot to like. Winston has a great body and a great stroke, but can be lazy defensively and is turnover prone.
Francisco Garcia, Louisville Late first round #20 (Denver) to #30 (Knicks) Garcia is the Deron Williams of shooting guards. His basketball skills and IQ are his biggest assets. He?ll need to go to a team that values those things and is willing to live with his athletic deficiencies.
Salim Stoudamire, Arizona Early 2nd round More Steve Kerr (pure shooter) than Eddie House (scorer). Unlike House or Kerr though, Stoudamire?s defense will allow him to stay on the floor. Also, he can run the point for a few minutes a night.
Tiras Wade, LA-Lafayette Mid-late 2nd round Big-time scorer with nice size from a small conference.
Alex Acker, Pepperdine Late 2nd round/free agent Alex is another combo guard. An athletic 6?5? with some legitimate point guard skills he could conceivably work his way into round 1.

Overall, I?m not so sure this is the draft the Knicks will find an heir apparent to Houston at shooting guard, particularly once Wright and Winston are off the board. I?m assuming Isiah isn?t silly enough to consider a schoolboy shooting guard (Gerald Green or Martell Webster), particularly since defense rather than scoring is the problem in the backcourt. The Knicks may be best off continuing to develop Ariza as a swing man rotating him with Crawford and Penny.

Coming Soon: We Need a Center Too

Three Days

Only three days left in the NBA’s regular season!

* The best race left is in the East, with the 76ers, Nets, and Cleveland fighting for the final two spots. If the three teams were high school seniors, New Jersey would be the guy who decided to straighten himself out so that he could graduate. The Nets have done everything they can to make the big dance, by taking 8 of their last 10, including beating Philly on Sunday.

Meanwhile the Cavs are like the B+ student that suddenly started to run with the wrong crowd. LeBron James went from valedictorian candidate (MVP) to summer school applicant. They have dropped 8 of their last 11, and have decided to work on their ping pong game instead of studying for the finals.

Philly is the average kid that decided to work harder, but got sick and missed a bunch of classes anyway. Getting a tutor (Chris Webber) didn’t help the Sixers as much as they would have hoped. However they’ll make the cut because New Jersey started off bad, and Cleveland is ending bad.

* The only serious battle left in the West is the 5th spot. The Rockets and Kings are tied, but according to Yahoo!’s standings, Houston has the tie breaking edge. I believe that they have the edge in schedule as well. Houston’s last two games are at home against the Clippers and Sonics. Although Sacramento plays the easy to beat Utah, they have to head to Salt Lake to do so, and then the Kings go home to face the top seeded Suns.

Honestly I don’t think there is a huge disparity between the two spots. Thanks to David Stern’s three division alignment, the “winner” gets to face the tougher Mavericks and the “loser” plays the Sonics, despite Dallas’ 50 point lead in win percentage.

* I can’t think of the words “Three Days” without thinking of the Jane’s Addiction song. The song is about weekend filled with drugs & group sex. If you’ve never heard of Jane’s Addiction, just wait for a Coors commercial to come around, and you’ll hear the “Mountain Song.” I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked with Perry Ferrell selling off his songs, especially the one with the lyric “cash in” repeated about 20 times. Additionally Pete Coors next Senate run should be interesting, considering the conservative’s “family values” and anti-gay marriage stance not exactly falling in line with his company’s purchasing Ferrell’s music to sell beer.

* Seven teams have clinched in the West, leaving just Minnesota and Memphis to fight for the final spot. The Timberwolves could have pulled within one game, but lost at home to the Sonics by 15 points yesterday. Just one Grizzlies win or Timberwolves loss in their combined four remaining games clinches the 8th spot for Memphis.

* In the Final playoff battle, Washington kept the hope alive that they could beat out Chicago for the coveted home court advantage in their series. The description from the AP wire read:

With Larry Hughes racing the length of the court and the clocking running down, Charlotte’s Brevin Knight knocked the ball away from behind — and right to Jamison, who put it off the glass and into the basket with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Washington Wizards a 106-104 comeback victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday.

The Wizards luck is going to end there, as they have to win two on the road, while the Bulls get to work from home for their final pair of games. Ironically both teams face the Knicks, so my team gets a chance to play spoiler. From my perspective it’s Chicago and Washington that get to play spoilers. The Knicks are tied with Golden State and Toronto for the 7th draft spot. If both teams happen to win against New York, it could mean two spots in the draft, depending on how the Raptors & Warriors do.