What A Difference A Game Makes

In an earlier column about the Timberwolves, I said that Minnesota improved their team on the defensive end. This is exactly how that they beat the Lakers last night. In game 1, LA had a field day, having an effective field goal percentage of 51%. Last night their eFG% dropped 10 points, to 41%. To put these numbers in perspective, 51% would have been an average night for league leading Sacramento, while game two would have looked bad even for this year’s Bulls (44.5%).

Only Derek Fisher (1-2, 1 3PT) and Luke Walton (1-1, 1 3PT), had an eFG% of 50% or better. Karl Malone went from a robust 8 of 13 in game 1 to a meager 2 for 5. Malone also had a dubious distinction of getting called for traveling by getting run into by his own teammate during the act of shooting. Gary Payton’s game 2 eFG% (40%), while better than his game 1 (36%), still leaves much to be desired. Kobe still scored a lot of points, but his 10-24 night lacked any hits from beyond the arc (0-4 3PT). Even the Timberwolves brand of hack-a-Shaq worked like Kryptonite against the Laker center, as Shaq went 4-10 from the field and 6-14 from the line.

The other thing that is radically different between games 1 and 2 in the box scores is the offensive rebounding. Minnesota only had 3 offensive boards (7% oREB%) in the first game, but more than tripled that amount in the next game with 10 (18% oREB%). It was a combined team effort as no Timberwolf had more than 2.

The Timberwolves may have more problems coming up. In addition to losing the home court advantage in the series, and heading to L.A. for the next two games, they might have to deal with the loss of Sam Cassell. Cassell has been fighting back problems, and had to leave game 2 after a few seconds. To make matters worse, he’s not Minnesota’s only injured PG, as Troy Hudson is out with a bad ankle. Journeyman Darrick Martin filled in nicely enough on the stat sheet (37 minutes, 4-11, 1 3PT, 6 AST & 0 TO). However the T-Wolves’ chances have to be decreased without their second best scorer. Cassell and Martin couldn’t be more different. Going from one player with a 52% eFG% that scored just under 20PPG this year, to a player who hasn’t played regularly in 4 seasons, with a career 44% eFG% will hurt their offense.

They will need someone or a group of players to pick up the slack. Latrell Sprewell shouldn’t be the one, since his 43% eFG% isn’t suited for the task. Even baseball guru Aaron Gleeman knows that Minnesota had more of a Big 2, than a Big 3. Of their top eFG% players, you can eliminate defensive specialists Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen & Oliver Miller. (Did I just call Oliver Miller a defensive specialist? I guess that’s what happens when you have 6 fouls to give against Shaq). This means Minnesoters should be rooting for Hoiberg (56%) and Szczerbiak (49% in limited time, 52% last year) to shoot the rock more often. If there is anyone that should be picking up the scoring it’s Wally, whose role was reduced this year by the acquisition of Sprewell.

What A Weekend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP 2004 Spurs

Last night the San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers. There are a few important ramifications of this. First is that the defending champs won’t repeat this year. Second is that the #1 defensive team has been eliminated. At least one more of the top 4 defensive teams will be eliminated when the Pistons & Nets series is complete. Third is that the 03/04 NBA playoffs has it’s first upset (for an entire series). Finally, the Lakers will have to get a bigger bandwagon, because everyone will be jumping back on.

Well not everyone. Even though I was incorrect his round, I’ll stand by my predictions that the Yellow & Purple won’t be holding the big trophy by summertime. They still have two more series to win on the road, and taking the entire field seems to be at least even odds against a single team.

As for the Spurs, their defense looked fine, but their offense fizzled out. Their 32% eFG% was indicative of their poor play. Despite having a huge edge with 21 offensive rebounds to 8, the Spurs were worse in three other important categories eFG% (51% to 32%), getting to the free throw line (41 to 26 FTA), and turnovers (14 to 11). The Tony Parker that was excellent on the scoring end in 3 of the first 4 games disappeared. Thus the Lakers just needed to double team Duncan to hinder San Antonio’s offense. The Spurs tried to react giving more time to Ginobili, Horry and Brown, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the poor shooting of Nesterovic, Turkoglu, and Parker.


Just a little follow-up on my last column. Average baseball games are near 3 hours, not the 4 I exaggerated to make my point. Although I’m not alone in my feelings that baseball games are too long.

Basketball Flavored Nyquil?

This comes from an ESPN baseball chat:

Brian (New York): Hey Jerry! What did you think of Derek Fisher’s game winning shot last night?!

Jerry Crasnick: Brian,

I think the NBA is a great cure for sleeplessness. There was more action in the final second of that game than in the other 47 minutes, 59 seconds combined.

I’m sorry, but Jerry is off his rocker in this case. I love baseball, but if I had to choose one sport between the two that’s an aid in slumber, it’s not basketball. Baseball has become bloated over the last century. Games used to be quick affairs, two hours beginning to end. Now they are stretched to 4 hours long. It’s like turning a Ramones song into an Opera by adding an hour and a half of commercials in between. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to listen to Sheena that way, as much as I hate watching a pitching coach slowly plod out to the mound and wait until he gets there to bring in his LOOGY, only to take him out for the next batter.

Baseball was a sport of speed & skill, as much as hand-eye coordination. Today, players are more specialists than athletes. If you’re quick enough to recognize if a pitch is a 80MPH curve or a 95MPH fastball, and you’re strong enough to hit the ball 400 feet, then who cares whether or not you can run or catch? If you can throw those two pitches and maybe a changeup, who cares if you can’t hit (or run)? There are a few guys that can do it all that resemble athletes, but they seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

If you didn’t think the second half of the Spurs/Lakers game was exciting, then you must have been watching something else. It was certainly one of the best playoff games I’ve seen, right up there with (or better than) the overtime game the Wolves & Kings had last week. The Spurs were fighting to keep their home field advantage in a pivotal game 5. Down at halftime, San Antonio battled the whole second half to try and regain the lead. Their defense was superb down the stretch, as it was their offense that had trouble with hitting open shots & turning the ball over. The final seconds didn’t overshadow the game, as much as it added an exclamation point to the end of it.

Spurs/Lakers

Last night the NBA had one whole playoff game going on, but it was the marquee matchup of the second round. The Lakers and Spurs went at it again. In case you were out busy celebrating, you can find out easily who won the game, by looking at the score. But how they won is a different story. What statistics are the most important in relation to winning?

An article by Dean Oliver titled “The Four Factors of Basketball Success” discusses exactly this. In it he outlines the four most important team stats that lead to victory. They are (with weight in parenthesis):

1. Shooting % (10)
2. Turnovers (6)
3. Offensive rebounding (5)
4. Getting to the line (3)

So how did the two teams compare yesterday?

1. Shooting percentage (eFG%)
LAL: 53%
SAS: 56%

Both teams shot exceptionally well, although the Spurs had a slight advantage here. Watching the game I can tell you this was caused by a lot of layups from fast breaks for the Spurs & dunks by Shaq.

2. Turnovers (TO)
LAL: 16
SAS: 8

So far everything seems to be in the Spurs favor. To me these first two stats says something about the Lakers defense, or rather lack of. Not only did the Spurs shot at a high percentage (see above), but they only had 8 turnovers. It doesn’t seem that the Lakers did anything to stop them from scoring.

3. Offensive Rebounds (OReb% = oReb/attempts, where attempts = opp dReb + oReb – opp oReb)
LAL: 12/(33+12-6)=31%
SAS: 6/(6+42-12)=17%

Well here is one place the Lakers dominated. Most of the credit goes to Shaq who was nearly unstoppable at times. Not only did he have 6 of the Lakers’ 12 offensive rebounds, but he shot 15/21 (71%)!

4. Getting to the free throw line (FTA)
LAL: 18 (39%)
SAS: 30 (60%)

The Spurs dominated here as well. They had almost twice as many chances from the charity stripe, and they also converted at twice the rate. Duncan himself hit 10 (of 14), which is more than the Laker’s entire team (7 FTM).

Easily it was a contest dominated by the Spurs. Right now it doesn’t appear that the Lakers added the right players. Malone and Payton are great players, but when they’re not the focal point of the offense their contribution to their team is diminished. Why would you need Gary Payton, when your offense is primarily lobbing the ball into Shaq, or letting Kobe loose. They would be better served with a few guys that can’t create offense, but instead can do things like shut down their opponent, rebound, or hit their shots at a high percentage.

Round 1: 2004 NBA Bloggers Bracket

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

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

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

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


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

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

East Coast vs West Coast

[Note: No rappers were hurt in the writing of this blog.]

If you’re a long time reader, you already know I picked the East to win it all. In fact I was the only one out of the 8 participants in my playoff bracket contest to choose an East team. At the time I didn’t do a whole lot of analysis to see if the top East team is really as good as their left coast counterparts. So the question I have for this entry is: Does the East have a chance to win the NBA Championship?

First let’s look at the top East teams: Indiana, Detroit, & NJ. What I did is look at how they fared against all the West playoff teams. This way I can see if there is some kind of disparity between the top teams in the East & West. Let’s start with defending Eastern champs, and my current least favorite team, the Nets. New Jersey was pitiful against the West’s best (no rhyme intended), going 5-11. The Nets were 3-5 at home, and 2-6 on the road. They were swept (2 games series) by the Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers, and Mavs, and raised the broom once against Denver. One excuse could be that the Nets had a lot of injuries during the regular season. However this isn’t enough evidence to overturn 5 years of Western dominance in this case. At this point the Nets don’t look like a contender. You would only need the Nets to be .500 or better, since they are playing against the best, not the whole league.

Let’s look at the team that will play (and hopefully beat) the Nets, the Detroit Pistons. Detroit did fairly well against the Pacifickers (no that didn’t pass my spellchecker), with a repsectable 8-8. The were swept by two of the better teams, the Spurs and the T-Wolves. However they did a little dusting (2-0) against the weaker Memphis & the Nuggets. At home they were an encouraging 6-2, but were reversibly bad on the road at 2-6.

As for my hopefuls (now that the boys in orange & blue are hitting the links), the Pacers did very well at 9-7. They were 6-2 at home, and a little better that the other two Eastern hopefuls 3-5 on the road. They didn’t beat the Kings in their two games, but swept Dallas and Denver. That’s right if you were paying attention, the Nuggets got swept by all 3 of these teams.

Not coincidentally, all three of the Eastern teams are very good defensively, with only the Spurs (#1) being better. Unfortunately only the Pacers have an offense ranking in the top half (#8). This is encouraging for fans that want to see a close Finals. I really think it will be an evenly fought contest this year, and if the Pacers do make it, I think they have a very good chance of winning the championship.