Nets 107 Knicks 83

The Knicks took a beating from the Nets last night. I’m not just talking about Jason Collins’ getting a flagrant on Tim Thomas, sending the Knicks SF for overnight hospitalization. Nor am I speaking of Frank Williams getting hit on a fastbreak (albeit on a clean play) and falling on the court, with Kidd standing over him.

I’m more talking about the 24 point loss they suffered on the scoreboard. The Nets seemed almost unstoppable on offense. They had an excellent 53% eFG%. The source of their excellent offense was being able to constantly get fast breaks against the Knicks. The Knicks’ 19 team turnovers were the main source of the Nets breaks. In addition, the Nets had more foul shots, due to 5 Knicks having 4 or more fouls.

Most of the Knicks had quiet nights. Marbury had a quiet 13 points. T.Thomas had 12 points, but most in the first half. Of course he didn’t have much of a chance to score in the second half, due to the hard foul by Collins. Most quiet were Anderson and Kurt Thomas with 4 points apiece. Kurt, normally a 47% (eFG%) shooter, shot a miserable 1-10. I think this says a lot about Kenyon Martin’s defense.

To add injury to insult, Tim Thomas might miss a few more games due to the injuries sustained tonight. The initial results are that he suffered a bruise, and would be day to day for the rest of the series. Without Thomas, or a miraculous recovery from Houston, the Knicks already slim chances get even slimmer. I won’t go on record saying that the Knicks are done without both of these players, but it does make them that much more thin at the 2/3.

Little Man In My Head

There’s a little man in my head
And he must have lived in someone else’s head before
‘Cause I was born in ’63
And he’s only been there since ’74

— “Little Man In My Head”
Dead Milkmen

Every once in a while, the part of my brain that thinks he’s a 94 year old grumpy man creeps out and spills it’s liver about basketball and just about anything else that can keep it awake for more than 10 minutes at a time. Today, this is what he shared with me.


ESPN has put up their experts’ picks on their web page. Not a single columnist has picked the East to win it all. I can understand the East being an underdog, but not one of their 12 experts is willing to go out on a limb on this one? Chad Ford has Gary Payton as the Finals MVP. Is the East that inferior that the 4th best player on a West team has a better chance to win the Finals MVP than any East team has of winning it all?

Marc Stein not only has the Mavs over the Kings, but apparently over the Twolves as well (since they he has them losing to the Spurs in the conference finals). Now that takes guts. I wonder how many other teams in the history of the NBA with a defense ranked in the bottom 5 have won not just one, but two series in the playoffs as underdogs. I mean an educated professional sports columnist like Marc Stein does know that the Mavs defense is that bad?

Bill Walton has the Lakers going all the way and Shaq as the Finals MVP. Just in case you were worried that he would be rooting for anyone else during his telecasts.

Moochie Norris has been left off the Knicks’ roster to make room for Allan Houston. Houston only has a 20% chance of playing this series. That seems about right, since Morris makes 20% of Houston’s salary.

Obviously the NBA moved the Knicks/Nets game to 4:30, because of the Yankees/Red Sox 1:20 game. I wonder if any game during the first month of the NBA regular season will ever mean enough to reschedule another league’s playoff game? Maybe an MLS game? Probably after that Freddy guy retires.

Or maybe they can just get rid of the regular season altogether and expand the playoffs some more. Sure an 81 game series may not be as exciting, but imagine all that extra playoff revenue!


Whew I think I got that all out of my system. On a positive note, you have to read this article. It’s just about the greatest article I’ve read concerning blaming a single player in a team sport. READ IT! Someone needs to give this guy some kind of prize.

Seeds

Here I am sitting with my NBA bracket. All empty & waiting to be filled out. I’m more curious about the thought process that goes into such an endeavor. What would make someone choose one team over another? If logic is in play, shouldn’t I always pick the higher seed, since they have home field advantage and are usually the team with the better record? Or do I use my gut feeling? What information am I using to base my picks on? Do I go with the hot/cold teams (SAS, MIN, IND, DET, and MIA are hot; NJ, MEM, HOU, and SAC are cold)? Do I take the teams with more playoff experience (LAL, SAS, NJ, & DET) over the ones that aren’t playoff tested (NY, DEN, MIA, & MEM)? Where can I find solace in my decisions?

A good place to start is to look at recent history. I don’t have a team of experts at my call (this is a one man blog, not ESPN). So I’ll quickly use the last two years as a starting point, to find out what kind of team is most likely to pull off an upset. Here are all the underdog winners over the last two years:

Year	Rnd	TEAM	Seed	OPP	Seed
2002	2	BOS	3	DET	2
2002	2	LAL	3	SAS	2
2002	3	LAL	3	SAC	1
2003	3	NJ	2	DET	1
2003	2	DAL	3	SAC	2
2003	1	LAL	5	MIN	4

Out of the 16 first round games, there has only been one upset. The 5th seed Lakers played without Shaq for 15 games, and only missed the 4th seed by one game. However with their center (and franchise player) healthy, they took the Wolves in 6. They were as easily dismissed by the Spurs in the second round 4 games to 2. Of the latter rounds, it seems that the #3 seed has the best chance of survival. Subtracting the well documentated Lakers 2002 championship, 2 of the remaining #3 teams have won their second round game. Both teams were offensive orientated teams that just got hot at the right times. Boston behind the shooting of Walker & Pierce, and Dallas with their myriad of scorers. Twice the #1 seeds have been upset one series before the finals.

So with my extremely small sample size, what kind of data am I armed with? First round upsets are rare, but the further you go in the playoffs, the more perilous it gets. This should be obvious because the disparity between the teams gets smaller (instead of a #1 playing a #8, it’s a #1 playing a #4 or #2). In my small sample size, no team lower than a #5 seed is likely to pull of an upset. In history there have been lower seeded teams to move on past the first round (Knicks & Nuggets). However the odds seem too slim when given even odds (as a picking out a bracket is).

Leaving open the option that a #6 could slip by, I’ll take a quick gander at those two matchups. #6 Memphis isn’t likely to upset the Spurs. San Antonio still has the best defensive team in the league, and I think that makes it a little tough for an underdog to unseat them at home. Similarly with other #6 team, the Bucks. They are facing the #2 defensive team in the league, and I don’t see the Pistons losing with home court advantage.

The 5th seeds have a little better chance at unseating their opponents. According to me, a few days ago Miami only had a 17% chance of taking the 4th seed. Their opponent the Hornets were in the 6th seed. Thanks to the Bucks who mailed it in the last few games (why does that sound familiar?) those two get to play each other. Miami seems to have every edge, home court advantage, hot team going into the playoffs, and the better record. The Hornets only have their playoff experience, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to unseat the Heat.

Dallas-Sacramento is the matchup that could go either way. Both teams are great on offense. However the Kings have an average defense, while Dallas ranks among the bottom 5 teams. It’s not without the realm of possibility for the Mavs to take this series, especially if their offense explodes. However I can’t get over their defense being that bad, especially while facing the league’s best offense.

So in the first round, I’ll be a wimp and take all the favorites:
East: IND, NJ, DET, MIA
West: MIN, LAL, SAS, SAC

To keep my street cred, I’ll have to go out on a ledge in round two. So here we go. I’ll predict both 3rd seed to win their series. Detroit and the Spurs are ranked #1 & #2 in defense, and both teams finished with better records than their 2nd seeded counterpart. Not many people are taking the Nets over the Pistons, but enough people are not only picking the Lakers to win in the second round, but to go all the way. I can’t find a good reason to pick either of these teams to knock off the top teams, so I have an Indiana-Minnesota finals.

Second & Third Round:
East: IND def MIA, then DET
West: MIN def SAC, then SAS

For the finals, I’ll take Indy over Minnesota. Despite my hatred for the Pacers due to their rivalry with the Knicks, the East needs a to win a championship to gain any type of respect from the media. While the talent disparity is still there, an East team winning it all will let free agents feel they can win a championship in the East. Recently I’ve felt that players are going to or staying out West because they think it’s their best chance at winning a championship. Logic dictates that while it may be easier to reach the finals in the weaker East, the West is pumping out the rings faster than Sauron. In any scenario, I will be rooting for whoever represents the East in the Finals

Finals:
IND over MIN score of the final game: 91-84

SuperSubs (aka Knicks 101 Hornets 97)

The Supersubs were at it again. Tonight’s was even more impressive win than yesterday’s for a myriad of reasons. First tonight’s game was on the road. Instead of trouncing the weak Wizards, they beat the playoff-bound Hornets. Finally, instead of facing the other team’s reserves, the Hornets had their starters out there down the stretch.

This time Moochie Norris outplayed Frank Williams. Williams had only 4 points, but had 5 assists and 0 turnovers. Meanwhile Norris enjoyed a 21 point night, on 9-18 shooting (56% eFG). The two teamed up for a crucial play near the end of the game. Williams had the ball beyond the arc, and kept his dribble looking for an open man. Norris used a pick along the baseline, and Williams hit him with a perfect pass under the hoop. Moochie just had to lay it up for an easy two.

It was Michael Sweetney’s night again. He shot 7-9, and had 9 boards (4 on the offensive end) in 28 minutes. So if you’re keeping track at home (like apparently I am) he’s shot 59% in the 9 games that he’s played 20 minutes or more. His rebounding per 48 minutes is an excellent 15.3 REB/48, with 6.8 of those coming on the offensive half.

Earlier in the year in my report on him at Raptorblog.com I wrote:

Sweetney is undersized vertically, but a bit wide in the midsection with a long wing span. He’s a bit timid, and gets lost on the defensive end. He’s every bit the wide-eyed rookie, but with Wilkens slowly giving him minutes he’s looking more and more comfortable on the court. Due to his lack of minutes, there isn’t much to say about him other than he can rebound, and he makes a great looking inside shot every few weeks or so.

Well he’s no longer the “wide-eyed rookie” nor “timid” anymore. It seems he’s got the defensive rotations down pat, as I don’t see him making those mistakes anymore. He may be undersized, but his arm span makes up for it. A few times over the last few games I’ve seen him out-rebound guys taller than him. It wasn’t by jumping ability, but his long reach that enabled him to get the ball.

His positioning and awareness also helps in this area. A perfect example of this was against the Wizards. Washington put up an outside shot, and Mutombo was standing right next to Sweetney on the left side of the hoop. Sweetney knew that no one was on the other side of the hoop, so he pushed Deke over with his arm to cover that side of the hoop, while Sweetney was still boxing out his own man. Deke got the rebound, due to the rookie’s effort.

The Knicks have one game left against Cleveland, and I would imagine we’ll see a lot more of the SuperSubs in that one as well.

2004 ? “SuperSubs” is copyrighted by KnickerBlogger.

Knicks 96 Chicago 82

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

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

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

Now for the games the Knicks lost:

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

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

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

Heading Into Conseco

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

Ind
#8 Offense
#3 Defense
#2 Overall

Knicks
#22 Offense
#15 Defense
#19 Overall

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

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

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

Playoff Odds 04/05/04

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

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

The East:

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


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

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

The West:

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


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

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

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