Predicting the Finals (The Long Way)

Predicting sports events is a losing endeavor. There is a reason that gambling is a such a lucrative business, for the bookmaker that is. Professional gamblers, like “psychics”, want to sell you their “knowledge”. Even wonder why don’t they use their “gifts” to make themselves rich without your money? Nobody can see into the future, and nobody’s system is good enough to beat Vegas’ odds consistently.

However for those that write about sports, predicting teams is a winning proposition (as long as there is no money on the table). If the prediction is correct, I can refer to it later. If it’s wrong, I’m sure no one will care, since it’s foolish to be held to that kind of accountability. Everybody has their own way of picking who will win. Some people decide which team is more hungry. Some people use which team has more heart. Other will look at which team has more playoff experience. I’m sure these people have varying degrees of success with these methods. I don’t know how anyone could quantify which team has more heart without getting a cardiologist involved.

I prefer something more tangible. As I’m typing this right now, I don’t know who I will predict to win. I’m going to look over all the data I have & make an educated guess at the end. I’m going to use Dean Oliver’s four factors of winning. Despite digging around, I haven’t found how he came to these results. This bothers me a little, but since his work in Basketball on Paper is so thorough and logical, I can let it slide for now. There are actually 2 sides to each factor, an offensive and defensive component.

Factor 1. Shooting (eFG%)

OFFENSIVE

L.A.	48.1%	102%	7th
DET	46.1%	98%	20th

[NOTE: The first number is eFG%, the second is their percentage of the league average, the last is their rank.]

Los Angeles has the advantage here, and it should be no surprise. Shaq led the league in eFG% with his massive FG% (58%). Payton, Malone, and Kobe all had better eFG% than the Pistons’ team average.

On the other hand Detroit is a poor shooting team. Adding Rasheed (47%) slightly improves their percentage, but their big scorers Hamilton and Billups have an eFG% of 46%. Meanwhile Larry Brown’s Ben Wallace experiment has me scratching my head. Wallace’s offensive contributions used to be limited to put backs and easy shots, which gave him a near 50% FG%. This year Brown has asked Wallace to take a more active role, and he’s been horrible (42%). Brown’s logic is to keep teams honest by using a defender on Big Ben, which should give the other Detroit shooters a small edge. Either it hasn’t worked as Detroit is 20th in eFG%, or the Pistons are a worse shooting team than I expected.

DEFENSIVE

L.A.	47.1%	100%	15th
DET	44.1%	107%	2nd

This is where the Pistons shine. Although L.A. is simply average, Detroit is awesome, only behind the Spurs. Which brings an interesting comparison, since Los Angeles beat the Spurs earlier this year. Here’s a little chart of L.A.’s big 4 scoring in that series.

Name	1	2	3	4	5	6	1-2avg	3-6avg
Shaq	19	32	28	28	11	17	25.5	21
Kobe	31	15	22	42	22	26	23	28
Payton	4	7	15	8	5	15	5.5	10.8
Malone	10	13	13	9	7	8	11.5	9.3
?????	32	33	28	23	28	25	32.5	26

Los Angeles lost the first two games, but won the next 4. The difference seemed to be Kobe Bryant, who averaged 5 more points in the Laker’s wins. The last row is Bruce Bowen’s minutes, Kobe’s main defender. Granted Kobe torched him in game 1, but it’s apparent the less Bowen played, the more points Bryant scored. The reason Bowen played less is the Spurs’ offense fizzled and they needed more scorers on the court. San Antonio’s offense was ranked 14th, slightly better than the Pistons. Detroit should learn a lesson from the Spurs. They have to stay close in the game, so Brown won’t be tempted to take his defenders out for more firepower.

Factor 2. Turnovers (TO/100poss)

OFFENSE

LA	14.2	109%	5th
DET	16.2	96%	20th

DEFENSE

LA	15.4	99%	16th
DET	16.5	106%	7th

Again, the Lakers are better on offense, while the Pistons are better on defense. However the Lakers have the edge here. How? They turnover the ball 14.2 times per 100 possessions, but force turnovers 15.4 times, which is a net of +1.2. Meanwhile the Pistons give it up 16.2 times, and get it back 16.5 times, which is a small +.3 net.

Factor 3. Offensive Rebounds (oREB%)

OFFENSE

LA	28.1%	98%	16th
DET	30.1%	105%	9th

DEFENSE

LA	26.7%	108%	5th
DET	28.3%	101%	12th

Getting this far is seems that these two teams have strengths & weaknesses in the opposite areas in just about every aspect. Detroit is better on the offensive glass, while the Lakers are better on the defensive. I can’t tell who has the advantage here. The Lakers’ great offensive rebounding is tempered by their below average offensive rebounding. Detroit is above average in both respects, but nowhere near the Lakers’ efficiency on the defensive end. I would guess that Detroit has a slight edge, but not by much.

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)

OFFENSE

LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th

DEFENSE

LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

I guess I spoke too soon about their strengths & weaknesses. Detroit is clearly superior here at both getting to the line, and keeping their opponents from the charity stripe. One thing to consider is how will Shaq change this? Surely the Pistons will foul Shaq when it suits them, so will this negate this advantage? For example, maybe the Pistons can get away with a foul here & there, because their big men don’t foul often. Giving a few free fouls to Shaq, will that put them in the penalty sooner? It might, but I don’t think it’ll be as much of a factor, since Detroit is so good in this respect.

SUMMARY:
Detroit has an edge in the weaker categories, free throws & rebounding, and Detroit’s defense should put them over the top. However Los Angeles is very efficient when it comes to scoring and not turning the ball over, combined with Detroit’s weakness in these same categories gives the edge to the Lakers. In simpler terms, Los Angeles has a good offense, and an average defense, while Detroit has a good defense, but a bad offense. It’s Detroit’s lack of offense that will hurt them.

Does this mean that the Lakers will definitely win? No. I’ll spare you from the all too familiar “anything can happen in a 7 game series.” Instead I’ll say that the statistics don’t tell the entire story. This entire column is based on the regular season stats. However, Kobe only played 65 games, Shaq 67, and Malone 42. On the other side of the ball, Rasheed only played in 21 games for the Pistons. We really don’t know exactly what these teams are like at full strength. I won’t write off Detroit yet, but I do think they’ll have to do a few things to keep themselves in the game.

No one can stop Shaq for a long period of time. The Pistons will likely do what everyone else has done, which is to put a body on him as best they can & foul him when it’s profitable. Detroit needs to stop the rest of the gang, especially Kobe. If L.A. can jump out to a lead, they’ll force Detroit to do something they’re not good at, which is try to score. The Pistons move at a slow pace, and turning out lots of points very quickly isn’t how they got here. The key for Detroit is to keep the games close. They can do that by keeping the non-Shaq Lakers from scoring, and getting good production out of Hamilton, Billups, & Rasheed.

The key for the Lakers is to score and put the pressure on Detroit. They need points out of someone other than Shaq & Kobe. Malone has done well enough (13PPG), despite facing two great defenders in Garnett and Duncan. Gary Payton has all but disappeared from the offense, scoring 8.8PPG in the playoffs. The Lakers need production from the rest of the gang, whether it be Fisher, George, or Rush. They’ll want to score points off of turnovers, while minimizing any damage the Pistons might cause on the offensive boards and at the free throw line.

I said I would make a prediction at the beginning of this column, and I’ll stick with it. If Detroit wins I won’t be surprised (or sad), but I have to go with the evidence I have. I know I said over a month ago that the Lakers wouldn’t be holding the trophy by summertime, but I’m going with the Lakers, in a hard fought 7 game series. The Lakers’ offense and the Pistons’ lack of offense give Los Angeles the edge they need.

Foul? What Foul?

The other day I had a dream. I happened to be walking behind an NBA referee, and he dropped his rule book on the ground. I opened it up to Rule 12, Part B, Section 1. It read:

Section I–Types
a. A player shall not hold, push, charge into, impede the progress of an opponent by extending a hand, forearm, leg or knee or by bending the body into a position that is not normal. Contact that results in the re-routing of an opponent is a foul which must be called immediately.
b. Contact initiated by the defensive player guarding a player with the ball is not legal. This contact includes, but is not limited to, forearm, hands, or body check.

In handwriting, the official had scribbled something in the ledger that said “Ignore – Final Two Minutes.” I immediately woke up and the world made sense for a second, until I realized that was all a dream.

Referees try not to call fouls in the last minutes of a game. I can only guess this is because they don’t want to be the one to decide the fate of the game. No one wants to be remembered for giving Larry Johnson a four point play, although I highly doubt Jess Kersey is a household name. In the above example, the player is remembered for his accomplishment, not the official who made the call. If the whistle is blown, no one will blame the official if there was a foul on the play. What’s not debated is whether L.J. was fouled or not. What is debated is if he should have been granted the continuation. Often it seems that the referees are reluctant to blow the whistle at all. The end of a close NBA game sometime resembles the rough parks in NYC, where the motto “no blood, no foul” is taken seriously.

There are certain game ending plays that I’ll always have in my mind as questionable, because of the possibility that a foul (or two) might have went uncalled. Charles Smith’s blocked layups (4 cleanly shots blocked?), Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 16 seconds(did he push the inbounding player to the ground?), Jordan’s shot against Utah (did he use his left hand to push Byron Scott aside?), etc. I’m not saying there is evidence to fully prove there were fouls during these times, but I can question the validity of these plays because of laissez faire approach taken by NBA referees in the closing moments.

These playoffs have given me at least two more moments to burn in my memory regarding last minute no-calls. First is Mark Madsen trying to foul Shaq. Mark wanted a foul. Shaq wanted a foul. The referee wanted to hide under his bed. Mark Madsen figured that hugging Diesel wasn’t enough, so he took Shaq’s arm and placed it around his neck. Still no foul. I think Minnesota should add Tracy Morgan to the roster, to give shack another spanking.

The second is Reggie Miller at the end of the Pacers/Pistons game. We’ve all seen it a million times. Miller pump fakes. The defender jumps. Miller jumps into the defender. Foul shots ensue. Apparently the referee didn’t feel that body to body contact was enough to call a foul. You can question whether this common Reggie tactic is a foul, since Miller is jumping into his defender. However if this play happened in the first quarter of a regular season game, I’m sure Reggie would get the call. That’s the whole point. What is a foul at one point of the game, should be a foul for the entire game. Referees need to be consistent with the rules right up to the very end of the game.

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.

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.

Gloat Across the Moat

One of the things that really pumped me up about watching last night’s game was a post by a fellow blogger. Joe Netsfan wrote a lovely piece “eulogizing” the Knicks after the Nets won only the first game. In his column, he proceeded to insult:

the Knicks coach,
“The Knicks…are coached by a legendary-but-long-past-his-coaching-prime man named Lenny from Brooklyn. He’s forgotten more than Lawrence Frank’s enormous brain has had a chance to learn, but that’s the whole problem. He can’t seem to remember it…”

their injured players,
“Tim Thomas’ injury on a hard-but-legal foul is unfortunate, but all that does is make the Knicks that much more weakened. As if the Nets needed any help from the Knicks in that department…Hell, unleash Allan Houston. He’s more precious than fine china, and couldn’t stand the bump-and-grind he’s likely to face.”

their heart,
“Of course, now the softer-than-DQ Knicks are saying all the right things, about how it’s only one game and they’re going to guarantee no more easy looks near the hoop. So, now they’re talking tough? That’s what makes the Knicks softer still – they can’t even find the right notes to play, ones that would actually convince us that they can back it up.”

their GM,
“What I’m telling you is this – the Knicks will have the life choked from their Isiah Thomas-built Frankenstein-esque roster no matter what the Knicks show up with.”

and their fans,
“Go softly into the night, Nicky Knicksfan. Do not cry because you’ve been beaten by the better team.”

Ouch!

I’m glad Joe has decided to reach out to us Knick fans with his liver. As Jason Kidd learned in game one, it’s easy to taunt someone lying on the floor while you’re standing over them. I’d thought that Joe Netsfan wouldn’t try to allientate Knick fans, since we give them our money when we show up in droves to help them fill their largely empty arena.

I’ll fully admit that the Nets are the better team this year, but isn’t it a little too early to gloat? I hope his article made him some extra friends out in the swamps. After that column, Joe won’t have any New Yorker’s shoulders to cry on when the Nets lose to the Pistons, are unable to sign a free agent (thanks Alonzo & Dikembe), and move the franchise to our city.