So THAT'S What Jerry West Meant

by Jeff Fogle 31. January 2011 18:01

The debate about whether or not the Lakers have been struggling on defense was resolved Sunday afternoon in a 109-96 loss to Boston.

In a very slow game that had only 89 possessions per team, the Lakers let the Celtics fly past the century mark because they couldn't prevent open shots in the halfcourt offense.

109 points in 89 possessions represents a defensive efficiency mark of 122.5 (points allowed per 100 possessions), which isn't the worst we've seen from the Lakers recently. BARELY!

We ran a list when we discussed this topic the other day that showed LA's defensive effiency marks of late when not playing slumping teams in the East. There were seven subpar outings in eight on that list. There are now three more games to add...a good performance vs. slumping Utah (the Lakers sure can bully slumpers!), and two bad ones vs. Sacramento and Boston.

Defensive Efficiencies When NOT Playing Eastern slumpers:

122.5 vs. Boston
109.9 vs. Sacramento
 94.8 vs. Utah
110.2 vs. Denver
126.7 vs. Dallas
101.1 vs. Oklahoma City
107.6 vs. the LA Clippers
118.3 vs. Golden State
112.8 vs. New Orleans
106.7 vs. Phoenix
110.6 vs. Memphis

When having to face real challenges, the Lakers defense is struggling badly as a general rule. And, as mentioned the other day, a slow down in tempo has helped hide that. They're not allowing a zillion points because they're playing in very slow games. They're doing a bad job defensively though on a possession-by-possession basis.

There's been a line of discussion suggesting that the Lakers aren't much worse off defensively than they were last year, so what's the big deal?

2009-10 Defensive Efficiency: 101.1
2010-11 Defensive Efficiency: 101.6

I'm a fan of medians, which sometimes help you see things that otherwise would go unnoticed. The median is the midpoint result within a larger sampling. The Lakers current defensive efficiency mark of 101.6 was helped by bullying the slumpers, particularly a very low number against Cleveland. I ran through the game summaries and figured out the median for this year, and for this same point last year.

Lakers current defensive median: 103.2
At this identical stage last year: 98.0

No team for a full season last year was in the 90's. So, the Lakers were playing GREAT defense in the first half of the '09-10 season. Their midpoint effort represented truly elite basketball. Their current median of 103.2 is the equivalent of something down around 16th or 17th though. Focusing only on midpoints, the Lakers have fallen from elite to league average.

For now, Jerry West has won the debate. And, the players suggesting defense wasn't a problem could be seen watching the Celtics drain open jumpers all day Sunday.

They don't give out trophies for peaking before the All-Star Break. There's still plenty of time for the Lakers to find that championship form. Just be aware that they HAVE fallen back defensively from elite standards during their recent games vs. quality opposition. West wasn't imagining it. Phil Jackson wasn't just blowing smoke when he agreed.

To a degree, our running updates on the Superleague helped foreshadow Sunday's result too. Boston is now 14-5 only counting games amongst the top 13 teams we isolated for the sampling. the Lakers are 7-7. Sunday's game was very much in line with prior Superleague form.

Current leaders:
Boston 14-5
San Antonio 16-6
Dallas 13-8
New Orleans 11-10
LA Lakers 7-7

Boston and San Antonio are playing so well vs. other contenders that only four Superleague teams are currently over .500. The Celtics and Spurs are 19 games over .500, the other 11 teams are 19 games below .500 (including Miami at 8-11 and Orlando at 7-12).

Back late Monday with more notes...

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Magic 1-4 in January vs. Teams Above .500

by Jeff Fogle 29. January 2011 01:08

Orlando dropped its fourth straight game to a winning team Friday Night in a 99-90 loss at Chicago. The Magic are 1-4 in January vs. teams currently over .500, with the only win coming over Dallas back when Dirk Nowitzki was sidelined with an injury.

It's not quite as bad as it sounds, because all five of those games were played on the road. Plus, three of the four were close losses. Still, Orlando is probably going to have to win on the road come playoff time. They are currently tied for the fourth seed in the East with Atlanta.

Here are the scores:

Orlando 117, Dallas 107
New Orleans 92, Orlando 89
Oklahoma City 125, Orlando 124
Boston 109, Orlando 106
Chicago 99, Orlando 90

A few things jump out from the boxscores within this set of games...

*Hedo Turkoglu's shot disappears when he's needed most.

2-10 from the floor at New Orleans
2-9 from the floor at Oklahoma City
4-11 from the floor at Boston
2-12 from the floor at Chicago

I mentioned the other day that Orlando had been showing an 18-1 tendency to win when Hedo scores three or more baskets from the field, but to lose when he makes 2 or less. That's now a 20-1 tendency after a win in Indiana, but the loss to Chicago. Turkoglu did contribute from the field in the victory over shorthanded Dallas. In the last four Orlando games vs. winning teams, he's 10-42 from the field.

*Inside defense is surprisingly absent.

Dallas 29 of 50 on 2-pointers (58%)
New Orleans 33 of 69 on 2-pointers (48%)
Oklahoma City 37 of 64 on 2-pointers (58%)
Boston 39 of 60 on 2-pointers (65%)

Orlando did okay vs. Chicago tonight inside the arc, helped possibly by Derrick Rose shooting poorly (6 of 21) with stomach ulcers. Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Boston were near 60% in composite inside, even with Dwight Howard on duty.

*Orlando isn't guarding the arc consistently.

Dallas 12 of 26 on treys (46.2%, or 69.3% adjusted)
Oklahoma City 7 of 14 on treys (50%, or 75% adjusted)
Chicago 8 of 18 on treys (44.4%, or 66.7% adjusted)

Three of five winning opponents did legimate damage from long range.

The "Orlando model" we discussed aways back involves winning the three-point battle, and then shutting down opponents who come inside to challenge Howard. That works great against lesser teams. Orlando is 8-1 in January against opponents who currently have a losing record. It's not currently working in road games against top quality opposition

February will bring some chances to impress at home vs. playoff teams:

3rd vs. Miami
11th vs. New Orleans
13th vs. LA Lakers
25th vs. Oklahoma City

Orlando also has a trip to Boston on the sixth that will give them a chance to avenge their prior road loss to the Celtics.

Transition Points

*Orlando/Chicago was one of two Superleague games tonight. Chicago is now 8-9 for the year within the 13-team subset we've isolated for closer inspection. That's second best in the East. Orlando falls to 7-12. Atlanta beat New York in the other one. Atlanta is now 6-10, New York 7-12.

*Toronto may be the next to go on the list of "teams who've stopped playing defense." Within their last four games heading into tonight, they had posted defensive efficiencies of 125.8 (Orlando), 126.3 (Miami), and 116.3 (Philadelphia). Tonight the Raptors let Andrew Bogut go 12 of 14 from the field. We documented yesterday how poorly Bogut had been shooting recently. The starting front line for Milwaukee was 31-45 from the field in the Bucks 116-110 overtime win.

Toronto has lost 10 straight, and is 5-23 it's last 28 games.

*Washington is trying as hard as they can to get their first road victory. They fell to 0-20 tonight with a double overtime loss at Oklahoma City. They do have some company on the list of bad road teams:

Washington 0-20
Minnesota 2-22
New Jersey 3-22
Cleveland 3-23
Detroit 5-20
LA Clippers 3-15

Sacramento was 4-16 heading into their late Friday game with the Lakers. They actually enjoy a third quarter lead as I type this. If you're reading Saturday or later, you'll know whether the Kings moved to 5-16, or dropped to 4-17.

Back Monday night to start a new week, and hopefully to crunch some interesting numbers from the Miami-Oklahoma City and Boston-LA Lakers national TV games Sunday that I'm sure you'll be watching...

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Knicks Offense Still Struggling

by Jeff Fogle 28. January 2011 00:54

New York managed to beat the Miami Heat 93-88 Thursday Night, but it was an ugly game.

Well, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire shot well...

*Heat players not named Wade were 16 of 50 from the floor, just 32%

*Knicks not named Stoudemire were 20 of 66 from the floor, just 30%

The TNT announcers talked about the game having a playoff feel to it. There was a high level of defensive intensity, no doubt about that. But, too many open shots were missed by both teams.

Shot making has been a particular problem for the Knicks lately. The Shot Location data here at the website (scroll to the bottom of the linked page) shows a few trouble spots over the last nine games heading into the win over Miami.

Less than 10 feet but not at the rim:
45 of 138, 33% (vs. a full season mark of 45%)

10-15 feet:
13 of 48, 27% (vs. a full season average of 35%)

16-23 feet:
56 of 156, 36% (vs. a full season average of 37%)

Most fans and analysts think of New York as being an inside-out team. Either Stoudemire is scoring at the rim, or somebody's launching a trey. It's clear that those two elements by themselves aren't enough. When nothing's falling in this midrange, overall offensive efficiency takes a big hit.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY THE LAST 9 GAMES
 85.3 at the LA Lakers (very poor)
106.4 at Portland ((slightly below full season average)
127.6 at Utah (we showed you last night Utah stopped defending)
 79.8 vs. Sacramento (inexplicably bad)
117.5 vs. Phoenix (great, but vs. league's 30th ranked defense)
 93.7 at Houston (poor)
 92.9 at San Antonio (outclassed)
102.1 at Oklahoma City (below par)
112.7 vs. Washington (good, but vs. league's 20th ranked defense)

That's an average offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) of 102.0, compared to a full season mark of 107.3. Tonight's game with Miami should end up near 100, which is below average but came against a great defense...so it's a least understandable. The average defensive efficiency rank of those nine defenses is 17.4. So, it's not like the Knicks ran into a bunch of great defenses. They're playing below average offense vs. a slightly softer than normal schedule.

Everybody's scoring on Utah lately. Everybody's scoring on Phoenix. Those were the bright spots.

I mentioned yesterday that fatigue may be an issue influencing Utah's porous defense of late. I don't want to get into the habit of blaming fatigue for everything. It is worth nothing though that New York plays at a fast tempo (second fastest in the league if you sort this link based on pace) with a relatively short rotation. And, midrange shots they used to make haven't been going in lately.

New York visits Atlanta Friday Night in a tough back-to-back spot after the emotional win over Miami. Let's remember to check the shooting accuracy in that potential fatigue challenge.

Miami is also in a back-to-back Friday Night, hosting Detroit. The only double hermit on the 12-game schedule (neither team played Thursday or plays Saturday) is Denver at Cleveland, as the Nuggets continue a soft stretch in their schedule (see prior article for notes on Denver's inclusion in our Superleague).

Back again Friday Night...

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Superleague Update

by Jeff Fogle 28. January 2011 00:02

Time to update the records from games played between the top contenders in the NBA this season...

I've decided to add in Denver. They were a borderline team back when the first dozen squads were selected (6 per conference). And, rumors were rampant that their best player would be leaving soon. Seemed like a gamble to put them in when there was a chance they'd turn into an afterthought down the stretch.

Now...

*Carmelo Anthony DIDN'T leave, and it looks like he may stick around awhile (a classic jinx set-up if I've ever seen one).

*Denver is 27-18, which is obviously a quality record.

*Denver will be favored to win most or all of their next 8-9 games, meaning it would look really dumb to leave them out if they were sitting at 35-20 or so in a couple of weeks.

*Denver has a better record in the Superleague than a few teams who have been in it all along.

The only strike against putting them in? Denver still ranks last of the Western teams. They're better than a few teams in the East. The Nuggets could still just be an afterthought when it's all said and done. 

For now I'll stick them in, making it a lucky 13 teams in our elite group.

West: San Antonio, LA Lakers, Dallas, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Utah, and Denver.

East: Boston, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York.

Here are the standings this year based ONLY on games where these teams have played each other. The records are updated through Thursday Night, which means New York's 93-88 victory over Miami is included.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
San Antonio 16-6
Dallas 12-8
LA Lakers 7-6
New Orleans 11-10
Oklahoma City 10-11
Utah 8-10
Denver 8-10

The Spurs are still playing the most impressive basketball in the league. They're even dominant in the Superleague. That 16-6 record equates to about 60 wins if they maintained the winning percentage through an 82-game Superleague schedule. The Lakers have seen their schedule toughen up recently, but they're still way behind everyone in games played. From low to high, games played in the Superleague in the West are 13-18-18-20-21-21-22. That means the Spurs have the best record, against the toughest schedule!

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Boston 13-5
Chicago 7-9
Miami 7-11
Orlando 7-11
New York 7-11
Atlanta 5-10

Some eye-openers here. Miami and Orlando have yet to establish the kind of consistency vs. quality you need to win in the postseason. Embarassing lower division teams just doesn't matter much once you're playing upper division teams. Only Boston is thriving in playoff style basketball vs. playoff caliber opposition.

Upcoming Superleague games:

Friday: New York at Atlanta, Orlando at Chicago

Saturday: Atlanta at Dallas

Sunday: Miami at Oklahoma City, Boston at the LA Lakers (an ABC doubleheader)

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Utah's Horrible Defense

by Jeff Fogle 27. January 2011 02:07

Utah's awful 0-4 Eastern swing got some media attention because good Western teams aren't supposed to lose to Washington and New Jersey, or get obliterated by Boston. The slump moved to 0-5 Tuesday Night in Los Angeles, then 0-6 Wednesday Night with a nationally televised loss to San Antonio.

What's going on? The Utah defense can't guard anybody!

I wanted to see this with my own eyes before writing anything up. Tuesday's game in LA was on the NBA Network. ESPN was in Salt Lake Wednesday for the Spurs game. STATISTICAL PROGNOSIS CONFIRMED.

It was amazing to watch possession after possession of smart opposing offenses getting themselves open shots very easily. Credit to the broadcast teams from both networks for telling the story and not sugarcoating it (well, not much). Utah's inside defense is soft. Utah's perimeter defense is slow to get to shooters. Each individual has trouble guarding quality opponents straight up. If a teammate helps, whoever gets left open has plenty of time to shoot.

Possession after possession after possession, the Lakers and Spurs were getting an endless string of open looks just by running their basic offensive motion. Sure, it's the Lakers and the Spurs. But, these issues were obviously in play previously based on the numbers.

UTAH'S DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY THE PRIOR 10 GAMES
123.7 vs. Atlanta (horrendous)
113.4 at Memphis (bad)
98.0 at Houston (good, but Rockets were 3 of 25 on treys)
127.6 vs. New York (horrendous)
103.1 vs. Cleveland (everyone loves playing Cleveland)
116.1 at Washington (bad start to Eastern swing)
114.4 at New Jersey (no bounce back)
119.7 at Boston (awful)
103.2 at Philadelphia (acceptable, but still a loss)
125.0 at the LA Lakers (more spectating)

Tonight's game will be in the neighorhood of 110-ish once the math is done, thanks to a quiet fourth quarter from the Spurs. Even with the quiet fourth quarter, San Antonio shot 57% on two-pointers. Let's run those numbers.

UTAH'S TWO-POINT DEFENSE
48% vs. Atlanta
50% at Memphis
48% at Houston
52% vs. New York
51% vs. Cleveland (even Cleveland broke 50%!)
56% at Washington
49% at New Jersey
61% at Boston
41% at Philadelphia (good showing)
68% at the LA Lakers
57% vs. San Antonio

Versus championship contenders, Utah alllowed 61%, 68%, and 57%. No hope.

I mentioned earlier that perimeter defense was slow. The following teams from the list all reached 43% or better on treys during the recent stretch, which equates to 64.5% or better as a two-point equivalent.

Atlanta 14 of 25
Memphis 5 of 11
New York 14 of 29
Cleveland 9 of 21
Washington 6 of 14 (rounding up from 42.8%)
New Jersey 8 of 16
Boston 9 of 21
LA Lakers 8 of 18

From a distance, it can be tough to know the reasons for a stretch of non-effort like this. Tired legs from a team that lacks depth and is still adjusting to picking up Carlos Boozer's minutes. A lack of chemistry. A temporary rest break in a long grueling season. Everybody owes somebody else from a poker game so nobody has anyone's back. Maybe the real reason will show up in somebody's autobiography in 2020.

Right now, it's very easy to get open shots if you're a Utah opponent. And, it's very difficult for Utah to score enough on their own to keep up with what they're allowing. That's true whether they're playing the best in the league, or somebody like Washington and New Jersey.

Utah's slump has dropped them to #7 in the Western standings. But, they still have a 5-game lead over #9 in the 8-spot playoff chase. Plenty of time to right the ship.

Transition Points

*Denver moved ahead of Utah into 6th place with tonight's 109-100 win over Detroit. Carmelo Anthony spread the ball around more, taking only 16 shots while dishing out 7 assists. That's in stark contrast to the 25/1 and 27/1 ratios he had recently vs. Oklahoma City and Indiana.

Anthony has showed a tendency this year to shoot less on night two of a back-to-back.

Carmelo on night two of b2b's thus far:
20 shots, 4 assists at Houston
17 shots, 4 assists at Dallas
15 shots, 2 assists at Indiana
21 shots, 3 assists at New York
17 shots, 0 assists at Sacramento
16 shots, 7 assists at Detroit

That's an average of 17.7 shots per game in the sextet. His average is 19.5 shots in all other games. (Note: Denver has had a night two at home this year, but Anthony was absent from the team). 

*Another road game, another double digit loss for the LA Clippers. Fatigue definitely seemed to play a role in this back-to-back spot, with the Clips losing the fourth quarter 26-10.

Blake Griffin: 5 of 16 from the field
Baron Davis: 5 of 17 from the field

It's a two-man team without Eric Gordon, making fatigue spots even tougher.

*Milwaukee was trailing Atlanta by 11 points entering the fourth quarter Wednesday Night, so I prepared some "boy, Andrew Bogut sure is struggling" stats. The Bucks won the fourth quarter 34-15 to win the game 98-90! But, Bogut was just 3 of 12 on the night, continuing a recent slump.

Bogut is reportedly still recovering from an undisclosed infection. And, he may not be all the way back from last season's gruesome elbow injury. His offensive output the last seven games in order is 10-10-6-23-14-8-8. Guess who the 23 was against. CLEVELAND!

Bogut only shoots in close to the basket, yet is just 26 of 66, 39% from the field when not playing Cleveland the last two weeks.

*New Orleans won its 10th game in a row Wednesday night, beating Golden State 112-103. Here's the Jeckyll and Hyde sequence for the Hornets

11-1 to start the season
10-15 their next 25 games
10-0 most recently

Hang in there Utah fans...New Orleans is showing the way...

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