Spurs, Lakers Both Upset!

by Jeff Fogle 17. April 2011 18:34

Is anybody ready to win a championship? Chicago was down double digits with four minutes to go Saturday before salvaging a win vs. Indiana. Miami had its worst shooting fourth quarter of the season before making late free throws to get past Philadelphia. Sunday, the #1 and #2 seeds in the West both lost at home, barely looking like teams capable of going the distance.

Let's crunch the numbers...

Two-Point Shooting: Memphis 54%, San Antonio 40%
Inside 10 Feet: Memphis 69%, San Antonio 50%
Three-Pointers: Memphis 6/10, San Antonio 6/15
Free Throws: Memphis 21/33, San Antonio 36/47

(Expanded boxscore is here)

The biggest difference between these teams coming into the series was in the area of three-pointers. San Antonio averaged 8.4 makes per game. Memphis averaged 3.8. The Grizzlies completely neutralized the stat today and were rewarded for their effort with an upset win.

Inside the arc, everything kind of came out the same in the wash. Memphis had a terrific day forcing their way to the rim (16 of 21 at the rim according to the expanded boxsore--while giving Antonio McDyess 5 fouls in 13 minutes, and DeJuan Blair 5 fouls in 22 minutes)). San Antonio couldn't do it the same way, but earned even more foul calls. Memphis made shots. San Antonio made free throws. The final score on 1's and 2's was 83-80 for Memphis.

If you assume the "high contact" area cancelled out because of all the Spurs free throws, the scoreboard differential comes down to this:

Memphis: 15 of 36 for 42%
San Antonio: 7 of 33 for 21%

Almost the same number of attempts. San Antonio was abysmal.

Some quick notes:

*Manu Ginobili was in street clothes. The Spurs are a solid road team, so they can certainly get this one back in Memphis when Ginobili is playing again. Coach Gregg Popovich probably regrets the gamble. You definitely want Ginobili on the floor if the refs are a bit whistle-happy. He draws contact, and you need all the bodies you can have when 60 combined fouls are going to be called.

*Memphis lost the turnover category 16-10. They were great during the regular season at forcing turnovers. Didn't help them here because the Spurs handle the ball well and spread everyone out.

*Rebounding was tight, with the Spurs winning 40-38. This game had a few similarties to Portland/Dallas Saturday night:

Road team won two-point shooting by a lot
Road team won shooting inside 10 feet by even more
Home team won free throws by a lot
Rebounding was even

Treys were even at 6-6 in Grizzlies/Spurs, allowing the visitor to steal a win. If treys had been even at 6-6 in Blazers/Mavs, Portland would have won 93-77.

What do these similarities mean? The Texas hosts aren't currently playing "championship style" basketball. Both lost the inside game despite having home court advantage. The Spurs and Mavs probably won't enjoy made free throw advantages of +15 and +16 on the road. We now see early evidence for why so many pundits were looking at the Lakers/OKC/Denver as the "real" top three in the West entering the playoffs.

It's dangerous to draw conclusions off the first game in a series. Ginobili (though not a physical player) will likely provide a needed boost for the Spurs.

You may be aware that Charles Barkley called for a series upset with Memphis before this game started.

The last sentence of that story said:
"Also of note: Barkley charged the Grizzlies with intentionally throwing games to get to the four-time champions. So yes, someone may or may not have spiked his energy drink."

Memphis sat overpowering (lately) dynamo Zach Randolph for their last two games. They lost the second half in Portland 57-43. They trailed the lowly LA Clippers 66-37 at the half of the season finale. They obviously wanted to play the Spurs in the first round. Is it possible to trail the Clippers 66-37 after 24 minutes if you're going all out to win?

Though, it turns out the Lakers aren't as scary a #2 seed as everyone was thinking back during that 17-1 surge after the All-Star Break.

In the second afternoon game...

Two-Point Shooting: New Orleans 54%, Lakers 46%
Three-Pointers: New Orleans 4/11, Lakers 6/13
Free Throws: New Orleans 23/33, Lakers 26/33
Turnovers: New Orleans 3, Lakers 13

(Expanded box is here)

You don't often see a Kobe Bryant team lose the turnover category by 10. Chris Paul could run the New Orleans offense largely unobstructed. The Lakers didn't enjoy the kind of free throw edge most of the other home teams did this weekend. Maybe all of Kobe's pleading with the refs is backfiring on him. Hard to tell just eyeballing it how much of an impact Andrew Bynum's balky knee had on the game. He could only go 26 minutes, but had decent stats in those 26 minutes (13 points and 9 rebounds). He didn't seem to be much of a force on defense internally. New Orleans shot 59% inside 10 feet (with the Lakers at 58%).   

Other Notes:

*Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack, both listed as point guards, played a combined 63 minutes today...shooting 16 of 24 from the floor and 14 of 19 from the free throw line (while obviously not having turnover troubles!). These aren't guys Ron Artest can be assigned to guard.

*The Lakers only had six players go more than 13 minutes. The team looked tired defensively in the fourth quarter, which they dropped 36-28 on the scoreboard.

*This was definitely the same Lakers team that lost down the stretch to Denver, Utah, Golden State, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Whatever magic existed in the 17-1 run after the ASB (which included a 10-1 record vs. playoff teams) is still missing from view. They couldn't flick the switch when needed.

*Backup center Aaron Gray of New Orleans was 5-5 from the field, and had a stunning +25 plus/minus in his 20 minutes on the floor. He suffered what looked to be a bad ankle sprain (possibly worse) very late in the game. The Hornets have little margin for error as it is in this matchup (well, assuming the Lakers snap out of their funk eventually!). That injury could prove to be a big factor later in the series.

Back around midnight or so to look at numbers and notes from New York/Boston and Denver/Oklahoma City...

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Miami Toying With Opponents

by Jeff Fogle 17. December 2010 23:36

If you’ve been paying close attention to the Miami Heat during their recent surge, you may have noticed a developing trend.

Miami seems to coast through the first half, basically treading water for the first 24 minutes even vs. weak opposition. But, then Miami EXPLODES in the second half, with much more intense defense and a more aggressive offense.

Here’s the breakdown of the last five games…

Miami 48, Golden State 45
Miami 47, Sacramento 42
New Orleans 54, Miami 53
Cleveland 49, Miami 46
Miami 57, New York 57

That’s a won-lost record of 2-2-1 over five halves, even though Miami was a clear favorite every time they took the floor. The average score at the break is Miami 50.2, Opponents 49.4. That’s a victory of 0.6 points.

Miami 58, Golden State 39
Miami 57, Sacramento 41
Miami 43, New Orleans 30
Miami 55, Cleveland 46
Miami 56, New York 34

The scoring average leaps from 50.2 to 53.8, but the defense turns into a brick wall, allowing just 38.0 points per half rather than 49.4. We talked the other day about Miami winning with defense since players and coach have been on the same page. It’s now clear that the improved defense is a second half phenomenon…really clamping down when it’s time to take care of business.

Something to watch for tonight when Miami visits Washington on night two of a back-to-back. The win over Sacramento was also a fatigue spot, and was also against a very bad team. Heck, it was also on a Saturday Night! Let’s see if form holds for the Heat this evening. If they’ve figured out how to coast to blowouts on a regular basis, earning the #1 seed in the East may be a mere formality.

Other Notes:

*New York confirmed its “tweener” status (discussed the other day) with losses to Boston and Miami. Of particular concern in those games for Knicks fans: The Knicks were pushing tempo with a short rotation, which is a certain way to wear out your own players in the second half. The Knicks don’t play very good defense when they’re fresh. The Knicks play REALLY BAD defense then they’re tired!

Boston 67, New York 58
Miami 56, New York 34
Combined: Opponents 123, New York 92

Amare Stoudemire is likely to continue dominating the large hunk of poor teams, though New York’s schedule was front-loaded with a lot of those. This just isn’t a team that’s currently ready for the renaissance that ESPN seemed to be begging for during it’s build-up to this week’s TV appearances.

New York will play tonight at Cleveland, with both teams on night two of a back-to-back. A rest break leads into a Wednesday home game with Oklahoma City.

The next step for analyzing the Knicks…who are the “tweeners” between? We know they’re behind Boston and Miami, and ahead of the Minnesota-Toronto-Golden State-Detroit class. There aren’t any freebies in the next 10 games after Cleveland. Opponents are: Oklahoma City, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, Indiana, San Antonio, Phoenix, LA Lakers, Portland, and Utah.  

These next three weeks will go a long way toward defining the rest of the season. It’s tougher to get away with a short rotation when you’re facing quality night in and night out.

*New Orleans may have reached its nadir Wednesday Night when trailing Sacramento 66-43 with nine minutes to go. The Hornets would win the rest of the game 51-25, then went on to crush Utah 100-71 Friday Night. That has temporarily, at least, brought an end to the doldrums the franchise was suffering after the league took over ownership.

Amazing the extremes you can see with NBA teams within short term samples. Maybe something about falling way behind horrible Sacramento triggered an ENOUGH IS ENOUGH reaction. Losing badly on the road to Philadelphia is one thing. Getting embarrassed at home by Sacramento is quite another.

*Now is the time to mark in your game logs that the “no-Noah” stretch for Chicago has begun. Joakim Noah will miss the next 8-10 weeks after undergoing surgery on his right thumb. The Bulls host the LA Clippers tonight, then Philadelphia on Tuesday. It took Chicago a couple of games to get used to having Carlos Boozer back in the lineup (two double digit losses before a seven-game winning streak). What kind of transition should we expect?

Noah is averaging 14 points and 11.7 rebounds per game this year, and is a key element of a defense that ranks third in the league in efficiency at the moment with 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions.

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Hornets Slumping Since Ownership News

by Jeff Fogle 15. December 2010 16:57

When it was announced on December 5th that the NBA would be taking over the New Orleans Hornets, I was very interested to see how the team responded. The Hornets were in a bit of a slump at the time:

11-1 the first 12 games
2-5 in the seven games prior to the announcement

The rampage through the first dozen games stunned the league. Included in the fast start for Chris Paul and company were victories over Miami, San Antonio, Denver, and Dallas. Sure, they were due to cool off from that. 13-6 was still a great start even with the cool down. Would the off-the-court headlines be a distraction that demoralized the team ("nobody wins when the league is running a team"), or would they ignite another winning streak ("it’s us against the world")?

The early returns haven't been good at all.

December 5: San Antonio 109, New Orleans 84
December 8: New Orleans 93, Detroit 74
December 10: Oklahoma City 97, New Orleans 92
December 12: Philadelphia 88, New Orleans 70
December 13: Miami 96, New Orleans 84

That’s a 1-4 record, with the only victory coming over lowly Detroit. On the day of the announcement, the Hornets were throttled by 25 points at San Antonio. The low point came this past Sunday, when they scored 13 points in the first quarter, and just 10 in the second quarter during that 18-point loss at Philadelphia.  

Worse, the slide shows issues on both sides of the court. Let’s run the matchups again, this time using offensive efficiency scores (points per 100 possessions) instead of scoreboard totals. Note that 103.9 is currently the league average for efficiency.

San Antonio 121.1, New Orleans 93.3
New Orleans 105.7, Detroit 84.1
Oklahoma City 104.3, New Orleans 98.9
Philadelphia 94.6, New Orleans 75.3
Miami 114.3, New Orleans 100.0

San Antonio and Miami popped 121.1 and 114.3 on the New Orleans defense, suggesting a lack of fire in the paint when facing top opposition. The offense was below average vs. everyone but Detroit, with that dreadful 75.3 black eye in the game at Philadelphia.

This isn’t an “us against the world” mentality, which tends to show great efficiency numbers in the area of a team’s strength (motivated defensive teams play great defense, motivated offensive teams keep lighting up the scoreboard). You can almost read a “what’s the point in trying?” attitude with the low points.

Some say that “intangibles” like heart, character, confidence, chemistry, or emotional intensity don’t show up in numbers. That’s a common criticism of statistical analysis. I believe offensive and defensive efficiency are actually ideal stats for measuring intangibles. You allow for some off nights and the vagaries of randomness of course. But, when you see a sequence like this that comes on the heels of a major announcement, it’s not hard to put two and two together.

We can say this with confidence: New Orleans had been slumping before the news. They certainly didn’t respond well to the announcement, posting their worst offensive efficiency performance of the year, and matching their worst defensive efficiency performance of the year within the short time frame since the December 5th headlines.

A chance to get their feet back on the ground will come Wednesday vs. Sacramento. Utah comes to town Friday Night to provide a much tougher test.

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