Nueva York...Same as Viejo York

by Jeff Fogle 23. March 2011 23:59

The name on the front of the jersey may have changed (for a night), but the same lethargic, down in the mouth New York Knicks squad that had been disappearing down the stretch lately did the same thing Wednesday in a 111-99 loss to the Orlando Magic.

Since there were a lot of similarites to the Boston game on Monday, there's no reason to dwell on the same old issues.

Fourth Quarter

Boston 33, New York 17
Orlando 32, New York 21

Second Half

Boston 59, New York 35
Orlando 56, New York 40

The Knicks call it a night once the game is on the line. It's as if they're afraid a strong finish will raise expectations. Better to keep selling the "we need time to gel, wait until next year" storyline. It may take time to gel. But, it doesn't take time to guard the basket with a passion or battle on the boards.

Opposing Bigs:
Kevin Garnett 10 of 15 shooting
Dwight Howard 11 of 15 shooting

Rebound Differential:
Boston 48, New York 38
Orlando 49, New York 35

ESPN color analyst Jeff Van Gundy was suggesting that it was unfair to expect the team to play like champions right away. Recent frustration (outrage!) from Knicks fans wasn't because the team wasn't playing at a championship level. It came from the lack of player enthusiasm vs. losing teams like Indiana (twice), Milwaukee, and Detroit. That set up the late game home...vs. playoff caliber opponents. 

New York still isn't running (see Monday night's article). There were more possessions tonight, but Orlando is a faster team than Boston (89 possessions vs. NY), Milwaukee (92), and Detroit (92). The Magic were at 94.1 possessions per game coming in. Wednesday's final total will be in that neighborhood. New York is still playing to its opponent's tempo rather than forcing its own. If you were watching Wednesday's game on ESPN, you saw that Chauncey Billups seemed much more interested in setting up in the halfcourt than running a fast break. Nobody was arguing with him about it either, at least when I was watching.

The Knicks have a back-to-back coming up with Milwaukee (Friday) and Charlotte (Saturday). They've fallen behind Philadelphia in the playoff race, and currently sit in 7th place in the Eastern brackets.

Transition Points

*Philadelphia beat Atlanta Wednesday 105-100. Atlanta led much of the night, but the Sixers used a 22-6 run at the start of the fourth quarter to turn things around. The Hawks played much better here than Tuesday vs. Chicago...pretty much confirming that the blowout loss to Chicago was a tank job. Broadcasters are hesitant to use that phrase, or suggest a team is saving themselves for the second night of a back-to-back. Given Atlanta's very clear history this year of doing just that, you might as well just be honest and report it!

*The Miami Heat finally got a breather after finishing that long gauntlet we've been documenting. They had trouble finding any intensity Wednesday in Detroit. Miami trailed much of the night before rallying late for a 100-94 win. The Heat allowed better than 60% shooting in the first half...but trimmed that down 49% for the game after holding the Pistons to 13 points in the fourth quarter. Miami won the fourth quarter 25-13, which gives you a sense of what was lacking until then.

Mike Bibby of the Heat took a step backward after recent good showings. He was 1 of 3 on three-point attempts, and posted a -13 in plus/minus in 26 minutes...worst on the team by far.

Remember Richard Hamilton? He's been back in the Detroit lineup since March began after sitting in purgatory for several weeks. Rip scored 27 points on 9 of 16 from the flooor.

*Boston continued its inconsistent play of late, falling at home to Memphis 90-87. The Celtics are still trying to get their bench in sync with what's needed in the playoffs. The four anchors (Garnett, Peirce, Allen, and Rondo) all had positive plus/minuses. Everyone else who saw action was negative. All Memphis starters were negative, and the entire bench (who played) was positive.

*If there were any doubts about motivation to make the playoffs in the Indiana/Charlotte battle for 8th place in the East...those should be resolved now. Charlotte lost AT HOME 111-88, posting the standard non-hustle stats of teams trying to stay out of the way so they don't get hurt.

Two-Point Shooting:
Indiana 57%, Charlotte 47%

Indiana 37, Charlote 28

Tyler Hansbrough of Indiana was 8 of 10 from the floor, and 8 of 9 from the free throw line. It's as if he was facing New York again.

*All the Eastern playoff teams except Chicago saw action Wednesday. We can now update the seeding picture.

Bracket Bound:

1...Chicago 51-19
2...Boston 50-20 (1 back)
3...Miami 49-22 (3 back of Chicago, 2 back of Boston)
4...Orlando 46-26 (they'll be 4th)
5...Atlanta 40-32 (likely destined for 5th)
6...Philadelphia 37-34
7...New York 35-36 (2 behind the Sixers now)
8...Indiana 32-40

On the outside looking in:
9...Charlotte and Milwaukee 28-42 (3 out of the playoffs)

Might as well update the records since the All-Star Break. Still a few teams stumbling:

Chicago 13-3
Orlando 10-5
Philadelphia 10-5
Boston 10-6
Miami 8-7
Indiana 8-10
New York 7-10
Atlanta 6-11

Charlotte is 4-10, Milwaukee 7-8 if you were wondering.

*Thursday is very quiet in the NBA this week. Most of the focus from basketball fans will be on the Sweet 16 games in New Orleans and Anaheim. Will skip Thursday, then be back late Friday to talk about highlights from a 13-game card that includues Philadelphia-Miami, Memphis-Chicago, and Milwaukee-New York. If some interesting stat developments pop up in the college games, I'll throw those in too...

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Live by the Trey...

by Jeff Fogle 5. March 2011 00:53

After shooting lights out from three-point land Thursday night at Miami, the Orlando Magic were just 6 of 23 Friday night in an 89-81 home loss to Chicago.

I was wondering just how strong the correlation was between three-point shooting and success for the Magic this year. If it's as strong as it seems just eyeballing a few boxscores, then it might be the linchpin stat for playoff success. But, Dwight Howard is getting a lot of run for MVP lately in conversations. If he TRULY is the most valuable player in the league, nobody would be saying stuff like "live by the three, die by the three" about his team! MVP's carry their teams on their shoulders. Teams without an all-facet superstar live by the three and die by the three. That's the general rule anyway.

A quick and dirty way to do this is to look at the "effective field goal percentage" for Orlando on three-point attempts in the game logs. (You can use this link and scroll down to the "Threes" column at the far right in the "Shot Locations" section and look at "eFG%").

Here were the breakdowns (including games that weren't yet in the logs as I wrote this because stat nation is at the Sloan Conference at MIT).

Orlando's EFG% on Treys and Won-Lost Records:
39% or less: 3-10
40-49%: 6-3
50-59%: 14-6
60% or better: 17-4

Total: 40-23

That looks fairly dramatic at first glance. Orlando is 3-10 when they have a two-point equivalent of 39% or less, and 37-13 otherwise. This is one of those loaded situations though where correlations often get REALLY one-sided. It's obviously not the end of the world if they land in the 40-49% range as a two-point equivalent. They're still winning two thirds of the time! And, 70% actually feels a little low for the 50-59% range for a team that's supposedly so reliant on treys.

It's not like playoff opponents can count on holding Orlando to 39% or less in effective field goal percentage on treys every time out. Orlando is far from being toast if they're just okay from long range, and not a sure thing to win vs. quality if they're shooting well. So, I'll stop using "living" and "dying" for the time being. But we should still keep an eye on the stat because it's such an important part of Orlando's attack.

On the Chicago side of things tonight, it's worth noting that:

*The Bulls DIDN'T blow a big lead like they did the other night. This was a virtual replay of Chicago-Atlanta much of the way...

Chicago 49, Orlando 35
Chicago 50, Atlanta 33

Chicago 65, Orlando 57
Chicago 63, Atlanta 58

Chicago 89, Orlando 81
Atlanta 83, Chicago 80

Orlando's fatigue in the back-to-back may have had something to do with that. Can Chicago close on the road vs. quality if the opponent isn't tired and missing treys?

*Derrick Rose was 0-5 on three-pointers, continuing an ugly shooting streak from behind the arc:

2 of 19 this week (3 games)
6 of 41 the last 8 games
10 of 59 the last 12 games

There's nothing wrong with passing the ball out on the perimeter if you've missed 49 of your last 59 three-point attempts!

*Rose had a plus/minus of -3 in this eight point victory, and a -5 in the loss to Atlanta. We can't call tonight's game more evidence of a wear down because he shot great inside the arc (9 of 14). He only had 4 assists though, and 5 turnovers.

*It was actually the Chicago bench that did the bulk of the work here. The only Bulls starter in positive range in plus/minus was Carlos Boozer at +1. Four backups were plus double digits (Korver, Brewer, Watson, and Asik).

Transition Points

*Kevin Durant was able to go for Oklahoma City tonight in Atlanta with what was thought to be a gimpy ankle. Didn't look too Durant had 29 points and 8 rebounds.

Atlanta failed to rally from behind on this night as they did vs. Chicago earlier in the week. The Hawks are now 4-7 their last 11 games, with losses to playoff bound Oklahoma City, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and the LA Lakers in the mix. They don't currently have the look of a team that's going to win a first round series.

*Chris Paul snapped out of a slump for New Orleans in Memphis. He scored 23 points, had 14 assists, and posted a plus/minus of +20 in a 7-point 98-91 victory.

New Orleans had been 4-12 their prior 16 games coming in, while Memphis had been 12-4. The Hornets aren't ready to fade out of the playoff mix just yet.

*I've pushed New York down a bit today because they've led so many recent postings. You know they lost AGAIN to Cleveland. And, they did it despite getting a lot of offense from Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.

Two of the same defensive issues that showed up last week in Cleveland were in play here. Cleveland owned the offensive boards, grabbing 16 on the night and earning a gaudy 38% offensive rebound rate. The Cavs also cashed in a lot of open looks from the perimeter, naling 12 of 21 treys. The third issue from last week, sending the Cavs to the free throw line all night, wasn't much of a problem.

Chauncey Billups was out again with an injury. Anthony was 10-16 from the floor for 29 points, yet was -11 in plus/minus, the worst mark for a starter by far. I'm still trying to find evidence of the elbow problem for Carmelo in the numbers. He did seem to move in closer for his shooting Friday (that could be because Cleveland's defense is so soft though). He only took three shots all night greater than 18 feet according to the first draft play-by-play. Among his baskets were two driving layups, a tip in, a dunk, a 2-footer, and a 4-footer.

New York has looked very good when bearing down vs. quality since the trade. They have wins over Miami and New Orleans, and had strong stretches in the loss to Orlando. Can they bear down and focus on defense and rebounding every game through the playoffs? Or, are these letdowns vs. Cleveland evidence that they can only keep that focus going a few quarters at a time?

At least they won't have to face the Cavs in the playoffs!

*I started monitoring Stephon Curry and David Lee's plus/minus on this road trip, so I want to keep that going until they shut me up. Curry was -8 in a 4-point loss at Boston (again underachieving the team). Lee was +1, so I can get off his back for awhile.

Back in a bit to run some numbers from the Heat/Spurs game before calling it a week...

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A Blurry Snapshot

by Jeff Fogle 4. March 2011 01:04

I was hoping Thursday night's Orlando-Miami game would give us a sense of where those two teams stood entering the final quarter of the NBA regular season. An amazing evening in South Florida gave us a snapshot of both teams. But, it was a blurry snapshot.

This much remains clear:

*Miami still needs big games from ALL THREE of their musketeers to beat quality opposition. Once again Chris Bosh was the goat here. His 5 of 15 performance wasn't as bad as that 1 of 18 disaster at Chicago. But, 10 misses really stick out like a sore thumb on a night where LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were a combined 18 of 21 in the first half on the way to a combined 21 of 33 for the game.

And, that's just Bosh's offense. TNT analyst Reggie Miller scolded Bosh for a slow rotation on defense on a late drive to the basket from Orlando's Jameer Nelson.

*Miami's offense seems to disappear in second halves of important games. In an earlier article we noted that Miami was posting great first quarters followed by a substandard 2-3-4 sequence. Well, they fixed that! Kinda.

Miami by quarter Thursday: 30-33-17-16

It's as if they said to themselves "we're not letting down after the first quarter THIS time." Then they let down after the half. Note that Miami blew a 24-point second half lead because they couldn't get the ball in the bucket.

*Orlando is still a team that lives by the three and dies by the three in big showdowns. They were a stellar 16 of 29 Thursday, for 55%. That's 83% for a 2-point equivalent. We've documented some earlier games where their scoring died in the fourth quarter because none of the treys were falling. Here, treys brought them all the way back from way down to victory.

Astounding that we could see an 86% shooting performance from James and Wade in the first half, but a two-point equivalent of 83% on Orlando's treys for the night. Great stuff from great players.

The blurry stuff...

*Because you can't COUNT on monster shooting nights like that from either team's perspective. We didn't really get a sense of what a typical playoff encounter between the two teams would look like. We got a condensed look at the roller coaster elements of the matchup. Miami is capable of greatness for a half. Orlando is capable of shooting lights out from long range. It's as if the highlights of a few different games were jammed into this one.

*Miami just added Mike Bibby, and it's way too early to know what kind of impact he'll have the rest of the way or in the postseason. He was a disappointing 1 of 4 shooting in 19 minutes. And, his lack of visibility defensively on the perimeter is one reason Orlando was getting so many good looks from long range. It's just one game though, and there is likely to be an adjustment period.

*Mike Miller's been kind of blurry all season. He only took 3 shots in 24 minutes, and didn't have any assists. His role wasn't supposed to be this ill-defined so deep into the season!

*Orlando saw signs of life from Gilbert Arenas, which could be a very interesting development the rest of the way. Arenas was 3 of 5 from behind the arc. The last two times he's taken the floor he's totalled 7 of 11 from long range (including Sunday Feb. 27 vs. Charlotte).

Believe it or not, Arenas was 1 for 29 on treys in his previous nine games, and 5 of 46 over his prior 51 attempts before Charlotte.

He probably won't get anywhere near his best form of the past this season. But, he's turning into a positive off the bench instead of dead weight. At this point, there's just no way to know for sure what the next several weeks will hold for Arenas.

Can teams looming this large in the playoff picture still be "works in progress" at the three-quarter pole? You'd have to say they are. Miami still can't figure out how to play well consistently vs. quality opposition. If there's anything consistent about them vs. quality, it's that the Heat play bad second halves!

Orlando is 8-2 its last 10 games with victories over Miami, the LA Lakers, Oklahoma City, and New York. Maybe the season is starting to come into focus for the Magic.  And they may have just played themselves back into the race for a top three seed.

Updated Eastern Standings

1...Boston 44-15
2...Miami 43-18
3...Chicago 41-18
4...Orlando 40-22

The Magic are 2.5 games behind Chicago, and 3.5 games behind Miami.

The bad news is that they have to host RESTED Chicago Friday Night! A win and they move within 1.5 games of the Bulls with plenty of time left to catch them. A loss, and it's 3.5 games behind the #3 spot with only one additional game with the Bulls before the season comes to an end.

Chicago/Orlando will be part of a blockbuster ESPN doubleheader that also includes Miami/San Antonio. Back after that's in the books to see what happened...

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97 Free Throws In Orlando!

by Jeff Fogle 2. March 2011 00:52

Star of the game honors when to referees Jason Phillips, David Jones, and Curtis Blair, who called 56 personal fouls...and four technical fouls on individual Orlando's 116-110 victory over New York Tuesday Night.

The teams combined to shoot 97 free throws. You may have read recent basketball coverage talking about how Derrick Rose has been attacking the basket more. The evidence for this was a string of games where he was shooting around 8-10 free throws. Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups SHOT 20 FREE THROWS Tuesday night!

One guy shot 20 free throws. The two full teams in the New Orleans/Toronto game only shot 15 apiece.

Amare Stoudemire went to the line for 14 free throws. The Knicks were 39-47 as a team. Orlando didn't make as much hay as they could have, shooting 36-50 from the charity stripe.

This obviously represents a relapse of the defensive issues New York was having vs. Milwaukee and Cleveland. Though, you don't know how much of that was officiating style rather than slow reactions on defense. Troubles returned on perimeter defense as well, with Orlando shooting 8 of 18 on treys for 44.4% (equivalent of 67% on two's). The Knicks weren't disappointing on the defensive boards though. So, it wasn't a full scale relapse in areas we discussed in prior articles.

Carmelo Anthony's right elbow "issue" may start to become a bigger story. He was just 8 of 24 from the floor Tuesday night, including 1 of 5 from long range. That's 2 of 9 on treys the last two games. He's only hit 41% of his two point shots since joining the Knicks, well below past norms. Though, he did face three very strong defenses in his four games in Knickerbocker blue.

The much discussed "Carmelo effect" for increasing his teammates' shooting percentages hasn't shown up yet. Knicks not named Carmelo are 105-246 from the floor over the last four games for 42.6%. The caliber of defenses may be an influence obviously. Let's see what happens when the schedule softens.

That won't happen just yet. New York hosts the best defense in the West according to reader DSMok's schedule adjusted data Wednesday night when New Orleans comes to Madison Square Garden.

Transition Points

*Dallas won a tester at Philadelphia 101-93. The Sixers were able to step up well in class with a recent home win over San Antonio. They couldn't duplicate the feat here.

I haven't had a chance yet to check in on Peja Stojakovic's contributions to Dallas since he joined the team. A quick check shows 15 of 44 on threys for a disappointing 34%. Peja is a career 40% shooter on treys. The reason he was acquired was to provide an outside threat.

Worse, that 15 of 44 represents two great performances (4 of 6 at Houston and 4 of 5 vs. Utah), and eight lousy ones. Peja is 7 of 33 for just 21% in the other eight games.

It's not hurting the team much, as Dallas keeps winning anyway. Dallas has time to be patient.

*San Antonio also has time to be patient. They've got a huge lead for best overall record, which gives them some leeway to pick their spots now that Tony Parker is going to miss some time with a calf injury.

You didn't get the sense Tuesday's visit to Memphis was a high priority game. No starter played more than 27 minutes in San Antonio's 109-93 loss. They can earn a split in their Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-backer with a win at lowly Cleveland. No harm no foul if they take care of business in that one.

Let's keep an eye on the Spurs to see if they pick any more spots to coast through.

*What happened to Golden State? Maybe their big victories just before the All-Star Break were just data points in the "good teams aren't as focused as they should be before the layoff" line of thinking.

Golden State successes 1/30 to 2/15:
Beat Utah 96-81
Beat Chicago 101-90
Beat Denver 116-114
Beat Oklahoma City 100-94
Beat New Orleans 102-89
Beat Utah 107-100

Hello! That's about half the Western playoff brackets and an Eastern power. The Warriors had the clear look of a team on the rise given that caliber of opposition.

Golden State since the Break:
Lost to Boston 115-93
Lost to Atlanta 95-79
Lost to Minnesota 126-123
Lost to Indiana 109-100

The Warriors are 0-4 since the break..being non-competitive at home against Eastern playoff teams, then losing to very poor Minnesota, and being a non-entity in the fourth quarter against an Indiana team who had just lost at home to Utah and Phoenix.

It's like they got 15 points worse!

David Lee was supposedly ready to be his old self. The break was supposed to help undersized Stephon Curry freshen up.

In tonight's 9-point loss to Indiana:
Curry -19 in plus/minus
Lee -14 in plus/minus

In that recent 16-point loss to Atlanta:
Lee -30 in plus/minus
Curry -27 in plus/minus

Golden State visits Washington (considered "the cure for what ails you" around the league) on Wednesday night.

*Top Wednesday games: Chicago at Atlanta and New Orleans at New York. Back before midnight with some notes on what happened in those matchups and elsewhere on the card.

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Earl Clark Slowly Making a Name For Himself

by Eddy Rivera 16. February 2011 09:15

Eddy Rivera writes about the Orlando Magic for the Truehoop blog Magic Basketball and can be followed on twitter here.

As the Orlando Magic continue their up-and-down season, especially after two blockbuster trades on December 18 that brought aboard well-known players like Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu, another player acquired in the deals is slowly making a name for himself. His name?

Earl Clark.

Long compared to Lamar Odom because of his ability to handle the basketball with proficiency as a 6-foot-10 power forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Clark didn't find too much success -- or playing time -- when he was with the Phoenix Suns for a season and a half. However, after getting traded to the Magic, Clark has gotten opportunities to make an impact when he's on the floor.

Part of it is because Orlando is lacking for big men at the moment. Part of it is because Brandon Bass, the Magic's starting power forward, sprained his right ankle on January 31 against the Memphis Grizzlies and sat out six games, thus allowing Clark a chance to get consistent minutes in head coach Stan Van Gundy's rotation. But most of it is because Clark has been one of the few players for Orlando to put in the energy and effort on defense -- something that Van Gundy demands from everyone on the roster. Because of Clark's willingness to work hard defensively, Van Gundy has rewarded him for it. Still, even though Clark has been able to improve on the defensive side of the ball and rebound at a better clip after gaining 10 points of muscle since arriving to the Magic, there's a lot of refinement that's needed from him on offense.

The good news is that Clark is showing signs of improvement already.

For starters, Clark's at rim percentage has leaped from 45.5 percent on 0.6 shot attempts per game with Phoenix to 75.0 percent on 2.1 shot attempts per game with Orlando this season (league average is 64.1 percent). It remains to be seen if Clark can keep that percentage up but if he can, that'll go a long way into him becoming a more efficient player offensively. Considering that a plethora of NBA players of all varying positions sit around that percentage, the odds for sustainability from Clark are good. That added muscle has helped Clark in that regard.

If there's a specific area where Clark still needs to improve on offense, it's his ability to hit shots from 16-23 feet. Right now, Clark's percentage sits at 33.0 percent on 1.8 shot attempts per game (league average is 39.4). When watching Clark shoot the basketball, the form on his jumpshot is fine. The consistency isn't there yet, though, which is something Clark will need to work on in the offseason if he wants to be a more dynamic threat offensively. Clark extending his range to three-point territory isn't out of the question, but progress needs to be taken one step at a time.

Although Clark's True Shooting percentage in the last five games is 52.1 percent, which is below the league average, the elements are there for improvement in the long-term. For the Magic, that much is encouraging.

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