After a wild Wednesday, we may not know who will be seeded where in both the Eastern and Western Conference brackets. But, we know who's going to be IN the brackets. All 16 teams are set for the NBA postseason. And, a handful of games tonight even had a playoff feel to them...
The most prominent of the playoff-style games was New York/Philadelphia. This was probably the most important game of the night in terms of learning about two teams who were on the same court. The Knicks and Sixers are fighting for the 6th and 7th seeds in the East. That's a big deal because teams would rather play the aging Celtics than the James/Wade/Bosh Ghidorah in the first round. Heading in, the assumption was that Miami would get the #2 seed and Boston the #3, which means WINNING mattered!
When the Knicks jumped to a 19-point lead, and were seemingly in complete control of a low-tempo playoff style game, I was already preparing my "Hey, they only have to do this four times in seven to win a series" commentary. We were seeing the best of the Knicks in the post-trade period. They were defending with some semblance of energy. The offensive parts weren't stepping on each other's toes. The promise shown in that road win at Miami many weeks ago was back on the floor.
Then...Philadelphia came all the way back to take the lead!
New York entered the fourth quarter with a 78-65 advantage. With two minutes to go, it was Philadelphia 88, New York 87. That's a 23-9 run for the Sixers to start the fourth quarter. The Knicks would regather themselves and win 97-92 (thanks to seven points in the last minute). But, instead of seeing the best of the Knicks...we saw another example of a fourth quarter collapse.
Remember these fourth quarter disappointments?
New York 14, Memphis 26
New York 21, Indiana 21
New York 17, Detroit 29
New York 23, Milwaukee 25
New York 17, Boston 33
New York 21, Orlando 32
New York 19, Milwaukee 20
New York 19, Philadelphia 27
Way too common to be a coincidence. The offense REALLY stagnates late in close games, particularly against teams who know how to defend. Opponents will trade baskets with the Knicks much of the way (Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire give away on the defensive end much of what they gain on the offensive end--Philly forwards Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young were 22 of 32 from the field tonight for example, Anthony and Stoudemire were 19 of 42). Then, with the game on the line, opponents clamp down defensively and the Knicks are in trouble.
Yes, Billups missed the fourth quarter tonight. But, he was on the floor for many of those other flame-outs. And, he only had 3 points and 0 assists in 24 minutes tonight anyway.
The Knicks may be able to bring defensive intensity four times in seven in a first round playoff series. Can they win a fourth quarter four times in seven? Against Miami or Boston?
Tonight from New York, you saw the potential of what was possible...followed by a slap in the face reminder about fourth quarter issues. From Philadelphia, you saw a team that couldn't play to expectations vs. Boston and New York on back-to-back nights. You just can't take the Sixers seriously as a Cinderella story. Gutty comeback. Failed comeback.
*Miami was stunned by Milwaukee 90-85 in a game that may end up having significant playoff ramifications. Even with Dwyane Wade sitting out, the Heat should win a game like this relatively easily. It's sure not one they wanted to do without. Miami is still neck and neck with Boston for the #2 seed and home court advantage in a projected second round meeting.
The key difference in the boxscore was in the turnover category. Miami lost that 16-9. The biggest individual culprit was Mike Bibby with six. That's also the number of points as he scored in 31 minutes.
Miami falls a half game behind Boston for second spot. If the 82-game schedule ends in a tie, Boston owns the tie-breaker. But, Boston has to visit Chicago Thursday, and Miami Sunday. Should Boston lose both of those games...and Miami wins out...then the Heat will still get the coveted #2 seed even with tonight's loss.
Oh, saw something in cyberspace the other day regarding the offensive rebound totals of LeBron James and Derrick Rose. Fans and debators are looking for reasons to back various candidates in the MVP race. It struck many as a big negative for LeBron that he was neck and neck with Rose in a rebounding category. I have to admit I was surprised that a big guy like LeBron was about even with a little guy like Rose in that stat. I wondered how this year compared to others.
Offensive Rebounds per Game
This year: LeBron 1.0, Rose 1.0
Last year: LeBron 0.9, Rose 0.8
2008-09: LeBron 1.3, Rose 1.2
Holy cow! This isn't even anything new. It's been like that ever since Rose entered the league.
You see...neither guy is asked to be an offensive rebounder. They're shooters. You don't often rebound your own misses unless you miss pretty badly. And, within the nature of what their coaches want, both are asked to float back to play defense when a shot goes up rather than crash the boards. About once each game, a missed offensive shot happens to bounce near where each guy is standing.
It's like using stolen bases to compare two high quality baseball players, neither of whom is asked to steal many bases.
In high impact per game stats:
LeBron: 26.6 points, 7.0 assists, 6.5 defensive rebounds
Rose: 25.1 points, 7.9 assists, 3.1 defensive rebounds
Rose could end the season with more offensive rebounds than LeBron. That's far too distant an issue to impact an MVP discussion. Neither is asked to be an offensive rebounder because of their general position on the floor when shots go up, and because of their other duties on their teams. That particular stat happens to shed light on how those players are used more than shedding light on the MVP race. James won the MVP award the last two seasons by the way, even with his lack of offensive rebounds.
*Indiana wrapped up the 8th seed in the East with a rout of Washington. No surprise there...just wanted to mention it because it locks in the eight playoff teams in that half of the brackets. Well, the teams are locked if not the seedings. The same is now true in the West with New Orleans beating Houston Wednesday. A week left in the season, and we know who the 16 playoff teams will be. The pieces can't be sorted out yet...but we know who the pieces are.
*The biggest game in the West tonight was Denver-Dallas. We talked about the "interesting" potential in that matchup last evening. Denver bounced back from a home loss to Oklahoma City with a 104-96 victory. Here's what the standings now look like in the middle of the pack.
4...Oklahoma City 52-26
Maybe it's a crop circle...or maybe it's the natural ebb and flow for Denver off a big win Sunday over the Lakers. The bottom line is that Oklahoma City does have a shot to catch Dallas for #3. Denver can help that along by losing Friday Night in Oklahoma City. Any team paying attention lately would rather play Dallas than OKC in the first round.
Dallas: vs. Clippers, vs. Phoenix, at Houston, vs. New Orleans
OKC: vs. Denver, at Lakers, at Sacramento, vs. Milwaukee
Oklahoma City owns the tie-breaker because they're a division winner, even though Dallas won the regular season series 2-1. Dallas will be the runner-up in its division. NBA tie-breaker rules allow being a division-winner to trump head-to-head results. Dallas must stay head of OKC to get the third seed. Does Oklahoma City want to rise to #3? That leads to an easier first round but a tougher second round in terms of recent form across the West. You get the sense from watching the games that OKC is less afraid of the Lakers than Dallas is. Will be interesting to watch. (Note, this corrects an earlier version of the article that had Dallas winning the tie-breaker because of their 2-1 series win).
*The race at the bottom of the West just got a bit more interesting. Portland was stunned Tuesday night at home by Golden State. Then New Orleans won at home against Houston Wednesday to not only clinch a playoff spot...but to move into sixth place.
6...New Orleans 45-33
New Orleans owns the tie-breaker over Portland with a 3-1 heads up record. Man, you don't want to finish 7th! That means a first round meeting with the Lakers.
Memphis currently owns a three-way tie-breaker with best conference record amongst the group. That currently goes Memphis-Portland-NO.
New Orleans: vs. Phoenix, at Memphis, vs. Utah, at Dallas
Portland: vs. Utah, vs. Lakers, vs. Memphis, at Golden State
Memphis: vs. Sacramento, vs. NO, at Portland, at Clippers
Yeah right, I'm going try and figure out the ramifications of that schedule late at night. All remaining games are within the conference, so a three-way tie would end up Memphis-Portland-NO in that order. Memphis already has the three-way edge, and would have to pick up a game to forge a three-way tie in the first place.
Wouldn't it be funny next week if Memphis at Portland is a game both teams want to lose because New Orleans kept winning? The 8th seed gets the Spurs, the 7th seed gets the two-time defending league champion.
*San Antonio wrapped up the #1 seed in the West thanks to the Lakers surprisingly lousy week. I wouldn't have spent all that time last week on the race for #1 if I knew the Lakers were going to take their foot off the gas for Denver, Utah, and Golden State. Interesting how the Lakers cooled off just as they were on the verge of rising into the tougher half of the Western brackets...
*Will be back late Thursday evening to talk about key stats from Boston/Chicago. Definitely one of the showcase games on the TV schedule between now and the end of the regular season...