2012 NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

And then there were four.  After the Boston Celtics’ glorious though kind of unwatchable Game 7 win, we are left with 4 of the league’s 7 best teams and three of the top four.  Of course this is no surprise given the NBA playoffs spectacular ability to identify the best team – you end up with precious few true surprises.  So with a fairly chalky Final Four, how will this shake out?

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat (4th overall, 6th offense, 4th defense) vs Boston Celtics (7th overall, 24th offense, 1st defense)

Wow, Avery Bradley’s loss is huge.  Given how incompetent he looked for a year and half of his career, this is kind of incredible.  Indeed, as John Hollinger pointed out, even with a rough shooting postseason, Bradley led the Celtics in +/-.  If you remember his sensational block on Dwayne Wade in their regular season encounters – then you can see how Bradley’s loss coupled with Wade’s amazing last couple games in the Indiana series portend to something scary for Boston.  Considering how horrible their offense has been, the Celtics need to lean on their defense and without Bradley that will be hard.  Sure, Chris Bosh’s injury is a slow healer and a high risk one – he won’t be 100% – but LeBron and Wade are clicking so easily now that it is hard to envision the shorthanded Celtics being more than a bug on a windshield.  Heat in 5

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs (2nd overall, 1st offense, 10th defense) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (3rd overall, 2nd offense, 8th defense)

The Spurs, with Parker and when not punting games to rest their old guys have won 43 of their last 47 games.  This is obviously phenomenal.  They have had blowouts down the stretch against all of their peers, including Oklahoma City.  However, the Thunder’s body of work is a little better than the Spurs with a slightly better defense.  However, San Antonio’s defense has hunkered down in the postseason – and you’d like to think that Duncan and Splitter mean a tougher interior D than Ibaka – who can block shots but not so much at position defense.  Can the Thunder stop the Spurs’ pick and roll?  It is hard to envision, given how the Spurs can spread you out so completely.  In contrast, the Thunder’s offensive prowess is built into individual ability more than a passing and motion attack.  Harden vs Ginobli, Parker vs Westbrook.  The Thunder thrive on winning 1-on-1 battles, but can they win enough here to hang with the Spurs?  Despite Durant’s brilliance – I just don’t see it.  It is going to be a hell of a series though.  Spurs in 6

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #10 – Final Report and Playoff Preview

First as you have probably seen from the last couple of entries, people still have Cystic Fibrosis – blah blah blah – click here to help

FINALLY.  The best of the playoff seasons is upon us.  Of course this was after a truly execrable last couple of weeks of the season where teams were playing scrubs shamelessly while still charging full prices.  The Tuesday Celtics-Heat game was a particular atrocity.  So the rankings could be skewed a tiny bit.  But whatever, the playoffs are here and looks at the series are coming up … how have the rankings changed since we last did this?

  1. (2) Bulls (50-16)
  2. (4) Spurs (50-16)
  3. (1) Thunder (47-19)
  4. (3) Heat (46-20)
  5. (5) Sixers (35-31)
  6. (10) Nugggets (38-28)
  7. (6) Celtics (39-27)
  8. (8) Hawks (40-26)
  9. (7) Grizzlies (41-25)
  10. (15) Clippers (40-26)
  11. (13) Mavericks (36-30)
  12. (9) Lakers (41-25)
  13. (14) Knicks (36-30)
  14. (16) Pacers (42-24)
  15. (11) Magic (37-29)
  16. (12) Rockets (34-32)
  17. (18) Suns (33-33)
  18. (20) Jazz (36-30)
  19. (19) Bucks (31-35)
  20. (17) Blazers (28-38)
  21. (21) Timberwolves (26-40)
  22. (22) Warriors (23-43)
  23. (24) Hornets (21-45)
  24. (23) Raptors (23-43)
  25. (25) Kings (22-44)
  26. (29) Wizards (20-46)
  27. (27) Pistons (25-42)
  28. (28) Nets (22-44)
  29. (26) Wizards (21-45)
  30. (30) Bobcats (7-59)

It’s the playoffs!  So – quick looks at your first round series are in order:

  • (E1) Bulls v (E8) Sixers – This is #1 vs #5.  What a matchup!  However, the Sixers have really stumbled down the stretch, but the metrics have been strong as the Sixers blowouts early still have resonance.  The Bulls with Derrick Rose’s dicey injury situation could be great – but they could be tricky.  Defense will be the order of the day (#2 v #3) and neither team is great from outside.  I can’t imagine the Bulls losing this but the Sixers match up well with them, better than they do with the Heat.  Bulls in 7
  • (E4) Celtics v (E5) Hawks – #7 vs #8.  Interestingly here the lower seed has home court.  The Celtics have been very strong down the stretch.  But so have the Hawks, both in the Top 6 since the trade deadline.  The Celtics have serious issues with rebounding and size, but the Hawks are 26th in offensive rebounding, so it is hard to read that as a huge edge.  The games have all been close in their head to head.  Really more of a coin flip than the experts purport.  Hawks in 7
  • (E2) Heat v (E7) Knicks – #4 vs #13 Fun series with two defensively adept teams.  Anthony and LeBron will be a great matchup and the Novak/Smith bench for the Knicks could explode.  But it is hard to envision the Knicks winning in Miami.  This is a fun series but Heat in 6
  • (E3) Pacers v (E6) Magic – The Pacers have the 5th best record in the league but merely #14 in rankings.  This describes the Pacers in general – a nice team, lot of good players, but is this the juice to win a playoff series?  The Magic will be motivated with no Dwight Howard and “nobody believing in them”. Did the Pacers more competitive than it seemed result vs Chicago last year inform them or will the Magic’s winning experience do it?  Without Glen Davis, the Magic just don’t have enough players now – good or otherwise.  Pacers in 5
  • (W1) Spurs v (W8) Jazz – Spurs can flat out score, but the Jazz can attack with size.  Will the Spurs lose in round 1 again?  Frankly I’d have more faith in the Jazz if their defense was not so mediocre.  Against the buzz saw offense of San Antonio it is tough sledding.  Spurs in 5
  • (W4) Grizzlies v (W5) Clippers – Grizzlies are a sexy pick to upset the apple cart.  However this is not last year’s Zach Randolph.  Meanwhile the Clippers just have more better players and one of the game’s best all around players and leaders.  Look how the Hornets stole 2 games against the Lakers with Chris Paul and nobody – he is just that good.  In the playoffs, the stars play more.  Lob City is not done yet.  Clippers in 6
  • (W2) Thunder v (W7) Mavericks – Hard series to peg.  On paper, Thunder should rip through this.  In actuality, Dallas can throw a lot of junk D at them and make the Thunder really work for it.  But it won’t be enough.  Thunder in 7
  • (W3) Lakers v (W6) Nuggets – Denver has depth.  The Lakers don’t.  Denver has speed, and the Lakers have real issues with that.  But the Lakers have all the really good players here and their size and ability to dictate in the half court.  I hope Denver can make this fun.  I think the Lakers grind it out enough.  Lakers in 6

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #1

So, let me get this straight.  We are trying to squeeze in 66 games in 4 months, instead of the normal 82 games in 6 – all of this with a two week training camp and offseason?  And the basketball was going to be good?  Ummm … ok.  Yeah, the Christmas games between New York and Boston and the Lakers and the Bulls were false alarms apparently – as we have had some really crappy basketball to start the year.  How crappy?  Well, last year overall we were averaging 1.045 points per possession.  Right now, the number is 0.998.  Put simply, was was 27th a year ago is 15th right now – yeeah.  So if you thought the points have dropped off (with the pace staying the same), you’re right.  Even if we just compare the first 125 games of the league season (how many games have been played to date), last season we had 1.033 points per possession.  1.033 this year would place you at 8th in the league.  Compare some other stats across the last two season’s first 125 games:

  • Turnover Rate: Last Year: 15.9% of possessions, This Year: 15.9%
  • TS%: Last Year: 54%, This Year: 52%
  • Shots per possession: Last Year: 0.98, This Year: 0.96.

Basically the game has slowed, down – teams are shooting less efficiently, and getting fewer looks at the basket.  It is tempting to salute defense, but this early in the season – one thinks that it is more shoddy play than high quality defending.

That said, despite the hide your eyes bad level of offensive play, and the way too aggressive schedule – the league is starting to unfold.  The latest rankings are in a permanent home this year, so hopefully you can skip right to the good stuff without reading all this jibberish.  However, if you are reading this – might as well get some observations out of the way:

  1. Yes, that is right, the Sixers start out at #1.  You get through a five game road trip to start the season with just two losses and have a +15 normalized scoring margin?  You’re doing something right.  As we know, Doug Collins – the Al Dunlap of NBA Coaches – took this merry band of misfits into a playoff team a year ago, and with almost no personnel changes – what is this?  The Sixers have the league’s top offense AND league’s top defense, and the way they have done both is a study in contrasts.  On offense, it has been a possession based strategy – the Sixers turn the ball over less than anybody, and have ended up 2nd in the league in shots per possession.  Take a pretty good 6th in TS%, and you have a team that is scoring at a very high level.  On defense, they have struggled taking the ball away or preventing offensive rebounds.  This could cause a problem down the road, but their top ranked TS% defense has held up its end of the bargain.  They have been very strong in all phases of ball shooting defense – tops in FG defense, tops in fewest FTs allowed, tops in fewest three point looks.
  2. The Heat of course were the favorites entering, and have done nothing to dissuade those bullish about them.  One obvious thing the Heat have changes tactically is getting out and running.  Their pace has risen from 21st to tops in the league – and so have the points, as they are still a good offensive team.   The pace increase has come from obviously their own priorities, but also their league leading turnover forcing defense – lot of chances to get into the open floor.  That said, there are some things to clean up – in particular trouble defending the 3 and fouling too much.  But the Heat are the league’s best TS%, and it is hard to say a whole lot bad about them.  The win at Atlanta with a skeleton crew and no James or Wade was particularly impressive.
  3. On the other end of the spectrum is the local entry, the Washington Wizards.  They are the league’s worst offense – by 4 points over 29th place.  To put it another way, the difference between 29 and 30 is larger than the difference between #29 and #25.  The Wizards badness on offense is a bit of a surprise with one of the league’s best offensive coaches in Flip Saunders and the Point Guard of the Future in John Wall.  However, John Wall has just been a dreadful shooter, and the Wizards in general do not seem to be getting good shots.  They are bad at shooting in general, and shoot two many contested two pointers – consider they are 29th in three point rate and 24th in FT attempts.  The Wizards have a knack for avoiding all high efficiency scoring – and as a result they are 30th in the league with a thud in TS%.

As far as the rankings through the games of 1/8/12?

  1. Sixers (5-2)
  2. Blazers (6-2)
  3. Heat (8-1)
  4. Nuggets (6-3)
  5. Bulls (7-2)
  6. Hawks (6-3)
  7. Clippers (4-2)
  8. Suns (4-4)
  9. Lakers (6-4)
  10. Thunder (8-2)
  11. Timberwolves (3-5)
  12. Spurs (6-3)
  13. Jazz (5-3)
  14. Pacers (6-2)
  15. Raptors (3-5)
  16. Mavericks (4-5)
  17. Magic (6-3)
  18. Hornets (3-6)
  19. Rockets (2-6)
  20. Celtics (4-4)
  21. Cavaliers (4-4)
  22. Warriors (2-6)
  23. Bucks (2-6)
  24. Grizzlies (3-5)
  25. Knicks (4-4)
  26. Bobcats (2-6)
  27. Pistons (2-6)
  28. Kings (3-6)
  29. Nets (2-7)
  30. Wizards (0-8)

Anyway, hopefully the season report will be a semi-regular feature.  Even still, the rankings will be updated at least once a week.

2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview (Sort of)

With life events making posting these days a bit trickier, it makes sense that I am one game late already to a conference finals party.  If we use the season ending power rankings as a guide, we have a varsity-junior varsity semifinal bracket if you consider the whole body of work.  However since the trade deadline (the time when these rosters were “complete”, we actually have three of the six best teams still standing.   So what does it mean, in such a terrific playoff season to date?

Eastern Conference Finals: Chicago Bulls (1st overall, 1st since March 1) vs Miami Heat (2nd overall, 4th since March 1)

This is pretty clearly the matchup that will determine who is favored to win the whole thing.  The Bulls finished with the best overall record, and the Heat just trailing the Bulls in scoring margin, the better leading indicator.  Both teams have been outstanding since the trade deadline.  As Game 1 showed, for a half, the Bulls and Heat are capable of matching up very evenly.  In some ways the Game 1 result showed what the Bulls could do, but in terms of the big picture – I expected a long series anyway.

Heat offense vs Bulls defense:  The Heat finished as the league’s third most efficient offense, and it’s most efficient down the stretch.  The Bulls defense was tops for the whole season and after the deadline.  There is a lot of irresistible force-immovable object cliches to be had here.  The Heat, as you might have known, have a couple of super talents.  LeBron and Wade had worked the whole season to develop their offensive chemistry while Chris Bosh tried to fit into a #3 role.  The Heat’s offensive power was based on shooting the basketball.  The Heat were 2nd in true shooting percentage, 7th in 3 point shooting and 3rd in free throw rating.  Put simply, the Heat by commanding double teams and rotating were excellent at converting scoring chances.  This was especially crucial since the team did not generate many shots, finishing as a below average offensive rebounding team and an average 16th at taking care of the ball (surprisingly high considering the amount of isolations they run).

The Bulls on the other hand are just excellent throughout.  Much has been made of Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes, and more should be mentioned.  The Bulls were an excellent team at both preventing successful scoring chances, and preventing scoring chances period.  The Bulls were the top true shooting defense in the league, and did it by smothering opponents field goal chances.  This team was not a ball hawking side like the Grizzlies for instance, but they made it very hard for their opponents to score, with the leading FG% and 3P% against and the lowers 3P frequency.  They prevented good looks from three point land and forced tough two point shots.  When they forced misses, they retrieved them, with an exemplary 2nd overall defensive rebounding rate.

As Game 1 showed, Miami’s first shot offense will be able to do some things here and there.  The Heat shot a fairly respectable 47% from the floor.  Indeed they actually shot a decent true shooting percentage of about 55% (for perspective, the 10th place team this year did that), when you combine their unsustainably perfect 15-15 from the line.  The Bulls affected them, but only about the level you’d expect.  However, the shot quantity disadvantage showed badly.  The Heat only recovered 6 of their 36 misses (league median is about 1 in 4) and turned it over 16 times in a slow game.  Both of those rates would be far and away dead last over the season.  Erik Spoelstra mentioned that it was about the rebounding.  He was absolutely right.

Can the Heat flat out get enough looks against the Bulls defense?  They need to do better with the chances they have or generate more chances.  Considering they actually did fairly well with the former, the latter has to get better.  When you look at the Bulls bigs though, especially bringing forces like Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in, the shot generating is a wound that might not heal.  EDGE: Bulls

Bulls offense vs Heat defense: The Bulls have an average offense, finishing 13th overall though it did improve as the season went on.  The Heat defense finished a sound fifth, although it dipped to 14th after the trade deadline – probably a function of adding molasses slow Mike Bibby to their starting lineup.  Looking at the Bulls, they are an average conversion offense.  They finished 15th in true shooting percentage, with fairly pedestrian stats across the board.  They finished only 13th in FG%, 13th in 3P%, 14th in 3P frequency, and got to the line decently but shot it poorly, thus finishing 13th in overall FT efficiency.  However, they were decent at generating chances, finishing 6th in shots per possession – a function of, as you might have intuited from above, their size and rebounding.  The athleticism edge shines through here too, as the Bulls were 4th in the league in offensive rebounding, which more than offset their poor turnover rate (21st).

The Heat do it with first scoring chance defense.   They finished 5th in the league in TS%, 2nd in the league in FG%.  What the Heat have managed to do defensively is augment their stars with some guys like Joel Anthony who cannot catch a cold, but block shots and make it hard for opponents to score.  The Heat’s ability to prevent baskets and successfully rebound misses essentially creates the entirety of their defensive prowess.  What is interesting to Heat watchers is that Wade and LeBron streaking into the open floor seemed like a rare occurence (and at least not a team wide one).  This is backed up numerically, as no matter what stretch of the season – they have not forced turnovers (finishing 26th overall).  Perhaps the decision to stay solid and conservative was due to a lack of trust of their wings to do their jobs, or the back line to be stout when offensive players tried to break down the perimeter.  The result is that the Heat were below the league average in shot prevention.  They were able to lock down shots, but not good at preventing them.

Game 1 actually fed into this trend again.  The Bulls shot only 43.7%, below their season average, and certainly good enough for the Heat.  However the TS% was actually 53.8% due to the Bulls going 10 for 21 from three point land.  These numbers were both out of line with what the Heat typically allow and what the Bulls typically shoot.  In that sense, this could be an outlier.  On the other hand, the Bulls recovered 19 of their 49 misses an turned it over only 9 times in the 86 possessions.  This meant that in a slow-ass 86 possession game, the Bulls got 87 shots off, a rate which no other team in the league did this year.  As Spoelstra said, it was a hustle problem, a quantity problem.

The Bulls with their frontcourt athleticism and depth crushed Miami in the shot generation department, while doing a good job taking care of the ball.  That sort of quantity advantage is necessary to offset the Heat’s advantage defending the shots that are taken.  However in the long run, will the Bulls edge on the offensive glass be THIS bad?  Miami normally protects its backboard well.  The Bulls do not turn the ball over this rarely normally, and they do not shoot the three this well.  Miami is still poised to have the edge in the matchup, but the Bulls have to be encouraged by how they did in their strength areas.  EDGE: Heat

Two Keys to the Series:

  1. Heat: They have the two best players in the world (or at least the two best wings).  Both were mediocre in the first game, and Luol Deng against LeBron will be a big key.  If the games are close and execution related, the Heat HAVE to feel good that they can run two man game with them.  In the playoffs the top of the depth chart matters more than the bottom.  IF Chris Bosh fills his 3rd man role, the Heat’s top end guys are still 3 of the 4 best players on the floor.
  2. Bulls: It is all about quantity.  It is about preventing shots, generating shots.  They win with Derrick Rose, yes, but also phenomenal bench play, especially defensively.  Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and the ever present Luol Deng (who just plays every minute) have been nightmares to score on.  The Bulls will not outshoot Miami, but they can outgenerate Miami like they did in Game 1.  If they manage the turnovers like they did in Gamer 1, they are going to give themselves a ton of chances to win.

These teams are very close, and in a close series I lean towards the team with the best player.  However the Bulls have very serious edges here, and my pick of Heat in 6 is very very reluctant.

2011 NBA Power Rankings – Week 11

A-ha!  Finally caught up.  Once the photos and narrative of the India experience are culled, I am sure they will sneak onto these pages.  In the meantime, what has happened in the NBA?  The methodology, as always, is here:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Heat 30 9 104.064 (2) 94.12 (3) 1.795 1.303 (25) 13.042
2 Spurs 31 6 104.712 (1) 96.709 (7) 1.419 1.947 (13) 11.368
3 Celtics 28 9 101.167 (11) 93.903 (2) 1.703 1.93 (15) 10.897
4 Magic 25 12 101.171 (10) 95.153 (5) 1.608 1.599 (22) 9.225
5 Lakers 27 11 103.284 (5) 96.884 (9) 1.75 0.638 (29) 8.788
6 Bulls 25 12 98.64 (17) 92.648 (1) 1.608 1.168 (26) 8.767
7 Mavericks 26 10 101.474 (9) 96.962 (10) 1.361 2.657 (2) 8.53
8 Hornets 22 16 97.98 (19) 95.679 (6) 1.75 2.307 (5) 6.357
9 Hawks 25 14 100.608 (13) 96.982 (11) 1.885 0.64 (28) 6.151
10 Thunder 25 13 101.68 (8) 99.538 (17) 1.658 1.856 (16) 5.657
11 Knicks 21 15 103.321 (3) 101.22 (21) 1.847 1.501 (24) 5.449
12 Jazz 25 13 100.923 (12) 99.149 (16) 1.658 1.852 (17) 5.285
13 Blazers 20 18 99.23 (15) 98.477 (14) 2.026 2.042 (10) 4.821
14 Nuggets 20 16 102.639 (6) 101.843 (24) 1.653 1.957 (12) 4.406
15 Sixers 15 22 98.104 (18) 97.744 (12) 1.986 1.6 (21) 3.947
16 Rockets 17 21 101.814 (7) 101.331 (23) 1.934 1.514 (23) 3.93
17 Bucks 14 21 93.192 (30) 95.099 (4) 1.9 3.434 (1) 3.426
18 Grizzlies 17 21 97.302 (20) 98.514 (15) 1.934 1.776 (19) 2.498
19 Suns 15 20 103.299 (4) 105.268 (30) 1.7 2.4 (3) 2.131
20 Pacers 14 20 94.205 (27) 96.711 (8) 1.647 2.013 (11) 1.154
21 Warriors 15 22 99.205 (16) 102.923 (27) 2.081 2.315 (4) 0.678
22 Clippers 12 24 96.875 (23) 100.696 (18) 1.361 1.823 (18) -0.637
23 Bobcats 14 21 95.035 (24) 97.998 (13) 1.6 0.717 (27) -0.645
24 Raptors 13 24 99.575 (14) 104.175 (29) 1.797 1.937 (14) -0.866
25 Pistons 12 25 97.111 (22) 102.353 (25) 1.892 2.125 (7) -1.225
26 Timberwolves 9 29 97.272 (21) 102.901 (26) 1.934 2.076 (9) -1.619
27 Wizards 9 26 94.405 (26) 100.986 (19) 1.8 2.251 (6) -2.53
28 Nets 10 27 93.996 (28) 101.274 (22) 1.892 2.087 (8) -3.299
29 Kings 8 26 94.906 (25) 101.124 (20) 1.338 0.459 (30) -4.421
30 Cavaliers 8 29 93.745 (29) 103.858 (28) 1.892 1.733 (20) -6.489

The Celtics, with their injury issues and post-Christmas letdown have slipped, and suddenly the Heat (who honestly are two points short of a 25 game winning streak or something) look like your clear #1.  I wish I had more insight, but still trying to figure out what happened on this hemisphere the last two weeks!

2011 NBA Power Rankings – Week 1

Here we are, the first rankings of the year, after 1 week of action.  The method has tweaked a little this year, so here is what you need to know.

Offense: (Points per possession x League Average Possessions per game) = the points the team scores in an average speed game

Defense: the points a team allows in an average speed game adjusted to account for free throws, since a team defense should not receive credit for the ability of their opponents to shoot freebies.

Road: 3.5 points is the assumed home court advantage, so over an 82 game season this number should be 1.75 (half the games played on the road).  This measures on a 0-3.5 scale how “road heavy” a team’s schedule is.

SOS: The possession-normalized scoring margin of a team’s opponents when not playing that team.

Rating: Offense – Defense + Road + SOS

So, with that out of the way, how did Week 1 go?

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Heat 3 1 100.764 (13) 87.714 (2) 2.625 7.105 (6) 22.78
2 Nuggets 2 1 102.524 (8) 93.83 (4) 2.333 4.432 (12) 15.459
3 Lakers 3 0 105.416 (5) 96.359 (11) 1.167 5.161 (9) 15.384
4 Hornets 3 0 101.312 (10) 96.014 (10) 1.167 8.579 (4) 15.044
5 Grizzlies 2 1 96.563 (22) 95.151 (7) 1.167 11.273 (1) 13.851
6 Magic 1 1 92.526 (27) 90.833 (3) 1.75 9.253 (3) 12.697
7 Mavericks 2 1 100.504 (14) 86.984 (1) 1.167 -4.57 (28) 10.117
8 Bulls 2 1 101.293 (11) 96.43 (12) 1.167 2.616 (14) 8.646
9 Knicks 1 2 97.334 (20) 97.829 (13) 2.333 6.521 (8) 8.359
10 Suns 1 2 104.33 (6) 106.081 (27) 2.333 6.537 (7) 7.119
11 Rockets 0 3 103.533 (7) 106.733 (29) 2.333 7.908 (5) 7.041
12 Celtics 2 1 95.031 (23) 94.564 (5) 1.167 4.846 (11) 6.48
13 Blazers 3 1 105.819 (4) 103.264 (23) 2.625 0.211 (17) 5.391
14 Sixers 0 3 93.242 (26) 100.078 (17) 1.167 9.36 (2) 3.691
15 Raptors 1 2 99.01 (17) 95.331 (8) 1.167 -1.549 (20) 3.297
16 Warriors 2 1 106.8 (2) 102.871 (21) 1.167 -1.967 (21) 3.128
17 Hawks 3 0 107.66 (1) 99.232 (15) 2.333 -9.148 (30) 1.614
18 Jazz 1 2 97.444 (19) 100.548 (18) 2.333 1.16 (15) 0.389
19 Spurs 2 1 101.155 (12) 98.696 (14) 1.167 -3.395 (26) 0.231
20 Nets 2 1 99.754 (15) 105.933 (26) 0 4.883 (10) -1.296
21 Bucks 1 2 94.3 (24) 95.777 (9) 2.333 -2.242 (22) -1.386
22 Timberwolves 1 2 92.15 (28) 94.884 (6) 1.167 0.113 (18) -1.454
23 Kings 3 1 106.536 (3) 107.93 (30) 2.625 -4.406 (27) -3.174
24 Pistons 0 3 97.991 (18) 101.619 (19) 2.333 -2.35 (23) -3.645
25 Pacers 2 1 102.068 (9) 103.077 (22) 2.333 -5.317 (29) -3.992
26 Thunder 2 1 99.695 (16) 102.654 (20) 1.167 -2.545 (24) -4.337
27 Bobcats 0 3 97.306 (21) 106.555 (28) 2.333 1.141 (16) -5.775
28 Cavaliers 1 2 93.644 (25) 100.011 (16) 1.167 -0.634 (19) -5.835
29 Clippers 0 4 88.302 (30) 104.543 (25) 0.875 3.475 (13) -11.892
30 Wizards 0 2 88.455 (29) 104.519 (24) 3.5 -3.312 (25) -15.877

Some observations from Week 1:

  • The Heat’s defense has been sensational.  Considering that they have not allowed 90 points yet, and three of those opponents (Nets, Celtics, Magic) have the size down low to expose an alleged vulnerability, this is a bad bad sign for the rest of the league.  If the offense gets figured out, this could be as good as they had dreamed.
  • Note the very skewed strength of schedules.  This will obviously compress as the season goes on.
  • The Suns are a paltry 20th in the league in pace so far, and the Rockets are 2nd?  This is early season for you.
  • A new feature we’ll have here, now that the Clippers are off to such a horrible start is the Baron Davis watch.  I wondered if having a star talent like Blake Griffin would get Baron Davis to play like the guy who is such a nightmare of skills.  Alas, through 3 games (missing one with a sore knee) Davis is 1-9 from three point land.  Hooray self sabotage!

2011 NBA Preview – The Dirty Dozen

Six hours and 10 minutes to go before the store opens for the 2011 season.  12 teams left to countdown.  At this point, we are left with all teams that have a more than theoretical chance to win it all, although certainly a lot has to go right for some of the entries.  The flotsam, is passed:

12. Houston Rockets (16th overall in 2010, 19th offense, 17th defense)

Yao is back, albeit in a highly controlled role.  Kevin Martin, almost as brittle, gives them the best shooting guard they’ve had since Tracy McGrady was still alive.  Last year Rick Adelman used smoke and mirrors to keep them in the playoffs.  Luis Scola is a very good complimentary player – they have a very deep lineup.  Really, this is a team that could make a huge run, if Yao can hold up and if he can become a serious contributor late in the season.  Big ifs, so I will leave them here out of respect for Adelman and the talent Darryl Morey has assembled.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Yao and Kevin Martin give them the dynamic duo – and a healthy dynamic duo at that.

11. Milwaukee Bucks (15th overall in 2010, 23rd offense, 3rd defense)

They won last year with Brandon Jennings youth, Andrew Bogut making a mini-Leap, and the 3rd best defense in the league.  In particular, they forced turnovers at a high rate while being the best team in the league at not committing fouls.  This elevated them from their good but not awesome first shot defense into elite territory.  But their 23rd ranked offense needs to improve.  Enter Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, offensively gifted forwards.  Chris Douglas-Roberts gives some wing options to that end.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Brandon Jennings is as good as his first season hinted, Andrew Bogut is healthy, their defense stays strong while Maggette, one of the game’s most efficient scorers, can bring their offense up.

10. Chicago Bulls (18th overall in 2010, 28th offense, 11th defense)

He will not be healthy to start the season, but Carlos Boozer portends to give the Bulls the low post scorer they have yearned for.  With him and Joakim Noah, they now have a frontcourt to compete with the East’s best.  Derrick Rose is growing, and his work for Team USA portended well.  This was a bad offensive team, particularly deficient at just shooting the ball.  Carlos Boozer will help this along – even if the Bulls were aiming for a bigger prize.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Their defense is as solid as it was by the end of last year, Derrick Rose makes the leap and Carlos Boozer provides that post presence they need to win playoff games.

9. Dallas Mavericks (12th overall in 2010, 10th offense, 12th defense)

It feels like we could write the same blurb about this team for the last 5 years.  Dirk is a GREAT player, and his cast is solid but old.  They are coached well largely, though it has not always manifested in the playoffs.  It feels like this lineup has a finite amount of time together.  All of these sentences applied in 2007, 2008 and apply today.  Rodrique Beaubois could be a terrific spark as a combo guard, and Tyson Chandler is a terrific pickup as a defensive big and usable contract.  But really where is the upside here?

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Dirk is 2006-2007 Dirk, Caron Butler is 2008 Caron Butler and Jason Kidd in 2003 Jason Kidd.  Honestly this seems like a stuck outfit.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder (6th overall in 2010, 11th offense, 7th defense)

What???  America’s sweethearts are all the way down here?  Let’s be real.  They were abnormally healthy a year ago.  They play in a brutal division.  The question is whether they make the elite leap now or next year.  Honestly, this is guessing.  Durant is going to be an MVP favorite as he should be, and Russell Westbrook is fringe all-NBA.  That is real.  They will be better than they were last year, but it might not reflect in the standings.  This is a fascinating division.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Durant and the kiddies are all growns up!

7.  Portland TrailBlazers (11th overall in 2010, 7th offense, 13th defense)

This is a very interesting team.  The Thunder burst into our consciousness last season.  The Blazers, with a similar assemblage of talent and growth curve, suffered a comically rash level of injury yet won 50 games.  They have the sheer amount of size to give the Lakers trouble – the length the Jazz lacked.  However, is the health just a glitch or a real problem?  They spent too much money on Wesley Matthews, although he is a fit for what they want to do.  This might be the season for them to make The Leap.  Andre Miller is a good trade asset, as he and Roy are a poor basketball fit.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Greg Oden gets healthy and develops.  Brandon Roy stays healthy.  The young talent just grows up.

6. Utah Jazz (5th overall in 2010, 8th offense, 10th defense)

The Jazz cannot beat the Lakers.  They were not long enough last year.  They aren’t long enough now.  They lost Boozer, but fleeced Minnesota for Al Jefferson who is a more than capable replacement.  They lost Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver, but Gordon Hayward might be better than either by the end of the season.  Deron Williams is a great PG and Jerry Sloan is a great coach.  This team cannot beat the Lakers but they can beat anybody else.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The Lakers suffer a fatal incommunicable illness.

5. San Antonio Spurs (4th overall in 2010, 9th offense, 9th defense)

The Spurs are on the downside.  But Manu Ginobli had a career year of sorts, and Tony Parker is playing for a contract.  Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair give them a real chance to keep Duncan’s minutes even more controlled.  The pieces are there for another big run – though it will take some help.  After all, they finished 4th last year!  The problem though is that their defense has slipped from the elite levels of their title years, and their offense is a little less efficient than it used to be.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Duncan, Ginobli and Parker go in the wayback machine a little bit … and their defense gets back towards the 2007 standard.

4. Miami Heat (13th overall in 2010, 18th offense, 4th defense)

Obviously they will be better – I don’t think we need to go over why.  In fact on the wing they will be magical, and Chris Bosh is an elite big, although not a great strength big.  They have a lot of bigs – but very little quality outside of Bosh, though Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony are good team sorts.  They will have trouble defending elite size, and teams that have that can beat them in a short series.  They might win the regular season derby – but teams that can pound them inside could very well beat them.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They can defend real size.

3. Orlando Magic (1st overall in 2010, 2nd offense, 1st defense)

HERE is real size.  The Magic are a great defensive team.  Their depth is spectacular with a second five (Duhon, Anderson, Bass, Gortat, Williams) that could win 20 game in the NBA.  Their size on the wings can at least present some resistance against the Heat’s wing elegance.  If a team cannot handle Dwight Howard with single coverage, that opens up their 3 point attack and they become very very hard to stop.  But if Howard is defended 1 on 1, look out.  They will be active looking for an impact guy via trade.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Dwight Howard becomes seriously unguardable.

2. Boston Celtics (9th overall in 2010, 12th offense, 6th defense)

The Celtics can guard Howard 1 on 1.  That has driven the Magic crazy matchup-wise.  The Celtics rank was low in 2010, but they took care to avoid injury and sacrified playoff positions.  But their defense is elite, and with Garnett being healthier, and all the size they signed in the offseason the Celtics have the chance to be much more rugged than they were last year.  Rondo made The Leap last year, this team just has to manage minutes and be strong.  They might not beat the Heat or Magic, but there is no reason to start with that assumption.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They win one more game.

Los Angeles Lakers (7th overall in 2010, 13th offense, 5th defense)

The Lakers won the title last year, with so much wrong.  Andrew Bynum was hurt so much (as usual), Derek Fisher was HORRIBLE at the point and Kobe Bryant was ailing.  Like the Celtics, the Lakers bet on health over wins in the second half of the year and it worked.  The West has a lot of good teams, but none remotely as good.  This breaks my heart to type, I cannot emphasize enough.  No team can match up with so many styles, and the length they have up front makes them an elite team.  They are a rugged strength team and it is hard to envision a team overpowering them.  Witness the Celtics’ moves in the offseason – it was clearly with this in mind.


NFL Power Rankings – Week 2

(unrelated note: two more mobile feasts added to the food truck page)

Well, if we can come up with a model to rank college football teams, might as well do the same with the NFL.  The nice thing with the NFL is 1) two games in the books for everyone so strength of schedule numbers are cleaner and 2) no neutral site games to worry about aside from the Halloween 49ers-Broncos game in London.  With 2 weeks of datapoints in the books, where do we shake down?

Rank Team W L T Margin Sched Rtg SOS Rank
1 Steelers 2 0 0 36.75 28 1
2 Falcons 1 1 0 23.75 9.5 7
3 Texans 2 0 0 23.25 15 2
4 Packers 2 0 0 19.5 0.75 20
5 Chiefs 2 0 0 19 12.75 3
6 Colts 1 1 0 18.5 9.75 6
7 Chargers 1 1 0 17 6.25 11
8 Jets 1 1 0 12.75 6.25 11
9 Titans 1 1 0 12.5 4 13
10 Eagles 1 1 0 12.5 12.75 3
11 Browns 0 2 0 11 11.75 5
12 Broncos 1 1 0 8.5 1.75 15
13 Bears 2 0 0 5 -2.75 22
14 Vikings 0 2 0 4.75 7.5 9
15 Bucs 2 0 0 4 -5.75 26
16 Patriots 1 1 0 3.75 2 14
17 Ravens 1 1 0 3.25 1.75 15
18 Redskins 1 1 0 3 1.5 18
19 Seahawks 1 1 0 2.5 -3.25 24
20 Jaguars 1 1 0 -0.5 6.75 10
21 Lions 0 2 0 -0.5 1.75 15
22 Cowboys 0 2 0 -3.75 1 19
23 Dolphins 2 0 0 -4.5 -12.5 30
24 Bills 0 2 0 -5.25 9 8
25 Bengals 1 1 0 -5.75 -3 23
26 Saints 2 0 0 -7 -12.75 31
27 Cardinals 1 1 0 -11.375 -0.5 21
28 Giants 1 1 0 -13.5 -9.75 29
29 Raiders 1 1 0 -15.75 -6 27
30 49ers 0 2 0 -16.5 -4.25 25
31 Panthers 0 2 0 -20 -8.75 28
32 Rams 0 2 0 -26.625 -25.375 32

A few thoughts:

  • The methodology is the same as for college football.  As such, the Steelers being at the top is not a surprise.  Two solid wins over teams that kicked the tar out of its other opponent.  The Rams being the worst is a mild surprise given how pathetic the Bills have actually played compared to the Rams decent results.  But the Rams have played a couple of lousy teams and have little to show for it.
  • The two 0-2 teams with positive rankings are the Vikings and Browns.  The Browns seem a bit unsustainable, only because I am not sure the results of Kansas City and Tampa in the future will buoy the Browns so.  The Vikings however did play two good teams New Orleans and Miami (who I sense might be punching above their 23rd rank weight).
  • The Packers schedule is light like the Dolphins I suppose, but the Packers have crushed it so far – the Dolphins have been very impressive defensively, but it is hard to keep winning 15-10 games.

The LeBachelor

It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him.

Roger Ebert on Dice Rules

He could have just as easily had been describing LeBron James’ portrayal of LeBron James in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “LeBron James: Decision”.  Wait?  It’s not a 30 for 30?  My bad.  I will admit – I watched.  As an NBA fan and a self proclaimed pop culture aficionado, how could I not?  Besides getting the news story – that he is going to the Heat, making them the favorites in the East even if they get 9 cab drivers to occupy the remaining roster spots – the special was reality TV at its worst and most inevitable.

Indeed, this could not have done more to hurt James’ image than an expose by somebody who despised him.  That this production was devised by his management team and midwifed by ESPN makes it utterly flabbergasting.  If the World Cup was ESPN at its best, this is the Worldwide Leader might have been rock bottom.  Given that they were the network behind “Who’s Hot?” and Dick Vitale’s xenophobic rants on the NBA draftcast, that’s saying something.

Now, the first thing TS mentioned to me was that all he wants to do is win – isn’t that like other ath-a-letes?  After all, as a Celtics fan, isn’t this the same as what happened in 2008 when the Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?  If one wants to make that argument, I can see it to a degree.  However, Kevin Garnett was one of the 5 best players of the 2000s, and was on a team that was below .500.  So was Ray Allen and Pierce.  They were in pretty horrendous situations – and all past their primes.  The strategy employed by Boston was VERY high risk – that it has gotten a title and a runner up is the high end outcome.  On the other hand, LeBron, at the height of his powers, is leaving a contender (for all the bashing the Cavaliers deservedly get as an organization, this team won 128 games in 2 seasons and only lost to teams that were arguably at least as good as they were) to form a super team.  Bill Simmons posited that this was all decided as early as 2007.  “A few weeks after the 2008 Summer Olympics, Someone Who Knows Things told me the following rumor: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul became such good friends during the 2007 Olympic trials, and then during their 2008 Olympics excursion in Beijing, that they actually made a pact in China to play together.”  In other words, the best basketball player in the world might be a fifteen year old girl.  Futhermore, where is the urge to beat the best?  At their peak, I reckon Bird wanted to beat Magic, not join him.  This whole thing reveals the sort of competitor he actually is.  In other words – not what we thought.

But enough of the competitive ramifications – the Heat will be good, period.  What one marvels at is the utter tone deafness of LeBron’s team during the entire run.  For instance, there is the very real possibility that LeBron has been sitting on this news for a long time.  But instead of a presscon and full paged ad to Cleveland fans, like a normal player might do (ok, maybe even a tweet) – LeBron’s team put together a one hour show – hired noted hack Jim Gray to interview him, and sold it to ESPN.  ESPN of course, got exactly what it wanted.  He set it at the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls Club – the noted trick of surrounding him with kids so no really inflammatory questions can be asked (not that Gray, on LeBron’s payroll, would do that) – leaving open the possibility of Vince McMahon showing up.

But alas no Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Brett Michaels or any other possibility of actual entertainment or insight followed.  The studio show had league partner Stuart Scott and the ABC NBA crew of John Barry, Wilbon etc.  The possibility of asking him why he chose a national TV forum to publicly urinate on the people of Cleveland was basically zero.  They made empty headed happy talk – they had correspondents at all the relvant NBA cities.  I remember thinking how absurd the depiction of the chase for Jesus Shuttlesworth was in He Got Game – it turns out that Spike Lee was 12 years too early.

Anyway then, Jim Gray started with his questions – idiotic small talk, and it took a FULL 25 MINUTES before LeBron made the announcement.  He confessed he did not tell any of the other pursuing teams until now.  He announced his departure “I am taking my skills to South Beach” and that was that – except there were 30 more minutes of air time to fill.  The only satisfactory moment was his uncomfortable look throughout the interview and especially at a burning jersey shown to him from Cleveland.

Now, Cleveland fans should not be burning jerseys, and Dan Gilbert is a spectacular hypocrite.  After all LeBron changed basketball teams – he didn’t flood Lake Erie with crude oil or anything.  He has the right to change employers – as we all do.  HOWEVER, the choice to go on national television and publicly embarass his fans by leaving them (in other words, he turned heel, he broke up on the jumbotron … that is a bit less forgiveable.  How did his team think it was a good idea?  It was the greatest emasculation a city’s sports fans could ever have – and for no reason.  What was LeBron thinking?  We’ll never know.

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, LeBron Today

FINALLY, some news!

Orlando Magic sign Chris Duhon for 4 years, $15 million: Chris Duhon once had a 20 assist game.  He actually did a fairly good job running the Knicks D’Antoni attack until the sheer volume of minutes killed him.  He is not a starter for a good NBA team – but can he be a backup for a great one?  Absolutely.  He defends, he is not a penetrator – and while he is only a league average 3-point shooter, he can make it enough to space the floor the way the Magic want.  At the price, a totally reasonable signing – though the years are more than I would give a backup.

Boston Celtics re-sign Ray Allen for 2 years, $20 million: This deal puts Ray and KG on the same contract schedule.  When the Celtics re-signed Paul Pierce, they declared they would ride these guys out as long as is feasible.  While there is some risk there – honestly it was not a bad option.  They could have let Pierce and Allen walk and be under the cap and in the position to get a big name – but there was no guarantee it would work.  If Chicago – which offered a great scenario for the Big 3 free agents – end up with none of them, how can Boston?  I guess people are afraid of the cold.  As such, Ray Allen is paid well reasonably here – and the years are there.  The 2nd year is his option.

Chicago Bulls sign Carlos Boozer for 5 years, $80 million: Boozer has a history of missed games.  That is a problem.  If he is injured through the life of this contract – don’t say I didn’t warn you.  That said, in THIS insane market, the Bulls got a screaming bargain – if you just look at productivity and not durability.  The Bulls have needed a post scorer – they have one.  They needed someone who can work a pick and roll with a dynamic point guard – they have one.  Boozer looked bad against the Lakers because of his lack of length – but there are 28 other teams in the league where it is not such a latent problem.  The Bulls with a couple more smaller moves could set up to be a Top 4 team in the East.

Miami Heat sign Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for some amount of American dollars: I was surprised they did not ride in on a tandem bicycle for their interview.  What sort of analysis is necessary here?  This is a great move for the Heat.  That said, without some heft on the bench – this is not enough to break into the Orlando-Boston tier in the East.  Right now it is a 2.5 person team.  Now with these guys they could attract some people to join them in tax free Florida – but they haven’t yet.  However, if they add that LeBron dude – all bets are off.

Now, as for what LeBron should do?  There was word of him going to the Heat – at this point it’s all speculation.  Frankly, I think for the league and for the sport – and for whatever his legacy is – it is probably the stupidest option:

  1. Dwayne Wade has already won a title.  Does LeBron need to ride his coattails in Miami to win another?  Does LeBron need to be a final piece to some other team’s puzzle?  I know I am being unfair, but that is the perception he will have to deal with.
  2. Was there really this clamoring for a dream team?  I mean these guys won a gold medal.  We know they are good.  The Chicago Bulls 72 win team was awe inspiring – but it was the culmination (largely) of a 10 year run.  The essential pieces stayed true – and were Bulls the entire time.  This is much more of a mercenary soldiers-for-hire sort of thing.  Not exactly inspiring.
  3. The Really Big Three set themselves up to be regarded like the 2003 Real Madrid side or any Chelsea football team of yore.  The pressure will be incalculable and perhaps the joy will be minimal.  Granted, the 2009 Yankees seemed to enjoy it – and the 2008 Boston Celtics were composed in a somewhat similar manner, but the Celtics were not sure if their moves would win a title.  This just does not seem like something a true competitor would do.  Indeed, Kobe’s legacy will be secure.

The special is being aired from the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls Club – near where the Knicks practice.  Is that a better indicator?  Maybe.  The Knicks make much more sense on a different level.  With Stoudemire as a #2, that is good enough to win a title with some smart filling in on the edges.  The Nets have enough young talent that LeBron could be the straw that stirs the drink.  Chicago has always been a great bet to turn it around quickly too.  Dallas would have been the most fun choice for him – but I am surprised neither side looked at each other harder.