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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: A New 20 Second Timeout Feature

How important are regular season NBA games? What does the outcome of a particular contest really mean? Usually at 20 Second Timeout I write an in depth post about a game that I either covered in person or watched in its entirety on TV. Of course, I can't see every game and sometimes I catch part of a game or some highlights of a game but I notice something about that game that I think is significant in some way. Without further ado, here are the scores, key stats and bottom line meaning of three of Saturday night's games:

The Score: Lakers 118, Wizards 102

The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant (39 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals, 14-26 field goal shooting, 2-5 three point shooting, 9-10 free throw shooting) outplayed Gilbert Arenas (37 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal, 9-29 field goal shooting, 3-15 three point shooting, 16-17 free throw shooting).

The Bottom Line: The last time these two teams met, Gilbert Arenas scored 60 points--including 15 in overtime--in a 147-141 Wizards win. Bryant said that Arenas' shot selection indicates that the self proclaimed Agent Zero "doesn't seem to have much of a conscience," which caused some critics to assert that Bryant is the last person who should be criticizing someone else's shot selection. I took Bryant's remarks at face value, looked at the numbers and concluded that Arenas is indeed a gunner--in both the good and negative senses of that word; he is a fearless, high volume offensive player but he also takes a lot of bad, low percentage shots. Some 20 Second Timeout readers asserted that since Arenas shoots a good three point percentage that his low overall field goal percentage and high number of three point attempts should be excused but I responded that if Arenas shoots 6-9 from three point range in one playoff game and 1-9 in the next then the Wizards will go 1-1 at best in those games despite the fact that his three point percentage would be .389. Having your point guard jacking up eight or nine three pointers a game--particularly on a team that is not good defensively anyway and has poor court balance--is not a formula for postseason success. Look again at the numbers: some of the categories are close, but Bryant outdid Arenas in every single area and his team won by 16 points in regulation. So, in the two Lakers-Wizards games this season, the Wizards won once in overtime when Arenas hit a much higher percentage of his shots than normal (and shot a very high number of free throws) and then got routed at home when Arenas shot 3-15 from three point range.

Postscript: Kobe's overall numbers in the two games: 42 ppg, 7 rpg, 8 apg, 29-50 field goal shooting (.580), 9-16 three point shooting (.563), 17-20 free throw shooting (.850). Agent Zero's overall numbers in the two games: 48.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6 apg, 26-61 field goal shooting (.426), 8-27 three point shooting (.296), 37-44 free throw shooting (.841).

Second Postscript: The most amazing thing about all of this is that I know, with near 100% certainty, that someone will look at the above numbers--in which Kobe outperformed Arenas in every category except total points--and conclude that Arenas is equal to or better than Kobe. In the discussion here about whether or not Gilbert is a gunner I referred to regression to the mean, a fancy way of saying that all of the extra shots that Arenas hit in his 60 point game he will miss in subsequent games; look at how Arenas' field goal percentage plummeted to its normal level around .430 after just one more game against the Lakers.

The Score: Jazz 108, Suns 105

The Key Stat: The Suns are now 1-7 against the other top teams in the West (Dallas, San Antonio, Utah and the L.A. Lakers)--and 36-3 versus the rest of the league.

The Bottom Line: To win a championship, the Suns will have to beat at least one of the four Western Conference teams that they have struggled against this year and then, if they pull that off, beat the best Eastern Conference team in the NBA Finals. Yes, the Suns are fun to watch and their twin double-digit winning streaks this year are very impressive but being nearly perfect against the weaker teams does not necessarily prove one's ability to beat the elite teams. In Saturday's game the Jazz did not even have the services of All-Star Carlos Boozer, their best player. The Suns will win likely win 60+ games this year but may not even make it back to the Western Conference Finals.

The Score: Heat 117, Bucks 98

The Key Stat: Dwyane Wade (32 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals), Shaquille O'Neal (20 points, 8-11 field goal shooting in 20 foul plagued minutes) and Jason Kapono (career-high 28 points, 6-7 three point shooting) led the Miami attack.

The Bottom Line: I believe that it was the comedian Denis Leary who used to have a commercial with the tag line "I think you hear me coming and I think I'm coming in." That is a good slogan for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Who exactly should scare Miami? Washington, with Arenas misfiring three pointers from all angles, a leaky defense and no hope of guarding Shaq? Uh, no, I don't think so. Detroit? I don't like to be negative, so how can I put this delicately? When--I said "when," not "if"--Pat Riley returns, do you suspect that a coaching matchup with Flip Saunders worries him? How about facing a Pistons' defense that lacks Ben Wallace as an anchor? Cleveland? Yes, LeBron James can take over a playoff series but Wade can match him and Shaq will tip the scales--pun intended--in the Heat's favor. Chicago? Now we're getting warmer. The Bulls are the one Eastern Conference team that I think could beat a full strength Heat squad in a playoff series; Chicago made a pretty good run at Miami last year without Ben Wallace. With Big Ben, they will not have to double team Shaq as much. Still, Wade showed last year how one superstar can take over a playoff series. Chicago does not have that kind of player, while Miami not only has Wade but also Shaq, who may no longer be able to dominate an entire series but can certainly still dominate a game and still commands double teams that open up the court for Wade, Kapono and the rest of the Heat.

The scary thing about the Heat for everyone else in the East is that Miami could actually be better in this year's postseason than they were last year when they won the championship. For one thing, the Heat already know that they can win a title with this group, so any pressure or doubt relating to that issue is no longer present. Also, Kapono has emerged as a dead-eye three point shooter who even can make some off the dribble shots now; it's like Miami added a 6-8 Steve Kerr, only Kapono is more mobile and is an above average individual defender. With Wade attacking the basket, Shaq anchoring the paint and Kapono firing from deep, how exactly is a team supposed to guard the Heat? Granted, Shaq's old wheels could fall off at any point and Wade always seems to be one tumble away from a serious injury but if health does not bring down the Heat they may make a return trip to the Finals. Yes, Miami is currently the eighth seeded team in the East but they are also only 5.5 games behind the Wizards with 35 games to go. We'll find out if Agent Zero's hibachi can reach the same temperature that the Wade-Shaq Heat can.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:02 AM



At Sunday, February 04, 2007 4:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this new format, lots of insight here.

At Sunday, February 04, 2007 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Arenas has actually lost track of the main goal - of winning a championship, and his making everything personal, is going to irk his teammates sooner than later.

Jamal Crawford does not go to the line as much, but otherwise I dont see many differences between him and Arenas. Arenas takes more shots and hence is seen as a more consistent scorer than Jamal, thats all..

At Sunday, February 04, 2007 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That part about Kobe's comments on Arenas' game is spot on.

At Sunday, February 04, 2007 5:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Phoenix wants anyone to take them seriously as a title contender and not just a run and gun built for the regular season, they are going to have to beat a top team. Their team needs to have the experience of beating the top teams as a mental edge in the playoffs. I gurantee that every single Suns player is aware of that stat.

Smush did a good job against Arenas last night as well as shooting 8-16. He is quickly being identified as a barometer for Laker success. He must play well for them to take the next step or this could be his last season in the Forum Blue and Gold.

Kapono has been a bright spot for the Heat in their nightmare first half. Shaq and Atwoine Walker will have to be bigger contributors if the Heat want to repeat. Wade has been playing basketball non-stop and will break down physically if he has to carry the load through the rest of the season.


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