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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thoughts and Observations About the Christmas Day Quintupleheader

I watched every minute of the NBA's Christmas Day quintupleheader; here are some thoughts and observations about the 10 teams that participated in the most hyped day of the league's regular season:

Game One: New York Knicks 103, Chicago Bulls 95

I am not quite sure yet how good the Knicks really are or how good they will be by the end of the season but they are definitely better than I thought that they would be. Wilson Chandler (who was drafted by the man Knicks' fans love to hate, Isiah Thomas) and Landry Fields have been more productive than I expected but clearly the big surprise is Raymond Felton, a solid five year starter for Charlotte who was completely undressed by Jameer Nelson in last season's playoffs; Felton is averaging career highs across the board as the floor general leading Coach Mike D'Antoni's famous "seven seconds or less" offense. When D'Antoni coached in Phoenix he used to joke that he was going to retire when Steve Nash did so that no one would ever be able to figure out if his offense had made Nash or if Nash had made his offense--but now that D'Antoni has been with the Knicks for three seasons the picture is becoming clearer: D'Antoni's freewheeling offensive style has yet to produce a championship (or even an NBA Finals appearance) but it obviously pads the numbers of point guards who run it: Nash went from being an All-Star to being a two-time MVP, journeyman Chris Duhon posted career-high scoring and assists averages in 2009 and now Felton has transformed from a solid starter to possibly an All-Star. The deeper question is whether D'Antoni is making those players better, revealing how good those players were all along or simply augmenting their stats somewhat artificially--and there may be a bit of truth to each of those answers.

However, one theory that we can permanently put to rest is the ludicrous contention that Steve Nash was primarily responsible for Amare Stoudemire's productivity. Stoudemire sans Nash is playing as well as he ever has at both ends of the court. He actually seems a lot more comfortable in the "alpha dog" role than Pau Gasol ever did in Memphis or than Chris Bosh ever did in Toronto, though the final verdict on that score cannot be rendered until we see how Stoudemire performs if/when the Knicks make the playoffs.

Anyone who takes player analysis seriously has to really question just how meaningful the assist statistic is, particularly if that statistic is taken out of the context of watching players perform. Gaudy assist totals are cited as proof that point guards like Nash and others "make their teammates better" but Dirk Nowitkzi had his greatest individual and team success after Nash left Dallas for Phoenix and the early returns certainly suggest that Nash and the Suns miss Stoudemire more than he misses them. What would the "advanced statistics" and boxscore numbers of point guards like Nash, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo look like if they did not receive assists for passing to players who make three tough moves before finally scoring? Inflated assist numbers--and the inflated emphasis on that statistic both by itself and also in "advanced" formulas used to calculate player ratings--have transformed a lot of point guards into purported MVP candidates over the past few seasons, but the only "name" point guards who have won championships in the past decade are Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker; Billups literally had an All-Star cast surrounding him, while Parker's Spurs were anchored by Tim Duncan's post presence in addition to having Manu Ginobili as an All-Star wing. Rondo was not a "name" point guard when the Celtics won the 2008 championship but he has been mentioned as a fringe MVP candidate this season mainly because he is averaging nearly 14 apg.

The Chicago Bulls were without the services of Joakim Noah, so this game was not a fair barometer of how good either team really is at full strength. I like Derrick Rose a lot but I think that he shoots the ball a bit too much for a point guard, particularly on a team that has other players who can score; Rose needs to improve his shot selection a bit and he also needs to get better at finishing shots in the paint that aren't dunks--he misses more layups and floaters than he should.

Game Two: Orlando Magic 86, Boston Celtics 78

This was the strangest game of the day by far--the Celtics dominated the Magic for virtually the entire game yet almost lost by double digits. Orlando jumped out to a 13-0 lead but then Boston outscored Orlando 71-49 before collapsing in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter. The superficial story line that many people will run with is that the "new look" Magic triumphed but two of the three new Magic who played in the game were awful: Jason Richardson shot 2-8 from the field and scored five points in 29 minutes as the starting shooting guard, while Gilbert Arenas shot 2-9 from the field and scored five points in 25 minutes coming off of the bench. Hedo Turkoglu--an "old/new" member of the team--had a very solid game (16 points, four rebounds, four assists, 6-10 field goal shooting) and he posted an eye-popping +30 plus/minus number but Brandon Bass led the team in scoring (21 points) and Jameer Nelson recovered from a bad shooting performance to pour in 10 points in the final 2:31, including the go-ahead three pointer and four clinching free throws. Dwight Howard's offense was just a rumor but he dominated the paint at both ends of the court, leading both teams in rebounds (11) and blocked shots (five).

The Magic make a lot of bad decisions at both ends of the court but they also have a ton of offensive firepower--when they are hitting their shots they can be quite dangerous (witness the opening and closing acts of this game) but they can also look awful for extended periods when they are not draining three pointers in transition. Their decision making may get better once they have some time to get the new guys fully acclimated but despite the buzz generated by this win and their previous win against San Antonio I still am not convinced that the Magic can beat the Celtics in a seven game series. The Celtics outplayed the Magic for roughly 40 out of 48 minutes and if that trend holds then it would be very difficult for the Magic to win four games out of seven against them in the playoffs.

The Celtics had won 14 straight games prior to losing to the Magic but the Celtics were without the services of two key players--starting point guard Rajon Rondo (who some have called their most valuable player, if not the league MVP) and starting center Kendrick Perkins, who has been out of the lineup since tearing up his knee during the 2010 NBA Finals. Granted, the Celtics have been doing just fine without those guys but that does not mean that those two players would not have possibly changed the dynamics of this particular contest.

Game Three: Miami Heat 96, L.A. Lakers 80

The much anticipated duel pitting the two-time defending champions against the most hyped team that had yet to win a meaningful game turned into a convincing rout for the Miami Heat. You can rest assured that more nonsense will be written and said about this 1/82nd portion of the regular season than about any other 48 minutes of basketball played between November and April but that does not mean that this game lacked significance. The main story here is that this game both reminded the world why LeBron James deserved the previous two regular season MVPs and also proved that it is ridiculous to say that he did not quit versus Boston in the 2010 playoffs; the James that we saw versus the Lakers dominated statistically (27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, 8-14 field goal shooting, 5-6 three point shooting, 6-6 free throw shooting) but, even more importantly, he put his imprint on all aspects of the game: he made his presence felt offensively, defensively and on the glass--and all you have to do is compare the active, energized, enthusiastic and efficient James who competed against the Lakers with the passive, lethargic, indifferent and inefficient James who disappeared versus the Celtics to realize just how great of a basketball tragedy we witnessed last spring. James could have led the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory over the Boston Celtics and likely could have led the Cavaliers to a championship (last year the Cavs whipped the Lakers just as convincingly on Christmas Day as the Heat did this year) but for whatever reason James quit.

However, no matter what you think of how James quit or what you think of how he handled the "Decision," James is once again showing that he is the best and most productive regular season player in the NBA. I am so sick of hearing about the "MVP of the week club"--every week a different player is mentioned as a potential MVP. That is why the league gives out a Player of the Week award; the MVP is supposed to go to the player who is the best over the course of the entire season. James started out a bit slowly this season (at least by his lofty standards) but he is back to his old self now and it is not surprising that his reemergence coincides with the Heat getting on track. One game does not make or break a player's MVP candidacy but the way that James has played overall combined with his dominant performance against the defending champions on their court establishes James as the MVP frontrunner until further notice.

That said, I have to object to Stuart Scott's ridiculous statement that LeBron James rose to the occasion in his team's three biggest games, which Scott identified as Miami-Cleveland, Miami-New York and Miami-L.A. Lakers. Miami-Cleveland was a game pitting a contending team with an overmatched team still trying to find its identity and the only reason that it was nationally televised was a ghoulish hope that Cleveland fans would riot or do something crazy; that game did not present a competitive challenge to James and the Heat, but they should send Christmas cards to the Cleveland fans for spewing all of the hatred that helped the Heat overcome their early season sluggishness and bond together against a common enemy. Miami-New York was another overhyped game, because it is far from clear that the Knicks are serious contenders--and the New York media are the only people who ever seriously believed that James was going to become a Knick. No, the biggest games of the year so far for James have been the two contests against Boston (two losses), two contests against Orlando (one win, one loss) and this game versus the Lakers; the results of those games were a mixed bag individually and collectively but overall James has emerged as the team's leader in scoring and assists and he is clearly the team's best player.

Some people may try to define this game as yet another chapter in the Kobe versus LeBron story but that is incorrect on two levels: one, the main plot of that story is still that Kobe has five championships and two Finals MVPs compared to LeBron's zero and zero and that Kobe has outdone LeBron in those departments 2-0 and 2-0 during the period that both players have been in the league; two, Kobe and LeBron rarely faced each other one on one. While LeBron James' overall dominance is the headline news from this game, the fascinating strategic sidebar is that the Heat borrowed Boston's defensive game plan versus the Lakers, swarming Bryant with multiple defenders and daring anyone else to make a shot; the only difference is that the Heat used speed and mobility to carry out this plan, while the Celtics rely on size and strength. Dwyane Wade could confidently body up to Bryant on the perimeter because he knew that if Bryant drove around him there would be help waiting (you don't have to trust me on that one--not only could you see this plainly if you watched the game, Wade said as much in the postgame press conference). Bryant reacted appropriately, firing pinpoint passes to his much ballyhooed big men Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but Gasol was nearly invisible while Odom was solid but hardly took full advantage of how much the defense was tilted toward Bryant. During the telecast, both Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy repeatedly mentioned that Bryant was making great passes and would have had even more assists if his teammates had made open shots (Bryant finished with 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds but he shot just 6-16 from the field). While the Heat successfully implemented an anti-Bryant game plan, the Lakers' defense was atrocious; as Jackson and Van Gundy emphasized, the Lakers played awful pick and roll defense, enabling the Heat to get open shots all over the court. The Heat big men set solid screens on Bryant that forced switches and the Laker bigs were almost always out of position.

Did Bryant have a great game? No, he shot poorly and was unable to take over for any extended stretch--but the way that the Heat tilted their defense in his direction should have led to an absolute field day for Pau Gasol; instead, Gasol was a non-factor (17 points, eight rebounds, 8-17 field goal shooting, with most of his points coming off of Bryant feeds or open lanes created after Bryant was trapped). Gasol's numbers were not terrible but that is why statistics only tell part of the story; if you watched the game then you saw how the Heat were willing to concede a lot of ground to Gasol in order to make sure that Bryant did not get loose. This puts Bryant in a quandary when Gasol is passive/ineffective: if Bryant forces up shots then he will be criticized for being selfish but if he passes the ball and his teammates falter then he will be accused of not stepping up. Since the Heat do not have the physical presence in the paint that the Celtics do I did not think that this approach would work for them against the Lakers but the Heat made up for their lack of size with speed, tenacity and aggressiveness.

Ever since the Lakers acquired Gasol one of the team's most effective half court sets has been a Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action that inevitably results in Bryant being trapped and an open shot being created for Gasol on the roll, Odom on a weak side dive or a three point shooter in the opposite corner--but this season that play has not been quite as effective, mainly because Gasol's screen setting and his rolling have not been up to par. Instead of setting an effective screen that forces a trap or a switch Gasol is often trying to slip the screen, enabling the defense to trap Bryant and still recover to prevent the other options. Gasol has also seemed oddly indecisive: sometimes I have seen Bryant draw two defenders and look to feed a cutting Gasol only to realize that Gasol never cut while other times Bryant has passed to a wide open Gasol for a jumper but Gasol instead took a tentative dribble, enabling a recovering defender to contest his shot; during the Lakers' loss to Milwaukee, Bryant could be clearly heard screaming to Gasol, "Shoot the ball!" after Bryant drew a double team and passed to Gasol for an open baseline jumper that Gasol turned into a contested runner that he missed after lofting it softly toward the rim.

Some people have called Gasol the best big man and best low post player in the NBA but that is an exaggeration; Gasol is an excellent, All-Star caliber player who benefits a lot from the extra defensive coverage that Kobe Bryant receives: Gasol gets shot opportunities as the Lakers' second option that he would never receive if he were forced to be the first option on a nightly basis. The Heat's main weakness is rightly considered to be their interior defense. This game was tailor made for Gasol to have a huge performance and Bryant certainly demonstrated his willingness to be a facilitator but instead the best big man on the court--by far--was Chris Bosh, who ended up with 24 points and a game-high 13 rebounds while shooting 11-17 from the field. Bosh was aggressive and energetic.

Early in the season, the Heat played a "my turn, your turn" offense as James and Wade took turns monopolizing the ball while Bosh was left to pick up table scraps but now the Heat have become a very aggressive defensive team that not only scores well in transition but also plays with much greater purpose in the half court; Bosh is able to create his own offense when he is isolated and he is also shooting with confidence when he receives the ball on quick reversals if James or Wade is trapped. The Heat's halfcourt ball movement is exponentially better now than it was early in the season.

The ironic thing is that even though James' Heat may match up just as well with the Lakers as James' Cavs did last season (for different reasons) the Lakers may once again get off of the hook if the Heat similarly falter against Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs; the defensive game plan that worked for the Heat against the Lakers will not work against Boston because the Celtics are physically tougher than the Lakers and are fully willing and able to attack in the paint.

For the past several days, the Lakers said that the game against the Heat did not mean much and their play reflected that attitude. Since the Lakers will only face the Heat once more in the regular season the Lakers should not dwell on this result but instead focus on what they need to do to reclaim Western Conference superiority--and they will get a chance to do just that when they face the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.

Game Four: Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Denver Nuggets 106

While the second and third games were heavyweight bouts that almost certainly included both 2011 Eastern Conference Finalists and very possibly the 2011 Western Conference Champion, games four and five featured fighters from lower weight divisions. The Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Lakers very hard in the first round of last year's playoffs but they still lack the necessary interior presence to make a deep postseason run. Kevin Durant is a marvelous scorer and he torched the Nuggets for a season-high 44 points but it remains to be seen how far he can carry a team in the postseason when the defense gets more physical and the stakes are raised.

The Denver Nuggets were without the services of Carmelo Anthony, who is mourning the death of his sister--but in light of the many reports indicating that Anthony does not plan to finish his career in Denver this game may have provided a glimpse of the Nuggets' future. It is apparent that with or without Anthony the Nuggets are a potent offensive team that is less than fully committed to playing defense. If the Nuggets cannot convince Anthony to sign a contract extension then perhaps team management should look at this as a blessing in disguise and find a way to trade him in exchange for as many draft picks and young players as possible. The reality is that the Nuggets are highly unlikely to win a championship with Anthony as their best player but it would be very bad to lose him for nothing if he walks as a free agent; Anthony's desire to leave gets management off of the hook in a sense, because otherwise they may have felt compelled to overpay him the way that the Washington Wizards overpaid Gilbert Arenas a few years ago. Only a select few players have the necessary skills and mindset to lead a team to a title and Anthony does not seem to be one of them, which is disappointing considering that he carried Syracuse to an NCAA title as a freshman; I really hoped that Anthony would develop into an elite NBA player but he seems satisfied to be a great scorer whose all-around game does not quite measure up to the standards set by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, two players who work hard at both ends of the court.

It will be very interesting to watch Durant's development over the next few seasons. Anthony entered the NBA as a polished scorer but he has not improved the other facets of his game very much; Durant struggled as a rookie when Coach P.J. Carlesimo forced him to play out of position at guard but after the Thunder replaced Carlesimo with Scott Brooks and Brooks moved Durant back to his natural position at forward Durant's game has blossomed. Durant seems to be very mature and levelheaded, so hopefully he will continue to work on all aspects of his game and evolve into an elite player who is capable of leading a team to a championship; he still needs to improve his defense and to make sure that physical defenders like Ron Artest are not able to nullify him in postseason play.

Game Five: Golden State Warriors 109, Portland Trail Blazers 102

In the late 1970s, the Portland Trail Blazers lamented what could have been possible if only Bill Walton had remained healthy but at least they won the 1977 championship before his body broke down; the current edition of the Trail Blazers has seen the player that they hoped would become a franchise center suffer one injury after another and they have reason to wonder if All-Star guard Brandon Roy's balky knees will enable him to have a fully healthy and productive career--but these Trail Blazers have suffered their setbacks without capturing even one title as consolation. Coach Nate McMillan's Trail Blazers play hard but without Greg Oden anchoring the post and Roy playing at a very high level they do not have a realistic chance to even win one playoff series, let alone contend for a championship. Portland relies heavily on two wily veterans (Andre Miller and Marcus Camby) who are nearing the end of their very solid NBA careers and are good enough to win some games but not good enough to consistently prevail against the league's elite squads.

The Warriors have flanked undersized center David Lee with several young and explosive perimeter scorers but this Warriors' team looks much like many of its predecessors: dynamic, fun to watch but not tough enough or savvy enough to do much more than possibly fight for the eighth playoff spot. Monta Ellis is a blur, a speedy whirling dervish who dropped 39 points on the older, slower Trail Blazers, but how many teams contend for championships when their leading scorer is an undersized shooting guard?

This game was an entertaining dessert after a full course NBA meal but, like most desserts, even though it was pleasant to the palate it did not contain much substance. Portland outrebounded Golden State 30-11 in the first half and 53-32 overall but the Trail Blazers could not overcome the combination of Ellis' 39 point barrage and Lee's Jerry Lucas-like combination of outside sniping/dirty work in the paint (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists).

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:19 AM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Sunday, December 26, 2010 9:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed the Heat's interior defense looks weak -- ON PAPER. You wouldn't expect a team relying on Big Z, Joel Anthony, and Erick Dampier to patrol the paint to amount to much. BUT, the Heat play team defense everywhere, especially in the lane. For the season, HEAT opponents have the lowest shooting percentage in the league around the basket. Against the Lakers, it was more of the same: active defense by mobile defenders with a few redwoods in the way. The result? Numerous strips down low, 9 blocked shots, and as the shot chart shows: for the Lakers, 10 for 17 (59%) shooting outside the lane and 22 for 62 (36%) inside! Sure, Bynum isn't yet up to the task, but Gasol wasn't passive, he was stymied. Same for Odom. Don't let preconceived ideas guide you. Use your eyes, read the stats.

 
At Sunday, December 26, 2010 3:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

the heat to me are real contenders now. with this game mainly cause of they d fense. if they play d like they been all season they will be tough to beat. lakers will be there agian win it counts we need to see gasol from the first 14 games that was 25 12 agian he has went back to being passive. heat 4-1 vs last 5 500 teams they face all by double digits. all teams have feasted on bad opposition this year especially lakers and spurs.

orlando well see if they camn contend with boston in east playoffs they potent offensive team. but will that get them win in post season, there small they need a backup center. obvisouly boston team to beat so far jus won 14 straight for them. yeah that stragety wont work aginst boston they big and physical la a finnesse team so heat might matchup a little better with lakers. it depends how wade plays aginst them first 2 games was in first nine games so if wade plays like he has will be great for heat. if they play east finals will be great series big 3 play well and get role player contributions with they d they got a great chance.

knicks have prove to be better than anyone thought they was myself included. al harrington david lee duhon nash felton q rich all benefitted from dantoni system shawn marion. amare got to be in mvp discussion but i think lebron is back to lebron he is mvp and best reg season player. but amare might be a more legit one than [pau an d bosh what many didnt think best pf in nba top 3 in mvp.

durant has to improve passing and reb and d i thought he was a better scoreing version of melo the past couple years to be with lebrn kobe wade. he has to be more compltet player.

 
At Sunday, December 26, 2010 10:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The Heat's interior defense has not just looked weak on paper and you can't just go by season statistics when the season is so young that the sample size is skewed; the Heat's stats are padded by all of the blowouts that they have stacked up against weak teams. Do their stats from wins against the Washingtons of the NBA really tell us anything meaningful about how effective their interior defense will be against Boston in the playoffs?

Boston pounded the Heat in the paint in both meetings. Utah's Millsap went off on the Heat in one game. Most teams with halfway decent big guys have caused problems for the Heat, though the Heat have obviously been playing much better in all phases recently.

Bynum gets a pass because he is just coming back from injury but Gasol is a seven footer who has been touted as the best big man in the league; the Heat should not be stripping him or blocking his shots, nor should they be able to stop him from shooting a high percentage in the paint--especially when Miami's defense was so focused on trapping Bryant. Gasol's problem is that he goes through these lulls in which he becomes very passive. Coach Jackson has talked about this publicly and it is clear that Jackson and Bryant have to constantly remind Gasol to be aggressive.

 
At Sunday, December 26, 2010 10:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I said all along that the Heat would win around 60 games and be one of the top three teams in the East. What I questioned was how well they matched up with the Celtics and Lakers (I thought that Heat-Magic would be a toss-up or slight edge to the Magic before the trades and those teams did indeed split their two meetings so far). The Heat have struggled against the Celtics but that win against the Lakers was impressive.

 
At Sunday, December 26, 2010 10:55:00 PM, Anonymous Charliegone said...

Hi David,

Long time lurker, but I felt I had to comment on your analysis about the Heat/Laker game. I think you are spot on about Gasol. These past few games he's looked somewhat disinterested, passive and not really looking like the Gasol from last season or season before that. His offense has taken a dive recently, but it's his defense that worries more. I've noticed that he's been too passive on the defensive end as well. He's not really contesting shots and sometimes is out of position. I like Gasol, I think he's a great player, but right now, he's not playing with that same intensity I've seen before when they won the title. I think he really needs to get back to that Gasol all Laker fans liked because without him being there offensively and defensively, the Lakers will continue to struggle. Thanks.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 12:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently the Heat's win Saturday was an optical illusion! The Heat's stats don't count because they came against weak opponents. Their victory over the Lakers was due to the Lakers' malaise, overconfidence, passivity,...whatever. The Heat's accomplishments are discounted and their failings magnified. The Lakers' losses are attributed to a lapse of willpower rather than anything to do with talent. "They wanted it more than we did" is one of the saddest excuses in sports. It's lousy psychology -- both sides WANT to win -- and no more than a post facto rationalization. In other words, something you say after things don't go your way to make yourself feel better. Kind of like "sour grapes" -- you don't get what you want, then say, "really didn't want it anyway."

Guys, the Heat are a very good team getting better all the time. Those desperate to find fault with them now (even though they rank 4th in offense and 2nd in defense, the best combo in the league, and have the highest per game differential by far), should remember they have 50 games remaining to improve. If you fear them (and you should), imagine them with Miller integrated, Haslem back, even tighter defense, more fast breaks, and a few more set plays that force other teams to pick their poison (choose which of the Big Three to double).

See you in the playoffs. We'll see which team "wants it more."

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 2:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charliegone:

Gasol had a few good games early in the season but since then he has probably played his worst basketball since becoming a Laker--and Phil Jackson has repeatedly called out Gasol publicly about this.

Gasol is a talented player but he seems to lack the inner fire that burns within Kobe and thus needs to be constantly pushed to play at the highest possible level. Otherwise, Gasol tends to drift. If Bynum can get his conditioning back and stay healthy then the Lakers will be able to move him into the starting lineup and shift Gasol back to power forward, where he is much more comfortable because his opponents will generally be less physical; Gasol would much prefer to face up than to station himself on the block.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 2:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Did you read anything that I wrote about this game or did you just decide that you felt like venting?

The Heat's stats versus weak teams are meaningless but I never said that their victory over the Lakers is meaningless.

We have seen that when Gasol and Odom have the right mindset they can go toe to toe with Boston's frontline and Orlando's frontline in the NBA Finals--and we have seen that when they are disinterested the Lakers can lose by large margins to Milwaukee. I gave the Heat credit for everything that they did well and I also pointed out the things that the Lakers did not do well.

In other words, I wrote about this game not from the perspective of a biased fan but rather an objective analyst.

I am not "desperate" to find fault with the Heat or any other team. Did you think that the Heat were faultless/flawless when they were 9-8? Do you think that they are perfect because they won one game against the Lakers? During the past decade the Lakers have a poor Christmas Day record but they have won five championships. Which is more significant?

Try not to take things so personally; you are not a member of the Miami Heat and no one is going to "see you in the playoffs"
unless you buy a ticket, make a funny sign and are filmed by ESPN or TNT--and even then no one reading this exchange will know who you are because even though you apparently are deeply offended by the truth you felt more comfortable issuing your rant under the cloak of anonymity.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 7:41:00 AM, Blogger awopbopaloobopalopbamboom said...

There were two incorrect assists credited to LeBron James against the Lakers. I thought this might interrest you because you were the first I know to bring this issue.

From the espn play-by-play :

* 2QT 4:01 Dwyane Wade makes driving dunk (LeBron James assists) 37-27

LeBron passed the ball to Wade in the left corner, Wade dribbled between Kobe and Gasol before his dunk.

* 3QT 11:41 Dwyane Wade makes two point shot (LeBron James assists) 49-38

Wade, in the corner again, took a dribble after a routine pass to the corner by James before his bucket.


It did not change the fact that LeBron was dominant from the start though... and he made several potential plays without that "assist" reward.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 5:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awopbop...:

I did not chart assists for that game but after reading your comment I went back and reviewed the game tape/official play by play sheet and you are absolutely correct about both plays: in both instances Wade made multiple one on one moves to free himself before shooting and therefore James should not have been awarded assists. This just reinforces two points that I have been making for years:

1) The assist problem is not just a matter of "home cooking" (the game was played in L.A., so James received the benefit of the doubt from the Lakers' official scorekeeper); assists are awarded very liberally to players who handle the ball a lot and are considered to be playmakers. This not only skews assist totals and records but also skews all of these stat based player ranking systems that include assists in their formulas. Part of the reason that this is supposedly a pg dominated era is that the elite pgs (plus perhaps playmaking forwards like LeBron) are having their assist totals boosted by perhaps 20%.

2) Whether James really had 10 assists or eight assists he was still the best player on the court; my analysis of a game, a player or a team is not solely or even primarily dependent on stats. As I mentioned in the article, James dominated all phases of the game with his scoring, rebounding, defense and passing--and his passing was excellent regardless of his final assist total.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 7:05:00 PM, Anonymous dsong said...

Eh, everyone is making a mountain out of a molehill. It's just one of 82 regular season games. Lakers and Heat are what they are, fairly good teams in their respective conferences but a cut below the very best (Boston, San Antonio, Dallas).

I've seen way too many "Randy Moss" acts from the Lakers. They only play when they feel like it. It's especially apparent from Gasol, Odom, and Artest and Bynum will surely follow that pattern even if he gets healthy.

I just hope they turn it on when the playoffs come around. They may be a bunch of lazy bums in the regular season, but as long as they win championships they will be forgiven.

 
At Monday, December 27, 2010 11:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dsong:

You are right that there is a tendency to read too much into one particular game. I still think that, barring injuries to key players, we are heading for a Lakers-Celtics Finals rematch. That said, it is certainly interesting to watch the regular season games among the top teams (Lakers, Celtics, Heat, Spurs, Mavs, possibly Magic) and see how the various matchups (individual and collective) play out.

I think that many people underestimate just how important Kobe's competitive will is for the Lakers' success; as you said, there are many Lakers whose default tendency is to coast and Kobe may not be able to completely change that during a long 82 games season but he (and Phil Jackson) is able to get more effort and intensity out of those guys during the playoffs.

 
At Sunday, January 02, 2011 12:01:00 PM, Anonymous Darko said...

when are you going to admit you're wrong about the cavaliers? face it friedman, the cavs suck. they've been relatively healthy all season, and yet they'll be lucky to win 20 games. and don't give me that crap about losing shaq, zydrunas, and delonte.

 
At Monday, January 03, 2011 1:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Darko:

The Cavs have obviously performed worse than I expected but you are mistaken to say that they have been "relatively healthy." Jamison has had a knee problem off and on and Mo Williams has been nursing a groin injury and other nagging problems all season; those are the two former All-Stars/best offensive threats on the team.

Why do you think that it is insignificant that the Cavs lost their two best big men plus the versatile player who led them in playoff minutes played in 2009? Shaq and Z are currently the starting centers for the two best teams in the East. You really don't think that they would be worth some wins for the Cavs? West was a major contributor in 2009, the Cavs missed him when he was not as available in 2010 and they definitely miss him now. It should also be remembered that the Cavs changed their GM and their coach; their whole program is different. When the Cavs hired Mike Brown I asked his assistant Hank Egan how long it takes for a new coach to really get his system implemented and he said about a season and a half--and by Brown's second season the Cavs were in the NBA Finals, as I predicted (at a time when no one thought that they could beat Detroit).

I made my prediction about the Cavs based on reasoning that LeBron was worth about 15-20 wins and that losing Z, Shaq and Delonte would cost another 10-15 but I assumed that Sessions and Hollins would be worth a few wins. I considered the Cavs to be a 65 win team (they did not try in their last few games once they secured the top seed), so subtracting 25-35 and then adding a few wins from the new guys I thought that the Cavs could win 35-40 games and grab the eighth spot in a weak Eastern Conference. In retrospect, even though I mentioned the loss of the big men I did not sufficiently account for this factor and I probably should have predicted closer to 30 wins than 40.

The amazing thing is that if the Cavs find some way to play slightly above .500 the rest of the way they could still grab the eighth spot--the bottom of the East is just that pitiful.

The Cavs started out 7-9, put way too much stock in the Miami game and have inexcusably been in a funk for much of the time since that game. In the past few games the Cavs have been more competitive and if they can keep Jamison, Williams and Varejao (currently out with a broken bone in his face) healthy then they should be better in the second half of the season. I said in my prediction that they would be better in the second half of the season than the first half but clearly I did not expect them to only have eight wins by now.

 
At Monday, January 03, 2011 2:36:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

I'd be curious to hear if you have any thoughts about what's ailing the Lakers lately? Nasty home losses to the Bucks and the Heat (more understandable), getting slammed in San Antonio, and now another ugly home loss to a bottom-feeder in Memphis. I have only been able to catch some of those games, and I don't put too much stock in trying to figure out the problem from scanning the box score and reading the recap (which is likely to place inordinate importance on facile numbers like Kobe's total shots without noting how many of those shots were bailing out a dead possession hand-grenade style, as we have mentioned here, or whether a low shot "pouting/quitting"-type game resulted from teams constantly trapping and Kobe passing out repeatedly, etc).

If you've caught more of them, I'd be interested in hearing a diagnosis.

 
At Monday, January 03, 2011 7:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

In general, the media overstates the talent/depth that the Lakers have. The Lakers' bench has been terrible for two years but we keep hearing that the Lakers are the deepest, most talented team in the league. I thought that adding Blake, Barnes and Ratliff would finally give the Lakers a decent bench but Ratliff got hurt and Blake has not been very good (Barnes has been solid).

No one talked about Gasol being an elite player until he got the opportunity to play with Bryant--and during the past month or so we have seen why Memphis was so eager to get rid of him: Gasol is soft and he cannot carry a team. Gasol is a solid All-Star but whenever the day comes that he truly is the Lakers' best player the Lakers' championship-contending days are over. Coach Jackson has repeatedly blasted Gasol in the media for how poorly he is playing.

Ron Artest held it together for the most part last season but this season he still has not learned the Triangle Offense (by his own admission) and his defense has not been quite as good as it was last year.

Lamar Odom got off to a fast start this season, playing about as well as he has played since becoming a Laker, but he has never been able to focus for an entire season and his play is dropping off a bit now: he has reached double figures in rebounds just once in the past eight games--and despite all of the talk about his versatility, the best thing that he does for the Lakers (when he is focused) is rebound.

Andrew Bynum, who "stat guru" Dave Berri once called the most valuable Laker, is a solid big man but it is doubtful that he will ever be healthy and productive for an entire season. His return to the starting lineup at center should ease the burden on Gasol, who can now shift to power forward.

Kobe Bryant is the only Laker who brings it every game. People can quibble about his shot selection but Bryant plays hard every night and when he sees that his teammates are lethargic he tries to "fill the vacuum," as Coach Jackson puts it. If Gasol wants to receive more touches then he needs to set better screens and roll more strongly to the hoop and/or fight for good low post position. It is absurd to suggest that Kobe would not pass to Gasol if Gasol did those things; we have seen Kobe delight in passing to Gasol and we have seen Kobe encouraging Gasol to be more aggressive and shoot open shots. As a scout I know might put it, someone needs to get a blowtorch and light a fire under Gasol's rear end.

I will soon post an article about some of these issues.

 

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