Monthly Archives: May 2009

HOWARD SMASH!Cavs at Orlando HOWARD SMASH, Game HOWARD SMASH

  • I could open this by lauding myself as one of the few people to pick the Magic in this series. But instead, I think I’ll open up with something I was wrong about.
  • In conversations with people, including the aforelinked roundcast, I kept asking where the Cavs were going to get an advantage in this series beyond LeBron James. People’s answer? LEBRON JAMES! I asked people what would make this Cavs team better than this Magic team. The answer? LEBRON JAMES! And before Game 5, as I desperately tried to defend the fact that the Magic had taken control of this series with defense and precision, and not just a Cavs cold streak and a “significantly higher 3pt % than the regular season”, I made the comment, “LeBron James is just one guy.” He went and played terrific, the Cavs hit some shots, he dominated late, and the Cavs won Game 5. You can imagine the grief I took.  So I was wrong. Sometimes it just takes one guy.
  • And guess what. Dwight Howard (HOWARD SMASH!) is just one guy.
  • I don’t like it when pundits try and simplify series like this. Denver-LA? Yeah, that one’s pretty simple. The Lakers were taller, more talented, and Denver relies on turnovers which LA doesn’t give up. But this series was a brilliant chess match, with terrific individual performances and great team play (from Orlando). That’s why I hated the “the Cavs are just cold/ the Magic are just hot” analysis. It disregards the fantastic Orlando defense that worked hard to force LeBron into having to be a one-man show, and the Orlando offense that forced Cleveland to run around like a chicken with its head cut off. It disregards the horrible Cavaliers bench which was outscored something along the lines of eleventy billion to the square root of Wally Szczerbiak (which is actually pi, it turns out. Where pi=the ratio of airballs to the circumference of terrible defense). This series was won in the trenches, and on the fringe. It was won in penetration and denial. It was won everywhere except the spotlight. That’s where James shined for five games. And in the sixth game? Dwight Howard (HOWARD SMASH!) shoved Jmaes out of the spotlight and won that, too.
  • In the first quarter, the Cavs came out as a team that expected Orlando to fold. You may have seen this sequence before in such spring blockbusters as “The Philadelphia Series Game 6″ and “The Boston Series Game 7.” Here’s a hint, kids. Do not anticipate the Magic failing to arrive at the moment of their ascension.
  • The Cavs also came out sloppy. Passes sailed out of bounds. LeBron would drive baseline, be forcd to jump to avoid going out of bounds, and have to improvise a pass. Plays had no clear objective. The Magic on the other hand, came out focused, precise, and efficient, and they kept that approach the whole game through, ending with a 117 eff. They were focused from the arc, inside, and at the stripe. The fact that Cleveland shot 50% from the arc (A STATISTICAL ANOMALY!) I think says a lot about where their heads were at.
  • Cleveland did what it has done all season. Come out and play their game. When it doesn’t work, hope James saves them. How you respond when your opponent blocks your first punch and socks you in the mouth becuase of what you left open is what makes good teams great.
  • Okay, I’ve delayed it enough. Let’s talk about Dwight Howard (HOWARD SMASH!). Big Beastly Jesus. D-Ho. The Thunder Boy Wonder. Superman (and yes, he is Superman. If you compare the attributes of the character, from demeanor to values, to approach, to physique, to style, Howard is a million times a better fit from “The Big I Have Too Many Nicknames” -or, alternately “The Big I Say A Coach Who’s In The Finals Is A Panic Artist”. ).
  • One of the reasons I realy started to like this Magic team was how they remind me of the 94-95 Rockets. What was missing was a center that could hurt you with more than dunks. Howard needed to finally get his jump hook going. To have some touch. And um, yeah. Kind of did that. Three point dagger men, best center in the league working over the opponent? He ain’t The Shake, but there’s defintely a similar mojo going.
  • Howard’s patience is really impressive. How many times do you see an athletic big catch the ball deep or gather an offensive rebound, and then immediately try and pogo up for a quick basket. They’re terrififed that moment of opportunity will get eaten up by the threat of a block.
  • But how often are you going to be succesful in trying to block Dwight Howard?
  • So you turn to fouling him. There. That’ll work.
  • 14-21. That’ll do, Dwight. People act like a foul is only about the resulting foul shots. But you know what it also means? It means their guy has to sit down. Which means someone less capable is now guarding him. Which means someone less capable is guarding Lewis. And so forth.
  • What do you do against that? Your best option is to flop, and hope the refs help you out. That’s honestly the best option.
  • Earlier I talked about how good defense filters the ball to the shot you want the opponent to take. The Magic wnated Anderson Varejao to shoot 12 times. And the fact that he hit 7 of them just shows you that this thing was closer than it should have been.
  • I picked this up on a few Cavs blogs this week and it bears repeating. This team was built to beat Boston. Look at it top down, and the Cavs would have had matchup advantages all over the place.  The Orlando Magic just ruined the plan.
  • Mike Brown’s gotta be saying to himself, “I worked a roster to defend Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. I can battle Pau Gasol and Kendrick Perkins. My team can dominate Rasheed Wallace and neutralize Josh Smith. We’ve got Kevin Garnett in a series of uncomfortable situations. And what do I get? Rashard freaking Lewis.”
  • Good news, Magic detractors! That crazy Rafer Alston regressed back to the mean! He only shot 5 of 16 from the field! Of course, Courtney Lee stepped in and shot 57% fom the field, but hey. Those Magic are going to cool down any second now.
  • In the third quarter, Mo Williams decided to cheat over because Hedo was killing them on the pick and roll. Hedo kicked it to Pietrus. Mo Williams with his veteran defense and savvy went to run off the three. Pietrus pump faked, and gave him the Top Gun treatment (I’m gonna hit the breaks and he’ll fly right by), and knocked down the three. Mo looked simultaneously lost and desperate. Not as lost and desperate as he’s been this series on offense against Rafer freaking Alston and a rookie, but still, lost and desperate.
  • Things that amuse me. How people think Orlando’s ability to knock down clutch shots with defenders in their face is a liability. “You can’t depend on those shots.” Really? Because they just did to win the freaking Eastern Conference. At one point are they not going to be there? Oh, yeah, that’s right. They weren’t there in the first round against Philly. This team’s had its cold streak. It’s ready to go.
  • For a team so built around defense, shouldn’t the Cavs have better actual defenders than Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson? Just a thought. Because Orlando brought Pietrus, Anthony Johnson, and Gortat, without even having to turn to Redick.
  • For those of you who aren’t Lakers or Wizards fans, take this season from James and cherish it. It didn’t work out in the end, but that can’t be put on him. He was transcendent this year. His jumper actually improved as the year went on. He was defensively dominant, offensively explosive and refined at the same time, and worked in all phases of the game. Fantastic season, LeBron. Standing O, friend.
  • While Mike Brown was pretty abused on both ends of the floor in this series, tonight wasn’t on him. What was he going to do? Double Howard? He kicked it out for the rotation three. Don’t double? Howard killed whoever was on him. Foul him? He hit free throws. There wasn’t much Brown could do tonight. The Magic weren’t hot, they were just playing to their fullest potential. Which is kind of what you want to do in the Conference Finals in a home elimination game.
  • We’ll talk more about the Finals more, obviously. But tonight, let’s take a moment and congratulate an Orlando team that’s been disrespected all season, all postseason, and will be heavy dogs to a Lakers team they swept in the regular season. The Magic had several opportunities to quit, and responded each time.
  • Up the Magic.

For Those Of You That Were Curious, Thoughts On The WCF

  • There have been several comments over the last few days questioning why it is that I haven’t commented on the NBA Western Conference Finals. This could very easily be construed as me petulantly refusing to acknowledge the Lakers. In fact, its’ quite the opposite.
  • First off, let’s tip our hat to the Denver Nuggets. For two rounds, they played hyper-active, aggressive basketball, utilizing multiple weapons, havoc-wreaking defense, and of course, Birdman. They were exciting, they were unexpected (even with the 2 seed), they were dominant (kind-of). Well done.
  • Okay, now that I’ve said that.
  • The Nuggets had no shot in this series. None. Zero. Zilch.
  • Look, trouncing the Hornets with a 50% Tyson Chandler, blocky Posey vs. last year’s spark-plug Jannero Pargo, and a largely unimpressive squad is still pretty good. Beating the Mavericks in five with a little help from a terrible no-call on an intentional foul, and an impressive size advantage is impressive. But I feel like everyone fell in love with this team a little soon.
  • In college basketball, great defense is defined by defending shots and creating turnovers. This sounds pretty simple, right? Put a hand in a guy’s face, and take the ball away. One thing. This ain’t college. I noted how much success the Nuggets had against the Hornets and Mavericks by creating turnovers and then finishing wide open dunks. Easy buckets. But it’s one thing to do that against an athletically limited Hornets crew, and even a more athletic but still focus-limited Mavericks crew. It’s quite another to try it against a Lakers squad that loves to get up and down the floor. If you want to win a championship? You need to limit offensive options, contest every single shot you don’t want the opponent to take, filter the ball to the shot you want them to take (like a Kenyon Martin 14 footer), and crash the boards to limit repeat possessions. The Spurs model is difficult to replicate with personnel, but their success was predicated upon pretty simple, consistent principles. Likewise, the Cavs success this year can be traced to the same principle. Use fast breaks to augment your offense and frustrate your opponent. Don’t rely on them to turn the tide. You need to value every possession on both sides of the floor, not gamble defensively and aim for huge shots on offense.
  • I couldn’t see any way that the Nuggets could maintain success against the Lakers (barring a Rockets-series-esque mental meltdown) with their style of play. Transition buckets? That’s the Lakers’ game. Athleticism? That’s the Lakers game. Only when the Nuggets slowed the game down, worked for inside buckets, controlled the boards and functioned to limit the other Lakers players while giving Kobe ground did they have success?
  • At the beginning of the series, I gave the coaching edge to George Karl, just for right now. Jackson is historically a better coach, but has been terrible this postseason. From sticking with Fisher, to limiting Bynum regardless of his performance, to not working Gasol in the post enough, Jackson has been wildly inconsistent, absent-minded, and let his team remain unfocused the playoffs through. Karl, on the other hand, has had his team ready to compete in every game, worked to manage the anomaly that is J.R. Smith, and even was willing to turn to Kleiza (though not enough down the stretch). He worked on mismatches and made adjustments.
  • Then he hung himself.
  • I want to go back in time and be a fly on the wall for the conversation where someone inside the Nuggets locker room said “You know what we should do? We should double Kobe. If we can just stop him, they don’t have enough offense to run with us! I mean, sure, the only reason their offensive weapons are considered weapons is their ability to knock down wide open shots when the defense collapses, but hey! If we stop Kobe, we’re fine! Sure! Let Trevor Ariza spot up and measure his shot for fifteen seconds. Sure, give Vujacic and Fisher the only shots that they’re really consistently able to hit! Who cares, if we manage to stop the single best offensive player in the league who’s also a tremendous passer and who is surrounded by big, athletic supporting players who can dunk and shoot. This should work brilliantly!”
  • It defies all logic that that adjustment was made. And the fact that it was made AFTER the Nuggets had already proven success without that principle is even more mind-boggling. But the only thing more vexing than that? Is that the Nuggets repeated that tactic in Game 6 after getting clog-stomped in Game 5 by it. It’s like the Nuggets thought that the only reason the Lakers were hitting open shots and getting a combined effort when there were constant open opportunities was because they were at home. I got news for you, Denver. LA can do that here, there, anywhere. They can dunk on you in a box. They can hit three pointers on you while wearing socks. They will expose that, Sam I Am.
  • The other area Karl failed to make key adjustments was in his buying into the Birdman hype. I love that Chris Anderson is a terrific comeback story. I love the dunking, the blocks, the arm flapping, the ridiculousness, the tattoos, the hair, everything. He’s a lot of fun to watch. But putting him in the post versus Pau Gasol? Are you mad? Putting him in one on one defensive coverage against Kobe Bryant? Have you lost your mind? Birdman is a terrific weakside defender, and a guy who can make the small adjustments and plays to help your team win. He’s like a mascot that can ball. But he’s not a defender you turn to to make key defensive stops in the paint or otherwise. He gave up size, speed, athleticism, quickness, and talent to Pau Gasol. And yet they kept turning to him.
  • For the Lakers, I questioned what it would mean for a team with this little heart, this little focus, this little resolve to beat the inspiring Rockets. I said it would mean talent trumps all those things that we typically ascribe to great teams. And this is yet another example. I’ve said this, Jon Barry’s said this, many people have said this, and it’s true. This is not an all-time great team, barring an absolutely dominant performance in the Finals (which is certainly possible). They’re not a team you’ll talk about with reverence. But the fact is, they’re in the Finals, for the second year in a row. They’ve only gone to seven games once, and that was in a series they didn’t really have to struggle with, they just had mental letdowns against a wounded animal. And if/when they win the title, no one will remember their beyond-pathetic performance where the Yao-less Houton Rockets were up 30 points on them at once point. They won’t remember and inferior Denver team pushing them in several games. They won’t remember the missed passes, the Fisher PUJITs, or Bynum’s sloppy fouls. All that will be remembered is that they won the games they needed to to win a title. So who cares what they’re weaknesses are? They may not have focus, heart, or resilience, but they do have one thing the other teams don’t. More ability to put the ball in the little rim with the net attached.

The Result Is All That Matters: Magic at Cavs, Game 5

  • There have been three games in this series where things have bounced whole-heartedly in one team’s favor. Games 2, 4, and 5. Those games where everything goes right for one team and nothing goes right for the other. While people around the web are busy saying that the Magic are somehow shooting way too high, when in reality they’re shooting were only shooting 3% higher than what they shot against Cleveland in the regular season, Cleveland brought the heat tonight.
  • Each of the games where things bounced either way went to the team it bounced to. The two that were tossups, the Magic are 2-0.
  • Boobie Gibson is going to have to be what he was tonight for Cleveland to win this series. Mike Brown has to accept his defensive liabilities and trust in his total team defensive concept, which is great.
  • Did JJ Redick pee on SVG’s pizza after the Boston series? Courtney Lee had a better box score than game. He forced several shots and his turnovers were at key moments.
  • Just to review, the Cavs shot 50% from the field, 3.2% better than their season average. They shot 50% from the arc, 10.7% better than their season mark. Dwight Howard fouled out. Gibson had eleven points. The Cavs had a 23 point lead in the second quarter.
  • So how in the hell was this even a game down the stretch?
  • On the one hand, LeBron James could literally bend time and space, dunk, then pull an elephant out of his armpit and ride it around the stadium all the while raining one armed hook three pointers from the stands, and I would not be surprised. That’s how incredibly awesome he is.
  • On the other, a late possession for the Cavs was literally, not literally like some people use when it’s for exaggeration so not actually literally, but literally, them standing around while James dribbled for 22 seconds then shot a pull up jumper from 17 feet. That he drained, of course. Well done on the shot, sir. But Jesus. Somebody move. If nothing else than just so I don’t think my DVR’s on the fritz.
  • Turkoglu had a great game, so it was Lewis’ turn to struggle.
  • Gortat was bad off the bench tonight. First time he’s struggled like that. Maybe SVG knows what he’s doing keeping him tethered to the bench after all.
  • I made this comment on the Roundcast, but it bears repeating. I thought the Magic going up 3-1 would be horrible. This team plays terribly when it’s the favorite. It just doesn’t function well. Throw in the back-to-the-wall mentality, and you have a team shoot 50% from the floor AND the arc while everyone talks about the Magic just being hot in the OTHER 4 games. After Orlando won Game 4, I predicted they’d lose tonight AND lose Game 6. Can’t you see it?
  • Game 7. Cleveland. The best home court in the league (regular season). The best player in the league (no doubt). The Orlando Magic are choke artists. This is LeBron’s legacy! This is history! This is vindication for Cleveland sports fans! This is…
  • A twenty point blowout when the Magic “miraculously” shoot above 40% from the arc. That’s how I see it going down.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if James has ANOTHER monster game in him. I mean, he’s young, so the exhaustion shouldn’t be a big deal. Then you realize he’s the absolute ONLY thing they had for the last seven minutes, and I mean, damn, even Achilles needed a nap now and then.
  • Great game from Mo Williams. Too bad he’s shown himself to be a total toolbag in this series.
  • Rafer obliged everyone and had an absolutely wretched game so we can all go back to saying how terrible he is. Thanks, Raf. Kind of you.
  • The Cavs won by 10, the Magic shot terribly from the arc, and their bench still mauled Cleveland.
  • I did like what Cleveland did for spots in this game defensively. They need to keep active hands, swipe at Howard on the inbounds pass, hedge and recover on the Turkoglu-Lewis pick and pop, and go after Rafer. It seems counterintuitive, but instead of just giving the terrible shot from their weakest players, force them into even worse decisions.
  • Cleveland got their must win. We’ll see if Orlando can respond at home.

The Weekly Nichols: Developing a Rating for Selfishness

People always like to praise a player’s selflessness on the court while at the same time criticizing those who do not share the same virtues. But which players really are “selfish?” I’ve developed a simple measure that will attempt to answer this question.

First, let me describe what I mean by selfish. For the sake of this article, selfish means a player who consistently chooses to shoot instead of setting up plays for others. The player doesn’t need to take a lot of shots or be a high-volume shooter.

To come up with the rating was actually quite simple. First, I divided a player’s total field goal attempts by their number of assists. I then found their ranking among players of their position. Finally, I translated this ranking to a stat on a 0-10 scale.

Simple enough. But before I reveal the numbers, I want to stress that this is a very simple rating system. Because of how basic it is, there will certainly be exceptions to the rule that get misrepresented. Also, don’t forget this is adjusted for position. In reality, most point guards are probably very selfless. But if a point guard has a rating of 8 or 9, that just means he’s more selfish than other floor generals.

To see the numbers for every player, go to:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=rXbYUWIumaHKB0pH8G4_ZrQ

Also, here are a few tables that may be of interest:

Most Selfish by Position
Least Selfish by Position
What the People Want

Dirk the Jirk

We are fans of Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki here at HP. Always loved his game, that silky shooting stroke. Sure, we wish he would have been a bit less European tougher, lead the Mavs more forcefully in the 2006 Finals. But, all in all, he is a likeable guy with a great game and a team that got us all very, very excited during this year’s playoffs.

However, rumors started circulating at the beginning of the playoffs about the wackiness of Dirk’s personal life. We at HP, Isiah Thomas notwithstanding, try as best we can to stay out of NBAer’s personal lives. (Or not?) Regardless, we were all aware of the domestic oddities circulating around Dirk and his girlfriend. Turns out she had a rap sheet from her previous life in Missouri. Turns out his teammates, coach and GM did not trust this chick or want her around their buddy and superstar. Turns out she takes an awful mug shot.

Now, the latest news over that “other HP,” the Huffington Post, is that Dirk might not be the same loveable, floppy haired German we know and love. Turns out, and it’s not looking pretty at this moment (no pun intended), that “Dirk is just letting his girlfriend (and baby mama) sit in jail while he runs off to Germany in attempts to wash his hands of the situation.

At this point, we are not sure exactly where this story is. There is a lot that is still unknown. However, what is know is that this girl, with a pretty checkered past, is sitting in a Texas prison, having just received a positive results on a pregnancy test (although, no paternity test from Dirk has been administered, to the best of my knowledge), while he refuses to discuss the matter, post bail or exonerate the actions of his long time companion.

I know we all blow up the internets when we see hard fouls, undue trash talk or mind-numbingly awful basketball, but this is a serious allegation about one of the league’s most liked stars. Could it be that Dirk has been trying to get rid of this woman for a while and wants to steer clear of the situation? Does he feel that he has cover, since we are in the middle of the best playoffs in recent memory? Has he made a truly awful decision that will tarnish his reputation and is now trying to devise the best way to salvage it? Does he even care? Did he really take advice on this matter from Jason Kidd?

It’s all a very sticky situation down in Dallas and over in Europe. Even after the title is bestowed, the drama might just be beginning.

Don’t Bring Pointy Sticks To A High Tech Firefight: Cavs at Magic, Game 4

  • The Magic didn’t play that well tonight.
  • No, really. Check the box. Out-rebounded. Out-hustled. More turnovers. Allowed big runs. Gave up 40+ to LeBron again. Allowed 110.7 offensive efficiency. Got to the line fewer times. Let Delonte West get off a little bit. Gave up easy buckets to Varejao.
  • But that’s the thing with this Magic team. They play terrific basketball for three games, take two out of three with clutch play, defense, and focus. And in the fourth game,w hen they don’t have those things going?
  • They can just shoot the freaking lights out.
  • The Magic did one thing insanely well tonight. They manufactured great shots. They would penetrate to create an open three, that the Cavs would run it off. So they would pass to the second man, who the Cavs would run off. And they would pass to the third guy. And you’d see the look of the defender trying to get across court or out of the paint. The “You Have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” look. “HOW MANY SHOOTERS CAN THEY HAVE?”
  • Bang.
  • When the defense wouldn’t hold tonight, when the focus wasn’t there, when the Cavs went small to accentuate speed, the Magic ran. They got out in front, forced them to pack the lane to stop those big lanky bodies coming down the floor, and then one guy slips to the outside. Usually Pietrus. What are you gonna do?
  • Delonte West was fantastic tonight. He worked Lee and Rafer Alston inside. He drove and dished. He played active defense, creating turnovers. He worked the glass on shots and took smart, measured shots. If the Cavs will shift to West to be the focus, he can be what Mo Williams is supposed to be.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. “We gave them too much respect/I guarantee Game 4″ was horrible. Again. The box score looks nice for him, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t show how he went Ben Gordon, Possession Killer time after time in the game. He only had six points in the second half.  At the half, Sager was applauding him for getting to the line. Only two of his foul shots were techs for defensive three seconds. Meanwhile, he felt the best way to work the Cavs offense, a high performance machine that’s dependent upon all pieces working in unison, into high gear was to shoot his way free. I referenced on Twitter he was going Dillinger. And he hurt his team tonight.
  • So while the Magic needed to shoot the lights out to get to overtime, then there was overtime.
  • And overtime?
  • HOWARD SMASH!!!
  • How big was Big Baby Jesus tonight? Backed down Varejao, dunk. Back down Varejao, score. Back down, draw the foul, knock down free throws. Block LeBron, cause the tie-up. Huge. He played with poise, he played with power, he was dominant. The Cavs had focused on keeping him down all game, they sacrificed the perimeter and the Magic hit a Conference Finals record number of threes. They shifted to the perimeter in overtime, and Howard murdered them inside. What are you gonna do? HOW MANY WEAPONS CAN THEY HAVE?
  • You might think that Cleveland, a city rife with sports failure at a level that is simply phenomenal, would be pretty sad right now. You might think they’d be rethinking how little they’ve respected this Orlando team, like the rest of the world. And you would be wrong. Smell the confidence.
  • Mikael Pietrus outscored the Cleveland bench. Again.
  • Rafer. Freaking. Alston. I defended the guy to the Dream Shake for two years, then defended the trade for Orlando. Then I bailed on him when he was wretched in the first two rounds. He couldn’t finish at the rim. Couldn’t hit shots. Couldn’t hang on to the ball. Defensive liability. And tonight…
  • HE TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF!
  • I commented on this to a friend during the game. Great defense isn’t built on turnovers (you listening, Denver?). It’s forcing the offense into a low percentage shot, which means giving the offense certain shots that you know have a low success rate. For Cleveland, that is a Rafer Alston mid-range or three. But Rafer Alston is still a capable point guard who can score. For Orlando, it’s an Anderson Varejao 12 foot jumper or a Zydrunas Ilgausakas 18 footer. Z can knock that down, but you have to live with it. But if you have the choice of a wide open Rafer Alston three or a Flopsy jumper, which are you taking? The idea is constantly drilled into us that key players have to step up in the playoffs, and that only intensifies as the playoffs go on. Well, Rafer Alston has stepped up.
  • One would think that after James is able to score with what, an 80% success rate outof the post-up, that the Cavs would make that their bread and butter. That person would think wrong. If the Cavs do figure that out, though, the Magic are going to have to go big, which could open up the Cavs backcourt to run more.
  • There’s a bizarre pattern in play. For three quarters, either Hedo or Lewis will hit big shots, drive consistently, work mismatches, and get buckets. The other one will struggle. Then the fourth quarter comes and they tag off. Lewis played his worst game of the series tonight, until the fourth. And then he just played with juevos of steel.
  • Wally Szczerbiak was the late bench option for crunch time defender. I’m not kidding.
  • Let’s be clear on something. The Magic can shoot better from the arc than they did tonight. I’ve seen it. So’s Cleveland, but they’ll claim they don’t remember that game. They hit more tonight, but they shot better in April. My point is that I hear Cleveland fans talking about Orlando just being hot. This isn’t hot. Over 50% from the arc is hot for them. This is consistent for them. The issue coming in was whether Orlando would be able to create a quality look inside a possssion. They haven’t. They’ve created several. And they get their choice of which shot to hit. Do not doubt that Orlando can keep up this pace. Doubt that they can’t hit higher, and that they can’t win when they don’t shoot that well. Their slump game was Game 3. And they won.
  • Gibson could turn this series for Cleveland, but he’s got to be on the floor, which is unlikely when he does things like foul Anthony Johnson at the arc.
  • I liked Cleveland in this game. I like Cleveland in the next game. But the Magic are the better team, and it’s not really close.

Examining The Magic’s Overall Effort Versus Cleveland’s One Man Show

Back in the first round, I took a look at the Spurs’ de-evolution from a team game to a one-man show with Parker. I decided to take a similar look at Orlando and Cleveland, to see what their usage and Help Values looked like.

Cleveland has regressed back to their pre-2008 offense. Give the ball to LeBron, stand around and watch, occassionally miss a wide open shot if he’s not in the game. The only new wrinkle is Mo Williams somehow running his mouth while shooting below 40% from the field. What’s been shocking has been the degree to which they’ve had to rely on LeBron. This was never as apparent as in Game 2, where it took James hitting a nearly impossible shot with one second left at home to avoid going down 0-2.

But just how bad has it been for the Cavs? And have the Magic played evenly? Or are they just a Dwight Howard one trick pony show only with slightly better shooters?

First, let’s take a look at usage. For the uninitatied, Usage is an estimate of the percentage of possessions a players uses while on the floor.  For the purposes of examining these charts visually, your perfect team would be represented as a complete circle, with one to two spikes for your best player and one or two dips for your worst. That never happens, of course, with the 2 minute role players, but it gives you an ideal. Here’s the Magic, regular season versus Conference Finals.

All in all, this is a pretty positive chart for the Magic. They line up well with the regular season, and are getting more possessions used by a bench player (Pietrus) and their superstar (Howard). The important thing to note is the shape. No exacerbated peaks or valleys. It’s not jagged, it’s fairly even for the primary rotation players. Redick’s is an anomaly based on 4 shots in 9:47 in Game 2, but really, in the shortened rotations of the playoffs, that right side of the chart is more important. Again, the even distribution is more important, here, as it illustrates that the Magic aren’t overly relying on any one player, but are getting the ball to their best players. If anything, this shows that the Magic still have room to improve with Hedo and Lewis in terms of aggressivness. Let that sink in.

Now let’s take a look at the LeBrons.

Notice how it looks like a bird’s head, with LeBron as the beak? It’s a good thing that James has the heaviest usage. He’s the best player on the team. But to this degree? Even more concerning is the shrinkage we’re seeing from all the role support players on the Cavs. Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, and most importantly Delonte West. Meanwhile, Mo Williams is trying to “step up” but with his shooting so abysmal, it’s not really for the best right now.

So that’s a look at how each team is using its possessions, but what are the results? We could look at PER, but it’s not great in a small sample setting (nothing is, really). We could look at offensive efficiency, or Win Score, but those are A. complicated, B. other people’s specialties, and C. a bit more refined than what I was looking for. Instead I went to a very simple metric. I like Popcorn Machine’s Help Value. It’s Rebounds  + Assists + Blocks + Steals – Turnovers. I threw in points for kicks. It just gives a general overview of production. It’s prone to the same limitations as most simple metrics, but since we’re looking for a visual comparison of individual output at the team level, I’m not too concerned to keep me from showing it. I also wanted to average it for per-minute production, so everything on Help Value is Per 40 minutes.  Okay, caveats aside, here’s how the Magic look.

So outside of Adonal Foyle’s regular season spike, this looks pretty close from the regular season to the Conference Finals. Turkoglu is particularly interesting. He’s using fewer possessions than he did in the regular season, but contributing more output. Howard’s right on target, but needing more possessions to get there. It could be argued that Pietrus is really the difference in this series. Gortat’s probably not being used to full potential, but we all kind of knew that going in. So how do the Cavs look in Adjusted HV plus Points per 40 minutes?

Shrinkage for every player but LeBron. Notice how the regular season chart is round, with a spike for LeBron. There’s production from all the players. Even if you ignore the bench scrubs, you’ve still got a more even slide from point to point versus the citadel of LeBron surrounded by the hovels of Varejao and West. Let’s compare the Magic’s HV versus Cleveland’s.

So yeah, that LeBron Guy is pretty good. But when your 1-2 are battling to a stand still with the other guys who aren’t as talented, and the other team’s 6-7-8 are getting way more than your guys? That’s how you end up in a 2-1 hole, with only a miracle to your name. That’s how you lose 8 of 12 quarters.

The Cavs can definitely get back in this thing and I expect them to win Tuesday. But they’re going to have to turn Orlando into more of a one-to-two option team versus a team clicking on all cylinders, and possibly up the usage of their support players while also getting more bang for that usage buck. It ain’t rocket science, but if you want to make the Finals, your team is going to have to get you there and not just the guys on the commercials.

Sunday Night’s All Right For Fouling: Cavs at Magic, Game 3

  • And then, sometimes, the miracle is not answered.
  • James may have had his best game in this series, and at the same time, his worst offensive outing, if that makes sense. He had 9 assists and 7 boards with only two assists, better numbers than the first two games, but 11 of 28 from the field.
  • Most importantly, he shot 1-8 from the arc. Six attempts in game 1, made 50%. Three attempts in game two, hit one of three. I’ve said all year that James is at his best when he’s driving, creating, attacking, not settling for three point shots. It’s nice to have that weapon available when you need it (like when you’re down two with one second on the clock), but you don’t want to rely on it. It’s just not a good idea. I don’t think shooting three pointers is something you can’t rely on. Relying on James’ three point range is like deciding that the PS3 is better than Mario 64. Sure, the graphics are flashier, but it’s all about gameplay, friends.
  • Mo Williams called Anthony Johnson a cheapshot artist in postgame interviews, then dismissed him, saying “I could not care less about Anthony Johnson. He plays 12 minutes a game. It’s over with.” And it’s true, Anthony Johnson plays very little. He also got tagged with a flagrant for driving, making incidental contact, and accidentally cutting Williams’ eye open. He did not throw the ball at another player, nor did he have five turnovers tonight. So he’s got that going for him.
  • Don’t think the Cavs are just in a slump. I’ve talked a lot about this in the Roundcasts, but the Magic have long, athletic defenders at every position that are running off three pointers constantly. Effort but talent plus athletic ability. Equals they are kind of good.
  • I like the Cavs in Game 4. They’ve got one of those “all-around effort trumps matchup problems” games in them. I don’t like them in this series, but the Magic are due for a cold shooting night that will be a statistical outlier, and the Cavs have to start hitting shots with a defender in their face sometime. Theoretically.
  • Rafer Alston played above his ability tonight, but Hedo also shot horribly. If Rafer Alston is knocking down shots at even 40%? The Magic are tough to beat. Well, tougher.
  • Hedo’s shot isn’t there right now. But instead of going JR Smith and just shooting for shooting’s sake, Turkoglu is forcing fouls, being aggressive, and creating. He had 14 assists in Game 1, and 7 assists tonight, the biggest coming on a late key to rim drive and kick to Lewis for the dagger.
  • You kept waiting on Howard to clank those free throws. And for James to nail them (and James did ice a necessary pair late, but not enough). I actually got up to get another Dr. Pepper when James was at the line and said “and James hits the first.” … “Lebron misses ANOTHER free throw!” I stopped. Okay. That’s funny.But he’ll hit the second one. Front iron. Dang, King. Maybe you should try falling backwards and countdown from 1.
  • Meanwhile, Howard is becoming a MAN on the court in this series. Anybody can block shots and throw down dunks (well, okay, not anybody, but lots of guys). But hitting clutch free throws and drawing fouls inside? That’s big time, right there. There’s a compelling story coming IF the Magic can finish the job.
  • Oh, hi, Sasha Pavlovic. Welcome back to the statistical mean.
  • And in closing, Marcin Gortat is going to get PAID.

And That’s The MVP: Orlando at Cleveland, Game 2

  • Having slept on it, cooler heads have prevailed. I’m willing to let slide the miss on the technical. It was a bush league move by Mo Williams, Howard was going for all ball, I’m not entirely convinced he made contact, and it should have been a T. But the real point is just that that missed call, one outside of a judment blocking call, or an incorrect out of bounds call, or a false charge, was an obvious failure that directly shifted the course of the game. And that’s upsetting. The officials keep finding new ways to goad me into having to come after them, after I specifically said we shouldn’t. But I’m fine with leaving this game as “LeBron James did something awesome. The end.”
  • I still feel the exact same way I felt about this series before Game 2. I expected the Cavs to come out and take care of business in Game 2. Instead they let a team battling foul trouble come back from 23 down to take the lead in the fourth, and needed an amazing shot with one second remaining to split at home. Great win for the Cavs, but just another confidence builder for the Magic. They could have collapsed after the horrendous start. But they scrapped and clawed and gnawed their way back into it. Sometimes James is just going to hit that shot. Sometimes he won’t. The Magic put themselves in a great position to win and the MVP made an incredible shot that only a handful of players in the league can make and head home with one point standing in their way of a road sweep.
  • I’d like to say that the Magic desperately need to stop with these horrendous first quarters, but I mean, they had the lead at the end of the game with one second left. They need to stop with slow starts, but is it this huge weakness? This team seems to play a lot better when it’s behind, having to value every possession.
  • We’ve had two games with the same formula. Cavs come out looking awesome, yelling, getting open looks, looking dominant. The Magic adjust, chip away, shut down the Cavs, the rest of the Cavs besides James curl up in a ball and die, James has to try and bail them out. He did last night. But if the Magic get another possession in the next games, or if they don’t come out like crap covered bruscetta at home, where are we?
  • Maybe you think it’s just a Magic “fan” being partial. Try reading Windhorst this morning.
  • I’m not trying to just dog on the Cavs. I thought this was a fantastic team all season. But they’re being exposed a little bit. Sasha Pavlovic? Yeah, he won’t be slicing and dicing in the lane for runners and and-one layups in this series. And I like Z a lot. I think he’s a good guy, a great player, and a solid starting center. But his game is in those 15-18 footers he was hitting, not in the hook shots he was nailing against Howard. Howard’s going to adjust to that.
  • Okay, how about some stuff the Cavs did well?
  • When they are able to create good looks against the Magic, putting them in a position where they can’t run off the three point shooter, they’re great. That’s only happening about seven times a game, and most of it in the first quarters, but that’s where they can win this series. Demand that the Magic pull everyone at James and then have him kick, THEN rotate the ball again. One drive and kick is not enough to get the Magic too far out to run off the three. The Magic are KILLING themselves to run off the three. Something they learned from a seven game battle with the Celtics versus throwing the Atlanta Hawks in a dumpster and then throwing it off a pier. The Cavs seem remarkably frustrated at not just having open looks, like “Hey! Don’t run at me! Let me shoot!” That’s not going to happen.
  • Here’s what’s frustrating about the way the Cavs are having to win these games. It precludes me from being able to discuss how insanely awesome LeBron James is. Inside. Outside. The pull-up turnaround he nailed on Pietrus in the third was one of the most perfect basketball shots I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t pretty like a Kobe turnaround (or Jordan). It was like a ballistic missile. The sound of the net was louder than the crowd. His ability to get from elbow to rim is comparable to a cannonball. There’s just no time. On the charges Orlando drew, they had to have six steps advance warning, and still didn’t get there half the time.
  • Howard was limited by foul trouble, mostly because Flopsy Varejao can do two things right in this series. Dunk the ball and fall down. It’s working in Cleveland. If it doesn’t work in Orlando, Howard could have a monster game.
  • Delonte West driving could be a big advantage for Cleveland. He doesn’t seem to have the courage to do it. But he’s terrific at avoiding contact and getting a shot off. Which is what you need to do versus HOWARD SMASH. Don’t try and make contact and draw the foul. Don’t “go strong.” Leave that for LBJ. Avoid the contact and get the bucket. You’ll force Howard over, which will open up the weak side and create more opportunities.
  • Great example of how badly these matchups are going for Cleveland. The Cavs’ backup big guys have zero offensive moves. Varejao hit what will probably be his only hook of this series. Ben Wallace is Ben Wallace. Meanwhile, Marcin Gortat knows how to work the low pick and roll so well, it’s still mind boggling he doesn’t get more burn. Gortat scored as many points as Wallace and Varejao. In ten minutes.
  • Z did a much better job of denying the ball to Howard last night. Granted, most of Howard’s problems were with foul trouble (can a man get some superstar calls here, please?). But Z was fronting and daring the Magic to lob it, which for whatever reason they’re bad at. And by “for whatever reason” I mean “because Jameer Nelson’s shoulder is still four weeks out.”
  • Windhorst points out that the Cavs’ best chance is to play the percentages and hope for a Magic cold streak. And that’s really it. If the Magic shoot considerably above their season average, they’ll win easily. If they shoot well below it, they’ll lose easily, and if they shoot around their season average, you have the last two games. That’s got to be terrifying for Cleveland. They still haven’t faced Orlando’s best game yet. That was the team that obliterated them in early April.
  • You could make the same statement about the Cavs, except I just never got that feeling. I don’t look at Mo Williams’ shooting sorrows as a slump. It’s the Magic playing great defense (Orlando was #1 in defensive efficiency this season), and forcing them into bad shots. On one possession last night, the Cavs committed to getting a good shot, rotated, rotated, rotated, kept looking for the open three, and the Magic ran it off three times, leading to a shot clock violation. To be fair, the Cavs did the same thing on several possessions, but it seems like the Magic are plotting that, as its part of their strategy, versus Cleveland trying to overcome mismatches with effort. But then, maybe I’ve got magic in my eyes.
  • This series likely comes down to the same quandry we’ve long had. Is one, unstoppable, incredible, amazing player greater than a team loaded with weaponry? We know who the league wants to come out of this matchup. No one wants Orlando advancing. It’s bad for ratings, bad for publicity, and leads to the idea that players like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis and good coaching is better than OMG LEBRON IZ TEH AWESOMEZ.  Which is, honestly, probably bad for the health of the league.
  • But damn, these Magic just won’t die. James kicked them off last night. But I’ve got a feeling they’re still coming.