The Mavericks and Pythagorean Wins

by Matt Scribbins 21. June 2011 08:33

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 Pythagorean wins

A great predictor of NBA playoff success is regular season point differential. The key word is predictor, and sometimes predictions are wrong. If you are a believer in the wonders of point differentials, Dallas just became one of the most improbable championship teams since 1990.

Pythagorean wins is a wonderful statistic that converts scoring differentials into a predicted win-loss record. The statistic can show, among other things, teams that over/under perform, win/lose numerous close games, or just experience good/bad luck.

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks were a team who dominated in close games, and their Finals opponent was lambasted all season for their perceived inability to do the same. The Mavericks’ scoring differential indicated they should have won 53 games, and Miami’s differential indicated they should have won 61. In reality, the Mavs won 57 games, and the Heat won 58.

I went through the data from every Finals matchup since 1990 to highlight some trends:

1990 - 2010  (excluding 1999)

 

Champs

2nd Place

AVG Actual Wins

60.2

56.95

AVG P Wins

59.75

56.85

 *1999 is omitted due to shortened season*

2010-2011 Regular Season

 

Miami

Dallas

Actual Wins

58

57

P Wins

61

53

The Mavericks finished with four fewer Pythagorean wins than the average 2nd place team, and the Heat outdid the average champion by one Pythagorean win.  Clearly, the Heat matched more closely the profile of teams that hoisted the trophy, and the Mavericks had a profile similar to a runner-up. In fact, the 1997 Utah Jazz, who lost in the Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, are the only runner-up to post more Pythagorean wins than the 2011 Miami Heat.


To the Overachievers Go the Spoils

Biggest Differences

 

Winner

Loser

P Wins

1995

Houston

Orlando

-12

2011

Dallas

Miami

-8

1994

Houston

New York

-7

2006

Miami

Dallas

-6

 The two recent series between the Mavericks and Heat crowned the team who actually had considerably fewer Pythagorean wins. The only other recent champions to record fewer Pythagorean wins than their Finals opponent are the ’94 and ’95 Rockets and the ’01 Lakers. The Rockets repeat team actually posted the fewest actual wins (47) and Pythagorean wins (47) of any champion since 1990.

 

They Did it Their Way

Rank Among Champs (1990-2011)

Actual Wins

15*

P Wins

17*

O Rating

9*

D Rating

19

EFG%

2

TOV%

14*

ORB%

23

FTR

14

OPP EFG%

18*

OPP TOV%

19*

DEF REB%

3

OPP FTR

9

 

* Indicates tie

The chart paints a fairly clear picture: the Mavericks were one of the most successful shooting teams in recent history. EFG% is considered the most important of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, and the Mavericks were utterly dominant by this measure. The aforementioned ‘95 Rockets were the only unit to shoot better than the ‘11 Mavericks. Conversely, the defense for Dallas ranked just 18th among recent champions in opponents’ EFG%.

The Mavericks found themselves in the latter half of the pack in other important categories too (offensive rating, defensive rating, TOV%, etc.). However, rule changes and styles of play make some comparisons less than ideal.

 

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Year

Team

Margin

2003

Spurs

10

1994

Rockets

8

2011

Mavericks

7

 

Next, let’s take a look at Pythagorean win – actual win margin. The Mavericks exceeded their Pythagorean win total by four victories, and the Heat fell three games short of their Pythagorean win total (4- -3 = 7).

The only two champions since 1990 to experience a larger positive margin represent the other points of the Texas Triangle. The 2003 Spurs had three more actual wins than Pythagorean wins, and their Finals opponent, New Jersey, had seven fewer. In 1994, the Rockets had five more actual wins than Pythagorean wins, and their opponent, the Knicks, fell short of their Pythagorean win total by three games. 

Margin doesn’t appear to tell us very much as 11 champions since 1990 have had a positive number. The largest negative margin (-9) belongs to the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who crushed the Lakers quest for a four-peat. The Lakers outperformed their Pythagorean record by four victories, and the Pistons underperformed theirs by five wins.

 

“Houston, we have a lot in common.”

The 1995 Houston Rockets and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks shared many characteristics during their championship season. Both Texas teams featured underrated foreign superstars and faced a Finals opponent that had a significantly better scoring differential. Also, they prevailed in the Finals over teams from Florida that featured all-time great players in the midst of their peaks.

 

O Rating

EFG%

OPP EFG%

OPP TOV%

OPP FTR

2011 Mavs

109.7

0.525

0.488

0.130

0.206

1995 Rockets

109.7

0.529

0.489

0.139

0.199

The Mavericks made their money by making a historic percentage of their shots, but the ’95 Rockets are the only champion who manufactured a better EFG% during their regular season.

Do you remember the Mavericks relatively poor performance in opponents EFG%? Well, the Rockets were one of the only recent champions to post an inferior percentage.

 

Hoarders: NBA Edition

Scoring differential (Pythagorean wins) has historically predicted winners of the NBA Finals at an extremely high rate. Additionally, teams with a great record in close games have met their Waterloo before grabbing the trophy. In 2011, these scenarios were reversed and a team with a superb scoring margin was beat by a group who consistently eked out close victories.

We can speculate about some factors that probably influenced the Mavericks record in close games. For example, it is not uncommon during the regular season to see talented teams coast through 43 minutes of a game and then turn on the jets to shatter an inferior opponent (just watch the Timberwolves). Games like these would result in a win for Dallas, but the margin of victory would not reflect their true talent level. Reducing a game to five minutes of fury seems like a risky strategy, but it may be a sage, energy saving approach for a veteran team like Dallas.

Using the championship teams as a point of reference, let’s examine records in games decided by two points or fewer since the Mavericks Finals appearance in 2006.

Games Decided by 2 Points or Fewer (07-11)

 

Win

Loss

Win %

Mavericks

32

14

69.6%

Spurs

21

15

58.3%

Lakers

20

20

50.0%

Celtics

21

26

44.7%

It seems like the Mavericks have consistently won games in situations where other teams’ fates are basically decided by the flip of a coin. How did they do it?

The Mavericks appeared to utilize unprecedented information to build their title team. Mark Cuban said on his blog on October 10, 2010:

“The input of numbers into building a team is diminishing and being displaced by non traditional qualitative factors (…) You can try to understand both coaching and chemistry, and we continue to experiment with new ways to do so, but you can’t quantify either (...) Of course there are other elements that we are rapidly expanding at the Mavs that go into our team-building methodology, but I’m keeping all that to myself.”

He really is. Henry Abbot’s recent post on Truehoop discussed three vital members of the Mavericks staff (assistant coach, psychologist, and analyst). Roland Beech, the team’s analyst and founder of 82games.com, frequently discusses strategy with the coaching staff and even gets the privilege of sitting behind the bench during games. As influential as Beech is, the team’s psychologist and unheralded assistant coach may have equally impactful roles.

The Mavericks reached the mountain top with a progressive route, and it is a sure bet that other NBA teams will try to emulate their strategy. We don’t know for sure what the Mavericks do behind the scenes, but a championship banner in American Airlines Center will prove their efforts were worthwhile.

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Wrapping It Up

by Jeff Fogle 14. June 2011 21:12

Some final thoughts on the NBA Championship round as we wrap up the 2010-11 season...

I've been reading as many postmortems online as I could since the Dallas Mavericks won the title Tuesday night in Miami. Didn't want our wrap-up report to just repeat what everyone else was saying. Didn't want to join in the psychoanalysis of LeBron James either. I realized I hadn't seen a rundown yet of the plus/minus data for the NBA Finals posted in a prominent place. That sounded like a good way to summarize the series with something nobody was talking about yet.

Let's start with the champs.

Dallas Plus/Minus (Team +14)
Kidd +42
Nowitzki +40
Chandler +30
Marion +28
Terry +22
Cardinal +3
Mahinmi -4
Stojakovic -9
Haywood -11
Barea -24
Stevenson -31

Jason Kidd ended up passing Dirk in the sixth game because the big German shot so poorly most of the night. The bulk of the series was Dallas falling behind when Dirk rested...then rallying when he was back in the game. Tuesday, he struggled, and the rest of the team rallied to the cause. Nowitzki and Terry got a lot of press for their clutch scoring. Interesting that J-Kidd comes through with the best plus-minus for the six games in total.

Of course, that was keyed by the extreme finale. I'm always encouraging people to use medians rather than averages. Let me run those for select guys who played a lot of minutes...

Select Dallas Medians: Nowitzki +9.5, Kidd +8.5, Chandler +4, Terry +1, Marion 0, Stevenson -6, Barea -6.5.

Nowitzki moves back to the top. J-Kidd is right behind him. Terry had big games and quiet games, so his median is just above zero. Solid influence from Chandler. Can't say he was overlooked in the series because a lot of late coverage talked about his defensive impact and his leadership in the locker room. Think everyone (me too) could have done a better job of showcasing what he was doing on the floor as he was doing it.

J.J. Barea really jumps out here as a surpisingly bad negative. Now, he was definitely wreaking havoc on Miami during stretches where things were going well for the Mavs. But, he was also a bit of an albatross when his shots weren't falling. Rick Carlisle made a great counter-intuitive maneuver when he moved Barea to the starting lineup. That changed the defensive matchups around, and actually helped hide Barea's negatives more effectively.

There's been some talk since Tuesday about where Barea will end up next year. The perception is that he made himself a lot of money with his stellar playoffs. How stellar were they? He was a true danger against the slow-moving and unmotivated giraffe's of the Lakers (a +41 plus/minus in a series Dallas won by 56). Otherwise...

Plus/Minus from the Dallas perspective:
vs. Portland: -12 with Barea, +43 without him
vs. Oklahoma City: -29 with Barea, +49 without him
vs. Miami: -24 with Barea, +38 without him

There's undoubtedly some pollution in there because Barea is usually in when Dirk is resting. But, still...that's a fairly consistent negative sequence. And, Barea's weaknesses must shoulder some of the blame for why Dallas kept falling behind for most of the Miami series when Dirk was resting. Even with a coach who used him as creatively as possible, on a team that loves him, Barea was only a positive on-court force in spurts after the Lakers series.

Our eyes were drawn to Barea scooting around. Our eyes weren't as attracted to Chandler standing strong defensively in the paint. Dallas was +67 with Chandler vs. Oklahoma City and Miami, -33 without him. Glad I tabulated the plus/minus totals or that wouldn't have registered the way it should.

Let's do the Heat... 

Miami Plus/Minus (Team -14)
Chalmers +14
Howard +6
House +2
Haslem -2
Wade -6
Bosh -7
Bibby -10
Miller -11
Anthony -20
James -36

Yes, that's LeBron at -36. The "let's psycho-analyze LeBron" rush was followed by an "everyone should stop trying top psycho-analyze LeBron" backlash. What we see above is a numerical representation of the mystery that inspired all the talk. He DID disappear. He DID stop playing defense with intensity and energy in the last two games. He DID handle the ball like a hot potato rather than playing with aggression when the season was on the line (-11 and -24 in those last two games account for the bulk of his -36).

It's clear if you go back and look at tapes of the games. It's clear if you total up plus/minuses.

The medians push Wade and Bosh into positive territory, but still leave James way off the pack.

Select Miami Medians: Chalmers +4, Haslem +2, Wade +1, Bosh +0.5, James -5.5

This is HoopData, so will leave the psychoanalytics to others. The numbers do tell an interesting story though, don't they?

That wraps up this series of articles that began way back in December. I want to personally thank all of you who have been reading and/or commenting along the way, as well as HoopData creator Joe Treutlein for allowing me a forum to think out loud with so many of the great basketball stats that are available here at the site. A very fun ride. If any of you would like to drop me a note to talk hoops through the summer, my email address is simply my name at gmail.com. Don't want to print it formally because the spam machines may invade from all directions. If you're thinking as you type "it's weird to have three f's in a row like that," then you've typed it in correctly. No space between the first and last name.

Thanks also to everyone who's linked to HoopData stat pages or articles throughout the season, or referenced shot location data from boxscores or season summaries. Joe has done amazing work in terms of getting that information into an easy to read and understand format. Great to see it becoming a big part of so many discussions.

Enjoy the summer!

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Dallas Mavericks...World Champions

by Jeff Fogle 13. June 2011 01:10

Against a playoff slate that supposedly had them outmatched, the Dallas Mavericks went 16-5 versus the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Miami Heat (8-2 on the road!). They sent Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol home. They sent Kevin Durant home. Sunday night, they sent LeBron James and Dwyane Wade home. Thanks to a multi-faceted offense with inside and outside threats...and creatively disruptive defensive schematics that CONSTANTLY forced opposing stars to shoot from outside their comfort zones...the Mavericks presented a 21-game clinic that may change the way basketball is played across the NBA...

You can give the ball to your star and get out of the way. Or, you can run an offense that gets your best shooters good looks from their favorite spots.

You can hope your toughest defender can deny the stud on the other team. Or, you can study the strengths and weaknesses of every opposing player, every schematic, and every style to keep other teams from running their preferred attacks.

Chess in sneakers beat hero ball. (And Ghidorah never was "King of the Monsters!")

DALLAS 105, MIAMI 95
2-point pct: Dallas 54%, Miami 55%
3-pointers: Dallas 11/26, Miami 7/23
Free Throws: Dallas 12/18, Miami 20/33
Rebounds: Dallas 40, Miami 39
Turnovers: Dallas 14, Miami 16
1's and 2's: Dallas 72, Miami 74

The various post-mortems for the game and the series have discussed the emotions...what it means for Dirk or what it means for LeBron...what it's like to be hated or what it's like to be loved...it's great that so many reporters can keep asking the same questions about WHAT EVERYTHING MEANS! This is HoopData. Let's look at a few stats. I'll try and put together a post-mortem later in the week that goes into even further depth in terms of shot locations, strategies, etc...

TREYS
Miami led this stat in composite by a 30-27 margin after four games. The Heat had not only neutralized a stat that was supposed to provide an edge for Dallas...they were picking up extra points from long range.

Game Five: Dallas 13, Miami 8
Game Six: Dallas 11, Miami 7

That's +15 and +12 points from behind the arc in a series that had little margin for error. Miami couldn't make up the difference.

TURNOVERS
Miami led this stat in composite 32-43 after the first three games. Dallas is in big trouble when they lose the turnover category because it's easy for an opponent like Miami to turn those miscues into instant points. Again, there's not much margin or error in a series like this. Miami was up two games to one because they weren't getting beat on treys and they were picking up some extra points in transition.

Game Four: Dallas 10, Miami 13
Game Five: Dallas 11, Miami 16
Game Six: Dallas 14, Miami 16

So, it was 32-43 for Miami in the first three games (lower is better), but then 35-45 for Dallas in the last three. The Mavericks stopped making turnovers...and won three games in a row. You know, it would have been nice if one of the few dozen questions about what it "felt" like in the post-game press conference could have instead been about WHY MIAMI TURNED INTO A TURNOVER-MAKING MACHINE IN THE LAST THREE GAMES!

CRUNCH TIME SCORING
This wasn't an issue in Sunday's Game Six because Dallas had already built a 10-point lead through the first 42 minutes of the game. They just had to hold on, and they did. But, it's still astonishing that one team could dominate another to such an extreme degree in the last six minutes of game action over the course of the full series.

Game One: Miami 17, Dallas 15
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5
Game Five: Dallas 17, Miami 9
Game Six: Dalas 11, Miami 11

Total: Dallas 86, Miami 54

That's +32 points in 36 minutes of action. Pro-rate it to a 48-minute game, and Dallas wins 115-72. Crunch time dominance of this magnitude wasn't supposed to be possible. Not only was it possible. It was the series UNDERDOG that was doing the dominating.

LEBRON'S DISAPPEARANCE
Don't want to get into any guesses about emotions or character. I do think that the numerical represenation of LeBron's sudden passiveness is an important part of the story.

Round One: 16.2 shots per game vs. Philadelphia
Round Two: 21.6 shots per game vs. Boston
East Finals: 18.8 shots per game vs. Chicago
NBA Finals: 15.0 shots per game vs. Dallas

LeBron wasn't needed to dominate against the Sixers. He was extremely authoritative against Boston and Chicago. Versus Dallas? You know the story. We'll look more at shot distribution in a wrap-up piece within the next couple of days. Dallas took away his preferences.

Miami was favored in this series because many were expecting LeBron to be LEBRON. When he wasn't, Dallas became the better team. Most importantly, James was a key factor in the categories we discussed above.

*2 of 12 on treys in the last three games
*14 turnovers committed in the last three games
*Utter invisibility during the "last six minute" collapses

More in a few days. For now, congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks. And thanks for the kindness Mark Cuban showed in taking time to post comments before each series that helped HoopData readers understand what the Mavericks were thinking about round-by-round through their gauntlet of challenges. There were multiple stories out there about how Cuban wasn't commenting to the media. He posted comments here during that "media blackout," and it was greatly appreciated.

Thanks also to all of you have have been with us as readers throughout the season and through the playoffs. I hope the experience was as fun for you as it was for me. See you soon to wrap things up...

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Some Notes on Dirk Nowitzki

by Jeff Fogle 12. June 2011 00:48

Was thinking about some of the coverage of Dirk Nowitzki's run through the playoffs. Wanted to make sure the media discussion reflects the full extent of what he's accomplished.

First, it's been noted that Dirk has lifted his per-game scoring average from 23.0 in the regular season to 28.1 in the playoffs. That sounds like a big leap. It IS a big leap. But, he is playing more minutes per-game as well. In the postseason to this point Nowitzki is averaging 39.4 minutes per game. In the regular season it was just 34.3 (a level of pacing that looks very intelligent in retrospect since he seems fresh through an increased grind in the playoffs).

He jumped five points. He jumped five minutes. Don't those just cancel out?

Well, let's pro-rate them to 40 minutes...

Regular Season: 26.8 points per 40 minutes
Playoffs So Far: 28.8 points per 40 minutes

Not quite. Dirk is scoring more productively even after you adjust for minutes per game. Let that register for a second. Dirk's per-minute scoring has gone up...IN THE PLAYOFFS!

*In the playoffs, you're not facing a composite of NBA defenses that can range from great to horrible...and from fired up to indifferent. You're only facing playoff caliber defenses...all of which are battling for their playoff lives to to speak. Scoring is more difficult in the postseason than in the regular season, particularly if you're a focal point of opposing defenses.

Here's how Nowitzki's playoff opponents ranked this year in defensive efficiency starting with Miami and working back to the opening round.

Miami: 5th
Oklahoma City: 11th
LA Lakers: 6th
Portland: 14th

There are 30 teams in the NBA, so we're looking at the upper half of the league obviously. It's also important to remember that Oklahoma City upgraded its defense at the trade deadline. Over the last 18 games of the regular season, OKC had a defensive efficiency equivalent with "best quadrant" play. Nowitzki has faced three good defenses and an average one.

So...he's jumped two points per 40 minutes while facing a much tougher defensive challenge.

*In the playoffs, games slow way down. Possessions are treasured. Dallas averaged 93.2 possessions per game during the regular season. It's only 88.2 so far in a sequence of grinder rounds through the playoffs.

Dirk increased his per-minute scoring production...in slower games...versus better defenses.

Let me give you a quick recent example from another sport where that DIDN'T happen.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were fantastic offensively in the second half of the 2010 NFL season. They averaged 37.4 points per game in their last eight outings. New England entered the postseason amidst hoopla about having one of the greatest offenses ever. Then they ran into the New York Jets.

Facing an elite defense, that was playing at peak intensity with its season on the line...the supposedly unstoppable Patriots offense had 3 points at halftime, and only 11 at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, before picking up some late numbers in a 28-21 loss that stunned more than a few football pundits.

Here's one from college hoops. Ohio State took the #1 "adjusted offense" in the nation (using Ken Pomeroy's numbers) into a Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky (15th ranked "adjusted defense"). The Buckeyes shot 33% from the floor in a low scoring 62-60 loss you probably watched on TV.

It's a much tougher environment in the postseason. Any team or individual who can consistently maintain regular season norms is doing something impressive. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 28 points per game...in 88 possession grinders...against top caliber defenses.

Given the changing context, standing pat is "rising to the occasion." Dirk's done better than that. And, his scoring increase isn't just a matter of playing more minutes. It's doing more in those minutes in a tougher environment.

And, none of it will end up mattering if Dallas doesn't win Sunday or Tuesday night! Dirk Nowitzki is about to face a top notch defense that has its backs to the wall for the first time in the playoffs. His and his team's toughest challenges may still be ahead.

So many storylines in play Sunday evening. We'll touch on as many as we can after the game with numbers and notes around midnight. See you then...

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More Notes on LeBron

by Jeff Fogle 10. June 2011 21:17

I did some more digging on LeBron James' numbers this year in the playoffs. I think we're definitely honing in on the reasons for his recent fourth quarter disappearances.

Given the buzz recently about fatigue setting in because James is playing so many minutes, let's start with that data...

LEBRON'S AVERAGE MINUTES BY SERIES
42.4 versus Philadelphia (peak 44)
44.6 versus Boston (peak 50)
45.2 versus Chicago (peak 49)
44.4 versus Dallas (peak 46)

There was an overtime game in both the Boston and Chicago series that pushed James past the 48-minute regulation mark as a peak. Note that, conveniently, LeBron has played exactly five games versus all four opponents right now, which will give us some very good comparisons as we run through various categories. (If you'd like to do your own digging, LeBron's game-by-game summaries are here)

Okay...that's a lot of minutes. The very high numbers versus Boston and Chicago point to the intensity LeBron and the team had versus those opponents. Remember how Miami celebrated after beating Boston? Much more than teams usually do against a second round opponent. Beating Chicago put them in the Finals. LeBron was almost always on the floor in those series.

Thought it would be interesting to go see how many minutes Michael Jordan played in the playoffs back in the day. If ANYONE is going to be on the court all the time...it's Jordan at the height of the Jordan era. Here are the playoff per-game averages in his championship years:

40.5, 41.8, 41.2, 40.7, 42.0, 41.5 (Jordan's career page at Basketball-Reference is here)

So...Jordan...when he was JORDAN...was generally in the 40-42 range. Miami's giving more minutes to LeBron than Chicago gave to Jordan by a significant degree. And, given the nature of fatigue...you have to think those extra few minutes are meaningful. The difference between playing 11 minutes and 14 minutes is neglible. The difference between 41 and 44 is much more likely to have "straw on a camel's back" potential because of wear and tear at such a high volume.

There are a few good measures of "energy" in my view. Maybe some of you have ones we can add. Let's start with usage rate.

LEBRON'S USAGE RATE BY SERIES

28.3 vs. Philadelphia
33.9 vs. Boston
30.5 vs. Chicago
24.7 vs. Dallas

LeBron was a big factor but not a ball hog vs. Philly. He was much more prominent vs. Boston and Chicago. He's obviously backed off vs. Dallas.

If you look at free throw attempts, the differences are much more striking. Remember how Derrick Rose of Chicago stopped going to the line against Indiana when he sprained his ankle? We know James didn't sprain an ankle. And, there's no sign of any injury to the naked eye right now as far as I can tell. He's getting to the line this series like he's playing on Rose's bad ankle!

LEBRON'S TOTAL FREE THROW ATTEMPTS

50 vs. Philadelphia
42 vs. Boston
44 vs. Chicago
16 vs. Dallas

It's been five games in every series...and LeBron is logging a zillion minutes. Extremely similar backdrops. I had already forgotten the degree to which James had marched to the free throw line in the earlier rounds. He's dropped from 10 free throws per game vs. Philadelphia to 3.2 vs. Dallas. Stunning.

So, the "energy" stats are certainly suggesting fatigue. Now, they could also be suggesting very smart defense by Dallas. Their approach with LeBron has been to deny drives at the basket in the set offense, and encourage jumpers. That cuts down on free throws. His jumpers haven't been falling, so he may have naturally cut back due to a lack of confidence. He isn't necessarily tired. But, he is DEFINITELY being less aggressive in this series for whatever reason.

We've talked often throughout the playoffs about how the Dallas defense tries to make you shoot from outside your comfort zone. They do a very good job of this. It's conceivable that there's no fatigue, and this is just LeBron doing a poor job of figuring out what to do against the Dallas defense. A combination of the two factors would make a lot of sense. He's tired AND facing a smart defense that's taken him out of his comfort zone.

A few analysts, notably Jon Barry on ESPN, have commented on how LeBron never developed any sort of post game to take advantage of mismatches in his years in the NBA. I think this is playing into the dynamics as well. His traditional weapons aren't working, and his bag of tricks isn't very deep.

Let's play this out...

*LeBron's offense has historically consisted of flying past people for dunks or layups, or hitting jumpers over them if they back off. He's done that since before high school. He was such a dominating force nobody could stop it. He never needed to develop other threats because that got him to where he needed to be.

*LeBron can get away with that during the regular season because few pro teams are capable of denying this force of nature.

*LeBron can even get away with that in the early rounds of playoffs. We all remember some very dynamic stretches in past years where he seemed unstoppable with the mix of flying past people or hitting his jumpers.

*Once you get to elite defenses though, it becomes harder to pull that off consistently. And, it's exhausting to keep up the effort several games in a row.

*Dallas, either with their zone, or the other defensive strategies they're using, has denied LeBron's preferred pathways to the basket. They're going to make him beat them with jumpers.

*The first sign that fatigue is setting in comes on jumpers. They start falling short or veering off to one side (presenting an alternative explanation to the elbow injury for last year's demise late in the Boston series...LeBron was horrible shooting the ball outside of two feet during the demise if you'll recall from past studies). Offline jumpers were obviously prominent Thursday night.

*Ergo...LeBron gradually starts to disappear in this year's championship series because he has no workable options. Tired legs have taken away the consistency of his jumpers and Dallas isn't letting him attack the basket. In the last three games of this series, LeBron is 1 of 3 from 10-15 feet, 1 of 8 from 16-23 feet, and 1 of 11 on treys...for a combined 3 of 22 in the areas Dallas wants him to shoot from.

That felt like a geometry proof from high school!

A mix of smart defense from Dallas, heavy-minute fatigue for James, and the realization from LeBron that he shouldn't be shooting jumpers given his low percentage has led to fourth quarter shrinkage. He doesn't want the ball in his hands because there's not much productive he can do right now with tired legs against a smart defense.

A possibility anyway. Two days off before Sunday's Game Six might help him freshen up. If that happens and Miami wins, he'd have to come back with only one day off for Game Seven on Tuesday. If this is all a result of Dallas defense and there's no fatigue...he'd better find a new trick pretty quick.

Back with you late Sunday with numbers and notes...

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