Lakers Leave Early, Hawks Hang Around

by Jeff Fogle 9. May 2011 00:07

The result in Dallas wasn't a surprise, though the magnitude was. The Lakers lost by 36 points to the Mavericks and temporarily imploded as a franchise. The result in Atlanta WAS a big surprise, as the Hawks got up off the mat to score a double digit victory over the startled Chicago Bulls...

DALLAS 122, LA LAKERS 86
3-pointers: Lakers 5/24, Dallas 20/32

No other stats mattered! The rest was just trivia. Well, trivia and meltdowns. The general themes we've been discussing through the series magnified themselves in one big grand finale.

*Dallas owned the arc, and the Lakers couldn't get out there to guard the various weapons. It's like LA lost an extra half step with each passing day. They got reasonably close to shooters when allowing 8 of 25 in Game Two...not so close when allowing 12 of 29 in Game Three...and not in the same zip code when allowing 20 of 32 today. (Credit of course to Dallas for shooting lights out with those open looks...an amazing performance in a playoff game no matter where the defense was).

*The Dallas bench was MUCH better than the Lakers bench. Dallas didn't even have to worry about getting Lakers starters into foul trouble. The bench just came in and produced. The Lakers got little on either end from their subs. That caused the starters to wear down badly.

*The "every other day" format played right into the hands of Dallas because of their depth and spread attack. Nightmare scenario for LA in a way that wasn't fully appreciated going in (except by the Mavs, who we know had that on their minds before Game One).

I probably haven't been giving Dirk Nowitzki enough credit in the write-ups this week. It's not that I think he's irrelevant. But, he's more of an inside the arc player...and the Lakers were winning inside the arc.

1+2 Margins: Lakers by 10, 6, 21, 9
Trey Margins: Mavs by 12, 18, 27, 45

Clearly the potency of Dirk on offense helped prevent the Lakers from covering the arc to the degree that was needed. I guess I'm saying that Dirk could have been counteracted by the Lakers inside talent if Dallas wasn't making all of those treys. Stars cancel out to a degree, and the treys become the tie-breaker (or the inside deficit buster).

Dallas averaged 8 treys per game during the regular season. If you give them eight in each game here, they lose the opener by 1, win Game Two by 12, lose Game Three by 6, and today's game would have gone overtime. Entirely different series. Dirk's a star, and helped neutralize opposing stars so the treys and the bench could provide the victory margins.

I'll talk more about this in the Western Conference Championship preview. Whoever they face, Dallas will run into a team that's not as easily dominated by treys. Memphis completely disrupted San Antonio's trey attack (as an average of 8.4 per game for the Spurs fell to 6-7-2-5-7-5). Oklahoma City was facing a Denver team in the first round that averaged 8.1 per game in the regular season. The Thunder outscored the Nuggets from behind the arc in that series.

ATLANTA 100, CHICAGO 88

2-point pct: Chicago 47%, Atlanta 52%
3-pointers: Chicago 3/16, Atlanta 4/11
Free Throws: Chicago 21/27, Atlanta 16/20
Rebounds: Chicago 37, Atlanta 36
1's and 2's: Chicago 79, Atlanta 88

I included free throws because Derrick Rose had happy feet again and worked his way to the free throw line. He was 9 of 11 from the charity stripe after going 0-0, 4-6, and 8-9 in the first three games. You can see his ankle improving in that sequence. And, tonight, he seemed to have good backward and side-to-side movement for the first time in quite a while (I hope I haven't ruined the series for you by encouraging you to look at his feet all night!).

It's funny how Rose could mostly only go forward at reasonable speed in Game Three, yet scored a million points because Atlanta's defense was inexplicably passive. Tonight, Atlanta got much more aggressive...and Rose's confidence with his movement really got him into trouble. He was constantly running into blocked shots or ill-advised shooting attempts. He seemed to get a bit tired in the fourth quarter too, leading to this awful sequence that pretty much decided the game.

CHICAGO LEADS 76-75 WITH 9:00 LEFT
8:52: Rose misses 14-foot runner
8:36: Rose misses 8-footer
8:00: Rose misses driving layup
(Korver makes a deuce, and Gibson makes 2 FT's---80-78 Bulls)
6:09: shot clock turnover
5:48: Rose bad pass
5:07: Rose makes 7-footer (but misses FT)
4:30: Rose makes driving layup
3:51: Rose misses driving layup
3:36: Rose misses 6-footer
3:02: Rose loses ball
2:27: Rose loses ball

Chicago was down 6 at the time of that last turnover, and Atlanta would dunk on the next possession to take an 8-point lead with two minutes to go at 92-84.

In those six minutes that decided the game, Rose was 2-7 shooting, suffered three turnovers, and was the point guard during a shot clock violation.

He got his legs back and ran himself, and his team, into trouble as he was re-adjusting to his returning horsepower.

Chicago still looks to be in good shape in the series because they have home court advantage...they have the league MVP back very close to normal health...and we've seen that Atlanta has trouble stringing together good games. What's scary for Chicago is that their perimeter shooting just comes and goes with little warning.

2-Point Percentages: 45%, 45%, 46%, 47%
3-Point Percentages: 44%, 23%, 50%, 19%

Tough to see the stars aligning for Atlanta twice in the next three games. Chicago still isn't master of its universe though when it comes to playoff basketball. A #1 seed shouldn't be having this much trouble with an Indiana-Atlanta sequence, even accounting for injuries.

Two games Monday Night. Back about an hour after the second game ends...

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Hawks Shock Bulls

by Jeff Fogle 3. May 2011 00:16

If there was one second round series in the NBA Playoffs that was going to be a walkover, it was Atlanta/Chicago. Most pundits picked the Bulls to win in four or five games. Those who picked Chicago in five weren't thinking rested Chicago was going to lose at home right out of the gate! We now have TWO series favorites in the first two days who must win back home court advantage...

Atlanta's win over Chicago wasn't as big a surprise as Memphis over Oklahoma City in terms of victory margin. But the Hawks were the bigger underdog at tip-off. In fact, they were just as big an underdog here as they were in Orlando. Funny how that worked out:

Atlanta 103, Orlando 93 opening Round One
Atlanta 103, Chicago 95 opening Round Two

Atlanta wouldn't break 100 points again in the Orlando series, though they would go on to win four games to two. Actually, they wouldn't even break 90 again! Atlanta scored 82-88-88-76-84 in the last five games. Given the caliber of Chicago's defense, it wouldn't be surprising to see a replay of that as well. Can Atlanta win low scoring games against Chicago? Games where they don't shoot over 50% on two's and three's?

I'll get to the game stats in a moment. I wanted to lead with what I think are the most important numbers from tonight's game. See if you can recognize what these are:

19/21
12/13
13/15
2/4
6/7
0/0

Those are Derrick Rose's free throw numbers in chronological order through the playoffs. The first five games are from the Indiana series obviously. The double goose-eggs are from tonight.

Can you tell when he first injured his ankle?! That happened in the first quarter of Game Four. He played hobbled the rest of the way, and couldn't draw fouls because he couldn't explode at the basket. That was the only game Chicago lost in the series. He picked up the pace a little bit in Game Five. But, the Bulls shot lights out from long range (14 of 31) and won a blowout where Rose didn't need to be much of a factor.

Tonight, he didn't seem hobbled by any means. But, he wasn't able to explode INTO mighty mite Jeff Teague or whoever was guarding him at the time. He could drive and shoot (9 of 20 on two-pointers). He could drive and pass (10 assists). But, he couldn't drive and draw fouls. As a result, he ended with 24 points on 27 shots (including 2 of 7 on treys). Given the limited margin for error in most of Chicago's recent wins, that's a glaring concern.

And then he sprained the same ankle again in the final seconds!

That's why those numbers are more important than the game stats to me. If Rose can't get to the free throw line, this is going to be a series. If Rose continues to break down from the wear/tear/fatigue issues that come from sprinting into a lion's den to get mauled every night for four months (he started really attacking the rim around New Year's)...then top seeded Chicago might actually be in real trouble.

This series goes:
Monday
Wednesday
Friday
Sunday
Tuesday
Thursday
Sunday

That's every other day through the first six games (also the case in Mavs/Lakers, which is why Dallas is hoping they can tire out the Lakers--as referenced by Mark Cuban in a comment below the second round previews posted a few days ago). There's little recovery time for injuries. If somebody on Memphis or OKC sprains an ankle Tuesday night, they don't play again until Saturday. Derrick Rose has to come back Wednesday after limping off the court tonight. Then, if he can, play again Friday and Sunday.

Now let's run the numbers...

ATLANTA 103, CHICAGO 95
2-point pct: Atlanta 51%, Chicago 45%
3-pointers: Atlanta 7/13, Chicago 8/18
Rebounds: Atlanta 38, Chicago 37
Turnovers: Atlanta 10, Chicago 11
1's and 2's: Atlanta 82, Chicago 71

Both teams shot well from long range. This was actually a very cleanly played game for the Eastern Conference! Probably a tease based on what happened with these two teams in the prior round.

SCORING SUMS BY GAME
Chicago/Indiana: 203, 186, 172, 173, 215
Atlanta/Orlando: 196, 170, 172, 173, 177, 165

They averaged near 200 in the openers, then dropped mostly into the 170's until the Bulls had that big game from behind the arc to finish off the Pacers.

Individually, Joe Johnson will have trouble replicating his 34 points on 12 of 18 from the floor and 5 of 5 on treys. But, it' s not like Atlanta won this game with treys. Chicago outscored them from behind the arc. Atlanta won scoring on 1's and 2's, rebounding, and turnovers. On the road.

We'll have to see how Rose recovers from tonight's late tweak. He's listed as "day-to-day" as of halftime of Mavs/Lakers. That game started and ended too late for commentary this evening. I'll run the key stats in our Tuesday night report.

Oh, we have expanded boxscores!

Game One of Memphis/Oklahoma City is here
Game One of Boston/Miami is here
Game One of Atlanta/Chicago is here

See you late Tuesday...

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Lakers, Hawks Move On

by Jeff Fogle 29. April 2011 00:05

The Los Angeles Lakers look to have regained the form that won them the last two championships. Atlanta had to sweat another ending, but earned themselves a second round matchup with the Chicago Bulls. Both teams finished off their respective series Thursday night in six games. Let's look at the key numbers from tonight and the 4-2 first round victories.

As we've been doing all week, we'll take the games in the order they finished...

ATLANTA 84, ORLANDO 81
2-Point Pct: Orlando 50%, Atlanta 41%
3-Point Shooting: Orlando 5/19, Atlanta 8/22
Rebounds: Orlando 31, Atlanta 38
Turnovers: Orlando 13, Atlanta 13
1's and 2's: Orlando 66, Atlanta 60

Orlando had a big edge in terms of shooting accuracy inside. But, Atlanta made up for that with three additional treys, and their best offensive rebounding performance of the series (14 grabs and an offensive rebound rate of 36.8). You can make up for a lesser percentage if you're getting second chance points.

That was the story of Game Six. The story of the series is that Atlanta completely took away Orlando's three-point potency except in the game they blew off to save their energy for tonight. The Magic averaged 9.4 treys per game this season. Here's what happened in the series...

MAGIC TREYS PER GAME
Game One: 6
Game Two: 5
Game Three: 8
Game Four: 2
Game Five: 11
Game Six: 5

Can you guess which game Atlanta slacked off on perimeter defense?

ORLANDO'S TREY PERCENTAGES
Game Five: 42.3% (63.4% effective rate)
All Others: 22.6% (33.9% effective rate)

It's funny how this series mirrored the Atlanta season in terms of victory margins. Because Game Five was a 25-point loss, Atlanta was actually outscored in the series by 1.8 points per game. They also suffered some massive margin losses during the regular season in games they no-showed.

Full Season: 44-38 (-0.8 average margin)
This Series: 4-2 (-1.8 average margin)

This kind of team can wreak havoc on metrics. The full season math suggested Orlando should have won this series comfortably. They were at +5.5 for the season, compared to that -0.8 for Atlanta. That works out to +6.3 on a neutral court...or around +9 to +10 at home and +2 to +3 on the road when you factor in home court advantage (and, those were the general ranges for this series in the prediction markets). A favorable set of personnel matchups and what may have been polluted perceptions sent the series careening away from expectations.

It's interesting how much of the playoffs has been more competitive than full season data would have anticipated, even when series math ended up getting close to the averages!

Here's what I mean:

*Chicago was at +7.3 for the season in margin average, compared to -1.1 for Indiana. That would suggest +8.4 on a neutral court...with ranges from Bulls by 12-ish at home and 4-ish on the road (in line with prediction markets again). We know the series felt MUCH closer than that. Indiana lost three tight ones before breaking through with a victory. But, Chicago's blowout win at home in Game Five brought the average back in the range of expectations. Chicago's margin average in the first round was +7.4.

*Miami was at +7.5 for the season in margin average, compared to +1.5 for Philadelphia. That would suggest +6.0 on a neutral court...with ranges from Heat by 10-ish at home and 2-ish on the road (prediction markets were in that neighborhood in Miami, but had the Heat in the 4-5 range in Philly). Again, the series felt much closer than a +6.0 differential would suggest. In fact, the Heat were nip and tuck in the final minutes in four of the five games. Their blowout win in Game Two led to a +7.4 edge for the full series.

*The Lakers were at +6.1 for the season in margin average, compared to +0.9 for New Orleans. That would suggest +5.2 on a neutral court...with ranges from Lakers by 9-ish at home and 1 to 2-ish on the roa (prediction markets were bullish on the Lakers because of past playoff success and the late season injury to David West of the Hornets) The Lakers were stunned twice in a series that had many questioning their championship chops with an aging lineup. Yet, the final margin average was +7.2 per game...which is in line with a +6.1 starting point with an adjustment for the absence of West.

In easier to read form:
Chicago +8.4 regular season edge, +7.4 in playoffs
Miami +6.0 regular season edge, +7.4 in playoffs
Lakers +5.2 regular season edge, +6.1 in playoffs

Even though Indiana gave Chicago all they could handle in the first four games...Philly did the same to Miami four times in five...and New Orleans shocked Kobe and Company twice...those series still ended up within a stone's throw of the math. (I didn't do any tweaking for the extra home game Chicago and Miami played...that would knock them to just below 7.0 if you really want to pin things down)

Atlanta/Orlando wasn't like that!

Orlando +6.3 regular season edge, +1.8 in playoffs (despite losing)

Orlando needed a blowout to get to a positive differential. And, even that left them way behind what the regular season had hinted at. That gives you a sense of how important Atlanta's perimeter defense was in this series, and how well their bigs influenced the impact of Dwight Howard.
 
LA LAKERS 98, NEW ORLEANS 80
2-Point Pct: Lakers 48%, New Orleans 48%
3-Point Shooting: Lakers 5/14, New Orleans 3/14
Rebounds: Lakers 43, New Orleans 30
Turnovers: Lakers 12, New Orleans 14
1's and 2's: Lakers 83, New Orleans 71

Once the Lakers got serious, they were very impressive in the areas where they needed to impress. You know by watching they were most serious in Game Two after the first loss, then in Games 5-6 after the second wake-up call. Here's how that seriousness manifested itself in two key areas.

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S (Rebounding Totals in parenthesis)
Game Two: Lakers 75, New Orleans 65 (Lakers 44-36)
Game Five: Lakers 85, New Orleans 60 (Lakers 42-25)
Game Six: Lakers 83, New Oleans 71 (Lakers 43-30)

Game Two was a nine-point win that was still kind of pedestrian. The blowouts that finished off the series were very much vintage Lakers. This isn't a team where you ever say "if they don't hit some treys they're going to be in trouble." The most dangerous weapons are inside the arc.

I should also note the evidence for impassioned defense in the turnover category...

LAKERS' FORCED TURNOVERS
In Losses: 3 and 10
In Wins: 16, 14, 17, 14

I don't want to go overboard about the Lakers strong showings the last two games. New Orleans was due to wear down, and the Hornets were shorthanded inside. Boston also ended its first round series with two impressive wins...against a shorthanded team that had a scarecrow in the paint because of Amare Stoudemire's back injury. Those are the only examples so far of consecutive double digit wins in the postseason. And they've come from veteran teams who know how to close. (As I write this, Dallas has a chance to join the short list of teams earning b2b double digit wins with one quarter to go in the late start in Portland.) We're at least seeing championship form from the Lakers now. The high level of play they enjoyed during their 17-1 surge after the All-Star Break has returned. Dallas/Portland started too late for commentary tonight. Will provide a comprehensive stat look at that game and the whole series in a Texas-themed Friday night report that will run about an hour after Memphis/San Antonio finishes (that's the only Friday game).

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Hawks Stun Magic, Mavs Rally Late

by Jeff Fogle 17. April 2011 00:25

Day One of the NBA Playoffs is in the books. Let's jump right into stat notes from the evening action as the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks joined Chicago and Miami in the winner's circle...

We start with notes on Atlanta's 103-93 win over Orlando. The first two games of the day had classic boxscores showing what hapens when power teams are hosting inferior opposents. Atlanta/Orlando seemed like it was from another dimension. (Expanded boxscore here)

TWO-POINT SHOOTING
Atlanta: 53%
Orlando: 53%

You've probably heard about Dwight Howard's huge game (46 points and 19 rebounds). Maybe he had that phone booth in the locker room that he used for his Superman gimmick awhile back. All the power and glory only earned a dead heat inside the arc though. Howard had five fouls on the night. That means he had to back off a bit when Atlanta's offense was in the paint.

SHOOTING INSIDE 10 FEET
Atlanta: 15 of 24 (63%)
Orlando: 24 of 39 (62%)

Howard took 23 shots (31% of his team's attempts). Atlanta had four guys in the 12-16 range in attempts. Balance is better, particularly when Orlando's defense really isn't great at guarding a variety of weapons at once.

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S
Atlanta: Atlanta 85
Orlando: Orlando 75

Orlando loses this stat by double digits even though Howard marched to the line all night (14 of 22 on free throws). Orlando has the power reputation, but it was Atlanta winning with the points that are "easiest" to get so to speak. Howard is a power player in the extreme. Orlando isn't a power team, particularly when Howard has to watch his fouling. 

TURNOVERS
Atlanta: 9
Orlando: 18

Eight of those Magic turnovers were from Howard. An awful night for the Magic in this stat because Atlanta doesn't grade out as a turnover-forcing team. They had the lowest regular season "forced turnover" rate of all 16 playoff teams when we ran the numbers a couple of days ago. 

MADE 3-POINTERS
Atlanta: 6
Orlando: 6

Orlando averages 9.4 per game, and NEEDS three's to win as a general rule. Atlanta graded out second-best in the East (to Chicago) at guarding the perimeter when we ran those numbers...third best among all 16 playoff teams (also behind LAL). Clearly they've decided to let Howard get his points as long as they can deny open looks from long range (Orlando was 6 of 22 tonight).

If you give Orlando nine made treys tonight, it's a closer game but still a loss. To rally back for control of the series, Orlando will have to do more than just regressing back to their normal trey production. And, Atlanta will be focused on not letting them do that (unless the Hawks relax in Game Two because they already scored their service break).

I was looking through the slot location data in the expanded boxscore. This jumped out:

16-23 FEET
Atlanta 13 of 27 (48%)
Orlando: 2 of 10 (20%)

Orlando plays an inside-out game that tends to ignore this part of the floor. Howard's at the rim or a bunch of other guys are bombing away. Atlanta took 27 shots in a range they're comfortable with but Orlando isn't very good at guarding. It's not like Howard can sprint around trying to guard EVERYBODY. The rest of the Magic are poor defensively. Atlanta got a lot of open jumpers and made nearly half.

We're likely to see a lot of shots in this area for the Hawks through the whole series. Atlanta shot the second most attempts in the league in the 16-23 foot range this season. Because of the nature of Orlando's defense, Magic opponents took the fourth most attempts from that range this season (you can sort on the categories at those links).

We know what the series is going to look like. Atlanta will try to make today's approach work three more times. Orlando has to find something that works four times in the next six games. Oh, early heads up...Chicago aggressively defends the paint and the perimeter. Atlanta will have to continue making jumpshots in this same range should they advance to a second round meeting with the Bulls.

Portland at Dallas ended late, with the Mavs winning 89-81 (expanded boxscore here). Only time for some quick thoughts at this late hour...

*Dallas built a 47-37 lead at the half, and did a very good job of not allowing fast break points off turnovers. The ESPN boxscore showed ZERO fast break points for the Blazers at the break. When Portland stormed back to take a lead, they were helped by some cheapies off takeaways. Dallas ended with 13 turnovers. Portland finished with 13 fast break points.

*Dallas won treys by a startling 10-2 margin. The full season averages were 7.9 to 6.3 coming in. Can the Mavs count on Jason Kidd nailing six a game? The final score in 1's and 2's was Portland 75-59. Dallas did grade out well in guarding the perimeter the other day. Portland probably won't be quite this bad again though (a woeful 2 of 16 behind the arc).

*LaMarcus Aldridge is a handful! Two-Point shooting: Portland 55%, Dallas 36%. 

*This game was slow as molasses with just 83 possessions per team, slowest of the four today by far. Both teams were happy playing a halfcourt game, so we should expect a grinder-type series.

Back after the two day games are complete Sunday. Thanks to everyone who's checking in during the playoffs for the notes and expanded boxscores. We hope what you read at HoopData will add to your enjoyment of the NBA playoffs.

Stuff I thought about after writing up the report on the early Saturday games:

*Chicago's main offensive thrust right now is having Derrick Rose repeatedly sprint into a lion's den to get mauled. That's likely to take a toll in the playoffs, particularly against more physical teams in later rounds (though there's a better chance now he won't have to worry about running into Dwight Howard). I think some of his poor three-point shooting (0 for 9 today) is simply him saying something to himself like "I need a break from the maulings, I'm going to punt this one." Chicago has the best offensive rebound rate in the East, so the misses don't hurt as much as it might seem.

*Miami only scored one field goal in the last 6:39 vs. Philadelphia today. You probably saw highlights of Dwyane Wade making a fantastic bank shot while getting fouled. That was it. Miami was scoreless from 6:39 to 2:02. It was Wade's shot and a few team free throws that helped them pull away at the end.

Miami had troubles offensively late in close games vs. quality earlier this season. Will they get the last minute calls vs. Boston or Chicago that they got today at home vs. Philadelphia? A potential red flag to think about down the road.

See you late Sunday afternoon...

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Miami Heat Winless in Six Straight

by Jeff Fogle 19. January 2011 00:39

At the end of regulation that is. The Heat dropped their fourth straight game Monday night versus Atlanta. The two games prior to the losing streak were overtime victories at Milwaukee (91-all after 48 minutes) and at Portland (93-all). This is important to note because the "slump," to the degree it exists, represents playing below par for six straight games rather than just four.

I won't run the efficiency numbers because effiency in one game is simply restating the score to represent 100 possessions per team. Because Monday Night's game also went overtime, three of the six would be dead heats in efficiency after regulation! Let me run some stats that emphasize the decline in inside play and execution.

Miami: 39% on two-pointers, 48 rebounds, 16 turnovers
Milwaukee: 48% on two-pointers, 53 rebounds, 23 turnovers

Miami gets outplayed badly inside, but makes up for that by either forcing a lot of Milwaukee miscues, or just benefitting from a sloppy night from the Bucks. This was the first chink in the armor in a while in terms of boxscore stats. It was still a win...continuing a winning streak that went back a long way. A win, but a below par performance.

Miami: 63% on two-pointers, 41 rebounds, 17 turnovers
Portland: 49% on two-pointers, 43 rebounds 13 turnovers

What will be the only good performance in this sextet on two-point baskets. Miami loses rebounds again, and continues to be sloppy on offense. They "won" turnovers in the first game despite losing the ball 16 times. Here, the category was a negative that counteracted some of their two-point edge.

Miami: 48% on two-pointers, 46 rebounds, 7 turnovers
LA Clips: 53% on two-pointers, 42 rebounds, 10 turnovers

This was the first scoreboard loss. LeBron got hurt late in the game as you probably remember. This would be the only rebounding victory amongst the sextet. Miami cleaned up its ball protection for a night, but didn't do much in terms of forcing miscues from the Clippers.

Miami: 47% on two-pointers, 41 rebounds, 16 turnovers
Denver: 56% on two-pointers, 50 rebounds, 9 turnovers

Tough spot on the schedule. Miami was in a back-to-back after a very intense game in Los Angeles. Plus, LeBron was out with his bad ankle. The Heat fell behind early and took their loss rather than asking tired players to mount a big comeback. Fatigue's even worse at altitude.

Miami: 43% on two-pointers, 30 rebounds, 12 turnovers
Chicago: 49% on two-pointers, 42 rebounds, 9 turnovers

LeBron misses this one, and Chris Bosh gets hurt after 31 minutes of action. Dwyane Wade reportedly banged his knee in this game too. You can see a clean sweep for the Bulls in our focus categories. Once again, Miami is having trouble inside the arc, on the boards, and in the area of forcing turnovers.

Miami: 45% on two-pointers, 46 rebounds, 16 turnovers
Atlanta: 48% on two-pointers, 48 rebounds, 10 turnovers

LeBron returned to the lineup, and played 44 minutes (though he seemed sluggish offensively all night). D-Wade played 46 minutes. Bosh is still out. Atlanta wins the three categories. Miami only forces 10 turnovers even with the extra five minutes. This was in a "first home" spot after the long road trip. Every so often you'll see very sluggish performances in this situation. The Knicks lost to lowly Sacramento at home last week afer returning from a cross-country trip.

I'm not suggesting Miami fans should panic or anything. Yes, Miami has been shorthanded. But, they were at full strength for the first two overtime games, and most of the loss in LA. James and Wade could only lead the team to 77 points in regulation Monday. They were supposedly capable of rulling the world without Bosh.

Looks like we can see the areas of weakness when the Heat take their foot off the gas so to speak, or when they're shorthanded. You can beat them inside. You can win the turnover battle. Even if you're Portland, Milwaukee, Atlanta, or the Clippers, rather than Boston, Orlando, or the Lakers.

Transition Points

*Miami is now 30-13 on the year, which means anyone guessing 70-12 before the season started is out of luck. And, yes...some people were suggesting 70 wins was possible.

*Atlanta only trails Miami by two games in the Southeast Division. Even with the Heat looking like gods for about 20 games...and even with the Hawks being mostly off the radar this year...only two games separate the teams in the standings. Could the Heat drop to a 5th seed if one of the big two is lost for an extended period?

*The meme is still persisting that Paul Silas has turned Charlotte into a team that likes to run...and that their recent string of successes is a result of that increased tempo.

Here's a look at their recent possession-per-game totals:
93 vs. Philadelphia (regulation estimate)
85 vs. New Orleans
87 vs. Boston
91 vs. Chicago
92 vs. Memphis
94 vs. Washington
93 vs. Minnesota (regulation estimate)
91 vs. Miami
90 vs Golden State
91 vs. Cleveland
97 vs. Detroit (a one-game running experiment)

Silas took over before the Detroit game, and Charlotte did run like crazy in that one, while constantly throwing the ball away and almost keeling over from fatigue in the fourth quarter. Since then, they're back close to where they were before. Charlotte sits at 93 for the year, with 95 being the league median.

Charlotte played 8 games at 95 possessions or more in regulation in the 19 outings prior to Larry Brown stepping down. That's only happened once under Silas, in that first game after reportedly practicing with a 14-second shot clock.

Tonight's win at Chicago was slow again. Yet, I heard a studio announcer talking about the new style Charlotte is playing. After an 84-83 final!

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