What's Wrong With Dwight Howard?

by Omar Shaik 26. December 2012 19:42

As the Lakers struggled through the early part of this season, much of the blame has been cast on Pau Gasol's passivity or Steve Nash's absence. The Los Angeles Lakers are at .500 even though Kobe Bryant is in the midst of one of the best 28-game shooting stretches of his career, despite being forced to undertake greater ball-handling responsibilities. How good has Kobe been so far? The last time his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) approached 25, it was 2007; he's never managed .222 WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 min) until this season. In spite of Kobe, the ageless wonder, the Lakers are tied for ninth in the Western Conference and have significantly underachieved through the first 28 games of the season.

Although Dwight Howard has flashed signs of occasional brilliance, he is playing below the All-NBA level expected of him. While Nash was out due to injury, the Lakers needed Dwight to play well to make up for the lost offense. Instead, Howard has completely disappeared on offense. His USG% (percent of offensive possessions he uses during his time on the court) is the lowest it has been in eight years. His rebounding has been way down as well. His DRB% (defensive rebound percent) is 24% this year, after it was 33% last year. Similarly, his TRB% (total rebound percent) is 18.1% so far, after five straight years of 21.7% or better.

According to many all-encompassing metrics, Howard is playing worse than he has in years, at least so far. His PER (20.5) and WS/48 (.148) are his lowest since '05-'06, and his WP/48 (Wins Produced per 48 min = .172) is the lowest it's ever been.

There are a couple ways to rationalize Howard's decreased production. The most obvious theory is that he still isn't fully healthy. There are trends in the data to support this hypothesis, such as the career-low rebounding numbers and the career-high %Blkd (% of Howard's shots that are blocked). 8.9% of Howard's shots have been blocked, which is the 4th highest rate in the NBA among Centers and Power Forwards who play 30 minutes per game. Howard, a former Slam Dunk champion, does not fit the profile of players who typically lead the NBA in Blkd%. Omer Asik and DeMarcus Cousins usually have high %Blkd because they don't have the combination of elite athleticism and low-post skill that Howard does. There are not many players in the NBA who can block a healthy Howard or take rebounds away from him, so the numbers suggest that he isn't completely himself yet. Indeed, Howard blames his health for his shockingly low production.

There is also the possibility that Howard has not learned how to fit in with the Lakers or with Bryant yet. This theory is also supported by the data (and Andrew Bynum), as the Lakers are much better when Bryant plays without Howard (+16.2 per 36 min) than when they play together (+2.3 per 36 min). When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, his numbers after the first month were similarly well below his norms. His PER was only 24 after that first month, but he managed to regress to his career averages the next 5 months. A similar regression could be in store for Howard, and the Lakers might need every bit of it.

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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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Spurs Survive...Sixers, Nuggets Don't

by Jeff Fogle 28. April 2011 00:45

What a night! San Antonio needed a near-miracle to stay alive in their first round series with Memphis...and GOT that near-miracle with a 3-pointer at the buzzer when Memphis failed to fully protect the arc. Miami blew most of another 10-point late lead by failing to make field goals down the stretch before finishing off Philadelphia. And, in the Wednesday nightcap, Oklahoma City rallied from a late deficit and dodged a buzzer trey from Denver to wrap up their series.

Let's take them in the order they finished, since that's the order I wrote down notes!

MIAMI 97, PHILADELPHIA 91
2-point Pct: Philadelphia 51%, Miami 40%
3-point Shooting: Philadelphia 2/10, Miami 12/30
Rebounds: Philadelphia 41, Miami 47
Turnovers: Philadelphia 7, Miami 10
1's and 2's: Philadelphia 85, Miami 61

Miami finally had a big game from behind the arc (4-3-4-5-12 in the series), but they really fell apart in several other areas.

*Miami allowed 51% on two-point shots, their worst performance in the series by a mile (42-32-44-39-51).

*Miami was outscored by a whopping 24 points on 1's and 2's. This after winning that category in the first four games by 17, 30, 21, and 5.

*Miami only forced 7 turnovers, continuing a theme of trying to grab misses rather than take the ball away (8-12-6-13-7 takeways in the series).

*Miami scored a field goal at 5:11 of the fourth quarter. Then, they didn't make another field goal until Dwyane Wade ran in for a dunk rather than running out the clock when Philly had conceded in the final seconds. The Heat did pick up late points at the free throw line. But, they saw an 86-76 lead at the 5:11 mark turn into 90-89 and 92-91 before pulling out the win.

After three games, Miami looked like championship material except for their late game tendencies. Now, not so much! I think I mentioned the other day that they played over the weekend like they were hoping half-speed would be enough to get the job done. Tonight, it was more like three-quarter speed given the soft internal defense and the lack of takeaways.

The good news is that they finally made some treys. The upside is very high if and when everything clicks at once. The regression in 1's and 2's was startling though. We've got a lot to get to tonight, so I'll try to put together some notes on that for a Boston-Miami series preview in a few days.

SAN ANTONIO 110, MEMPHIS 103
(in overtime)
2-point Pct: Memphis 49%, San Antonio 51%
3-point Shooting: Memphis 3/10, San Antonio 7/22
Rebounds: Memphis 50, San Antonio 45
Turnovers: Memphis 16, San Antonio 15
1's and 2's: Memphis 94, San Antonio 89

It ain't over til it's over. Memphis learned that the hard way tonight. Their announcers were pleading with them to flood the 3-point zone to deny shots. I'm sure there are pundits out there who say they should have tried to force a short pass and then foul on contact. San Antonio's buzzer shot to force overtime will no doubt be replayed all day Thursday, and discussed in depth on the competetitive banter shows. We focus on data here, so I'll stick with numbers for now.

*Memphis has done an amazing job on 1's and 2's for an inexperienced #8 seed facing the Spurs. If the series was based only on 1's and 2's, they'd have won 4-1 already. Scores have been 83-80, 78-72, and 94-89 in favor of Memphis in the three games in San Antonio! 

*San Antonio didn't do enough on treys until making the buzzer shot to counteract their other weaknesses. They've gone from averaging 8.4 treys per game to sinking 6-7-2-5-7 in this series. I guess it's clear now but it seems worth repeating that San Antonio just isn't anything special when they're not making a lot of treys.

*Depth is going to be important in Game Six. There's a quick turnaround with a Friday Night rematch.

For Memphis tonight:
Randolph: 44 minutes
Conley: 43 minutes
Gasol: 42 minutes

For San Antonio tonight:
Parker: 44 minutes
Ginobili: 42 minutes
Duncan: 40 minutes

If the Memphis crowd brings "6th man" energy, that could be a difference-maker. But, if the Grizzlies are in a state of shock after blowing a win they were already celebrating on the sidelines...these next two games could get away from them quickly.

Amazing the twists and turns so far in the Western brackets. That brings us to the Wednesday finale that had twists and turns in the final minutes before Oklahoma City finished on top.

OKLAHOMA CITY 100, DENVER 97
2-point Pct: Denver 47%, OKC 41%
3-point Shooting: Denver 8/18, OKC 6/24
Free Throws: Denver 17/21, OKC 34/42
Rebounds: Denver 38, OKC 51
Turnovers: Denver 18, OKC 14
1's and 2's: Denver 73, OKC 82

Denver led most of the night because of superior shooting. But, the Thunder would ultimately come back almost on the sheer force of their energy.

OKC won:
*Free Throws by +17 in makes and +21 in attempts, meaning they were being very aggressive in attacking the basket.

*Rebounds by 13, including a 16-4 edge in offensive rebounds. So, OKC wasn't just attacking the basket, they were attacking the boards.

*Turnovers, with a whopping 18 forced against a Denver team that had committed just 11-11-12-8 in the prior four games.

*1's and 2's, making it four straight games where the Thunder won that category. You don't have to worry about "live by the three, die by the three" if you're consistently excelling inside the arc.

Probably the most important stats are these though:

*Russell Westbook was 3 of 15 from the field, continuing his distressing tendency to keep forcing up shots when they're not falling...on a team that has other scoring options.

*Kevin Durant scored 16 of the last 20 points in the game, basically telling Westbrook "GET OUT OF MY WAY SO I CAN WITH THIS SERIES FOR US!"

I talked yesterday about the potential influences that growing up in Kobe Bryant country had on Westbrook. Saw some other stories out there today about Westbrook's desire to be an alpha dog (including this one at Hardwood Paroxysm featured today at Henry Abbott's TrueHoop). This could have been a very important night for the immediate playoff future of the Thunder in terms of establishing the star hierarchy. Or, it could be a game that makes Westbrook say "Oh, yeah, watch what I can do" in a way that messes things up...the way things were messed up for about seven quarters before Durant's late explosion. Feel like we're jamming in a lot of topics on such a busy night. More on that when it's time to preview OKC vs. the winner of Memphis/San Antonio in the next round.

As promised notes on the late Tuesday finisher...

LA LAKERS 106, NEW ORLEANS 90
2-point Pct: New Orleans 50%, Lakers 53%
3-point Shooting: New Orleans 10/21, Lakers 7/18
Rebounds: New Orleans 25, Lakers 42
Turnovers: New Orleans 17, Lakers 15
1's and 2's: New Orleans 60, Lakers 85

The Lakers demolished New Orleans inside, winning rebounds by 17 and scoring on 1's and 2's by 25 points. You'd think this would be something they could do more consistently with their size and playoff experience edges in the paint. Remember when the Lakers only forced 3 turnovers on this court in the series opener? They've forced 16 and 17 the other two times in Staples.

The Lakers make it look so easy when things are going well. The mystery is why that's happened so rarely the past few weeks. Something else to discuss when the schedule dwindles and we have more time to go in depth with the contenders.

Back late Thursday...

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Friday Night Notes

by Jeff Fogle 23. April 2011 00:29

It felt like old times Friday night in the NBA playoffs...with the Boston Celtics reminding everyone why they represented the Eastern Conference in two of the last three league finals...and the Los Angeles Lakers reminding everyone why they're the two-time defending champs.

Here are some notes on the three Friday games, and the late starter Thursday between Dallas and Portland...


BOSTON 113, NEW YORK 96
Boston jumped out to a big lead. The Knicks got within striking distance before halftime. But, then Boston just obliterated them in the third quarter and that was the ball game. Some quick notes:

*Amare Stoudemire continued to be bothered by a bad back. He tried to work through it...but he played like a guy with a bad back! Amare was 2 of 8 from the field. He only had 3 rebounds in 33 minutes. And, he had a staggering plus/minus of -34 in a game New York only lost by 17. The Knicks might as well have put a scarecrow a few feet off to the side of the basket. Very bad luck for Stoudemire and the Knicks that the back became an issue so early in the series. The loss of Chauncey Billups was a big enough blow. Stoudemire's inury basically ended the series. It's not like Carmelo Anthony could score 40 points every night.

*During the day I put together some notes on Carmelo's past high's and low's in big playoff series. He has very high peaks, but he tends to blow hot and cold. No reason to run those now. He was just 4 of 16 tonight, and had a plus minus of -27 in 35 minutes. Now I'll only add that the great thing about stars who play defense is that defense generally doesn't blow hot and cold in the playoffs.   

*Boston was 14 of 24 on treys. Fantastic performance, but not something teams can really do on purpose. They got open looks and shot a bit over their heads.

*Rajon Rondo had a triple double highlighted by 20 assists. This is a catch and shoot team. He was flying all over the court. New York's defenders were a step slow through most of the first half...then got demoralized once the game got out of hand. Boston's frontline starters made them pay.

Not much reason to run team stats in a game like this. The fourth quarter was garbage time. Boston's going to look super-efficient because of the 58% mark on treys. They're a known quantity, and what we saw tonight was the high end of the known quantity.

ATLANTA 88, ORLANDO 84
It's possible to love this series because of the drama. It's possible to hate this series because it's not pleasing to the eye. Kind of fitting that the clincher for Atlanta was a banked in three-pointer in the final seconds.

Not going to post any team numbers here either. Too ugly! And, too inconsistent. If I saw something that told the story of the series, I'd run it. More clues might be in the shot location data, but Joe's had problems getting those to convert into a usable form this week.

Worth noting I think that Orlando is 19 of 73 on treys for 26% in the series. Atlanta is doing a good job of guarding the perimeter (as our pre-playoff defensive profiles suggested they might--second best in the East and third best of all 16 playoff teams in that regard). If Orlando isn't making treys, they're not much of a team.

A surprise based on regular season data that Orlando is trailing two games to one. They ended the season with a +5.5 margin average. Atlanta was at -0.8. Neither team was greatly impacted by moves at the trade deadline, so those were regarded by many to be reasonable representations. Atlanta matches up well, and that's tossed the math out of the window. Orlando's been favored in every game, but has yet to establish any meaningful statistical or naked eye superiority.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS 100, NEW ORLEANS 86
Sharp form from the Lakers on offense, as their main six guys all shot near 50% or better from the field.

Kobe Bryant: 10 of 20
Pau Gasol: 7 of 13
Andrew Bynum: 6 of 13
Ron Artest: 4 of 8
Lamar Odom: 4 of 8
Derek Fisher: 3 of 4

It's a bit of a shame that Kobe took 20 shots and had only 2 assists on a night where his teammates were shooting so well. But, he definitely had some high impact baskets when things could have gotten interesting (and was 4 of 7 for the night on treys). And, this was really the first time in the playoffs (and the first time in a few weeks!) where the Lakers looked like championship material. This was the Lakers of the 17-1 run after the All-Star Break. Kobe was the authoritative leader of that team tonight.

Defense was a bit of a concern during a relaxed third quarter stretch. New Orleans scored 12 points in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the period (the same pace as a 40-plus point quarter) to cut a 12-point halftime deficit to 60-54. The Lakers refocused, and would hold the Hornets to just three field goals over the final six minutes of that stanza...then only 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Of note:

*The Lakers have won rebounding in all three games.

*The Lakers have won treys by a combined 17-10 margin.

*The Lakers have forced 16 and 14 turnovers after the ridiculously passive series opener where they only forced three.

*Chris Paul was 9 of 13 from the floor Friday night, but it still wasn't much of a game.

It's now hard to see this series going past five games. The sleeping giant is awake again...

From the late game Thursday...

PORTLAND 97, DALLAS 92
Dallas had its third straight sharp game from long range, which has helped throw a monkey wrench into perceptions that Portland was in better form entering the series.

THREE-POINTERS
Game One: Dallas 10/19 for 52.6%, effective rate 78.9%
Game Two: Dallas 8 of 19 for 42.1%, effective rate 63.1%
Game Three: Dallas 9 of 22 for 40.9%, effective rate 61.4%

Well, they are gradually cooling off...

It is good news for Mavericks fans that it's different weaponry making the treys each night. If one guy was shooting over his head, you'd have to assume a statistical crash was imminent.

Game One: Jason Kidd 6 of 10
Game Two: Peja Stojakovic 5 of 10
Game Three: Jason Terry 5 of 7

Having variety spreads out the defense and keeps them honest because they don't want to give any of these guys an open look (though the Blazers may just start crossing their fingers with Kidd based on his career curve). That's enough to clear out some room for Dirk Nowitzki to go to work inside the arc too. Dallas has shot 51% and 57% on two-pointers since that dismal inside performance in the series opener.

Of course, Dallas lost Game Three! So, even with Terry's heroics, it was Portland who finished on top to hold serve in what looks like it's going to be a very entertaining series.

The biggest stat of the night in terms of making a difference looks to be in the turnover category. Portland only lost the ball 9 times, their best effort thus far. Dallas got sloppy and lost the ball 16 times in a low-tempo game. Portland had a 16-11 edge in points off of turnovers, in a game they won by exactly five points. Mark Cuban has mentioned that category was a concern. Portland was second best in the regular season among the 16 playoff teams in forced turnover rate.

Back early Saturday evening to look at the afternoon results. The Chicago Bulls have a chance to be the first team through to the second round in an early tip at Indiana...

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Comparing Bulls/Heat after 3-0 Starts

by Jeff Fogle 22. April 2011 00:19

Both Chicago and Miami are up 3-0 in their respective first round Eastern Conference series. Tough to say they've been equally impressive though. Let's take a closer look at what both teams are doing through the first week of playoff action...

We'll start with Chicago and their Thursday night win over Indiana.

If you were just scoreboard watching tonight, or you only saw the final score, you might be thinking that the Bull's 88-84 Game Three victory was a replay of the 96-90 Game Two nailbiter. Nip and tuck the whole way. Chicago knows how to close and Indiana doesn't. Yawn. Believe it or not, the two games had little in commmon!

Here's a brief listing of the extreme differences.

BULLS' CONTRIBUTORS

Game Two: Rose/Boozer 46%, Others 33%
Game Three: Rose/Boozer 21%, Others 50%

Maybe the other Bulls got tired of hearing about how Derrick Rose was carrying the whole load. And, maybe Rose finally showed some fatigue from carrying the whole load. Rose had a mostly horrible game (4 of 18 shooting, 5 turnovers) until the final minutes when he once again flew at the basket and got the necessary points for a victory. Boozer was just 2 of 10 himself with 3 turnovers in 32 minutes. Everyone else leapt from 15 of 46 in Game Two to 22 of 44 in Game Three.

THREE-POINT SHOOTING
Game Two: Chicago 5/14, Indiana 6/17
Game Three: Chicago 9/20, Indiana 1/10

It's kind of amazing that Indiana lost a heartbreaker in the first game while going 10 of 18 from long range...then lost another heartbreaker in the second game with a 6 of 17 performance...then lost another heartbreaker in the third game with just 1 of 10. It's like Chicago does just enough to win regardless of whatever challenge is facing them. The Bulls had their first good game from long range this evening.

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S
Game Two: Chicago 81, Indiana 72
Game Three: Chicago 61, Indiana 81

It figures that this would reverse if the treys reversed. Indiana didn't shoot well, but gave themselves a lot of extra opportunities with 15 offensive rebounds.

REBOUNDS
Game Two: Chicago 57, Indiana 33
Game Three: Chicago 42, Indiana 42

And, those offensive boards help neutralize what had been a big problem in the first two games. Indiana is so close to making this a first round shocker. They just can't get the puzzle pieces to line up at the same time.

So, the final margins were similar. If you were watching Miami/Philadelphia on your TV and just monitoring the margins here at the bottom of the screen, you might think Game Three of Chicago/Indiana presented a continuation of earlier themes. Not the case. Many of the guts were turned inside out. But, in the end, the better team still found a way to score points when it mattered most.

It's a good sign for Chicago that they have workable options late in close games. Indiana hasn't figured out what to do yet, and probably won't in time to make a difference this year. You have to wonder though if Chicago will be able to get those same late points in later rounds vs. tougher opposition. Derrick Rose is going to get the calls vs. Indiana. Will he if he's running into Dwight Howard in the next round, or the South Beach Stars in the Eastern finals, or the Lakers bigs in a championship round?

Current problem areas for Chicago...

TURNOVERS
Game One: Chicago 14, Indiana 10
Game Two: Chicago 21, Indiana 17
Game Three: Chicago 15, Indiana 11

It may be fun to watch Rose scoot through the land of the giants. It's a very sloppy way to attack an opposing defense though. This may be at the heart of why the Bulls are having so much trouble putting distance between themselves and opponents lately...even borderline or non-playoff caliber opponents. This is likely to matter when they step up in class.

TWO-POINT SHOOTING (compared to Miami in a segue warning!)
Game One: Chicago 48%, Miami 47%
Game Two: Chicago 39%, Miami 54%
Game Three: Chicago 42%, Miami 44% 

Indiana's defense is comparable to Philadelphia's in terms of efficiency for the season. Chicago isn't measuring up to Miami against a similar challenge in an important stat or in a few others. Let's run the numbers from Miami's victory tonight for some contrast.

MIAMI 100, PHILADELPHIA 94
Two-Point Percentage: Miami 48%, Philadelphia 44%
Three-Point Shooting: Miami 4/12, Philadelphia 9/21
Free Throw Shooting: Miami 24/30, Philadelphia 13/19
Rebounding: Miami 50, Philadelphia 34
Scoring on 1's and 2's: Miami 88, Philadelphia 67

This is a much simpler series to explain than Chicago/Indiana. Miami dominates 1's and 2's  every game. Philadelphia has to make a lot of treys just to be in the neighborhood. And, the Sixers aren't much of a trey team.

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2's
Game One: Miami 85, Philadelphia 68
Game Two: Miami 85, Philadelphia 55
Game Three: Miami 88, PHiladelphia 67

Games One and Three were virtual replays in this stat. Philly started cold and never got their heads on straight in the tweener. Trey edges of 7-4, 6-3, and 9-4 for the Sixers (a surprise given Miami's 6.7 to 5.4 edge in the regular season) kept us from having three blowouts.

REBOUNDING
Game One: Miami 52, Philadelphia 39
Game Two: Miami 46, Philadelphia 40
Game Three: Miami 50, Philadelphia 34

This is obviously a significant contributor to the edge in 1's and 2's. Miami's been giving themselves a lot of second chances (15-8-20 in offensive rebounds per game), while denying those on the other side of the floor.

The strikes against Miami so far are in the area of forced turnovers (just 8, 12, and 6---suggesting that they're focusing defensively on clogging the paint and boxing out rather than swiping at the ball), and three-pointers (11 of 44 so far for a poor 25%). Miami's winning by an average of 11.7 points per game, and has been below par from long range. That's a scary thought for the rest of the East. Chicago's winning by an average of 5.0 points per game, and is 20 of 54 on treys (near norms for makes and percentage).

It's not a sure thing that Chicago and Miami will meet in the Eastern finals. It's the best expectation though, so we might as well start thinking about it now that we're seeing both teams under the playoff spotlight. Miami's been more impressive out of the gate and has some additional upside potential. Chicago's grinder style looks to have less upside, and will place a lot of pressure on Derrick Rose in the final minutes of close games.

Dallas-Portland was a very late starter Thursday. Will compile some notes for that in Friday's report. Here are some thoughts from the Lakers win late Wednesday over New Orleans.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS 87, NEW ORLEANS 78

*Kobe Bryant only took 10 shots. He was 3 of 10 Wednesday after going 13 of 26 in Sunday's loss. He took some criticism in the media for shooting so much Sunday. Every so often he gets in the mindset of "fine, watch what happens when I don't shoot." As is often the case then that happens, the Lakers played a lot better!

Lamar Odom was 8 of 12 instead of 3 of 6
Andrew Bynum was 8 of 11 instead of 4 of 7

You also got a much better sense of camraderie on defense for the Lakers too, as they held New Orleans to 40% on two-pointers after allowing 54% on deuces Sunday.

Kind of amazing how often Kobe has to re-learn this lesson.

*Pau Gasol was a disappointing 2 of 10 after shooting 2 of 9 in the opener. He may not "need" to get on track in this series. The Lakers will be even more dangerous when he starts making some shots.

*The Lakers forced 16 turnovers instead of just three. It's interesting that New Orleans shot 4/11 on treys in both games, and had similar free throw results with 23 of 33 and 20 of 32. Yet, they plummeted from 109 points to 78 points because the Lakers were so much more effective defensively after making adjustments and realizing they had to actually show up and play the game!

*Los Angeles has been +8 in rebound differential in both games. This is a "defense and rebounding" team when things are going well. It's important to watch those categories for the Lakers throughout the playoffs as we determine if a potential three-peat is imminent or not.

Back late Friday with notes from Dallas/Portland and the early evening action...

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