Posts Tagged ‘Raymond Felton’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson not worrying about role | Felton ready to lead | Bulls dismiss talk of Forman-Thibs feud | Caldwell-Pope impressing Pistons

No. 1: Warriors’ Thompson not sweating starting gig: The top debate among Warriors faithful might be over who to start this season: second-year forward Harrison Barnes or third-year guard Klay Thompson? The addition of swingman Andre Iguodala in the offseason supplanted Thompson from his starting role of a season ago and in the preseason, the Warriors have used Thompson as a sixth man while Barnes has started both preseason games. Thompson tells Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune he’s not worrying about starting or coming off the bench, despite the stats seeming to say the Warriors are better with him on the floor more:

After posting a team-high 26 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, Thompson was arguably Golden State’s best player Monday in what was a relatively ugly showing by the home team at Oracle Arena. Thompson twice led the Warriors on deficit-erasing runs in a 94-81 victory. He finished with 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting.

Thompson was so effective that coach Mark Jackson had him back in the starting lineup to open the second half. Thompson’s activity and energy on offense is so evident that his teammates are looking for him consistently. He had a team-high 14 shots through the first 30 minutes Monday, including a left-handed scoop layup for a three-point play followed by a breakaway dunk that put Golden State up 55-52 with just over six minutes left in the third.

“Klay is going to always do what he does best,” Andre Iguodala said. “And that’s shoot the ball pretty well. … I told Klay that when he’s in the game with me, he’s going to get a lot of looks so he’s gotta be ready to shoot the ball. And he is.”

…Through two exhibition games, Barnes has totaled just over 34 minutes. During that span, he was 3 of 18 from the field with five turnovers. He did total eight rebounds and three steals in the same span, but he’s hardly looking like the burgeoning star everyone expects.

Certainly, an ailing foot would slow him, but his early offensive struggles might raise a legitimate question: Can Barnes be effective as the fifth option?

Inconsistency was probably Barnes’ biggest problem last season. He would be great one game and average the next two. Even Barnes acknowledged that he struggled to find his way in the offense as the fourth option.

No. 2: Felton ready to step into leadership role: In a great feature story by the New York Post‘s Marc Berman, Knicks point guard Raymond Felton talks about his struggles in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, his desire to prove that he play well in a traditional backcourt and that he’s ready to assume a captaincy role with New York as well. Felton is expected to be the full-time starter at the point this season, a role he didn’t always have in 2012-13 as coach Mike Woodson often used Felton and another of New York’s point guards — Jason Kidd or Pablo Prigioni — in tandem with Felton:

But as Felton and the Knicks disintegrated in the second round last May, with the Knicks starting point guard failing to a hit a field goal in the nightmare Game 6 in Indiana, Felton said a new chip has grown.

“The chip is still there,’’ said Felton, who got outplayed by Indiana’s George Hill. “It’s a bitter taste in my mouth the way the season ended last year. The chip is still there. If anything, it’s another chip. It’s now on the other shoulder. I’m still coming out with the same attitude, still with a lot to prove.’’

…Felton admits he puts his off-court leadership on the back burner last season in respect to Kidd. Felton told The Post before camp he hoped a captaincy was in the cards.

“That’s my job this year — I have to step up in that leadership role,’’ Felton said. “I took a step back last year out of respect for my team. Guys hadn’t played with me before. I’ll try to step back in that role of being vocal.

“He’s got to be more of a leader,.’’ Woodson said. “Point guards catch a lot of crap on everybody’s team because we expect so much from them. Ray performed great for us last season. He’s got to be more vocal and show more of a leadership role more than ever with Kidd gone now.’’

No. 3: Paxson refutes talk of Thibodeau-Forman feud: Shortly after Derrick Rose made his preseason debut against the Pacers on Saturday night, Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski had a story that essentially said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and GM Gar Forman are in the midst of some franchise-altering dysfunction. Since then, Bulls vice president John Paxson has chimed in on the alleged discord between the two men and tells the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley nothing could be further from the truth:

Forman and Thibodeau haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on personnel moves, which has been well documented, but Paxson takes exception to the idea that it’s a feud heading toward a boiling point.

‘‘We’re so far past that,’’ he said. ‘‘To continue to try and keep it going, I don’t know what the agenda is. That’s one thing that we all talked about, really from the beginning of this year: No one has any agenda here.

‘‘If you’re really going to say something like that, then go on the record, be a man, put your name out there. Don’t hide behind that stuff. But from our perspective, from our seat, we’re doing great. The relationship is healthy. We all want the same thing, and that’s to be as good as we possibly can out there on the floor.’’

Chicago saw what a truly unhealthy relationship between a GM and coach/manager looks like when the White Sox’ Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen captured headlines a few years ago.

Paxson snickered at the idea of the Bulls being anywhere near that.

‘‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s been blown way out of proportion,’’ he said. ‘‘I think someone other than anyone in our organization has an agenda that really doesn’t suit what we’re all about. No matter what you do in this business, when you’re making decisions, whether it’s based on personnel or anything like that, you’re going to have ideas, different opinions, and that’s what we do. We sit in a room and talk these things through. The thing is, right now we’re all on the same page, and there are no hidden agendas from Gar, myself and Tom.’’

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No. 4: Pistons narrow shooting guard options: The No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is making quite and impression in Detroit and may have a solid shot at taking the starting shooting guard job for opening night. According to David Mayo of MLive.com, Pope and veteran Rodney Stuckey have made the race for the starting job a two-man one and the pair is having fun competing against each other for the bid:

“He’s not showing one bit of nervousness when he’s out there playing,” point guard Brandon Jennings said.  “It’s like he’s been here before.  Guys want spots.  Guys want playing time.  This right here is how you earn it.”

Head coach Maurice Cheeks said Caldwell-Pope, “has a poise about him that, when he plays, he doesn’t get stressed out, he doesn’t get nervous.”

Cheeks, one day after saying he would use multiple starters at shooting guard during preseason, said the ultimate decision probably comes down to Caldwell-Pope or seventh-year veteran Rodney Stuckey.

Caldwell-Pope and Stuckey have gone hard at each other in early scrimmages and have had friendly discussions about the competition, the Georgia rookie said.

“It’s fun.  We laugh about it, we joke about it,” Caldwell-Pope said.  “At the same time, we’re also serious about it, because we are playing for the same position.  It’s great to compete against someone who’s been here, who’s older than me.  It’s a great challenge.”

Caldwell-Pope’s disadvantages in youth and experience against Stuckey could be alleviated by his advantage in perimeter shooting touch.  Both are solid defenders but Caldwell-Pope also brings a shot-blocking element.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat’s Norris Cole tuning out trade talks … The Lakers’ Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre bought a cow together (seriously) … Celtics coach Brad Stevens is still an early riser

ICYMI of the night: While the Warriors continue to weigh whether to start Thompson or Barnes this season, sit back and enjoy what we’re sure to see more of this season — alley-oops to Iguodala …

SportVU Adds To The Conversation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Every season, the NBA and its fans get smarter, and the league’s new deal with Stats LLC is a big step in the process. The deal puts Stats’ SportVU cameras in every NBA arena and makes the information they collect available to you via NBA.com, NBA TV and the NBA Game Time app.

So what kind of information is that?

The SportVU cameras track every player and the basketball 25 times a second. The data the cameras collect can tell how fast a player moves, how close he was defended on a shot, how many times he dribbled and a plethora of other fascinating nuggets.

Here are a few videos of SportVU in action …

1. Here’s the SportVU model overlaid on footage from one of the overhead cameras. And you’ll notice that it’s calculating the distance between Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant


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2. Here’s another overlay of Knicks’ possession, showing the changing shape of the Miami defense …


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3. The third clip is just the simulation itself, again showing the distance between Durant and Leonard as Durant steals a Manu Ginobili pass and turns it into a layup for Russell Westbrook


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4. The final clip shows the same possession and the changing shape of the OKC defense …


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These visualizations really just scratch the surface. What SportVU will do is add another layer of information to any NBA discussion that we, as writers and fans, want to have.

There are 15 teams that had SportVU data last season and some were able to make better use of it than others. The one real (and fascinating) example that we’re aware of is the Toronto Raptors’ ghost defenders, which Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe chronicled in March.

How useful that stuff is to a coach — and in making players better — is an interesting question, but there are some obvious and simple ways to translate the data into coaching. For instance, Mike Woodson could tell J.R. Smith that he shoots 41 percent from 3-point range off the catch, but just 21 percent off the dribble.

While teams are still figuring out what advantages they can get by mining the data, fans and analysts can just dig in and explore. We already have what we see with our eyes, what we find in the box scores and what we discover in advanced stats. Now we can add more context to everything.

A deeper look into dimes

If you’re discussing the best passers in the game, you can compare their assists per game, their assist percentage (the percentage of their teammates field goals they assisted on while on the floor), their assist rate (assists per 100 possessions used), and their assist/turnover ratio. You can also dig into how well their teammates shoot with them on and off the floor.

All that is great, but assists only account for shots that go in the basket. And there’s never been a way to quantify passes that lead to a missed shot, to free throws, or to an assist by a teammate (sometimes called a “hockey assist”). SportVU does that.

For example, in 27 games tracked by SportVU last season, Rajon Rondo had 37 “free throw assists,” which are passes that don’t lead to a made basket, but do lead to at least one made free throw. That’s an additional 1.4 dimes per game.

Tony Parker, meanwhile, had 96 “secondary assists” in 48 games tracked by SportVU. That means that twice a game, he made a pass that directly led to a teammate’s assist.

If you watch the Spurs, you know that happens a lot. Parker comes off a pick-and-roll, draws an extra defender, and kicks the ball out. San Antonio is maybe the best team in the league in passing up a good shot for a great one. Danny Green will pass up a contested look from the wing if Kawhi Leonard is wide open in the corner.

If you want to talk about how well a team moves the ball, you have the numbers to back you up. So who led the league in secondary assists per game last season? Kirk Hinrich, who had 47 of them (2.9 per game) in 16 games tracked by SportVU.

Some assists are better than others, of course. We can now tell how many of Rondo’s assists lead to wide-open layups and how many lead to contested, mid-range jumpers. And if you’re really focusing on quality of the pass, the result of the shot shouldn’t matter.

So you could just count how many open shots Rondo’s passes produce. Heck, you can come up with a assist grade by figuring out the average expected field goal percentage from all his assists and potential assists, taking into account where the shots were taken and whether or not they were contested.

Before, you had to break down the film to figure out how whether a shot was contested or not. Now, SportVU can tell you right away. And it can tell you who was the guy contesting the shot.

Putting a numbers on the ethereal

Defense is just as important as offense, but has always been the hardest thing to quantify. We know that the Celtics allowed 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Kevin Garnett was on the floor than when he was on the bench last season. We know that Carmelo Anthony shot just 10-for-39 with Garnett on the floor. And from watching him over the years, we know that KG is an active and vocal defender who’s great at snuffing out pick-and-rolls.

Now, we can quantify how well KG does just that. Beginning this year, SportVU will track the two offensive players and two defenders involved in every pick-and-roll run in every game. And that should provide us with some fascinating data.

Want to talk about rebounding? SportVU will tell you how many rebounding chances a player had, how many of his rebounds were contested or uncontested, and how much distance he travels for his rebounds. Reggie Evans led the league in rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds that he grabbed while he was on the floor), but teammate Brook Lopez (in 18 games tracked by SportVU) actually converted a greater percentage of his rebound chances (63 percent vs. 62 percent) where he was in the vicinity of the ball. Furthermore, 54 percent of Lopez’s rebounds were contested, while only 31 percent of Evans’ were. And Lopez traveled 6.4 feet per rebound, while Evans traveled just 4.3 feet.

SportVU will also add to discussions about usage and efficiency. Per NBA.com/stats, Anthony led the league in usage, but that just tells us how possessions ended. SportVU tells us that Anthony had the ball in his possession for only 3:28 (three minutes and 28 seconds) per game, while teammate Raymond Felton had it in his possession for 5:51 per contest.

We can find out who gets the most elbow touches (Greg Monroe at 10.2 per game last season) and post touches (Dwight Howard at 8.5 per game), as well as who makes the most of those touches by producing points for himself or his teammates.

No single stat or number exists that’s going to tell you all you need to know about a player. Everything must be taken in context and the more information you have, the better argument you can make. Well, SportVU is a lot of information.

All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. If it can be tracked, it can be quantified.

Get ready to get smarter.

Film Study: To Help Or Not To Help Is The Question For Knicks And Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS – Knicks-Pacers isn’t just a series between a great offensive team (New York) and a great defensive team (Indiana). It’s also a contrast in two different defensive styles, and that contrast is a big reason the Pacers have a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT).

The Knicks, who set an NBA record with 2,371 3-point attempts (28.9 per game) this season, took just 11 threes in Game 3, their worst offensive game of the playoffs. Both coach Mike Woodson and center Tyson Chandler talked a lot on Sunday about the need to move the ball more, but the Pacers’ defense had a lot to do with the lack of ball movement and open shots.

The Pacers led the league in 3-point percentage defense and only one team (Chicago) allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots from beyond the arc. The Knicks have made five or fewer threes seven times this season. They’re 0-7 in those games and three of them were against Indiana.

The key to the Pacers’ 3-point defense is their ability to stay at home on shooters. The Knicks get 3-point attempts by drawing an extra defender to the guy with the ball, whether he’s in the post or running a pick-and-roll, and then moving the ball to the open shooter. The Pacers make that difficult by not sending the extra defender, either as a double-team in the post or as a helper on the pick-and-roll.

The two most important players in this scheme are Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the one-on-one defender and the rim-protector.

In this series, George has the Carmelo Anthony assignment, and he needs no help. Anthony will get his points, but George is a good enough defender to make it difficult (Anthony has shot 39.7 percent in six games against the Pacers this season) and, more important, he allows his teammates to stay with their man. That’s a huge part of the Pacers’ success and an argument for George as their most important player in this series, even though his box score numbers (17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, 36 percent shooting) haven’t been that impressive.

Here’s a post-up for Anthony from the first quarter of Game 3. George handles the assignment by himself and his teammates stay at home, giving Anthony little choice but to force a tough turnaround jumper …


Hibbert, of course, is the guy keeping the Knicks away from the basket. On pick-and-rolls, he has the length and smarts to both stay within reach of the roll man and challenge the ball handler if he gets too close to the rim. This is why 16 of Raymond Felton‘s 29 shots in the series have been low-efficiency attempts, coming from outside the restricted area and from inside the 3-point line.

So while the Knicks can talk about better ball movement, it’s easier said than done against the No. 1 defense. Here’s an example of a play where the ball moves quite a bit (four passes in about six seconds), it gets swung to the weak side, and the Knicks still aren’t able to get an open look. The Pacers all stay at home on their man, Hibbert hangs in the paint on the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin pick-and-roll, George denies Anthony in the post, and the ball eventually sticks in the hands of Iman Shumpert, who forces a tough shot over Hibbert in the lane…


The Knicks had their best offensive performance of the postseason in Game 2, and Woodson believes that they just need to get back to the way they played in their 105-79 victory.

“In a playoff series, when teams start locking in, you can’t play on one side of the floor,” the coach said Sunday. “That’s what, last night, we went back to that again. So I got to keep screaming and pushing and guys got to recognize that we got to get the ball moving from side to side. That’s the only way we can play and perhaps get out of this series. We can’t just play on one side of the floor with it.”

But the Pacers believe that those 105 points in Game 2 were more about the way they were defending than about what the Knicks were doing offensively. (more…)

Knicks’ Smith Questionable For Game 3

INDIANAPOLIS – J.R. Smith hasn’t played well since he elbowed Jason Terry in Game 3 of the first round. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Smith might not play at all.

Under the weather with a 102-degree fever, the Sixth Man of the Year missed the Knicks’ shootaround Saturday morning and is questionable for Game 3 Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

“I don’t know if he’s going to play tonight,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “If he don’t, somebody else has got to step up and help us win.”

The Knicks will have Amar’e Stoudemire for the first time in two months, which gives them the ability to play big for more than the five minutes they have in each of the first two games. But they also have the backcourt depth to deal with Smith’s potential absence and stay small. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have all been playing well, and Jason Kidd, though he’s missed his last 14 shots, is still a critical part of this team’s success.

“I feel really good now about how Iman’s moving, jumping, and all that,” Woodson said. “So he could pick up some extra minutes, along with Pablo. Raymond’s already playing big minutes and I’m not going to forget about Kidd, because you’ve got three days of rest.”

If Smith doesn’t play, or if he plays and is ineffective, it will be important that Carmelo Anthony doesn’t try too much. When Smith was suspended for Game 4 of the first round, Anthony may have thought he had to beat the Boston Celtics by himself. He shot 10-for-35 in what was the Knicks’ worst offensive game of the postseason.

“I don’t want to put that pressure on myself to say that I have to do more out there,” Anthony said of Smith’s possible absence. “We gotta figure it out. We’ll see how the game goes, see the course of the game, see where it takes us.”

Of course, Anthony seemed confident that Smith would play in Game 3, even though he didn’t know the details of Smith’s condition.

“J.R. gonna play tonight,” Anthony said. “We can get him right. That’s what we have team doctors for, as far as medicine and things like that. He’ll be all right … hopefully.”

Lot On Pacers’ Plate In Game 3

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers got the split they needed in New York. They took home-court advantage in the conference semifinals by winning Game 1 on Sunday. But things went much differently in Game 2, when the New York Knicks used a 36-4 run to turn a Pacers lead into a lopsided victory.

It will be difficult for New York to carry any momentum across a change in venue and a three-day layoff, but the Pacers obviously have some adjustments to make on both ends of the floor if they want to get back into the win column in Game 3 Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

During that 36-4 run, the Knicks finally got their offense running as efficiently as it was at the end of the regular season and the Pacers looked nothing like the league’s No 1 defense. But the seeds for that explosion had really been planted in the first half, when the Knicks came out with a lot more variety and movement in their offense and scored 47 points on their first 37 possessions to build a 13-point lead. Some of the different things they did…

  • They moved Carmelo Anthony around. He caught the ball off curls and flares, and he was used as both the screener and ball-handler in pick-and-rolls. The Knicks actually had some success with Anthony as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls in the fourth quarter of Game 1, but it was too little, too late. In the final few minutes of the first quarter of Game 2, they ran five Anthony/Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls on four possessions, producing a couple of open 3s for Jason Kidd (who missed) and J.R. Smith (who didn’t miss), as well as a couple of open foul-line jumpers for Anthony himself. Wisely, he didn’t try to challenge Roy Hibbert at the rim nearly as much as he did in Game 1.
  • They ran the flex offense (popularized by the Utah Jazz) on a couple of possessions, resulting in two post-ups for Smith. He traveled on one and passed to Kenyon Martin for an open jumper on another (this was actually the first possession of the second quarter). Neither of those were great results (Martin’s jumper went in, but a Kenyon Martin jumper isn’t a great shot), but you have to like the variety.
  • They attacked the defense from the baseline. On a couple of side pick-and-rolls, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert went away from the screen, toward the baseline and under the basket. Felton got Anthony an open elbow jumper, while Shumpert found Chandler under the basket for a dunk. If you get the ball on the baseline like that, you have defenders turning their heads and losing their man.
  • They moved without the ball and didn’t just stand around. Both Smith and Shumpert got layups in the second quarter by just cutting to the basket, something we really didn’t see from the Knicks over the previous four games.
  • From New York’s perspective, the best thing they did was keep running their offense after the Pacers cut off the first option or two. Rather than letting the ball stick in Anthony’s or Smith’s hands, they kept moving, kept setting screens, and made the Pacers defend them for the full possession.

That’s a lot of things for Indiana to worry about. They have the No. 1 defense in the league and they’ll surely be better in Game 3, but the more variety the Knicks throw at them, the more difficult it will be to get stops consistently. Nothing’s easier to defend than one guy with the ball and four teammates standing around.

“I thought we over-helped a little bit, overreacted to some of their penetration, and allowed them to get some easy, catch-and-shoot threes,” David West said at shootaround on Saturday. “We can’t overreact. We’re a help-defense team, but obviously guys guard their guy and we got to let the two guys in the pick-and-roll take care of their business in the pick-and-roll.”

Iso-ball isn’t a problem with the Pacers’ offense, but turnovers are. They ranked 29th in the regular season in turnover rate, committing 16.2 miscues per 100 possessions, they’ve committed more than that (17.4) in the playoffs, and they’ve committed more than that (20.5) in this series.

That 36-4 run got started with three Indiana turnovers in a four-possession stretch. And the Knicks clearly know now that pressure defense will force their opponent into mistakes. Indiana was lucky that only eight of their first 28 turnovers in this series were live balls, and that luck ran out in the second half of Game 2, when seven of their nine turnovers were of the live-ball variety.

There’s no real adjustment to make when you’re turning the ball over a lot. The Pacers will just have to make better decisions and be ready to move the ball quickly when the Knicks look to trap them in Game 3.

“We practiced against post double-teams and pick-and-roll traps as much as possible,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Other than that, a lot of has just got to be your ball-toughness. Ball-toughness and spacing is really the two best areas where we can eliminate turnovers.”

This may be the most important game of the series, not only because it’s tied at 1-1, but because the Knicks found things that work in Game 2, and the Pacers must find a way to stop them.

Going Small Key For OKC & Golden State?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With each of the four conference semifinals tied at 1-1 (for the first time since this round went to seven games in 1968), it’s a great time to mine the lineup data provided by NBA.com/Stats for trends, anomalies, and whatever information might be useful … or at least interesting.

The eight teams remaining have only played between six and nine games, so we’re not looking at very big sample sizes here. But small sample sizes are all you have to go on in the playoffs. Decisions have to be made on how players or player combinations have played in that series and against that opponent. Even if you include numbers against the opponent in the regular season, that’s at most four additional games of data.

We’ve already seen some of these teams change lineups mid-series. And sometimes, like when the Dallas Mavericks decided to start J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals, a lineup change can make a big difference.

So, as we take our first day off of the playoffs, here are some notes from 53 games worth of postseason lineup data…

The drop-off in Indiana
The most-used lineup of the playoffs should be no surprise. The Pacers’ starting lineup of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have been getting it done on both ends of the floor and were a terrific lineup in the regular season as well. Though Indy ranked 19th defensively overall, this lineup scored at a rate that would have ranked fourth, playing the second-most minutes of any lineup in the league.

It was a plus-48 in the first round and a plus-5 in both Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals. The problem, of course, is that the Indiana bench stinks. In 216 minutes, all other Pacers lineups have scored 93.1 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105.8, for a NetRtg of -12.7 in the postseason.

Indy coach Frank Vogel talks often about his emphasis on defending without fouling. That’s key to not only keep the Pacers’ opponents off the line, but also to keep their starters on the floor.

Over their eight playoff games, every Pacer starter has a positive plus-minus and every sub has a negative one. So maybe the Pacers can benefit as much from three days off as the banged up Knicks can, with an ability to use their rested starters for heavy minutes in Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

Time for OKC to go small?
Setting a minimum of 35 minutes played, the best lineup (offensively, *defensively and overall) of the postseason has been Oklahoma City’s small lineup of Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. This unit of two point guards, two scoring wings, and a versatile big has outscored its opponents by 46.5 points per 100 possessions and had its best run in Game 6 in Houston, outscoring the Rockets 31-20 in 14 minutes. It was a plus-7 in seven minutes of Game 1 against the bigger Grizzlies, but Scott Brooks didn’t use it at all in Game 2 on Tuesday.

If you remove Nick Collison and just look at the four smalls together, they’ve been just as effective (OffRtg: 130.2, DefRtg: 80.9, NetRtg: +49.3) in a slightly larger sample of 51 minutes (43 against Houston and eight against Memphis).

With Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder have other small-lineup options. And thus far against the Grizzlies, they’re a plus-13 in 14 minutes playing small. They’re a minus-17 in 82 minutes playing big and their starting lineup (Jackson, Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins has shot a brutal 13-for-47 (28 percent) in its 28 minutes together.

That, of course, will be something to keep an eye on as the series heads to Memphis for Saturday’s Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).

*The best defensive lineup with a minimum of 35 minutes played was actually the Thunder’s original starting lineup, which allowed the Rockets to score just 73.1 points per 100 possessions in the first two games of the first round. But Russell Westbrook‘s injury puts that lineup out of commission.

Small works in the other West series too
Both Gregg Popovich and Mark Jackson changed their starting lineups for Game 2 in San Antonio on Wednesday, moves that worked out better for the Warriors. Their (small) lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut is a plus-17 in the series (plus-12 in Game 2), the second-best mark of the conference semifinals thus far.

It was a mini lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw that pulled off the Spurs’ amazing comeback on Monday, racking up a plus-13 in 10 minutes over the fourth quarter and two overtimes. With Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter healthy, Popovich didn’t use that lineup at all in Game 2.

Supersubs in Chicago
Obviously, Wednesday’s blowout in Miami makes for some funky lineup numbers in that series, but the Bulls do have a lineup – Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah – that’s a plus-14 over the two games (plus-13 in 16 minutes in Game 1 and plus-1 in three minutes in Game 2). It was a plus-7 in 21 minutes in the first round and was a strong plus-20.3 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes in the regular season. If Kirk Hinrich and/or Luol Deng return for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will be interesting to see how much time that lineup plays together going forward.

A change of fortune in Miami
The Heat had a killer lineup – Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh – that Erik Spoelstra used rather sparingly (only 112 minutes), but outscored its opponents by 30.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. That lineup was a plus-12 in 10 minutes in the first round against Milwaukee, but is a minus-13 in six minutes in the conference semis, having allowed the Bulls to shoot 6-for-9 (3-for-3 from 3-point range) in the closing minutes of Game 1.

Offensive struggles in New York
The best offensive lineup in the regular season (minimum 200 minutes) was the Knicks’ lineup of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, which scored 119.3 points per 100 possessions in 269 minutes together. With Kidd, Smith and Anthony all struggling, that unit has scored just 86.6 points per 100 possessions in 18 playoff minutes, and has been even worse defensively.

No Easy Answers For Knicks

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NEW YORK – The politicking has begun.

Just one game into Knicks-Pacers, we’re already hearing some talk that may be meant to influence the officiating. Raymond Felton went there after his team lost Game 1 on Sunday, saying that Indiana was doing more than just playing tough defense.

“They’re being really physical with ‘Melo,” Felton said after the game. “They’re banging him, hitting him, they’re going at his [injured left] shoulder. It’s one of those things that goes on in a series. He’ll get those calls.”

Carmelo Anthony drew seven fouls in Game 1, but also shot a brutal 3-for-13 in the paint, as Roy Hibbert and company contested his drives to the basket. He (and the rest of New York) grew visibly frustrated as the game wore on.

“I guess I’ve got to earn my respect,” Anthony said Monday. “It gets frustrating sometimes out there, but I try not to let that negativity sink in.”

The Knicks should hope so, because the Pacers aren’t going to stop being a physical team. They’re the bigger and stronger squad in this series, especially when New York plays small with Anthony at power forward. And on Monday, Indiana was dismissing any ideas of intentional contact.

“We’re just playing ball, man,” Pacers forward David West said. “I thought Roy did a great job with his straight-ups. We take the brunt of the contact most possessions. I thought we were doing a good job of playing our style of defense.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel may have been doing his own politicking when he made it clear that his team does its best to defend the rim without fouling.

Paint shooting, 2013 playoffs
Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA
L.A. Lakers 89 140 63.6% 27.2%
Miami 108 179 60.3% 38.6%
Golden State 150 253 59.3% 28.1%
L.A. Clippers 128 229 55.9% 36.7%
San Antonio 106 190 55.8% 29.5%
Brooklyn 159 286 55.6% 34.6%
Indiana 144 261 55.2% 33.4%
Memphis 149 272 54.8% 34.9%
Oklahoma City 129 236 54.7% 27.8%
Houston 120 229 52.4% 38.3%
Chicago 165 316 52.2% 36.5%
Boston 88 169 52.1% 29.0%
Milwaukee 77 149 51.7% 35.8%
Atlanta 107 208 51.4% 30.0%
Denver 142 277 51.3% 37.1%
New York 110 224 49.1% 31.1%
Total 1,971 3,618 54.5% 33.1%

%FGA = Percent of total FGA

“Part of the plan with these guys is do not put them to the free throw line,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to have discipline to be legal with our body position and earn no-calls. That’s a major point of emphasis to our defensive attack.”

The Pacers, of course, had the No. 1 defense in the league this season. They were No. 1 in defending both the 3-point line and the restricted area. And they ranked ninth in opponent free throw rate, allowing their opponents to attempt just 26 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. The Knicks attempted 23 free throws and 81 field goals in Game 1. That’s 28 per 100, a higher rate than they attempted in the first round against Boston (23 per 100).

The Knicks’ offense was struggling well before Sunday. They scored less than a point per possession against the Celtics and are the only team shooting less than 50 percent from the paint in the playoffs.

If you were to give a Knick a single vote for postseason MVP, it would go to Felton, not Anthony. The point guard has clearly been New York’s best and most consistent player in these playoffs, averaging 17.3 points and 5.0 assists, while shooting 49 percent. He has attacked both the Boston and Indiana defenses on the pick-and-roll, getting to the rim when the opening is there, and pulling up for jumpers and floaters when opposing big man stays back to protect the rim.

While Anthony and J.R. Smith have combined to shoot 47-for-152 (31 percent) over the last four games, Felton has shot 57 percent from the paint and 48 percent from mid-range in the postseason. And Vogel knows that Felton with the ball can be a dangerous situation for his defense.

“They got a lot of stuff off their middle pick-and-rolls,” the coach said Monday. “So we’ve got to be prepared for a lot of adjustments and some Plan Bs.”

But the Pacers will be fine if Felton continues to be the only guy getting points out those pick-and-rolls. He scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting on Sunday, but totaled just three assists. While Hibbert was forced to choose between contesting Felton’s floaters or protecting the rim and preventing the lob, he has the length to be a threat to both Felton and the rolling big man (Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin).

Hibbert’s rim protection and Paul George‘s ability to defend Anthony one-on-one allows the Pacers’ other defenders to stay at home on the Knicks’ shooters.

“We know that, for them, it’s all about the 3-point shot,” West said. “We’ve got the luxury of having Paul, who can guard his guy straight up. So we don’t have to help as much. We know we’re going to help at the rim. But not allowing them angles to the basket prevents us from over-helping and overextending our defense.”

The Knicks shot just 7-for-19 from 3-point range in Game 1 and are now 5-12 when they hit less than eight threes in a game. They’re 24-3, meanwhile, when Felton dishes out at least seven assists.

Now, the Knicks had a decent offensive game on Sunday, scoring 95 points on 90 possessions. But that wasn’t good enough to make up for their shaky defense.

In order to even this series in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), New York will have to improve on one end of the floor or the other. Breaking through against the No. 1 defense in the league will be easier said than done.

Game 6 Comes Down To Melo’s Mentality

NEW YORK – More important than the color of the clothes the New York Knicks wore to Game 5 was the color of their shot chart. It was very red.

For the second straight game, the Knicks couldn’t buy a bucket. They’ve played well defensively in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, but their offense has come to a screeching halt.

The Knicks ranked third in the league offensively in the regular season, scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions. And when they were playing well, both in early in the season and late, their success was all about the points they were scoring.

Knicks efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Oct. 30 – Dec. 16 18 5 111.1 2 102.3 16 +8.8 3
Dec. 17 – March 17 20 21 104.6 11 103.8 15 +0.8 11
March 18 – April 17 16 2 114.6 1 104.4 17 +10.2 3

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Whether they were winning or losing, the Knicks’ defense was rather mediocre all season. So it’s nice that they’ve held the Celtics to the lowest postseason efficiency among the 14 teams that didn’t get swept. But Boston is a bad offensive team, and against most opponents, the Knicks need to score a lot of points to win. So it’s not nice that only the Lakers – who were missing the fourth leading scorer in NBA history – regressed more offensively from the regular season to the playoffs.

Most regressed offenses (OffRtg), regular season to playoffs

Team Reg. Season Rank Playoffs Rank Diff.
L.A. Lakers 105.6 8 90.6 16 -15.0
New York 108.6 3 96.3 13 -12.3
Milwaukee 100.9 21 91.5 15 -9.4
Boston 101.1 20 91.7 14 -9.4
Denver 107.6 5 102.4 9 -5.2

Not only has the Knicks’ offensive regression made this series a lot more interesting than it was five days ago, but it’s also a bad sign regarding their ability to get past the Indiana Pacers – the league’s best defensive team – should they meet them in the next round.

So, as they head back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Knicks have some problems to fix. The issues are painfully obvious, and they start and end with a lack of ball movement.

The Knicks ranked dead last in assist rate in the regular season, assisting on just 52.7 percent of their field goals. That number is down to just 43.6 percent in the postseason. While isolation basketball was a big part of the Knicks’ offense most of the year, it has completely taken over in these last two games, in which the Knicks have assisted on just 23 assists of their 63 field goals (37 percent).

Knicks possessions mostly start off with the right intentions and they will run the first few actions of their offense, most of the time. But the Celtics’ defense is designed to take away those primary options. And far too often, New York’s possessions devolve into isolations once Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith get the ball.

Now, both Anthony and Smith are great one-on-one players, but they’re better players when they’re shooting off the pass or creating for others. The problem is that they’re stopping the ball, allowing the Celtics’ defense to load up, and turning their teammates into bystanders. With as much time as the ball has been in their hands in this series, Anthony (six) and Smith (six) have combined for just 12 assists.

The Knicks’ best offense has come from Raymond Felton in the pick-and-roll. But there just hasn’t been enough of those possessions. Now, sometimes a Felton pick-and-roll gets snuffed out, and the Celtics’ defense certainly deserves a lot of credit for how poorly the Knicks have played offensively. But it’s clear that Anthony and Smith are trying to do too much by themselves.

Smith obviously deserves scrutiny for his intentional elbow to Jason Terry‘s head that got him suspended for Game 4, and for how poorly he shot in Game 5. But Game 6 (and then maybe Game 7) is all about Melo.

This entire season has pretty much been a referendum on Anthony’s game and career. He has famously made it out of the first round only once and had a putrid 17-37 postseason record prior to these playoffs.

Things went so well in the regular season. Anthony led the league in scoring and, more important, led the Knicks to their best record in 18 years. With some veterans around him to show him the way, he learned to trust his teammates, make quicker decisions in the Knicks’ offense, and avoid being the ball-stopper that he was previously.

But things have changed in the playoffs, especially over the last couple of games. Anthony has seemingly regressed back to his old self, playing a style that’s not going to get it done against the best defenses in this league. He’s the second-leading scorer in these playoffs, but has been anything but efficient, shooting 39 percent from the field and 8-for-28 from 3-point range, where he has missed his last 15 attempts. As tempting as it is to go one-on-one with Brandon Bass 25 times a game and as impressive as those fadeaway, contested 20-footers look when they go in, the rate of success on those plays just isn’t good enough.

The Knicks are the better team here. But they’ve put themselves in a bad spot and will feel even more pressure if they can’t finish the series off on Friday. The path back to the win column begins with a change in Anthony’s mentality. These Celtics aren’t quite the Celtics of old, but you still don’t beat them by yourself.

Celtic Pride Lives On

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NEW YORK – These aren’t the same ‘ol Celtics.

No Rajon Rondo. No Ray Allen. No Perk, Posey or P.J. Brown.

They took another step backward this season, falling to seventh in the Eastern Conference. They were pretty awful on the road, their defense didn’t have quite the same bite, and their offense was pretty anemic. You never knew what you were going to get from them, maybe a win over a great team on one night and a loss to a terrible team the next.

And when they were down 0-3 to the New York Knicks in this first round series, it appeared to be time to finally count them out.

Well … uh … never mind. Maybe these are the same ‘ol Celtics.

Fueled by a defense that continues to hold it’s own against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league, the Celtics staved off elimination for the second time on Wednesday. This time they did it in enemy territory, holding on for a 92-86 victory at Madison Square Garden that sends the series back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday.

So now, things get really interesting. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 series deficit, but it’s starting to look like great defense can beat great offense. The Knicks have shot just 37 percent and scored just 94 points per 100 possessions over the last two games.

Coming up empty in Boston without J.R. Smith is one thing. But with Smith back and the opportunity to win a playoff series on their home floor for the first time since 1999, the Knicks laid another egg on Wednesday.

“Offensively, we were searching,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “We’ve got to find some offense somewhere. We have been struggling to find points.”

In his return from a one-game suspension, Smith missed his first 10 shots and finished 3-for-14. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t much better, shooting 8-for-24, meaning that the Knicks basically got the same production out of the pair as they did in Game 4 (when Smith didn’t play).

The one thing the Knicks still have going offensively is Raymond Felton on the pick and roll. He continued to get to the rim in Game 5, rendering Avery Bradley useless and scoring 21 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

But too often, the Knicks became stagnant offensively, resorting to more isolations and contested jumpers. They’ve lived by the three all season, but have shot a brutal 12-for-52 (23 percent) from beyond the arc in the last two games. Anthony has missed his last 15 3-point attempts.

Of course, the Celtics wouldn’t have won Games 4 and 5 if they weren’t scoring themselves. And Wednesday was easily their best offensive performance of the series. Part of it was better execution. But mostly, they just shot better.

That was the one source of optimism when they were down 0-3. They’re a bad offensive team, but they’re not a bad shooting team, and they were missing a lot of decent shots in those first three games. The Knicks have played aggressively on the ball all series, leaving shooters open. And now the Celtics are finally making them pay. Their 3-point percentage has increased in every game of the series, peaking with an 11-for-22 performance in Game 5.

“We’re not a bad 3-point shooting team,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I kept telling our guys, ‘When you get them, take them.’ I kept telling them to let it fly. Don’t hesitate.”

Really, these are both jump-shooting teams, and games will sometimes be determined by whether or not the shots go in. But it was clear on Wednesday which team was forcing more misses. That’s the team that had its season on the line, the team that never goes down without a fight.

The Knicks wore all black to this game, thinking they were attending a funeral. Instead, they got a free trip back to Boston, thanks to a prideful team that just won’t die.

“We’re out here scrappin’,” Kevin Garnett told Comcast Sportsnet in an epic on-court interview after the game. “We know what they’re running. They know what we’re running. It’s just this is all out. Who wants this? That’s what it is. That’s all we’ve been doing these last couple of games.”

Same ‘ol Celtics, apparently. Never count ‘em out.

Melo’s Regression Helps Celts Stay Alive

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BOSTON –
In a season of improvement, this was a day of regression.

This was Carmelo Anthony‘s year. Though the numbers don’t really show it, he matured this season, learned to trust his teammates, and learned how to be a great scorer without stopping the ball so much. He made quicker, smarter decisions.

On Sunday though, with his New York Knicks trying to close out the Boston Celtics, Anthony seemingly turned back the clock and played like it was 2011 again. He tried to beat the Celtics by himself, and his regression helped Boston stave off elimination with a 97-90, overtime victory. The series now heads back to New York for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Anthony’s regression basically trumped Raymond Felton‘s podium game. The Knicks’ point guard continued to tear up Boston’s pick-and-roll defense, tying his season high with 27 points, 16 of them as the Knicks came back from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter. As great an on-ball defender as Avery Bradley is, he couldn’t stay in front of Felton, who gave the Knicks their only lead of the game with a pick-and-roll, pull-up jumper with just over a minute to go in regulation.

The Knicks even had success when Anthony ran the pick-and-roll. Their 5-0 run to tie the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter came off two Anthony/Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls, one that produced an open Iman Shumpert 3-pointer, and another that got Anthony an easy drive to the basket.

But too many times, Anthony preferred to play isolation basketball. And too many times, he forced bad shots. In fact, on the two Knicks possessions that sandwiched Felton’s go-ahead jumper, Anthony ran five different isolations (thanks to three offensive rebounds from his teammates). Those five isolations produced four missed shots, two missed free throws, and zero points.

This wasn’t the worst game of Anthony’s career. On an afternoon when his team was struggling to score, he was able to get to the free throw line 20 times. Eleven of those trips helped keep the Knicks within striking distance in the first half.

But Anthony finished the game 10-for-35 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range, adding seven turnovers. Of his 35 shots, 19 came from mid-range, the least efficient area of the floor.

“He missed some shots,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “but as a team, we couldn’t make shots.”

But Anthony missed more shots than any three of his teammates combined. He had just two assists, and the Knicks had just 10 as a team.

It was a bad game, nothing more than that. The Knicks’ 3-0 series lead afforded him such, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself going forward. He’ll also have J.R. Smith back from his one-game suspension, though Anthony wouldn’t admit that Smith’s absence played a roll in his own tunnel-vision.

“I missed him out there,” Anthony said of Smith. “But J.R. being out there doesn’t change the way I shoot the basketball. Those are the shots I’ve been taking the whole series. They weren’t falling tonight. My mother always said, ‘There’ll be days like this.’ We’ll take it for what it’s worth, put this one behind us, and get ready for Wednesday.”

If Smith’s absence wasn’t a fact, the Celtics’ defense was. Boston had no intention of rolling over and seeing their season end any earlier than it had to. They dug in and made the Knicks work for their baskets.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers went back to his original starting lineup, believing it would be better defensively, and Brandon Bass proved him right. Before eventually fouling out, Bass took on the Anthony assignment and defended the league’s leading scorer about as well as you can.

“He was the star of the game, as far as I’m concerned,” Rivers said of Bass. “He just defended, and did it over and over and over again.”

“The more he does it, the fresher Paul [Pierce], the fresher Jeff [Green] can be offensively for us.”

Pierce and Green were indeed fresh offensively, combining for 55 of the Celtics’ 97 points. Kevin Garnett hit two big jumpers down the stretch and Jason Terry scored Boston’s final nine points in overtime. It was the definition of a team win for the prideful Celtics.

But none of that would have mattered if Anthony didn’t try to beat them all by himself.

“I was trying to win the basketball game,” he said. “It would have been a great feeling to close it out here in Boston, so I was trying to do whatever I could to win the basketball game. I was just trying to be aggressive. I missed a lot – a ton – of shots today.”