Playoff Sweeps: Some Are Worse Than Others.

What were the most competitive playoff sweeps of the last 20 years?  The table below displays them, as measured by average margin of victory.


Aside from the 1994 Bulls-Cavs series, an argument can be made that all these series were won because of the experience difference between the winning and losing team.  The talent gap between the winning and losing team was small, hence the close games, but the experience difference was astounding and allowed the winning team win every game of the series.  The 2000 Knicks-Raptors series was the most competitive.  That series was notable for a number of reasons; it marked the beginning of the end of the Knicks’ early to late 90s run, it was the last time the Knicks won a playoff game at the Garden, and it was the series that got Tracy McGrady his Orlando Magic max contract. 
Now we take a look at the least competitive playoff sweeps of the last 20 years as shown by the table below.


There seems to be no common rhyme or reason for these series, aside from the fact the Hawks and Heat combined to lose six of them and the Bulls seemed to have one every year of the championship run.  The Bulls did not play around with inferior teams in the first round; they knocked those teams out of their misery pretty quickly. Another notable is the Hawks playoff losses in 2009 and 2010; they were dominated by the Cavs and the Magic, respectively.  That stat and this year’s series against Orlando may speak volumes about the difference between Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.

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Game 3 In The NBA Playoffs: A Potent Mixture Of Home Court And Desperation.

Since the 1990-91 season

The adjacent table shows series in which the higher seed won the series, and only lost one game in the series.  What game is the inferior team most likely to win?  According to the table, the series-losing team is most likely to win game 3.  The losing team’s lone victory came in Game 3 in almost 62% of those matchups.  It makes sense; the losing team is down 2-0 (desperation).  Additionally, it is also the their first home game in the series.  Most teams plays better at home, and the home crowd is usually in a frenzy trying motivate the team.  This occurs in the first home game much more than it would in the second.  The fans usually have an unavoidable drop in enthusiasm between the first home game and the second home game.  That being said,  I think the Knicks(healthy Amare), Pacers, Nuggets and Blazers are near-locks for Game 3 victories, and the Sixers will probably win their Game 3 too.
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Game 7 In The NBA Playoffs: Home-Court Advantage Is Overstated. (Part 2 of 3)

As the NBA playoffs are upon us, we will hear dozens of clichés thrown around by commentators.  The most irritating cliché is that the home team wins Game 7 of the series most of the time.  Since 1991, the home team is 36-10, a .783 win percentage.  This stat is always brought up without being put into proper context; as if to say having Game 7 at home causes a team to win.  However, I’ve never heard a commentator mention that the team with home-court advantage has a better record and usually is the better team anyway.  One would expect them to win a Game 7 at home, or on the road.  In this article and subsequent articles, I will try to find out how many Game 7s were won by the home team mainly because they were at home. 
The table below tries to get the answer to the previous question.  The basic premise of the table is that the more road wins there are in a series, the less home-court advantage matters.  I separate Games 1-4 from Games 5-7 because the last three games of a series are probably more intense than the first four and home-court matters slightly, but still materially more in the last three games.  Since 1991, in Games 1-4 the road team wins 32% of the time while in Games 5-7 the road wins 25% of the time.  I rate, on a five point scale, the probability of the home team winning Game 7 mainly because they’re at home.  The five outcomes are: Yes, Probable, Possible, Doubtful, and No.  This is scale far from perfect, but it appears sufficient to answer the question posed in this article. 
Here are two examples of how the table works: The 1994 series between New York and Chicago produced no road wins, so it would be safe to say that the home team won Game 7 because of the home court advantage.  The 1994 Utah-Denver series produced two road wins, Utah winning that Game 7 was more likely due to them being a better team than due to home-court advantage.  The table below shows the 23 conference semifinals series that went to Game 7 in the last 20 post-seasons.

The home team won 17 of the 23 Game 7s, but how many of those 17 wins were mainly because of home-court advantage?  According to the table, only 11 of the 17 wins were at least probably due to home-court advantage alone.  That means that 6 of the 17 home-team wins probably had nothing to do with home-court advantage.  Home-court advantage in the Conference Semifinals’ Game 7s, appears to be overstated, as it did in the first round of the playoffs.  Part 1

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Celtics-Knicks: Staying In Boston For A Week.

The Celtics and Knicks will play eachother in the season finale and in the first round of the playoffs; this has happened 13 times before in the last 20 seasons.  In six of these instances, highlighted in red, the two teams have stayed at the same venue.  In those six instances, the home team, which was also the team with home-court advantage was 20-8.  In the other series, where the season finale and playoff opener were played at different venues, the team with home-court advantage was 20-15.  Although this stat is not 100% predictive or even 50%, it doesn’t bode well for the Knicks’ hope of a first round upset.

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Carmelo Anthony: What Has He Done To The Knicks? (Click Tables to Enlarge)

What has Carmelo Anthony done to the Knicks? I’ll compare and contrast how the Knicks have performed in their Wins and Losses, both pre-Carmelo trade and post-Carmelo trade. Let’s look at Carmelo’s favorite part of the game, offense, first. I acknowledge that the samples are small. However, they still do give valuable insight into the Knicks during the Carmelo adjustment period, especially in conjunction with actually watching the games.

Pre-Trade Offense vs. Post-Trade Offense:

There are some noticeable differences between the two “eras”. First, the 3-point shooting has improved from 36.5% to 40%, the difference between a good shooting team and a great shooting team. This can probably be attributed to Carmelo and Chauncey Billups providing better shots to the surrounding players as a result of the attention they command. Additionally, Chauncey is a great 3-point shooter in his own right. On a side note, they have committed more fouls during the post-Trade time period, 23.3 per game vs. 20.6. That is a significant difference, but I don’t know what to attribute it to. Overall, on offense the Knicks have been slightly more proficient.

Pre-Trade Offense – Wins vs. Losses:

The biggest difference between wins and losses for the Knicks is their 3-point shooting; they attempt the same number of 3-pointers in wins and losses, but their percentage drops from 41.5% to 30.9%. Another, minor, difference was the percentage of field goals that were assisted, dropping from 57.9 to 53.3%. This suggests that the Knicks’ ball movement was slightly better in wins than in losses, and there may have been less isolation plays. Bottom line: Live by the 3, die by the 3.

Post-Trade Offense – Wins vs. Losses:

The first difference, just as during the pre-Trade period was 3-point shooting, dropping from 44.5% in wins to 35.9% in losses. There were two other factors of the game that differed greatly from wins to losses. The first was the assists to field goals made ratio, decreasing from 62.1% in wins to 50.8% in losses, a significant difference. Not only does this difference suggest better ball movement by the Knicks, but my eyes also told me this was true. Whenever Carmelo and Amare would isolate for most of the game, the Knicks’ offense became stagnant and inefficient. The second factor besides 3-point shooting was free throw attempts. This is one was quite surprising at first, but became more evident as I thought about it more. The Knicks attempted 10 more free throws per game in their losses than they did in their wins. After looking deeper into the stats I found that Amare attempted a greater number of free throws in the losses, suggesting that especially when he iso’d, the Knicks were worse off because of his below average passing ability, even for a power forward. Bottom line: The Knicks will
 win more with ball movement during the Carmelo era, at least for the rest of this season.


Pre-Trade Defense vs. Post-Trade Defense:

There are a few main differences in the Knicks’ defense between the pre-Trade period and the post-Trade period. They play a slower paced game in the post-Trade period allowing only 79.3 field goal attempts per game, down from 85 in the pre-Trade era. Additionally, the opposing offenses have played slightly more efficiently with higher shooting percentages across the board and averaging the same number of assists on fewer field goals made. Opposing teams are also shooting almost 4 more free throws per game. Bottom line: the Knicks have been playing at a slower pace and allowing slightly less points per game, but they’re defense has become markedly worse. My eyeballs tell me the same.
Pre-Trade Defense – Wins vs. Losses:
The difference in defense between wins and losses in the pre-trade period was embarrassingly simple: ball movement, which led to more efficient shooting killed the Knicks defense. The Knicks gave up 23 assists per game in losses, compared to 18.8 in wins.

Post-Trade Defense – Wins vs. Losses:

The Knicks’ defense, in wins, has forced more turnovers than in losses, 16.0 to 13.3. Watching the games, I’ve seen that those extra forced turnovers are significant, but are not attributed to the Knicks’ defense. They’re more luck than anything else. Three other stats; FTA, Off. Rebounds, and 3-point percentage, tell us what we already knew about the post-trade Knicks’ defense. They don’t have a decent big man, and they miss Wilson Chandler, who was a decent defender, guarding the other team’s best wing player. They allow 7 more free throw attempts per game in losses than they do in wins(Chandler), their 3-point defense deteriorates from 33.9% in wins to 41.7% in losses(Chandler), and they allow almost three more offensive rebound per game in losses while the opportunities(opposing teams’ missed shots) for those rebounds have only increased from 41.3 to 41.5.(Need for a decent big man). Bottom line: They need to find a serviceable defensive-minded center and good defensive wing player who doesn’t mind getting less shooting opportunities.  

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