In the 71st game of your 17th season, in the midst of a “heated” playoff “race,” why are you still watching your own errant jump shot while your mark, Klay Thompson, beats you back in transition for an open 3-pointer? Thompson doesn’t exactly take off like Corey Brewer, either, and he still beats you down the floor by several steps.
Why is this still happening? It’s almost April, and Bryant and the Lakers still can’t figure out transition defense, or defense in general.
Stephen Curry just wrapped one of the most scintillating two-game stretches you’ll ever see, slicing up Indiana and New York on back-to-back nights for 92 points on 32-of-48 shooting — including an insane 18-of-23 from 3-point range. He’s on pace for perhaps the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, and he combines that high-volume accuracy with a wonderful arsenal of creative, flippy, and spinny interior shots. When Curry is on, he’s one of the league’s half-dozen most entertaining players, and he transforms the Warriors into a must-watch.
But it’s time to worry that games like Curry’s 54-point explosion last night in New York are becoming almost emblematic of this Golden State season — a fun, score-first bonanza the Warriors ultimately lose because they cannot stop anyone on the other end. Their defense, an important early-season story line, has fallen apart. The Warriors are 7-10 in their last 17 games, and have allowed 109 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, a mark that would rank dead last in the league. After hanging around the top 10 in that category, and then just below that range, the Warriors have fallen into a four-way tie with the Lakers, Nets, and Mavericks that spans spots nos. 16-19. They’ve been outscored for the season, and they are 12-15 in their last 27 games.
Over the last three seasons, the Bulls have cycled through a bundle of shooting guards, or reasonable facsimiles of shooting guards, in trying to find just one that combines “B”-level shooting, defense, passing, and good health. They’ve tried John Salmons, Keith Bogans, Kirk Hinrich, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Richard Hamilton, and Marco Belinelli, and none have quite provided the ideal combination. Chicago, when whole, has a legit top-10 player in Derrick Rose, a very good all-around wing in Luol Deng, and a prized collection of skilled big men. They don’t need a star at shooting guard; they just need someone who can do everything at a decent level without compromising the team in any one area.
About three weeks ago, I noted how Miami opponents were blistering-hot from 3-point range, and how rare it has been over the last decade-plus for a team that allows both a lot of 3-point attempts and a high percentage of makes on those attempts to advance far in the playoffs. Miami last season pulled off the trick, in part because they tightened up their 3-point defense considerably in the playoffs. In other words, the message three weeks ago was, Chill. They’ve done this before, and they’re the champs.
Three weeks later, Miami opponents are still averaging a league-high 25.5 triple tries per game, even though Miami’s pace of play is right around the league average. The shooting percentage on those 3s has dropped from 40-plus percent three weeks ago to 35.8 percent now — about league-average. Still: The combination of a decent opponent 3-point percentage and a ton of attempts has generally been a very bad indicator of postseason longevity. But we went through this last season with Miami, and veteran-laden champs earn some “flip the switch” leeway.
The dividing lines are already starting to blur. Across the league teams are threatening to jump or fall from one tier to the other. But as we’ve yet to approach the one-quarter mark of the season, I’m still conceiving of the Western Conference in four tiers:
Tier No. 1: The five teams that should be better than everyone else: Thunder, Grizzlies, Spurs, Lakers, Clippers. The Clippers have lost four of five and the Lakers are doing whatever it is they do at 7-8, but these five should eventually shake out as the five best teams in the conference.
Two important things happened over the weekend in Knicks world, where Important And Often Very Dramatic Things are always happening: Ronnie Brewer was cleared to practice again, and the Knicks announced that Amar’e Stoudemire will miss between two and three weeks after doctors found a popliteal cyst behind his left knee — the same knee for which Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery a half-decade go.
The two connected events naturally lead to one conclusion: Carmelo Anthony should play power forward, and Stoudemire’s injury gives New York cover to make that very tricky political move. The Knicks were wildly successful when Anthony slid to big forward late in the season, when Stoudemire had to sit for a few weeks with a herniated disc in his back. Anthony tortured slower big men by taking the ball to the perimeter, especially on the wing, and blowing by them. The Knicks last season were one of 10 NBA teams that installed high-tech tracking cameras, and STATS LLC, the company behind those cameras, gave me exclusive first access over the summer to several reports on the data they dug up — including one on what happened each time a recorded player drove the ball from an area 20 or more feet from the hoop into within 10 feet of the rim.
By almost any measure, the 2011 college football season continued the trend of increasingly dominant offenses and high-scoring and high-yardage games.
Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Houston all averaged more than 550 yards of offense per game en route to historic seasons. And the BCS bowls will feature dynamic offenses and quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson and Wisconsin; Chip Kelly's ludicrous-speed Oregon attack; Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and the high-flying Oklahoma State Cowboys; and quarterback Andrew Luck's swan song as captain and resuscitator of a once-moribund Stanford program. Whether pro-style, Air raid, or spread-to-run, we're living in offense-dominated times.
That is, except in the game that (rightly or wrongly) crowns the champion: LSU-Alabama. Indeed, that game features the country's most dynamic and exciting defensive player in Tyrann Mathieu (who might end up no better than the third- or fourth-best NFL prospect in LSU's secondary) and one of the most statistically dominating defenses of the past decade in Alabama.