Point Blank – April 20, 2017
At home, the Pacers can set the pace…Aaron Nola has been better than the markets seem to think…
We have the first of the shifting of venues for the opening round of the NBA playoffs at hand, with Indiana aiming to turn the momentum against Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee arm wrestling for control of their matchup, and the question of whether Memphis can put enough consistency together to win a single game. Let’s get to it…
CLEVELAND/INDIANA – If the Cavaliers couldn’t stop the Pacers in Cleveland…
One of the prime questions surrounding these playoffs was just how much we could attribute the poor overall play by the Cavaliers over the latter portion of the regular season, in particular on defense, to them not playing at full speed, and holding back for another run at the Finals. The eye test for me did not show a team coasting, but instead one that has real defensive issues, and so far in this series it is difficult to find evidence that they have stepped back up with their efforts either at guarding, or working harder on the boards.
To set the perspective, let’s look at the Indiana regular season rate on offense, and rebounding, compared to the first two games of this series, both with a Cleveland home court advantage –
Regular 106.2 48.7
Playoffs 115.3 51.0
The Pacers have been able to attack, and of course it does not hurt to have Paul George as a part of your arsenal, with 61 points and 14 assists through the first two games.
If all that leads to being down 0-2 it means that there is a problem at the other end, and there certainly is, the Indiana defense has consistently been a step late to find Cleveland shooters, the Cavs knocking down 24 triples in those wins.
Indiana Defense PP100
The change in venue will help the Pacers on defense, though perhaps not enough to win. But considering how well they were able to score at Cleveland, the heightened energy from being in front of what should be a frenzied crowd may make their offensive forays even more aggressive. With 104 available in the early Thursday trading, I will have #710 Indiana Team Total Over (7:00 Eastern) in pocket.
TORONTO/MILWAUKEE – The Bucks missed better shots than the Raptors made down the stretch in Game #2, but…
One of the narratives that it would be easy to come away with after Toronto’s win in Game #2 is that the veterans stepped up, which they did, and the younger Bucks failed to hold up. I am not sure the latter take is correct. Let’s go deeper, while also establishing a particular perspective that matters.
First, with the game on the line after Milwaukee whittled to 13-point deficit into a single-possession scoreboard by the closing sequences, it is not difficult to claim that the Bucks got better shots than the Raptors. But before going forward with that, an * needs to be presented – for those that do not watch Toronto play often, what looked like tough shots for the Raptors down the stretch really weren’t; it is who they are.
Via Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto has been one of the most effective offensive teams in the league in each of the past three seasons, but understanding how it happens matters -
Toronto PP100 / Assists
2015 #3 #22
2016 #5 #29
2017 #6 #30
They simply have two of the best late-clock one-on-one players in the NBA on the same team, and what can look like difficult forced attempts really aren’t, especially from DeRozan. This is who they are, and while the conversions late vs. the Bucks in Game #2 were difficult, they are not uncommon.
What was intriguing to see is that a Raptors defense that has been solid since adding Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker got broken down late – Milwaukee did not just miss some open shots, there were some wide-open looks. Instead of wilting under the pressure the Bucks ran some rather good stuff, but didn’t get rewarded for it.
From Jason Kidd - "I think the guys fought. It would have been easy to let go of the rope. We got down, but they kept playing and we had an opportunity there, we got some great looks, the ball goes halfway down and then comes out, that's basketball."
Toronto evened the series on Tuesday, but I am not sure the Raptors turned the momentum. The poise with which Milwaukee ran end-game offense may have been meaningful, for a young team under that kind of game pressure. Tonight the eye test will be how they handle pressure from the opening tipoff, with heightened expectations now in play, after the opening road games were more like a free-roll in that regard.
SAN ANTONIO/MEMPHIS – “Take that for Data!” (the follow-up to Fizdale’s fulminations)
The post-game rant by Fizdale following another one-sided Memphis loss on Monday evening will go down in the sports annals as a classic, especially with the follow-up of it costing him $30K in a fine from the league, which shows that they certainly did pay attention. The question now becomes whether it can have an impact, whether in buying a close call or two tonight, or in keeping the competitive fires of his team involved in a series in which they have been out-scored by 43 points.
“We don’t get the respect that these guys deserve because Mike Conley doesn’t go crazy, he has class and just plays the game, but I’m not going to let them treat us that way! I know Pop’s got pedigree and I’m a young rookie but they’re not going to rook us. That’s unacceptable, that was unprofessional. Our guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game and they did not even give us a chance. Take that for data…”
While the Grizzlies did not get the best of it from the officials in Game #2, it was not as egregious as the way Fizdale worked with the numbers, and some of that is merely a function of the way that the teams play – only Phoenix allowed the opposition to get to the FT line more than Memphis during the regular season. But in terms of keeping his team energized, Fizdale may receive a plus for that. The problem is that energy can only take you so far when there is a mismatch in terms of both talent and chemistry.
The shuffling of the rotation by Fizdale has been a prime topic here since the All Star break, and the Grizzlies have fallen to 9-17 in this cycle, 10 of the losses in double figures. One of the most curious moves was inserting Vince Carter into the starting lineup, which brought a spark the first night but flat-out has not worked since. Carter can still be effective as a scorer off the bench, especially if slotted into the #2 spot, but as a starting #3 there are major shortcomings, and in isolating his Monday contributions you can see how glaring it was –
A team can’t afford to give that many minutes to a player that can’t contribute much more than scoring, and even the 12 points that Carter brought across those minutes doesn’t register as being effective. There is, of course, the simple fact that while few teams have any kind of defensive counter for Kawhi Leonard, the Grizzlies have none at all, which is why Leonard is having a historic series, 69 points in 72:27 on only 28 FG and 28 FT attempts. His True Shooting Percentage of 85.6 is simply off the charts.
Will Memphis play hard tonight? Yes, Fizdale may have pushed the right buttons on that front. But will the Grizzlies play well? That has been the problem all along in this series, and the answer lies more in clean basketball chemistry and execution than higher energy.
In the Sights, Thursday MLB…
The expectations before Aaron Nola ever threw a Major League pitch were that he could be special. So far those expectations are being met, and a key tonight is that his opening to the 2017 has been even better than the way it is being perceived. That opens the door for #903 Philadelphia Run Line (7:10 Eastern), the +1.5 now available at -140 in the Thursday morning trading, and value up to -150. Having a run in pocket is more valuable than the going cost in what shapes up as a classic pitcher’s duel.
The next out Nola records will bring him to 200 innings in the Majors, and while 13-11/4.24 may lack some sex appeal, the peripherals are exceptional. He not only throws strikes (2.3 BB/9) but gets the ball past hitters (9.1 K/9), and when contact was made it has been at a 52.6 GB%. Strike out more than a better per inning, while getting more than half of the contact to be on the ground, and you are set up for quite a career.
Which takes us to Nola’s 1-0/3.27 of 2017. That is good, but does not jump off the page, but perhaps it should. A 1.10 FIP shows what his first two starts could have looked like sans the outlier of a .433 BABIP – how about 10.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 63.3 GB% and 14.0 SWS%? But don’t stop there. Each of those outings were against the Washington Nationals. And how has that offense performed so far?
AVG OBP SLG OPS
.294 (1) .363 (1) .484 (1) .846 (1)
Bryce Harper and the Nats have been rather good at stinging baseballs, unless they have been thrown by Nola, so add difficulty of opposition into the mix and you can see why I respect the numbers from the Phillie right-hander so much.
I can’t fault anything that Noah Syndergaard is doing, not having walked a single batter yet in a sublime opening to the season, but his performance and his profile help to set up the price point. And note that one of the enhanced keys to the Run Line when a Total is this low (6.5 Under -120 becoming common) is that Terry Collins is fully aware of how this matchup looks, which could mean a Mets offense that opts to play for a single run when there are opportunities, sacrificing outs to move base-runners, something that helps prevent a big inning from taking place. Against Nola, they may not get many opportunities.
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