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02-11-2004, 01:26 PM
Defense has been Sonics' undoing

The Seattle SuperSonics have found the enemy and the enemy is, well, them.

"In practice, we're knocking each other all over the place," said guard Antonio Daniels in the Tacoma News Tribune. "We're killing each other, fouling each other, being very aggressive with each other: grabbing, throwing, everything. And then when the game comes around, we're almost lighter on the other team than we are against ourselves. We have to trust each other. When (Flip Murray) gets beat, he needs to know I'm there, and I want (Ray) Allen to know I'm there if he gets beat. We have to do that collectively as a team, and it's something we're not doing."

After Tuesday night's loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Sonics have now dropped seven of their last nine games despite scoring 98.8 points per game in that span. And that's because they're allowing the other team to score 104.4 points per game.

"We've shown at times that we can defend, but it can't be 'at times,' " head coach Nate McMillan said in the Seattle Times. "We didn't have control of any part of this game. They (Golden State) ran their sets, walking us to the post, walking us to the wing and allowing the screen to come over right where they wanted. At times we allowed them to go deeper. They walked us to wherever they wanted to offensively."

In those nine games, the Sonics have given up 940 points. To put that in perspective, the worst defensive team in the league gives up an average of 100.6, and that's the Orlando Magic, who have the worst record in the league at 13-40. But another week like this and Seattle won't be too far off from claiming that title with its 24-27 record. Currently, the Sonics give up 99.3 points per game for third worst in the league with the Mavericks at 99.9 for second.

"We're not organized on defense," said center Vitaly Potapenko. "We're not disciplined. It's as simple as that. Everybody knows we're a shooting team and we can score on offense, but the defensive end is what makes the difference between winning a game and losing a game."

And, now, everybody knows that when the Sonics are on the schedule, it's time to boost their statistics.

Golden State was putting up about 94 points a game on the season and only 90.3 on the road. On Tuesday night, the Warriors scored 106 in Seattle. And what makes it worse is that the last time these teams played on Jan. 22, the Sonics held them to 87 points and won by 16.

"It's a bad loss," Daniels said. "But you can't look at it like, 'Is this a low point?' because we play again on Thursday."

Well, what happened last Thursday or last Tuesday or the Tuesday before that?

That's when this whole streak started with a 118-116 loss to the Mavericks in Seattle. Sure, the Mavs can score a lot of points, but on the road even they average 99.5, which is nowhere close to 118.

The Sonics also gave up 110 points to Sacramento that week, also in Seattle, and then 117 to the Kings in Arco Arena the next week.

In between, they did beat the Bulls but still surrendered 97 points to a team that scores only 89.4 a game. In their only other win during this streak, they gave up 105 points to the Suns, who score only 93.4 a game.

"You've got to defend, and you've got to take care of the ball," said McMillan in the Tribune. "You've got to commit to defending if you want a shot at winning games. We've been up and down this season, and when we've been down I think most of those downs have been because we haven't defended the ball."

In all, the Sonics have given up 940 points to nine teams that average 869.7. That's 70.3 more points than usual. That's 7.8 points per game during this streak. That's got to be impossibly frustrating for a team that just lost seven of nine games by an average of 5.6 points.

In their 24 wins this year, the Sonics have given up an average of 94.6 points per game. In their 27 losses, they've given up 103.5.

"We've just got to be better defensively is what it comes around to," Daniels said. "That's it, plain and simple; if we want to be successful, if we want to make the playoffs, if we want to win the games we should win. When March comes around and we go to San Antonio and Dallas and Los Angeles and Houston, we want to make sure that we're at a defensive level where we should be, playing playoff basketball by that time."

Records don't tell entire story

The Indiana Pacers have the best record in the NBA at 38-14.

But considering that they went only 48-34 last year with the only major roster move being the subtraction of their starting center, we wanted to know how solid that record really was. We wanted to know how badly they were beating teams and how badly they were losing to teams.

Usually, this type of analysis relies solely on margin of victory.

But we wanted to also factor in tempo and style because a 10-point victory over the 24-26 Sonics, who score 97.7 points per game for third-highest mark in the NBA, is a lot different than a 10-point victory over the 24-25 Raptors, who score an NBA-low 85.3 points per game.

So we took that margin of victory, or margin of defeat if the case may be, and divided that number by the average number of points that team scored to see what percentage of points each team was winning by or losing.

We'll call it the percentage of victory, or defeat, and show you that league standings aren't everything.

Largest Percentage of Victory

1. San Antonio Spurs
Percentage of Victory: 7.2% (6.5 of 90.8)
Tim Duncan and company hold their opponents to an NBA-low 83.6 points per game on 40 percent shooting, so getting that last-second bucket or come-from-behind run is, nowadays, nearly impossible. The last time the Spurs lost, back on Jan. 29, the Kings had built a 10-point halftime lead to escape by five while San Antonio's previous two losses were by a combined three points. And in their latest five-game win streak, they've needed to average only 90 points a game. The same 90 points they've scored all season. They play a slow, deliberate game that often comes down to a Tim Duncan turnaround bank shot with the shot clock nearly expired. Deja vu. No flashbulbs, no replay, no highlight tape that you can remember. They don't shoot more. They shoot better. To emphasis this, let me point out that after 53 games this season, the Spurs have taken 4,161 shots to their opponents' 4,163 shots but have still scored 343 more points.

2. Sacramento Kings
Percentage of Victory: 7.1% (7.5 of 104.9)
The Kings jab you to death and jab and jab and jab. Quite simply, they shoot 46.8 percent from the field (second best in the league to MIN by .001), 40.3 percent from 3-point range (best in the league) and 80 percent from the line (second-best in league to NY by .006). Even more impressive is that Sacramento routinely shoots two more times a game than Minnesota (and a whopping 7.7 more triples per game) and has shot 200 more free throws than the Knicks. Even more impressive than that is that the Kings shoot 49.4 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from 3 and 80.4 percent from the line when they win. These guys bury opponents under a flurry of jump shots that have established the largest margin of victory in the league today.

3. Indiana Pacers
Percentage of Victory: 5.24% (4.7 of 89.6)
Unlike almost every other Eastern Conference pretender, the Pacers match up well with the West. Not only are they 12-6 in interconference games, they have victories over the Timberwolves, Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks. And in their only game with the Kings, they lost 91-88 in Sacramento after Ron Artest was ejected in the first half. They aren't great shooters. Aren't great rebounders. They average 20.8 assists per game to their opponents' 20.2. They are simply a team that has very few weaknesses that has never lost more than two games in a row and two in a row only twice all season.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Percentage of Victory: 5.22% (5 of 95.7)
Last year, the Timberwolves had only one player who averaged more than 18 points a game. This year, they have three. Last year, they beat their opponents by an average of 2.1. This year, they're beating them by an average of five. Last year, they had yet to win a playoff series in franchise history. This year, they are the Midwest Division leaders, closer to being the top seed in the Western Conference than the third.

5. Detroit Pistons
Percentage of Victory: 3.7% (3.4 of 89.6)
Two years ago, they brought on a new leading scorer who could very well be supplanted this year. This year, they brought on a new head coach who vowed to turn the two-time Defensive Player of the Year into an offensive entity. They are the defending Eastern Conference regular-season champs who ended up with the No. 2 pick of the latest draft. Needless to say, they are a very good team in flux willing to sacrifice last year's larger margin of victory for their chance at greatness next year.

Largest Percentage of Defeat

29. Chicago Bulls
Percentage of Defeat: 7.2% (-6.5 of 89.5)
Only one team has lost more games than the Bulls. No team losses them by more. In their first game of the season, they lost by 25. They lost their first two games of November by 62. In December and January, they lost 12 games by double-digits. Kinda makes you anxious for February. Is it any surprise that their leading scorer was drafted as a point guard, their biggest player refuses to rebound and they're on their third coach in less than six seasons.

28. Orlando Magic
Percentage of Defeat: 6.2% (-5.9 of 94.7)
Still not sure if their infamous 19-game losing streak at the beginning of the season by an average margin of defeat of 9.3 is worse than their current six-game skid by an average of 12.5 in which they've given up 636 total points.

27. Atlanta Hawks
Percentage of Defeat: 5.9% (-5.3 of 88.7)
After starting 9-24 on the season, the Hawks went 9-11 after Jan. 1. Of course, that was before they traded away their best offensive player in Shareef Abdur-Rahim and best defensive player in Theo Ratliff away for a cantankerous forward who won't make 15 games in Atlanta. Still plenty of time for Atlanta to challenge for the worst record in the league.

26. Washington Wizards
Percentage of Defeat: 4.1% (-3.8 of 90.9)
With a healthy Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards' margin of defeat shrinks to only 0.5. With a healthy Jerry Stackhouse, the Wizards actually have a margin of victory of six. The problem, of course, is that Arenas has played in only 23 games and Stackhouse has played in only four games while the rest of the roster has played 49.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers
Percentage of Defeat: 3.4% (-3.2 of 91.9)
Last year, this team lost often and lost big. They went 17-65 with an average margin of defeat of 9.6. Think about that for a second. They were only 31 points from statistically being blown out by double-digits in every single game last year. This year, they're on pace to go 31-51 with an average margin of defeat of only 3.2. Even better news is the fact that since Jan. 1, they've gone 10-10 with an average margin of defeat down to 2.9.

Peep Show

Washington Wizards: One of the most dangerous places to be these days could very well be in a Wizard uniform after Larry Hughes was declared injured for the next four to six weeks with a broken left wrist. "It's very disappointing," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said in the Washington Times. "He was playing well. He was taking a lot of hits. When we got Gilbert back and Stack back it seemed like Larry was flourishing with those two guys on the court. The game was coming much easier to him, and he looked very comfortable on the floor."

Orlando Magic: Grant Hill has reached the do or die phase of his NBA career with rehab just about complete following his fourth surgery to his ankle and a decision needed on when and if he should return to the floor. "I haven't focused too much on the past -- good or bad -- because I'm just pressing on," Hill said in Florida Today. "Call me crazy, but I still feel I've got some good ball left in me. It's just a (fractured) bone and not a joint or something life-threatening. If the bone can heal and just stay healed, then I'm a 31-year-old who hasn't played a lot in the past four years. I can still go be productive. That's what led me to have this last set of surgeries. I think last season showed me that if this ankle feels good, I can still go play at a high level."

Los Angeles Lakers: Of course, Phil Jackson wants Kobe Bryant back on the floor, so long as it's for the Lakers before the Western Conference All-Stars. "He says he'll play (tonight)," Jackson said in the L.A. Daily News. "If he can stand the discomfort, he can play. There's nothing else we have to worry about. I think he should play if at all possible before the All-Star Game, if he wants to play in the All-Star Game. There's ample reason for him not to even play in the All-Star Game if he wanted to sit it out. Having not played in these last few games, I'm sure there's enough concern. But I'm sure he wants to play."

Detroit Pistons: Larry Brown doesn't worry these days until his team has the lead. "We completely forget how we got the lead in the first place," coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News after the Pistons gave up a 14-point lead to lose to the Nets Tuesday night. "We have no clue how to finish, no clue how to manage a clock. We need to be responsible enough to handle those situations. They shared the ball, the penetrated and got easy baskets. Who gets us easy baskets? We don't get easy baskets. We don't create turnovers and we don't have anybody right now that will penetrate and kick. You can't catch up with one shot, and that's our mentality."

Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson, apparently, doesn't like surprises. "Being here as long as I've been here, yeah, I definitely feel like someone should have said something to me," Iverson said in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But I feel like I'm supposed to be involved with a lot of stuff, like trade talks, even if I'm involved. Let me know. I think I've earned the right just to know some of the things that are going on. For me to get awakened by a phone call from somebody who's not even in the organization to tell me that the head coach has been fired... it was a shock to me."

Portland Trail Blazers: Rasheed Wallace was, at least, beloved of his teammates. "Rasheed is a great player," Dale Davis said in the Oregonian. "He's just a super guy to be around, a super guy to play with. He's the type of guy that has your back at all times . . . probably one of the most unselfish guys that I've ever played with . . . probably one of the most underrated defenders around. He comes to work every day. A lot of people don't realize that. He'll definitely be missed."

02-11-2004, 02:04 PM
For some reason, Dale Davis' quote about Rasheed stunned me. I guess I didn't realize how much respect he has among his teammates (then again that was only one team mate). Good luck to 'sheed in Atlanta, but Portland has just gotten better.

02-11-2004, 06:40 PM
Detroit Pistons: Larry Brown doesn't worry these days until his team has the lead. "We completely forget how we got the lead in the first place," coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News after the Pistons gave up a 14-point lead to lose to the Nets Tuesday night. "We have no clue how to finish, no clue how to manage a clock. We need to be responsible enough to handle those situations. They shared the ball, the penetrated and got easy baskets. Who gets us easy baskets? We don't get easy baskets. We don't create turnovers and we don't have anybody right now that will penetrate and kick. You can't catch up with one shot, and that's our mentality."

Sounds like Larry Brown is missing AI