Wednesday, January 12, 2005

(Guest post) - How to Beat the Knicks

[In honor of the Knicks-Bulls matchup this weekend, today's blog comes from KnickerBlogger, a born & bred New Yorker. Matt's post today is published on KnickerBlogger's site.]

Matt kindly asked me to guest blog for the upcoming back-to-back games between our two respective teams. I've actually been to Chicago. Some of my clearest memories are driving on Michigan Avenue, and passing all the major stadiums: Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, the United Center, and of course Wrigley Field.

Now I know all about being in Rome, and since I'm in enemy territory I'll suppress the urge to get revenge for the years of anguish I suffered under his reign. I promise not to bring up how the Bulls traded away three all stars in Brand, Miller, and Artest, if you promise not to mention the forbidden one. Deal?

Now that's all squared away, let's get down to business. Hmmm let me see... what would a Bulls audience want to hear about? I could do a historical look of the matchups, but we just promised not to relive those days (for my benefit, of course). So what would today's Chicagoan want to hear about with a match-up against their one-time hated rival? How about a handbook on how to beat the Knicks?

The Knicks defense is plain awful, ranked 27th and are second worst in opponent shooting percentage (49.5% eFG). That means they're easier to score on than Hilton and Richie. The Knicks just don't have the personnel nor the scheme to contain any team. 99% of the time you're going to see a plain vanilla man-to-man defense. New York does not rotate well, so don't take the first shot you see (unless of course you're wide open). The Knicks have fooled around with a zone in recent games, but it's been just ineffective. You won't see any traps or presses, so feel free to bring the ball up the court at any speed you're comfortable with.

The Bulls' guards will be able to penetrate since Houston's bum knee will keep him from playing passable defense, and Starbury's mind will be busy pondering how he's going to score on the next possession. If you get past those guys (and believe me you will), don't worry. There's no Patrick Ewing waiting in the lane, salivating at the thought of another blocked shot. Nor will Charles Oakley be looking for a new way to knock down the encroaching player. Instead you might be met by offensive minded Nazr Mohammed, or Kurt Thomas, who's well past his good defensive days.

There is one familiar face that Bulls fans will have to worry about. Due to injury, Jerome Williams the self styled "Junk Yard Dog" will be starting at SF. He's playing shut down defense at SF (7.4 oPER), but is more vulnerable when moving to PF (21.9 oPER). His replacement, Trevor Ariza is also someone to keep an eye out for. The teenage rookie doesn't have the experience to be a shut down defender yet (and you've probably seen Trevor throw his hands up in exasperation after King James ran right past him for a poster-worthy dunk). However "Air Riza" has a good nose for the ball, and is likely to strip an unaware player, blaze into the passing lane on a lazy pass, or come out of nowhere to steal a rebound. Make sure you keep an eye on this guy for the 15 minutes that Lenny allows him to be on the court.

When you allow your opponents to score half the time, you have to have a good offense to just stay near .500. The Knicks offense is ranked 14th, which isn't fantastic, but is formidable. It all starts with Marbury, who's having a great offensive season (21.9 PER). He's relentless when going to the hoop, and can burn you with the three from the top. His ability to break down the defense, and dish it has turned Nazr Mohammed into a near All Star (20.0 PER). Marbury has turned Kurt Thomas into a jump shooting PF, by keeping him out on the perimeter for pick & rolls. Thomas will knock down that shot, but the positive aspect for Bulls fans is that he'll be too far away to make any difference on the offensive glass.

Allan Houston is still working himself into shape. He's hitting the open shot, but like Daniel Bayly, he just can't get around like he used to. The best way to stop the Knicks' offense is wait for the reserves. Moochie Norris (35.1% eFG), Trevor Ariza (41.8%), and Vin Baker (31.8%) just can't shoot. Mike Sweetney (53.6% 18.2PER) is day-to-day, but even when he is suited up to play Wilkens keeps him on a ridiculously short leash (16MIN, 4.6FGA).

If you're intent on stopping the Knicks' offense, one easy way is throw the zone at them. One theory is the zone makes Marbury have Olympic flashbacks, but against it the Knicks' offense just comes to a grinding halt. The Magic went to it successfully

This is the second time in a row the Knicks have lost despite leading at the half. Against the Magic they were stymied by a second half zone defense. New York's offense just ground to a halt, as they lacked good ball movement and confidence in hitting an open jumper.

and so did the Wizards:

I should mention that once again Marbury had what appeared to be a poor floor game. The two turnovers he is charged with mask how poorly he ran the team down the stretch. He simply does not operate well against zone defenses.

So there you have it. Wait for the open shot. Beat the guards on the perimeter. Look out for JYD & Ariza. Hope to contain Marbury. Laugh when Moochie Norris and Vin Baker are on the court. How to beat the Knicks in a nutshell.

Eddy starts it, Ben blows it open.

The first half was basically Allen Iverson vs. Eddy Curry and the Bulls big men.  Hinrich also had a great half, and he hooked up with Curry at the halftime buzzer for Eddy's 15th and 16th points and then jumped into eachothers arms. I mean, its great that they were excited, but save that stuff for the big moments, not halftime of a game in mid-January. Iverson had his way for the most part, but the Bulls controlled the paint to help absorb that blow. The interior dominance was undoubtedly aided by Samuel Dalembert's absence, coupled with the early injury to reserve Brian Skinner. After that the Sixers had no answer for the Bulls size (Curry finished with a season-high 24) as they built a modest lead. That lead went from modest to gigantic thanks to Ben Gordon, who put the Bulls WAY ahead with his career-high 31 points, over 20 of those coming in the 4th quarter.  The game ended as a 30+ point laugher, 110-78. Biggest win margin since '98.

This game was intended to be an important measurement against the middle-of-the-pack Eastern conference teams the Bulls need to leapfrog to make the playoffs. Well after tonight's win coupled with a Boston loss, they're currently in that 8th slot. 

Easy work, this cutting and pasting.

Want to know what this Philly game tonight could potentially mean? No reason for me to go into it, since Unknown Column does a very nice job.

Tonight you can wake the echoes. Tonight the UC will be rocking. Tonight is worthy of a trip to the favorite watering hole with the boys to watch the game in true drunken, celebratory style.

The Bulls are back, baby!

(OK, even the lowest points of the crashed Bulls express era haven't prevented trips to the favorite watering hole to watch games, but still.)

The 76ers are in town and playoff implications are abound. Playoff implications? That's right. Crazy. It's approaching mid-January and the games actually matter. They matter a lot. What in the name of Ed Nealy?

On the one hand, the quickly growing excitement surrounding the Bulls - not to mention this whole playoff thing - feels new. It's like knowing Deng isn't from around here, but not knowing what country he's from. (Sudan.) It's like suddenly realizing that Eddy Curry is getting the same basketball education he would have received at Duke or Kansas or UConn. By osmosis. These are his teammates. And this playoff talk especially feels a little like this...

- The Bulls lead the league in opponents' field-goal percentage
- The Bulls have held 19 straight opponents to fewer than 100 points, the longest streak in the NBA.

When did the Bulls become so good right before our eyes? (Hint: Probably right around the time they started playing defense.)

On the other hand, it's just like riding a bike, this winning. The Bulls are supposed to win. They've done it in the past.


So what've they been waiting for?

As the blogfather would say: read the whole thing. I'll be back tonight for a recap.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Ugly games, pretty record.

In my last post I looked at the Bulls upcoming homestand and saw a bright future. So far, so good, with wins against Utah, Boston, and Golden State. If these games have taught me anything, its that the Bulls can win ugly. Their defense remains a constant, and that alone can keep them in games, especially against the mediocre teams in the league. Its nice to know that they can win with contributions coming from unlikely sources.

For Monday night's game against Golden State I was again relegated to radio, but I tried my best to follow along through that and the internet stattracker. The Warriors have now lost 6 straight since leading scorer Jason Richardson went down. Beyond simply being their best player, Richardson would've had a big advantage against the smaller Bulls guards, and instead the Warriors had to go with spurts of Speedy Claxton and backup PG Derek Fisher in the same backcourt. Again, it wasn't a pretty win, with the Bulls staying true to form with too many turnovers (18), but they still lead at the half due to their rebounding advantage (and when the opposing starting center is Uncle Cliffy, that is expected) and a little help from the Warriors' awful foul shooting. Not long after the 2nd half began, starter Luol Deng was pulled early and Chris Duhon left soon after with foul trouble.  So with a lineup of Hinrich, Piatkowski, Griffin, Harrington, and Chandler (who continues to dominate the end of games defensively), the Bulls built an insurmountable lead with the now-famous defense holding the Warriors to 2 field goals. The Bulls almost lost their grip, leading to some tense moments after a lackadaisical 4th quarter saw a 21 point lead dwindle to 6 at one point. But nowadays I wasn't even worried about a collapse. What a difference a few wins can do to a fan's confidence.

The upshot of so many minutes for the veterans tonight is the inverse effect on both Deng (who had 2 great games over the weekend) and Ben Gordon. Gordon especially has seen his workload decrease as of late, with only 16 minutes against the Celtics and 11 Monday night.  In this particular game Skiles probably went with an "if it aint broke" philosophy to reason for not putting them back in, but in the big picture it shows once again the quick hook Skiles has with his turnover-prone rookies. I would hope that if the game weren't out of reach the rooks would've been back in, so this way the Bulls get a win with a message still being sent (and re-sent, and re-sent), that turnovers won't be tolerated. (Note: Just heard on ESPN1000 after the game said that Ben Gordon was suffering from a back sprain, which was why he didn't come back into the game)

In addition to the bench production, a former bench player has been tearing it up. With Antonio Davis out for the past 2 games after injuring himself setting a nasty pick against Utah, Othella Harrington has been a revelation in the starting lineup. After 19pts, 10Rebs against the Celtics, Harrington put up 20 more points Monday night. I called for this change a couple of weeks ago, and maybe Harrington's performance can keep AD as a reserve as he eases his old self back from injury. Now if Skiles only listens to my other suggestions...

Coming up: Wednesday against the Sixers followed by the Knicks on Saturday. Near the end of the week look for a special post for the Knicks game.....

Update: Jeff over at Celticsblog has started a message board thread to discuss the Bulls/Celtics matchup from Saturday. Since the two teams have 2 more matchups this month and appear to now be both fighting for the lower rung of the playoffs, what a perfect time to get some discussion going. So go over there, have fun, and contribute so its not all about Al Jefferson :).