Bucks Diary

Thursday, June 19, 2008

LeBron may be closer to a title than we thought


Last February I did an Offensive and Defensive Team Win Score analysis of every NBA Finalist going back to 1962 (for 1977 backward I estimated turnovers, steals, and blocks using regression analysis). History told me one thing loud and clear: barring injury, there was almost no way the Celtics could fail to win the 2008 NBA championship.

Only one team with a Defensive Win Score as far below the NBA average as the Celtics Defensive Win Score was at the time had ever failed to win an NBA championship: the 1994 New York Knicks. The '94 Knicks, however, had a below average Offensive Win Score. The Celtics, on the other hand, had an Offensive Win Score that was well above the NBA average. No team with such a combination had ever failed to win the NBA Finals (indeed, few teams ever had such a lethal combination).

But coming into the Finals, I ignored history and went with what I had seen in the playoffs. Based on that, "my gut" misinformed me that the Lakers would win. Big mistake.

I knew better, but the thing that I couldn't shake was the Boston-Cleveland series. How could it have been so close? (the Boston-Atlanta series, though it went to 7 games, actually wasn't close at all). Cleveland should have been blown away by the Celtics. On the season, Cleveland's Defensive Win Score was slightly above average while their Offensive Win Score was actually below average. Yet they played the Celtics, literally, neck and neck. How could this be?

Well, after the Celtics wiped out the Lakers, a team that had an almost identical Defensive Win Score as the Cavaliers, it occured to me what happened. The Cavaliers season totals were just a mirage. Defense is effort, and, having tasted the Finals the year before, the Cavaliers decided to preserve their defensive efforts for the playoffs.

Indeed, if you look at last season's totals, Cleveland was a very superb Defensive Win Score team, just a notch below this year's Celtics. And they added to that defense when they replaced sketchy defenders with better defenders at the trading deadline. Thus all they needed to play "Rock-em Sock-em" Win Score defense was the proper motivation. And the Celtics almost provided it for them. And the Cavaliers almost got by them.

And had the Cavaliers gotten past the Celtics, as crazy as it sounds, I believe they would be having a parade in downtown Cleveland this month. That's because the Cavaliers have what I now regard as the perfect championship combination for the new Millenium.

In the new Millenium, the championship combination is a stifling Defensive Win Score, and at least one superstar offensive player who can overcome the more physical defense they play in the postseason. The Cavs have both things. Their problem is the last two seasons they ran into two teams who each had the first ingredient (stifling defense) and were also blessed with THREE of the second ingredient. The Cavs couldn't overcome.

With no outlet to take pressure off James, the Spurs, and... in the end... the Celtics, were able to funnel their defense to James, whereas the Cavs had to spread theirs out to cover different options and thus could not target their defense at any one of their opponent's three offensive superstars (though Ray Allen's unexplainable ineptitude against the sieve known as Sczerbiak almost did the trick for them).

Therefore, I believe that if the Cavaliers can simply add one more offensive threat to take the pressure off of James, or at least divert the defense away from James, then... as mediocre as they looked at times this season... they will have what it takes to win an NBA championship.

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