Heading into the All-Star break, the Knicks were the luckiest team in the league. Despite giving up the fifth-most wide-open field-goal attempts in the NBA at the time, opponents were shooting just 37.7 percent on those looks. It was even more ridiculous when you realized the Knicks had allowed the third-most wide-open 3-pointers but ranked first in opponents’ shooting on those attempts at 33.7 percent!
Surely, regression would come — but it did not. New York posted the third-best defensive rating in the second half, allowing just 107.4 points per 100 possessions on its way to a 22-13 record and the home-court edge against the Hawks in the first round. The Knicks gave up fewer wide-open looks (21.3 percent of attempts), but still ranked third in opponents’ shooting (40.3 percent) on those attempts. And on wide-open 3-pointers, opponents shot a slightly better 36.2 percent in the second half.
At the end of it all, Knicks opponents shot just 38.8 percent on wide-open looks this season, the second-worst rate, but the team allowed the eighth-most wide-open attempts. Maybe this luck will continue through their postseason run, but the Knicks’ regular season has felt unreal and unsustainable, and it might just be.
The Bucks’ bugaboo
There might not be a team with more pressure on it than Milwaukee. The last two trips to the postseason for Giannis Antetokounmpo have ended progressively earlier. After an Eastern Conference final berth, they were ousted in embarrassing fashion by the Miami Heat. Now they face the team that eliminated them in Orlando — and with many of the same issues plaguing them.
In three of the past four seasons, Milwaukee has finished 24th or lower in opponents’ 3-point shooting. The lone outlier was 2018-19, when the Bucks finished 18th by allowing 36.5 percent from deep. When Miami eliminated them, they shot 37.3 percent on 40.2 3-point attempts per game. Against Toronto the season before, they gave up 37.4 percent on 38.3 attempts per contest.
Perimeter defense, along with the limitations of the Greek Freak’s game, has been the bane of Milwaukee’s existence in the playoffs, and it looks like that issue is not going anywhere. The Bucks finished this season 29th in opponents’ 3-point shooting, allowing opponents to hit an insane 39.8 percent of their attempts from deep. Spare me the excuses of this defense “trying things out.” The way this team plays defense tends to allow opponents to exploit the perimeter, and we saw that again over 72 games this season. Why should we expect anything different in the postseason?
Offense is Heating up
Have the Miami Heat finally found their stride on offense? They went into the All-Star break with the 25th-ranked offense (107.7), much of that due to the team shooting just 35.7 percent on 3s. However, the second half showed us a much better version of Miami’s offense. The Heat averaged 114.2 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage-time minutes, and their shooting improved to 36.3 percent on 36.2 attempts per game. Even more eye-opening is how the Heat closed the season. Over the final 15 games, Miami went 12-4 SU and ATS with a 119.0 offensive rating. More importantly, throughout this run into the postseason, the Heat shot an impressive 39.5% on 36.3 attempts per contest. Last season, Miami finished eighth in non-garbage-time offensive efficiency (112.9) and second in 3-point shooting (38.6%). If this newfound surge on offense is real, the Eastern Conference might have a fourth team in contention.