Only two words came to mind when I looked at the schedule and saw the Detroit Pistons were visiting Miami one day before LeBron James returns to Cleveland—"trap game."
What are the odds that the Pistons can steal a win from Miami while the Heat are looking ahead?
This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's performance. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (EWP48), a star player produces 0.200+ EWP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ EWP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:
Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin—and a Defense of Box Score Statistics
Basketball-Reference.com gives Miami an 89 percent chance of beating Detroit. Based on the Wages of Wins Network's formula for determining a team's probability of winning a single game (which uses Wins Produced), the Heat have an 87.2 percent chance of beating the Pistons.
Here's a breakdown of the numbers used to determine the Heat's probability of winning:
- Miami Heat (10-8)
- Detroit Pistons (6-12)
So the stats say this should be an easy win for the Heat. Let me explain the traps that the Heat want to avoid.
The first trap is the Pistons' shooting guards.
Detroit employs two shooting guards whose best days are behind them (Rip Hamilton and Tracy McGrady) and one who's coming off an injury-riddled season (Ben Gordon). Dwyane Wade should not take them lightly with matador defense or die on the screens they run around to get open jumpshots.
Shooting guards have produced an average of 0.164 EWP48 against the Heat over the last seven games while Wade was struggling with the flu and an injured wrist. Wade has started to look like his old self in the last three games, and the Heat have limited opposing shooting guards to -0.006 EWP48.
Here's a list of shooting guard performances against the Heat in the last three games:
PLAYER (TEAM): EWP48, DATE
1. Andre Iguodala (PHI): 0.489 EWP48, 11/26/10
2. Evan Turner (PHI): -0.268 EWP48, 11/26/10
3. DeShawn Stevenson (DAL): 0.251 EWP48, 11/27/10
4. Jason Terry (DAL): -0.227 EWP48, 11/27/10
5. Kirk Hinrich (WAS): -0.139 EWP48, 11/29/10
6. Nick Young (WAS): -0.269 EWP48, 11/29/10
Even with Wade back to his normal level of production, Iguodala and Stevenson were still able to have productive games. Of the three Pistons shooting guards, only McGrady has been above average this season with 0.158 WP48, but the Heat need to play solid defense to prevent Gordon (0.072 WP48) and Hamilton (0.047 WP48) from providing big production by scoring as they come off screens.
The second trap is Ben Wallace.
Opposing centers have produced an average of 0.141 EWP48 against the Heat in the last seven games, and in the last three games that number has spiked to 0.223 EWP48.
Here's a list of performances by centers against the Heat in the last three games:
PLAYER (TEAM): EWP48, DATE
1. Spencer Hawes (PHI): -0.023 EWP48, 11/26/10
2. Marreese Speights (PHI): 0.113 EWP48, 11/26/10
3. Thaddeus Young (PHI): 0.419 EWP48, 11/26/10
4. Tyson Chandler (DAL): 0.579 EWP48, 11/27/10
5. Brendan Haywood (DAL): -0.245 EWP48, 11/27/10
6. Hilton Armstrong (WAS): -0.104 EWP48, 11/29/10
7. JaVale McGee (WAS): 0.127 EWP48, 11/29/10
If the Heat take the Pistons lightly and don't help the big men keep the Pistons off the offensive boards, then Ben Wallace could ignite a Detroit upset. Wallace is averaging 0.253 WP48 this season.
Fear the 'fro, Heat fans. Fear the 'fro.
The third trap is the Detroit small forwards.
Tayshaun Prince (0.063 WP48) and Austin Daye (0.037 WP48) have been below average this season, but the Heat have allowed opposing small forwards to be slightly better than average over the last seven games with 0.104 EWP48. There are two problems with this number.
The first problem is that it represents a huge drop-off from the first 11 games of the season, when the Heat were holding opponents' small forwards to -0.001 EWP48. The second problem is that the number has increased in the last three games to 0.153 EWP48.
Here's a list of performances by small forwards against the Heat in the last three games:
PLAYER (TEAM): EWP48, DATE
1. Jodie Meeks (PHI): 0.339 EWP48, 11/26/10
2. Andres Nocioni (PHI): -1.182 EWP48, 11/26/10
3. Caron Butler (DAL): 0.188 EWP48, 11/27/10
4. Alonzo Gee (WAS): -0.052 EWP48, 11/29/10
LeBron has to come to play tonight. I can't imagine where his head must be at with the Cleveland game looming in front of him and all the stories about increased security to ensure his safety. But LeBron can't let the Pistons win a matchup with the reigning MVP.
In the last three games, LeBron is averaging -0.021 EWP48 at small forward. His defense against Butler in Dallas was atrocious. He was the second-most productive player for the Heat against the Wizards, but 96 percent of his production came when he was playing point guard.
The best way for the Heat to play this game is to put together a dominant performance like they did against the Nets or the Timberwolves, and rest the starters in the fourth quarter so they'll have some life in their legs for the back-to-back in Cleveland.
Predicted Score: Heat 99, Pistons 89