Cavs’ Dellevedova Needs to Keep Up With the (Caffeine) Joneses

Cavalier’s guard Matthew Dellevedova, who’s made a name for himself during this year’s NBA playoffs based on his hustle and intangibles, needs to go back to the future before Tuesday night’s NBA Finals game 6 in Cleveland.  What he’s got to go back to is his ritual of drinking coffee before a game.  Although he stopped taking it for a good reason, in fixing one problem (dehydration) by giving up coffee (a diuretic), a couple of additional problems have been introduced, problems that Delle and the Cavs can’t afford to deal with if they want to win game 6 and go back to Oakland for a game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.

Delle had to be taken to the hospital after game 3.  He had severe cramps and was so dehydrated that he needed to be put on an IV.  As I, along with many others, learned before game 4, Delle has a ritual of drinking coffee before the game but didn’t drink it before game 4 or 5 to avoid getting dehydrated again (diuretics cause the body to eliminate water).  His combined shooting in those two games was 5-for-23 (22%) from the floor and 3-for-14 (21%) from behind the 3-point line.

There are both mental and physical problems with eliminating coffee as a pre-game ritual.  From the mental standpoint, if an athlete has a pre-performance ritual and believes that it’s important, it is.  Look at the example of a baseball player who believes he has a pair of lucky socks that help him hit well (this is not farfetched if you’ve watched baseball over the years).  One day, the player forgets to bring those socks.  He’s at the plate against a pitcher who throws a 95 mile per hour fastball and, instead of being totally focused on the pitch, a part of his brain is focusing on the fact that he’s not wearing the lucky socks.  How do you think he’s going to do at the plate?

So even if Delle’s ritual was just about lucky socks, it’d be important for him to either continue with the ritual or work with someone like me to change his belief that the socks were lucky and an important part of his success.  As a general rule, never take something away without first replacing its benefit.  In the case of a general ritual, that belief that the ritual contributes to the athlete’s success must be replaced with some other belief that will allow the athlete to succeed at the high level.

However, Delle’s ritual isn’t about socks, it’s about caffeine.  Caffeine is known it improve mental focus.  It’s known for elevating blood sugar, which increases energy.  And Delle is getting big minutes in the NBA playoffs because he’s an effort player.  He needs all the energy he can muster to play the minutes that he’s playing and to try to limit Steph Curry’s offense.  The latter isn’t something that has been done with great success on a consistent basis this season but Delle has done a nice job on him at times during the series.

In game 5, Delle looked a half-step slow to me.  He didn’t play at the speed he often plays at; walked at times when he would normal run full out; and he kept an additional step back on defense so he wouldn’t get beaten to the basket.  Give Curry an extra foot of space to get off his shot and you can expect him to go for the 37 points (57%) he went for in leading GSW to the game 5 win.

If Delle needs to drink additional water before and during the game, so be it.  But changing a ritual mid-Finals is not a good idea and changing it by eliminating a brain/body stimulant is worse.  The NBA is a level of sports where tenths, or sometimes hundredths, of a second is the difference between a play being successful and being a failure.  Delle needs to be at his hustling best in game 6 if the Cavs are going to win.  Going back to his pre-game coffee ritual will help him do just that.

My @WojYahooNBA Moment Shows NBA Free Throw Shooting Can Be Fixed

Before Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) became a nationally-known NBA writer with an uncanny ability to announce NBA Draft picks before the teams doing the picking announce them, he covered the New York Knicks as the beat writer for the Bergen Record.  Woj covered them during the ’98-’99 lockout season, the same season that I worked with Knicks’ backup center Chris Dudley on his free throw (FT) shooting.  Chris was notorious for his poor FT shooting and would be interviewed any time he made two in a row in a game.  So it’s no surprise that Chris made national news that season when, after we put in an adjustment the night I saw him miss two against the Bulls on national television, he had a made-FT streak that spanned four games, easily the best of his career.

At that time, “social media” meant having a drink with a reporter, so not many people saw Woj’s article.  I’m posting it below because, with some of the horrible free throw shooting seen in the NBA over the past few seasons, it’s time to get it fixed.

In addition to being able to tell that it was the first time I was ever interviewed (yikes!), you can see what is actually possible as far as fixing bad free throw shooting.  There’s no reason that anyone in the NBA has to shoot less than 70% from the free throw line.  But I can guarantee that if people try to fix it with the same methods that have failed for the past four decades, it’s not going to get any better.  This article, as well as my FT quotes page, shows that I know what I’m talking about.

Thanks to Woj for writing it and thanks to Chris Dudley for being a great client and for the great thing he said to then-mega agent David Falk about me that’s at the end of the article.

Here’s that “Vintage Woj” article from the Bergen Record (no longer on their site, so I can’t just link to it):

EWING FILL-IN HAS PROVEN HE’S NO DUD

June 5, 1999 Section: SPORTS Edition: All Editions Page: S1 The Record ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI

Chris Dudley was a success story, a fourth-round pick out of the Ivy League, turned over time into a millionaire center. Long ago, this truth was lost in the eyes of fools. They believed the lousy free-throw shooting made him a failure. As soon as he walked to the line for two shots, the anticipation of air balls and bruised backboards had everyone gearing for a good laugh. He was a “SportsCenter” staple, as clich’ed as the stock car crash and the snoozing fan in the stands.

Amazingly, Dudley never let people see his frustration. He just absorbed the humiliation and hustled back on defense, refusing to react to the taunts on his misses and mock cheers on his makes. Still, this sorry saga had to make him the most tortured soul on the floor.

Everyone’s favorite punching bag is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Knicks tonight, replacing Patrick Ewing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. He’s a $28 million insurance policy on a Hall of Fame center, an investment paying remarkable dividends in the playoffs. Slowly, there’s a growing appreciation for him, an understanding Dudley doesn’t deserve to be showered with a stooge’s shame.

All along, he never has fit people’s picture of the stereotypical NBA player. He was the third generation of his family to graduate Yale, the grandson of Guilford Dudley, an ambassador to Denmark in the Nixon and Ford administrations. For a man of privilege, Dudley, 33, has stayed a champion of the underdog.

He has committed several hundred thousand dollars to guarantee a college education for a class of 76 fourth-graders in Portland, Ore. As long as the kids get the grades, Dudley funds the free ride. Using his own affliction with the disease as a source of inspiration, he runs a summer basketball camp for children with diabetes.

Despite his struggles with something as silly as shooting free throws, Dudley never let himself become the charity case. Just maybe, his good faith will soon be rewarded.

“I think a lot of comedy writers are going to be getting some work now, because people are going to have to find something else to laugh about it,” Art Rondeau said Friday, just after leaving the practice court at Purchase College with Dudley. Rondeau is a 43-year-old computer consultant out of San Diego who, until last summer when he connected with Dudley, had been searching for a lost cause free-throw shooter to validate the theories bouncing around his brain.

He had worked with a few college players over the years, turning a 59 percent shooter into the Western Athletic Conference free throw champion in 1999. Over time, Dudley has witnessed an endless parade of gurus promising to remedy his 46 percent career free-throw shooting – prescribing everything from underhand tosses to the occult.

One day, Rondeau chased him down at a La Jolla, Calif., health club, preached his philosophies of proper balance and release, and Dudley was so intrigued with the ideas, he was willing to work with this perfect stranger.

“He’s been good for me,” Dudley said. As always, he’s much more comfortable working on his free throw troubles than discussing them. After Dudley missed five of eight to start the season, Rondeau could see on television that Dudley was reverting to his old problems. He called him, shared his thoughts, and soon started the best run of Dudley’s NBA career.

Almost immediately, Dudley connected on nine consecutive free throws. It was a snail’s streak, strung together in mid-March across several games, but it was uncharted territory for Dudley.

“And then he fell on his hip against the Lakers, hurt his hip, and then had a 2-for-12 run,” Rondeau said. “Take that early streak, and the one when he was hurt out of the equation, he’s shooting almost 80 percent for the season.”

Run that explanation by Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and listen to him laugh. His experience with searching for saviors usually has resulted in the finding of frauds. But, hey, Van Gundy is a Yale dropout, so he’s happy to let Dudley listen to Rondeau’s advice. If Dudley’s comfortable with a computer consultant, it’s all right with Van Gundy.

While understanding Dudley’s shooting percentage has improved little from a season ago – from 44 to 47 percent – Van Gundy agrees his center’s form and frame of mind has. “His shot definitely looks better,” he said. “You haven’t seen streaks of air balls like you used to see. When he does miss, it’s softer now.”

Dudley never has made it to the conference finals as a pro, and wouldn’t it be sweet justice for him to be the starting center in the NBA Finals? Every free throw he takes the rest of these playoffs figures to be the closest watched, most scrutinized of his life. For the first time, maybe Dudley isn’t so alone on the line anymore.

After Game 3 of the Atlanta series, Dudley and Rondeau were standing in the hallway outside the Knicks dressing room. Dudley had the best playoff game of his life, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, prompting super agent David Falk to call out to the hero of the day: “Hey, Chris, what’s happened to you?”

So, Dudley smiled and nodded over to Art Rondeau, saying: “It’s him.” As usual, Dudley was trying to be generous. Just maybe, the computer consultant is right that people will have to get a laugh at someone else’s expense now. Finally, they can rub the silliness out of their eyes and see the truth they were missing all along: Chris Dudley is nobody’s stooge.

Knicks Fans Need Hardboiled Attitude at MSG

The NY Knicks lost a tough game against the Utah Jazz on Friday night. It was a disappointing loss that dropped the team to 2-8 and extended their losing streak to 7 games. Although some media “pundits” are shouting down Head Coach Derek Fisher’s efforts to find some rays of light in the darkness that so much losing tends to create, Fisher is absolutely correct to be taking the approach he’s taking. I wrote about the Knicks needing to embrace this attitude during the playoffs a few seasons ago and I believe that they need to continue to embrace this attitude now. I’ll explain briefly why that is and then tell you how Knicks fans that will be at their 1 pm game against the Denver Nuggets at MSG today can actually help them win what would, under other conditions, be considered an easily winnable game.

Friday night, the Knicks came back a couple of times when they were far behind. Sure, fans would like to see them lead from the opening tip until the final buzzer but they’re not at that point in their “triangle” evolution right now (is that “triangulation”?). So coming back at all, never mind multiple times, is a very big deal. Only a game or two before, people were upset because the team seemed to be throwing in the towel when they got behind. So making it a game against the Jazz, and actually tying the score with under 3 seconds left, is definite progress.

On top of that, remember that they were without Amar’e Stoudemire by design and then without starter Iman Shumpert seconds into the game by accident. They could have mailed it in at that point. Instead they hung in; Melo played lights out; and Pablo Prigioni, a point guard who is “pass first” almost to a fault, scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and hit two very big 3s and a huge “keep hustling until the play is over” layup along the way.

Right now, while the Knicks are learning a new system under a new coach, they are like babies who are learning to walk. How many of you have kids? How many of you WERE kids? When babies are learning to walk, they bump around a lot and when they finally stand up, they wobble like Weebles who WILL fall down. Yet we praise them, we encourage them, and then one day they’re motoring around on their own two feet. We don’t yell at them for the early mistakes. If we did, and if our parents did that to us, we’d have a society of people who slither because they never learned to walk (your lawyer joke goes here…).

Now, how can the fans at MSG help the team today? Don’t wait for the Knicks to do something that makes you cheer. Instead, cheer them early and you’ll soon find that they give you something to cheer about. Think of the team like an egg, MSG like the pan, and the fans like the water. If you put a raw egg into a pan of cold water, nothing happens. But if the water boils, the egg starts to cook. So, too, will the Knicks if you bring the Garden to a rolling boil early on.

Why do you pour cold water on an egg after you remove it from the boiling water? Because once it starts to cook, it’ll keep on cooking on its own. The cold water stops that. So, too, will booing if things aren’t going as well as you’d like.

I’ve kept track of the Knicks since working with Chris Dudley and Allan Houston and have seen many examples of how the Garden crowd can help them turn things around. Unfortunately, the crowd normally waits for something to cheer about. But when that “something” comes, the fans make a very real difference. During the ’00-’01 season (if memory serves), there was a game at the Garden where the Knicks were just stinking up the joint. Play was sloppy and the team was way behind. The Knicks threw up a garbage shot and the other team grabbed the rebound and started the fast break. But the guard dribbled the ball off his leg and it started going out of bounds. Allan tripped trying to get to the ball and slid about 10 feet but managed to grab it and while staying inbounds. While sitting on the floor, Allan saw Larry Johnson all by himself under the Knicks’ basket and threw a bounce pass (one that bounced a few times, actually) to LJ. The crowd was already cheering Allan’s “seat of his pants” save and then went wild as LJ stuffed the ball home. The Knicks started to play like a team inspired, the crowd stayed with them, and the Knicks ultimately pulled out the win.

This whole “cheering” first idea gets into “vibrational energy”. Trust me, Phil Jackson knows about this. So do Kevin Love’s Uncle Mike and his cousins (the Beach Boys). They released their Good Vibrations album in 1967. Almost 50 years later, Knicks fans need to release their own “good vibrations” today at the Garden. We don’t need any Knicks players “hanging ten”, we just need them to play harmoniously, keep their energy high, and play their best basketball. Knicks fans have more to do with this than they may currently imagine.

Teams don’t turn things around easily when they’re not only learning new things but dealing with adversity. They need an assist. If you’ve got a ticket to today’s game, you have the right to sit back and wait for the Knicks to entertain you. But if you want to go home with that “we just won a game” feeling, you’ll cheer early and often and help hardboil the Knicks into victors.

For Knicks, Orange is the New Blech

An announcement made by the NBA toward the end of the 2014 Summer League most likely means that the New York Knicks will go into Wednesday night’s 2014-15 regular season opener against the Chicago Bulls having already lost at least six regular season games. That announcement, reported by ESPN NY’s Ian Begley, stated that the Knicks “will wear their orange alternate jerseys again…” this season. The announcement was made by Christopher Arena, the NBA Vice President of Identity, Outfitting and Equipment.

These are the same orange jerseys that the Knicks wore to an underwhelming 0-6 record last season. Including last Christmas’ orange uniform, the Knicks were 0-7 when dressed not as Dr. Julius but as Orange Julius. The alternate orange jerseys were thought to be “cursed” by many who watched the Knicks’ failed attempts to win at least one game decked out in orange.

Why am I writing something like this so early in the season, particularly at a time when fans look forward to a new system under a new head coach and a new President? Because I’m hoping to keep the damage limited to 0-6. According to an article written by Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale last season, alternate uniforms can be worn no less than six times and no more than eighteen times. And according to a Tweet from Ian in answer to my question the other day, the NBA hasn’t announced how many times the Knicks will wear the alternate uniforms. By writing about the possible 0-6 hole that orange uni losses could put the Knicks into, I’m trying to prevent up to an additional 0-12 from being “added” to their record.

According to an article by Ben Golliver in Sports Illustrated, the Knicks’ announcement of Phil Jackson’s hiring, the first year President is “in charge of all basketball decisions.” But as you’ll see below, the alternate orange uniforms impact the ability of the team to play the game. So, in this case, the decision to wear the alternate orange uniforms is a basketball decision, albeit one made by the league and not by Jackson. In a season where, despite installing a Triangle offense that’s known to be difficult to learn, the expectation is to make the NBA Playoffs, knowing you could lose six games because of your wardrobe could be unsettling. Knowing you could lose eighteen games because of your wardrobe could make the playoffs seem like an unattainable goal.

If this orange uniform rant seems familiar to you, it’s because I’ve written about the topic before. Those times, however, it was because of the Knicks Marketing department’s attempts at an “Orange Out” by giving orange t-shirts to fans at home playoff games, a decision that, if successful, could have significantly harmed the Knicks’ shooting percentages. Not only does Jackson need to get the league to agree to keep the number of times the alternate jerseys are worn at the minimum six, he also has to get his own Marketing department to stop with the orange giveaways.

There are two main reasons that the alternate orange jerseys should never have been reauthorized for this season: they interfere with players during the game and many people think they’re cursed. Here’s why those reasons are so important:

Orange uniforms interfere with execution. Uniform color can have a detrimental effect on a player’s ability to play the game. For example, there are studies which show that in some sports, referees call more fouls against teams wearing black uniforms than they do against teams wearing other colors. Not the case here but something that the Brooklyn Nets should have considered before going with an all-black road uniform.

The reason that an “Orange Out”, where fans wear orange t-shirts given to them by the team at the game, is bad is that Knicks’ orange is very close to the color of the rim. Accurately determining the distance to the basket is vital to the shooter making his shot. If he either has trouble determining distance because the rim blends into the orange t-shirt background or the extra time it takes to determine the distance messes up his timing, it will result in a miss. An orange rim in front of orange t-shirts is not a smart thing for a team to do to itself.

As far as the impact of an orange uniform on the Knicks’ floor performance, remember too that the ball is an orange-ish brown and the lanes at Madison Square Garden are dark orange, too. Just a momentary delay in determining distance or speed because the ball is blending in with the lane or the other players is enough to cause a turnover on offense or a momentary lapse on defense.

Other examples of colors impacting performance can be found in professional tennis and Major League Baseball. For decades, pro tennis players were only allowed to wear all white clothing and they played with a white tennis ball. Imagine how difficult it could be to pick up a 100 mph serve of a white tennis ball when it blends into the server’s all-white tennis outfit. Pro tennis went to the fluorescent green ball decades ago so that players could more readily see the ball and determine its speed and distance.

As far as MLB is concerned, when Red Sox right fielder Tony Conigliaro made a miraculous comeback after being hit in the face by a fastball during the 1967 season (the injury that prompted MLB to add ear flaps to the batting helmet), he found that he couldn’t pick up the ball when it was in front of a group of center field bleacher seats. To fix the problem so Conigliaro could hit better, the Red Sox blocked off the seats and covered them with a black tarp to make the ball stand out more. They called this blocked off section “Conig’s Corner”.

People think these particular uniforms are cursed. Are they? Who knows? But if the players believe the uniforms are cursed, they might as well be cursed. Because wearing the uniforms will be a distraction and negatively impact their performance. I previously wrote about some negative “team beliefs” from when I worked with Allan Houston during the 1999-00 season and how changing those negative beliefs to positive beliefs improved his performance.

In addition, the Knicks have hired a mindfulness trainer. Mindfulness will help them focus and stay in the present moment when they could be easily distracted. I was recently interviewed for an article about the benefits of the Knicks taking the training and my opinion is that it will be beneficial to the Knicks. But mindfulness is somewhat wasted if the distractions that you’re tuning out are distractions that you’re consciously inflicting on yourself. It’s like putting on gloves so you don’t hurt your knuckles when you hit yourself in the head over and over. The better thing to do is to stop hitting yourself. Or, in this case, never wear these particular orange uniforms again. Because even those players who don’t believe that the orange uniforms are cursed will end up thinking about it when the reporters ask them if they’re thinking about the curse when they wear those oh-fer alternates.

While it seems inevitable that the Knicks will be stuck in the orange alternate uniforms for at least six games this season, they should never have had to wear them again after last year’s horrible results. That was a poor decision by the NBA. But if the Knicks are supposed to wear these orange monstrosities more than six times, Phil Jackson needs to flex his muscles and get the extra games changed back to their regular uniforms. If he wants to do something esthetically pleasing, he get convince Knicks Marketing to focus on the “blue” portion of the orange and blue team colors and let the Rangers wear the orange. When the orange-colored unis cover well-padded hockey-playing Rangers, they can face off against the Killer Tomatoes and probably pick up Minute Maid as a sponsor. The Knicks, on the other hand, will be able to concentrate of learning their new system and making the playoffs again, something best accomplished by limiting self-inflicted wounds.

Breaking Down Knicks’ Breakdowns

It’s been a very strange season for the New York Knicks. Despite last year’s 54-win season, one that saw the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time since the 2000 NBA playoffs, the Knicks became a weak team in a very weak Eastern Conference. Although “guarantees” that this year’s team would win the NBA Championship or, at least, make it to that final round, seemed a bit overstated early on, no one, except ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and the SCHOENE projections, would have guessed that the Knicks would not even make this season’s playoffs. SCHOENE projected 37.5 wins this year and the Knicks can only hit 37 if they win their last two games. Outraged as many were at the lowball figure that SCHOENE projected, 37.5 wins now seems like SCHOENE was an optimist.

Games are lost for many reasons and certainly injuries played a part in some of them. But many of the losses were due to mistakes. Mistakes can be corrected, if you know why the mistake happened. Knowing “why” leads to proper solutions. There are three major types of mistakes and I’ll explain a bit about them here. That’ll help come up with the correct solutions so the Knicks don’t lose next season the same ways they did this season.

The three main types of mistakes are “mental”, “physical”, and “hybrid”. “Hybrid” is my term and, as you’ll see, is actually the cause of most mistakes.

Mental Mistakes

A mental mistake is made because of simple mental oversight. These oversights include things like a lack of focus and being unaware of the current status of the game. Knicks fans saw this happen a few times this season: JR Smith and Andrea Bargnani each launched shots at the end of games where the situation called for the ball to be held. Fortunately, Bargnani’s mistake only forced another overtime, one where the Knicks prevailed. But in a more perfect world, Bargs would have held the ball and the Knicks would have won the game earlier.

We also saw this type of mental oversight when Carmelo Anthony brought the ball up slowly at the end of the Knicks 1-point loss to the Wizards in mid-December. Unaware that there were only a few seconds left, Melo was forced to heave a desperation shot as the clock ran out. There was plenty of time to get a good shot. Melo’s error was compounded by the fact that the Knicks had a timeout and would have been well-advised to take it to set up the proper play.

Two more examples of mental mistakes: losing to tonight’s opponent because you’re focused on the team you’re playing tomorrow night. And, of course, there’s calling timeout when you have no timeouts left (I’m looking at you, Chris Webber…).

Focusing on the opponent at hand and knowing the current game situation eliminates these types of errors. For more on this, see my article on the Psychology of Focus. It’s got some juicy tidbits from last year’s Knicks flameout in the playoffs that you may find interesting.

Physical Mistakes

A pure physical mistake is one where an athlete does something unsuccessful purely because of physical forces. This happens a lot less than you would think, as you’ll see later in this article.

J.R. Smith, for example, has not learned that the momentum in his body transfers to the ball. So he often shoots after spinning around and the ball spins the same way out of the rim. Or he’ll fall away from the basket and then the ball falls short. Compare that to when J.R. catches, goes up straight, and shoots and you’ll see exactly why his spinning/falling away shots are physical errors.

Another physical mistake would be missing a free throw because your shooting arm had been hit during the foul and you didn’t realize that the muscle had tightened up. Ideally, free throw shooters would take a practice free throw without the ball (like a baseball player in the on deck circle) so that he both stretches out and is able to determine if anything hurts. If it does hurt, he can adjust before the first real free throw. Most times, however, the shooter realizes the problem as he’s missing the first free throw and then adjusts so that he can hit the second free throw.

“Hybrid” Mistakes

These are, by far, the most prevalent type of mistakes. They are physical mistakes that are caused for mental reasons. As with all or most teams, the majority of Knicks mistakes are hybrids.

Look at their typically dismal showings in 3rd quarters. This is something that’s been happening for years. It’s actually something that Allan Houston and I successfully addressed when I worked with him during the ’99-’00 season. Since I don’t have firsthand experience with this year’s team, let me tell you what happened back then. The Knicks were terrible in the second game of back-to-backs (also a hybrid error) and Latrell Sprewell’s first game back to Golden State was going to be the second game of a back-to-back (B2B). I knew that Latrell would be so pumped up that he might break the backboard with a layup. Allan and I discussed the fact that Allan was going to have to carry the scoring burden that night. The tabloids all said that the Knicks believed that they would lose the second game of a B2B, so we did a process to ensure that Allan believed he would play well in the second games as well.

I traveled to Oakland on game day, back in pre-historic times when you couldn’t read the newspaper on your phone. When I got there, I got to watch Allan work his magic. He was the high scorer for the game and shot well in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters. However, he was 0-for-5 in the 3rd. After the game, I asked him what had happened in the 3rd and he mentioned that the Knicks weren’t playing well in 3rd quarters. As it turned out, the tabloids all had that bit of news on their back pages but I hadn’t seen it because of traveling. Allan and I did the belief change process again, this time regarding his ability to shoot in 3rd quarters. The game after we did the work, Allan went 3-for-5 to start the second half.

Another type of hybrid mistake is when a player does something uncharacteristic, like dribbling a ball off his leg, at crunch time. Sometimes, it’s a simple mental mistake. But other times, you’ll read something after the fact like “we knew we couldn’t beat them”. The physical mistake is made in order to make the belief come true. Barring working with someone like myself who knows how to install positive beliefs, often the only way that the belief gets changed is because of an “accident”.

When I coached women’s softball, my team was dominant against a certain team during the regular season but, for reasons unknown, couldn’t beat them in the playoffs or the tournaments. These were double-elimination events and we’d often have beaten the team 5-or-6 times in the regular season and then lose to them twice in the post-season. About four years into this bad streak, our power hitter lofted an easy fly ball with a runner on first, our team down by one run, and two outs in the last inning. Our shoulders slumped as we watched the ball head towards the outfielder. As it turned out, the groundskeeper hadn’t pushed the sprinkler into the ground far enough and the outfielder tripped on it. The easy out became a two-run homer and we won the game. For the next few years after that, we never lost to that team in the playoffs or tournament again.

Two other major hybrid mistakes were noticeable with this year’s Knicks. The first has to do with Coach Mike Woodson and his in-game decision making. To me, he seemed to be much more hesitant this year than last year and did not coach at the level that he’s shown himself to be capable of. Often that kind of hesitation comes from having conflicts that need to be resolved in making the decision. For example, if the smart coaching move is to take a player out of the game but the people in power (owner, front office, CAA?) have pushed to have the player get major minutes, it causes what would have been a quick decision to become painfully slow and, perhaps, to be made for the wrong reasons. Based on news reports, I’ve got to believe that this type of thing caused problems for Woodson. He may not be a perfect coach but he’s certainly better than his performance this year shows him to be.

The other major hybrid mistake is making decisions based on emotions rather than logic. The problem is that we all do this from time-to-time (just look at commercials if you want a bunch of examples). Over the past couple of years, the Knicks have had a lot of examples of this. The most recent one bears mention: during the April 4 loss to the Washington Wizards, Carmelo Anthony’s shooting arm went numb from the shoulder down. Yet Melo stayed in the game, made only 5-of-14 shots (35.7%), could barely pass the ball (your joke goes here) and some of his teammates didn’t know he was injured. Whether Melo didn’t tell Woodson until after the game or Woodson knew but didn’t tell the rest of the team isn’t known. But Melo without a shooting arm is not a better shooter than a lesser offensive player with a good arm. Staying in the game and shooting that many shots was a poor decision and one based on emotion. Drawing up a play for Melo to shoot or pass when he could do neither was a pretty bad hybrid mistake as well.

But it didn’t stop there. Melo decided that, dead arm and all, he was playing against the Heat two nights later. He went 4-for-17 (23.5%), so taking that many shots when he had no chance of making them wasn’t a good idea. He wasn’t “Carmelo”, he was barely “Carm”. Needless to say, the Knicks lost by 11.

When you consider that the Knicks will miss the playoffs by one or two games, you realize how costly those emotional decisions were. The missed shots were “physical” but being in the game at all and then taking so many shots was “mental”. So their last gasp efforts at securing the 8th spot were undone because of “hybrid” mistakes.

Schedule Flaw Leaves Knicks Gasping

A flaw in the NBA’s scheduling program hurts both the New York Knicks and Utah Jazz in their game in Salt Lake City tonight.  Each team is locked in its own “race to last place” and the scheduling flaw couldn’t come at a worse time.

The flaw is this: any time a team plays the first game of a back-to-back at sea level (anywhere but Denver and Utah) and then plays the second game of that back-to-back at altitude (Denver or Utah), they get hit with a triple whammy.  First, it’s a back-to-back and they played the day before.  Second, the visitors had to travel after playing that first game.  And third, playing at altitude means having to adjust to lower oxygen levels, something that takes considerably longer than a few hours.  Advanced analytics show that players with sufficient oxygen play much better than players with no oxygen…

For the Jazz, in last place in the Western Conference and playing for ping pong balls at this point, it means having a better chance of winning the game.  That may mean less of a chance for winning the lottery this year.  Yes, you can sometimes lose by winning.

For the Knicks, a game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the last playoff spot in the Leastern Conference, it means it’ll be harder to win against a team that, under other circumstances, they should be able to easily beat.  The Knicks haven’t played well in 3½ of their last 5 games (losses to the Cavaliers, Lakers, and Suns and a 33-point second half against the Warriors in last night’s ‘gift’ win); Melo shoots worse as the game progresses; and now they’re going to be gasping for air much of the night.  And no, sucking in the third quarter, as usual, will not raise their blood oxygen levels…

I’ve written about this before and am putting together a set of rules that, hopefully, the NBA can incorporate into their scheduling program in time for the 2016-17 season.  Until then, what’s normally an advantage for the home team Nuggets or Jazz actually hurts the Jazz if it helps them win tonight.

Something the Knicks can do to help overcome this is “sub early and sub often”.  Instead of having Melo play 10 minutes of the first quarter and then sit until the 7 minute mark of the second, play him 5, sit him 2, play him another 5, etc.  Resting players before they get exhausted means a lot more to their recovery than running them until they’re staggering and then giving them a lot of time off before going into the game again.

With luck, this will work out for everyone.  The Knicks will win, the Jazz will play hard and lose, the fans will see a good game, and both teams will make strides in their “last gasp” efforts at last place.  Good luck to all…

High-flying Melo Must Avoid “Crash and Burn”

For those who were fortunate enough to watch Friday night’s New York Knicks win over the Charlotte Bobcats, Carmelo Anthony’s record-setting scoring performance is a memory that will last a lifetime.  Unfortunately, Melo’s exceptional scoring – 62 points on 23-of-35 (65.7%) shots – will not.  In fact, it’s highly likely that Sunday’s box score for the Knicks-Lakers game at MSG will show that Melo scored below his average while shooting below his average as well.

This isn’t pessimism.  It’s a prediction based on something I call the “Israeli Air Force Syndrome”.  I’ve written about it before and it happens very frequently.  But all may not be lost.  After explaining the syndrome, I’ll describe some things that might help Melo avoid its clutches.

Back in the late 1960s, the Israeli Air Force conducted a study that showed that when a pilot set a new personal best in the flight simulator, the next time he was in the simulator would often result in a below average performance.  Although I provide more details in my prior article on this, in a nutshell, the thinking is that the unconscious mind looks at the new “high” performance as the new “average”.  Extra pressure is placed on the athlete to hit the “new average” the next game, the shots don’t fall as easily, and that adds more pressure.  At a very high frequency, follow-up performances fall far short of the highlight reel performances of the prior games.

Melo’s Friday night highlight reel compounded the problem greatly.  First, his 65.7% shooting is well above this season’s 44.7% and his career 45.5%.  Second, his 62 points were a new personal best, a 24% increase over his prior 50-point mark.  But third, and most important, his performance was the greatest scoring performance in the history of “the Mecca”, Madison Square Garden.

The last point is the biggest problem.  Melo was “unconscious” on Friday night.  But as I write this, I’m watching him on ESPN answering questions about what was going on in his head during the game.  Asking questions makes things “conscious”.  The assault on Melo’s mental zone began during the halftime interview on Friday night and has continued, unabated, as each and every reporter has asked him what was going on in his head.  He’s probably way too conscious now to be unconscious at game time.

If Melo were on my “mental zone” program, there’d be no problems today.  Allan Houston shot 60% or better in 15 of the 30 games that he was on my program and shot 50% or better in 27 of those 30 games.  If Allan could become a first-time NBA All-Star and make at least half his shots 90% of the time we worked together, I think it’s safe to say that Carmelo could do roughly the same.

But Melo and I don’t work together, so here are some things he can do in the short term:

1.         Watch the Muhammad Ali video before the game.  While it’s probable that a number of things contributed to his “zone”, he believes this is one of them and he needs to watch.

2.         Set his sights low.  His season averages are 27 points per game on 44.7% shooting.  Commit to believing that 18 points on 40% shooting will be considered a “win” to him and the team.  This lowers the stress level from too-high expectations and often helps an athlete play a better overall game.  Lowering his sights, at least for today, may help him hit shots that he’d otherwise miss after such an incredible performance.

3.         Stay in the flow of the game.  One of the best things about the other night was that Carmelo was taking shots in the flow of the game.  He wasn’t pounding the ball into the floor for 20 seconds while his teammates stood open for easy shots.  If Melo does the same thing today, he’ll be taking better and more makeable shots and could make more of them.

4.         Utilize the backboard.  It’s more forgiving when something about the shot isn’t quite right (too fast, too much arc, etc.).  It’s easier to hit a shot off the backboard when you’re getting bumped than it is to hit a swish.  Play a smart game and watch the points add up.

Regardless of Melo’s performance today, it won’t take any of the luster off the gem he posted on Friday.  That’s a record that will stand for awhile and certainly won’t be broken this afternoon.

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