Patriots defense gaining confidence in recent weeks

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Patriots defense gaining confidence in recent weeks

FOXBORO -- In the Patriots' last three games, they've allowed 19 points to the Jets, 16 points to the Dolphins, and 14 points to the Texans -- all wins.

With each week, the scores have dropped, and with each week the defense is gaining more self-assuredness. Vince Wilfork said on Thursday that the Patriots defense has been on a roll that has turned out to be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: The better the defense plays, the more fun it has, and the more fun it has, the better it plays.

"One thing I see is confidence," Wilfork said. "Guys playing and having fun. That's the one thing, when you play with confidence, you can have fun. When you play stuck up, it's not fun because you scared to make a mistake. You're not sure if you're doing the right things or not."

After Monday night's game, Wilfork credited cornerback Aqib Talib with bringing a certain swagger to the defense that may contribute to its playing more loosely.

"He's brought an attitude," Wilfork said. "He don't say much, he just practice his tail off. He fit right in with everybody else. He's a physical player. Big, strong, physical player. I don't know if he brought anything to the secondary or not, but I can tell you what he bring on the practice field and what he bring in the game. He's a special player, and I'm glad we got him."

As the defense has gelled as a unit in the last month since Talib's arrival, positions in the secondary have solidified as well -- Talib and Alfonzo Dennard man the corners, with Kyle Arrington in the slot, and Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty at the safety positions. Whether that has helped contribute to an air of confidence or not, Wilfork says that he hasn't seen teammates getting disappointed after allowing big plays during this recent stretch of success.

"Other teams, they get paid, too," he said. "They play good football, too. Every once in a while they make plays, and it's not the end of the world. I think the guys do a really good job of understanding that, not getting down on themselves, trying to go out and make another play. It's gonna be like that again this week."

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

BOSTON – There’s certainly some disappointment among Celtics Nation that Isaiah Thomas just missed out on being an All-Star starter in the East.

But one thing we can certainly see with the new voting system … it works way better than the old way of choosing starters.

This was the first year that the NBA decided to allow current NBA players as well as a select panel of media choose who the starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences would be.

The fan vote would count for 50 percent while media and players would each represent 25 percent of the final tally.

From there, the players would receive a fan ranking, a media ranking and a player ranking.

Because of the aforementioned breakdown – fans count for 50 percent while media and players represent 25 percent of the vote – the fan ranking would be counted twice while the media and player rankings would be counted once.

Let’s look at Isaiah Thomas’ situation which ultimately came down to him and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan for the final starting spot in the backcourt.

Thomas was fourth in the fan voting, second in the player voting and first among guards in the media voting. So when you add the fan voting (4 *2) + player voting (2 *1) + media voting (1*1), you get a total of 11 which is then divided by 4 to arrive at a score of 2.75.

Now let’s look at DeRozan.

He was third in the fan voting, third in the player ranking and second in the media voting among guards. So his score when you add the fan voting (3*2) + player voting (3*1) + media voting (2*1), you get a total of 11 which when divided by 4 brings you to a score of 2.75 – same as Thomas.

The tiebreaker was the fan vote which meant DeRozan and not Thomas, would get the starting nod in next month’s All-Star game.

As much as it may suck that Thomas lost out because of this system, he would not have had a shot at being a starter under the old system in which the fans were the ones to pick starters.

In fact, it would have been Chicago’s Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup under the old system.

No disrespect to D-Wade, but he has not had an All-Star worthy season. And had the old system been in place, he would be an all-star and thus take up a roster spot of another player who frankly, is more deserving.

And if you take a glance out West, they too would have had a starter who has not had an All-Star caliber season.

Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia finished second in the voting among Western Conference forwards, fueled in large part to his home country, Georgia, voting early and often for him. Because of the media and player voting, Pachulia wound up sixth among Western Conference big men which is still too high when you consider some of the players behind him – Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – who are all having better seasons.

While no one would say this new system is perfect, considering how this year’s voting would have panned out under the old rules, this change by the league is a good one that should stick around.

NOTE: I was among the media panelists selected by the NBA to vote for this year’s All-Star starters. My selections in the East were Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kevin Love and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. My Western Conference selections were Kevin Durant of Golden State, Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio in the frontcourt, with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.