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NBA Power Rankings, where the Hornets are all the buzz

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where we are starting to believe in the Hornets but not the Hawks. Oh, and just bench Baron Davis.

1. Lakers (7-0). Best offense in the NBA so far, defense is solid (10th in league in defensive points given up per possession) and all that without Andrew Bynum. The schedule is pretty soft, but the Lakers are destroying it.

2. Celtics (6-1). Wins this week against the Thunder, Bulls and Bucks — good week for old men.

3. Hornets (7-0). Sure, Chris Paul is a god and all but the Hornets are doing it with defense. How? David West is really playing hard on that end of the floor, meaning Emeka Okafor doesn’t have to help as much, and everything keeps its form.

4. Heat (4-2). Losses came to the Celtics — a very big, long front line — and the Hornets, who got a huge night out of Okafor. Sensing a pattern here? Are big front lines going to be an issue for the Heat?

5. Hawks (6-1). Pardon us if we are not terribly impressed with this record — the six wins come against the Grizzlies, Sixers, Wizards, Cavs, Pistons and T-Wolves. This week the Magic, Jazz and Bucks are better tests.

6. Magic (4-1). The defense is getting it done, but they are going to have to shoot better than 35.7 from three to keep winning games. They are a little banged up with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter sore but likely to play.

7. Spurs (4-1). Richard Jefferson has been the best player on the team. Didn’t think we’d be typing that sentence.

8. Nuggets (4-2). Thing to watch: How the Bulls fans welcome Carmelo Anthony to the United Center Monday night. The Nuggets look pretty good considering how Chauncey Billups has not shot the ball well at all.

9. Mavericks (3-2). Dirk Nowitzki is playing his best basketball in a few years. The rest of the Mavericks are off their offensive game (Brendan Haywood, two points of fewer in four of the last five), and the team is 20th in offensive efficiency. Expect that to improve.

10. Blazers (5-3). Don’t read much into the blowout at the hands of the Lakers, second night of a back-to-back, sixth game in nine days. Still, they have got start rebounding the ball better — they are grabbing just 66.8 percent of opponent missed shots, third worst in the league.

11. Warriors (4-2). We’re not convinced they are really better than the next few teams below them, but they are playing better right now so they get the love. Best thing Keith Smart is done? The Warriors are 11th in defensive efficiency right now. The Jazz scored just 78 points on them.

12. Thunder (3-3). Turnovers killed them against Boston. The offense is stagnant and relies too much on isolation. The defense isn’t creating turnovers that lead to fast break points. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are good enough to win them some games, but the Thunder are not yet right.

13. Jazz (3-3). They have not found their footing and this week head out on the road to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. Tough spot.

14. Suns (3-3). Steve Nash’s assist percentage — percent of team field goal he assists on when he is on the floor — is down to 40 percent, lowest it has been since he came to Phoenix. You get the feeling that is more about his teammates than Nash.

15. Bulls (2-3). Chicago is 18th in defensive efficiency in the league, not what we expected from a Tom Thibodeau coached team. The return of Carlos Boozer is not going to help at that end of the floor, either.

16. Grizzlies (3-4). Rudy Gay is on fire and the Grizzlies are about to start a home stand. Things could be looking up in Memphis. Whether or not that brings people to the gate is another issue.

17. Knicks (3-3). We told you Knicks fans, you were going to love Ronny Turiaf.

18. Kings (3-3). DeMarcus Cousins, welcome to the NBA. You have the skills, but it is not going to be easy.

19. Cavaliers (3-3). If the playoffs started today, they would be the four seed in the East because they lead the division.

20. Bucks (2-5). Their offense is just terrible (29th in league in offensive efficiency) and while their defense can keep them close they’ve got to put the ball in the peach basket to win.

21. Sixers (2-5). After a terrible first week they had a decent second one, winning two and hanging in two others. Maybe they aren’t as bad as we thought.

22. Pacers (2-3). Thought Darren Collison was going to fix this, but he hasn’t — the Pacers are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. Not good.

23. Nets (2-4). Paging the real Brook Lopez, please report to Newark. Whoever is filling in for the real Lopez is not nearly as good.

24. Pistons (2-5). A 2-2 week despite benching Rodney Stuckey and starting Tracy McGrady for a game. The problems here are deep and systemic, but Rip Hamilton can still win you some games.

25. Bobcats (1-5). It seems like every year we write about the Bobcats slow start. Why is that?

26. Rockets (1-5). You can be glass half full — all five losses are to quality teams. But this team has struggled when Yao is in the game, and now for the next month they will be without Aaron Brooks.

27. Raptors (1-5). Remember when last week we said the Raptors were playing good defense. Scratch that.

28. Wizards (1-4). Gilbert Arenas is back and with John Wall this team should get better. Have yet to see it on the court, but they should.

29. Clippers (1-6). Put me in the “keep Baron Davis on the bench, play Bledsoe and Gordon more” camp. It may mean more losses short term but Baron is not the future. And more Eric Gordon is good for everyone.

30. Timberwolves (1-6). Yes Orlando and Miami are good, but to lose by a combined 74? Wolves fans, not sure how much your team will move out of this spot this season.

Even without Stephen Curry, adjusting for playoff rotations still favors Warriors over Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, right, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 3, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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When the Warriors put five players expected to be in the playoff rotation on the floor during the regular season, they outscored opponents by 20.9 points per 100 possessions.

No other team even neared that level with five of its own playoff-rotation players.

The second-place Spurs (+13.1 adjusted net rating) were closer to 10th place than first place.

But Golden State’s supremacy obviously took a hit when Stephen Curry got hurt. How do the Warriors rate without him in the rotation?

As I did before the first round, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank Western Conference playoff teams by net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players in the team’s postseason rotation. Both the regular season and first round factored.

I wrote more about the Thunder’s and Spurs’ adjusted ratings yesterday. The East will come after its second-round series are set.

For now, here’s each Western Conference team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the second-round rotation:

Western Conference

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7 to 109.1
  • Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8 to 103.8
  • Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9 to +5.3

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0 to 110.3
  • Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9 to 107.5
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1 to +2.8

Observations:

  • By this metric, there’s a clear main event and undercard here – at least if the Spurs and Thunder don’t keep playing like they did last night.
  • Golden State obviously takes a big tumble without Curry, but this measure shows the limit of saying the Warriors got outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions without Curry during the regular season. Golden State’s other top players – Draymond Green (88%), Klay Thompson (85%), Andrew Bogut (85%), Harrison Barnes (66%) and Andre Iguodala (60%) – played a majority of their minutes with Curry. Put them on the court more in these Curry-less games, and it’ll help.
  • With Curry in the rotation (and Ian Clark and Brandon Rush out), the Warriors’ adjusted offensive/defensing/net ratings shoot right back up into the stratosphere: 119.8/98.7/+21.1. Golden State must just holds its ground until Curry returns. This measure suggests the Warriors can against Portland, especially with home-court advantage also in their favor.

Playoff Preview: Four things to watch in Portland vs. Golden State series

at ORACLE Arena on April 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Portland has wildly exceeded expectations this season, making the playoffs as the five seed and getting past a banged-up Clippers team to the second round. But the NBA does not do Cinderellas well, this will be the end of the road. Here are the four questions we’re asking heading into this series.

1) When will Stephen Curry return? If Portland has a chance in this series, they need to do a lot of damage before the past-and-future MVP returns from his sprained knee. The question is when will that be? Curry is out for Game 1 and has yet to do any on court work, but Steve Kerr would not rule him out for Game 2 on Tuesday, although that may be gamesmanship as much as anything. But after Game 2 the teams are off for four days until the Saturday, May 7, and that may be enough time for him to return. Whenever he does come back, the dynamics change and the Warriors become a much more dangerous, much better team — one Portland can’t handle. The Blazers need to get all the wins early in this series they can.

Which isn’t very easy, Curry or no.

2) How will the Warriors defend Damian Lillard? When Lillard has gone up against his hometown team — he’s from Oakland — he averaged 36.5 points per game this season. Expect Klay Thompson to draw the assignment to cover him at the start of games, but also expect the Warriors to steal a page from the Clippers’ strategy and trap Lillard and C.J. McCollum each time they come off a pick. The idea is to force the ball out of the hands of the two best playmakers and make Al-Farouq Aminu or Maurice Harkless or anyone else beat you. Aminu and Harkless will find the Warriors defense works on a string better than the Clippers and their shots will get contested.

However, most of the time, the Warriors will switch the pick-and-roll, which they usually do (especially when they go small) and Lillard will find Draymond Green in his face. Blazers coach Terry Stotts has to find ways to get Lillard playing downhill off those picks to have a chance.

3) Can the Trail Blazers hit their threes? In Portland’s win over Golden State in the regular season (just after the All-Star break), they put up 137 points and made it rain threes — the Trail Blazers need to do that again. However, the Warriors were one of the better teams in the league at defending the arc this season, holding opponents to 33.2 percent from deep (second best in the league) and allowing the second fewest corner threes (although they are more willing to allow threes above the arc). Portland does not have a good enough defense to stop Golden State consistently even without Curry, they will just have to outscore the Warriors, and to do that it has to rain threes again.

4) How will Portland defend Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Both of these key Warriors cogs had strong regular seasons against Portland — Green averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, while Thompson averaged 29.3 points shooting 59.4 percent from three. Obviously, that was with Curry on the floor drawing defenders, but Portland is not exactly known for their lock-down defense. Without Curry, expect Aminu to get a lot of time on Thompson, but that alone is not going to slow him. Also, expect the Warriors to post up Thompson, Shaun Livingston, or anyone else that Lillard and McCollum guard — the hardest part about defending Golden State is there is no place to hide weak defenders. The Warriors will expose the Portland defense.

Prediction: Warriors in 6. And that assumes Curry is out until Game 5, if he is back earlier than that the series likely ends in 5.

Report: Heat complained to ‘highest levels of the league office’ about favorable calls for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin (7) after making a basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Hornets won 127-122 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.

One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.

Marc Stein:

ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.

Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.

That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.

Watch LaMarcus Aldridge drop 38 on Thunder

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Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.

He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?

It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.