Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers

How do contending teams perform in the fourth quarter?

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Always Be Closing.

That’s the name of the game, isn’t it? Great teams close out strong. They finish well together. They’re able to end games with finality. It’s that ability to lock down in the fourth quarter and finish teams off that separates the men from the boys. Young, weak teams can’t get it done, and teams that want to contend for a title have to be able to.

But how does this year’s crop of contenders compare in that fourth segment?

Using stats from HoopStats.com, I took a look at eight teams that could be considered “contenders” should you carry it out to a fairly liberal degree. And yes, Utah, I hear you, but I needed to make a cutoff somewhere and OKC happened to have more wins when I started this post. For reference, here are Utah’s stats.

Here’s what I found:

The first column of data is the difference between the average points scored in the fourth quarter and opponents’ points scored in the fourth. The second and third columns reference the winning percentages when leading or trailing after three quarters, and the fourth is to provide perspective for the season. All data was before Friday’s night’s games.

Before you start screaming, let’s get some caveats out of the way. The Lakers, as you’ll notice, have a 7.6 point differential and yet get outscored in the 4th. Which pretty much means they establish huge leads and then coast in the fourth when their subpar bench unit comes strolling in and let’s teams make pity runs. Some of it is on account of their inability to close out when down (as evidenced by their .25 winning percentage when down after three quarters). Similarly, there’s no data here to suggest who it is that these teams are battling down the wire. If the Mavericks keep coming back against teams they shouldn’t be down in the fourth to anyway, that doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence. But still, if we take the fourth as its own game, they’re getting it done, and that’s the point of this little exercise.

What’s notable here is that the Spurs are the best team in the fourth as well as the best team in the league right now record-wise. Compare this with the Heat who are the third best team in the league and tops in point differential, yet fourth in fourth quarter differential, third in win percentage when leading after three, and fourth when trailing. Not great closers.

The Bulls on the other hand are a study in contrast. When things are going well, they’re going really well (second-best win percentage of any contender when winning after three), and when they’re not going well, they struggle to respond in the fourth (fifth-best win percentage when trailing after three. And with a tops differential of +3 in the 4th, it’s clear that the Bulls play exceptionally strong in the final frame when things are going well.

The Magic have real problems here. The worst point differential in the fourth, tied for fourth when leading, and a pitiful .23 win percentage when trailing. To put that in real terms, the Magic come back on their opponent in the fourth less than a quarter of the time. Getting outscored in the fourth is in and of itself and indictment, but when you look at it,the Magic have a very poor chance of winning should they not be leading after three.

The Mavericks best live by the idea of playing on edge the whole time. Nearly no difference in points scored versus points allowed in the fourth (.1 points better than their opponents’ average), the lowest win percentage of any team going into the fourth with a lead, but the second best percentage when trailing. They come back on their opponent half the time, while losing nearly 15% of the time with a lead. Injuries have likely bogged this down as the Mavericks have been in games late, only to fail without Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler.

Perhaps most interesting is the Thunder, though, with the second worst win percentage when leading, third worst when trailing, and third worst fourth quarter differential while having the worst total point differential. The Thunder very much seem like a young team that still struggles with closing out games from this data set, despite their reputation as a team wise beyond its years. While this data set is fraught with caveats like the one listed above and well beyond the boundaries of context, it’s an interesting set nonetheless.

Closing in the fourth during the regular season is vastly different than it is in the playoffs, when you can’t rattle off a 10-2 run against the Kings. But this data at least gives us a sense of what the top teams in the league are doing as the game reaches its close.  And while the Lakers have been great overall but bad in the fourth and the Bulls have been solid overall but brilliant in the fourth, both will need to keep working on keeping that extra gear in good condition. It can be the difference in a ring and disappointment when spring comes a calling.

Report: Pat Riley ‘quietly detests’ Dwyane Wade-LeBron James friendship

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14:  U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with National Basketball Association 2012-2013 champion Miami Heat player LeBron James after welcoming the team -- including President Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and others -- during an event at the White House January 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. This is the second year in a row the team won the championship and made a trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share a very close friendship.

LeBron and Pat Riley – who signed LeBron and Wade to the Heat in 2010 – have a much more complicated relationship.

Riley seemingly challenged LeBron entering the 2014 offseason, and LeBron left Miami to return to the Cavs. Then, Riley couldn’t stop telling everyone how surprised he was LeBron left. After LeBron departed, Riley noted how the Heat had “no more smiling faces with hidden agendas.”

So, about the intersection of the LeBron-Wade friendship and Riley-LeBron relationship…

Pablo Torre of ESPN:

On-court effort, after all, isn’t really why Heat president Pat Riley quietly detests the Wade-James friendship.

as coach of the Heat, Riley kept the spirit of the ’80s alive by reportedly instituting a $1,500 fine for any player who helped an opponent up off the floor.

Riley wasn’t complaining when LeBron’s friendship with Wade helped lure the star forward to Miami. Riley wasn’t complaining when LeBron led the Heat to two championships, either.

But I at least understand where Riley is coming from. His old-school sensibilities don’t allow for friendships across teams, and there are legitimate reasons to draw a line.

Wade addressed this well with Torre in a feature on the LeBron-Wade friendship that’s well worth reading in full. Wade:

“You’re talking about two guys who went to the Finals together, four years in a row,” Wade says. “My job and his job was to get as close as possible, to know everything about each other and get on the same page as two leaders on the team. And then he goes elsewhere and you ask us to hate each other! It’s ridiculous.”

Rumor: Nicolas Batum could re-sign with Hornets quickly enough to play in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  Nicolas Batum #5 of France reacts after he fouled Juan-Carlos Navarro #7 of Spain late in the fourth quarter during the Men's Basketball quaterfinal game on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Batum‘s agent said the forward would miss France’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, at least according to a translated report.

Batum will be a free agent, and he can’t sign until July 7. The qualifying tournament begins July 5.

FIBA:

However, it is understood that the French player and the Hornets will quickly agree terms on a new deal and that could could give France enough time to obtain insurance for Batum and allow him to take part in some of the OQT games.

Although the situation has been complicated, Batum is such a talent that France are doing everything they can to have him at the OQT

What is certain is that Batum will be in Pau, France, when the national team launches its preparations 10 June. He will do physical work but not take part in drills or scrimmages in order to avoid contact.

This seems like wishful thinking by France.

The French are in a loaded qualifier – including Canada and Turkey – and they clearly want to reach Rio. Batum would surely help.

But the timing makes it difficult. Even if Batum is set on returning to the Hornets, it’d be foolish to play before signing the deal. Still, it’d be possible to sign immediately after the moratorium and then play in France’s second game.

The bigger issue is Batum’s conditioning. The same injury risk that likely prevents him playing until his NBA contract becomes official should limit his training now. Can he turn around after months of taking it easy and contribute at a high level the next day?

And there’s no guarantee Batum re-signs with Charlotte. He could explore the market and pick a team that doesn’t want its new high-priced signing risking his health in international play.

I can’t rule out Batum playing for France in the qualifying tournament, but there are so many hurdles to clear.

Dikembe Mutombo and Bismack Biyombo squabble over finger-wagging rights

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 16: Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors wags his finger after blocking a shot against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Bismack Biyombo has been doing the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag after blocks for years, and the Raptors center has said Mutombo gave him permission.

But with Biyombo breaking out and blocking shots during the playoffs, it has drawn more attention – and Mutombo’s ire.

Mutombo, via TMZ:

“I don’t know when did that conversation took place,” Mutombo said … “Him and I need to talk this summer.”

“He claim in the newspaper and everywhere he said I gave it to him. I said, Did I gave him? Was it family? Cosign? But you know what, he’s a young man, man, I let him enjoy the fame. He’s making me famous!”

“I will see him in the Congo this summer so him and I will talk back home with nobody around us.”

This is dumb.

1. Mutombo already approved of Biyombo finger-wagging. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN:

2. I’m sure Biyombo means nothing but to pay tribute to Mutombo and show up opponents – two noble goals. There is no good reason for Mutombo to be upset. He’s being honored.

Yet, this whole thing has Biyombo on edge. Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Keep finger-wagging, Bismack. Mutombo will come around.

Report: Wizards to offer Bradley Beal five-year max contract on July 1

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal reacts after making a 3-point shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Washington. The Wizards won 103-89. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Bradley Beal isn’t messing around when setting his value in free agency this summer.

I’m a max player.”

Apparently, the Wizards agree.

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Just as the Wizards did with John Wall, offering him a max deal early in the process of negotiation, they’ll do the same with Bradley Beal, a person with knowledge of the situation told CSNmidatlantic.com earlier this week.

This is a smart move.

Washington could let the market dictate Beal’s price, but with the salary cap skyrocketing, it’s bound to come in at a max salary anyway. By offering him a max deal on day one, the Wizards can get Beal on board with re-signing when the time is right.

Beal’s cap number will be $14,236,685 until signed or renounced. Once signed, his 2016-17 salary will become his cap number, and the max projects to be $21,579,000. So, Washington could spend the difference (projected to be  $7,342,315) then exceed the cap to re-sign Beal using his Bird rights.

Beal could get impatient and interrupt those plans, but why would he sign a max offer sheet elsewhere (projected to be worth about $92 million over four years) that the Wizards will surely match if he can just re-sign directly and get about $124 million over five years? Washington is trying to ensure he doesn’t find a reason.