Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five

NBA Finals: Dallas tops Miami in Game 5 with an outlier, but what of it?

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The Dallas Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead on Thursday night with a 112-103 win, but their tremendous offense — the propulsive force that allowed them to pull within a single victory of taking the NBA title — was immediately tagged as an outlier, and saddled with all of the negative stigma that statistical improbabilities tend to attract. Dallas won the game, but only because they hit “tough” (NBA speak for low-percentage) shots. Only because the Mavericks converted that which should not have been converted. Only because they defied who they are, and managed to jump outside the curve for a swim in the unsustainable.

There’s no escaping the basis of that very idea; Dallas’ hot shooting was indeed an outlier. Single games are, after all, a playground for the aberrations of small sample size. The Mavericks made 68.4 percent of their three-point attempts and posted a 65.9 effective field goal percentage, numbers far above the expected values for any team in the entire league. Yet there still seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the mean — the statistical average to which we expect all teams to regress — in basketball. The Mavericks’ mean shooting averages aren’t the most common outcomes for their performance, but simply their most central. They won’t hit those marks in every game, and may not hit them in any game at all. Averages give only the illusion of stability, and though much of basketball is dependent on skill, effort, and execution, we perhaps underestimate the role of randomness (and by extension, variance) in deciding makes and misses, wins and losses.

“You get hot, you get on a roll, and you can have a night like that,” Rick Carlisle said. “They don’t happen very often. Last time we had a shooting night like this was Game 4 against the Lakers. That’s why you just keep working your game, and that’s why you stay persistent, you keep defending, you keep systemically stepping into shots that are there and you’re going to have some breakthrough games.”

Teams that consistently and effectively work for open shots within their offense will always have the upper hand, but all players and teams are subject to the will of the odds. They’ll have hot shooting games and cold ones, and these occurrences are so common and prominent in sports culture that we’ve developed a corresponding vocabulary. Maybe Jason Terry was “in the zone.” Maybe J.J. Barea was “on fire.” Both seem possible or even likely, but the idea is hardly outrageous, especially considering how poorly both have shot in these NBA Finals.

The Mavericks’ amazing shooting in Game 5 merely moved the needle in a positive direction, away from Dallas’ off-setting 4-of-19 (.211) shooting from outside in Game 4. Lost in the declarations of the Mavs’ overachievement was the fact that prior to Game 5, Dallas’ effective field goal percentage in the Finals was actually down significantly from their overall playoff average. Plenty of that has to do with Miami’s impressive defense, but this kind of performance was overdue in bringing Dallas closer to reasonable expectation. The Mavs didn’t really surge forward with their shooting in Game 5, but were merely getting back on track.

“This was our highest scoring game of the series,” Shawn Marion said. “We were bound to get one easy [offensive] game sooner or later. It was just a matter of when it was gonna happen. We should be due for another.”

Maybe the Mavs are. Regardless, did we not expect a degree of oscillation? Was there really an honest expectation that Dallas would be right in line with their shooting averages every single night, without room for error in either direction? Outliers are inescapable. They help to define mean levels of performance, even as they inherently rebuke them. They show the level of success or failure that a team is capable of, if only in extreme circumstances. Yet when we reduce the sample to a single game, those extreme circumstances are more likely to occur than ever. There is no mitigating volume; this is a singular performance by a particular team in a particular game, and yet many act bewildered at the sight of anything out of the ordinary.

Underneath the incredible magnitude of this contest was just a team shooting over its head for the better part of 48 minutes. In a series this competitive, that alone is enough to tilt things in the Mavs’ favor, but it doesn’t make this outlier different from any other. This particular occurrence is granted import through context, but the numbers themselves are the same as they’ve always been: up and down in an endless and inexact flow between two extremes.

Russell Westbrook stands behind Kevin Durant, mimics him during interview (video)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, right, gestures after scoring as forward Kevin Durant stands by during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won 117-113. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Choose your spin.

This is why Kevin Durant is leaving the Thunder. Russell Westbrook doesn’t respect him.

or

This is why Kevin Durant is re-signing with the Thunder. He and Russell Westbrook have so much fun together.

Report: Magic open to talking Tobias Harris trade, looking to add experience

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) grabs the uniform of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic just last summer.

Now, just 50 games later…

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I’m skeptical this is significant. Teams discuss trades for many players for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the player is likely to be dealt.

Orlando in particular has a roster of players who cause significant debate about their value. It’s helpful to know what other teams think of Harris, and soliciting trade offers is a good method to learn his worth.

It’s more intriguing the Magic are looking to add experience. They should probably go the opposite route, but they’ve tried (and failed) for years to accelerate their rebuild. At 22-28 – four games and three teams from playoff position – now is not the time to seek shortcuts. Spend the rest of the season developing young players – and probably securing a higher draft pick in the process.

One of Harris’ best traits is his youth. He’s just 23. See what other teams would offer for him, sure. But, in all likelihood, it’s better to let him grow into the veteran Orlando needs rather than trading him for one when the rest of the team isn’t ready to win, anyway.

My guess is that’s what Orlando will do. Remember, always consider who has incentive to leak this information anonymously and what they’d be positioned to know.

PBT Power Rankings: If you’re firing a coach mid-season, you’re not highly ranked

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Stability at the top of the rankings this week, as the top eight teams remained in exactly the same spots as last week. Further down you see the Jazz climbing the rankings, the Knicks falling (although probably not as much as they should have considering Derek Fisher getting canned), and the Suns taking over the bottom slot after dropping seven straight.

source: 1. Warriors (46-4, last week No. 1). In the past three weeks, the Warriors have beaten the next three teams in this rankings (OKC gave them the hardest time). Curry’s magical touch couldn’t extend to the Carolina Panthers, but everything else is rolling for this team. So what is everyone in the Bay Area talking about with Golden State? Kevin Durant, of course. It’s always what’s next. Try to enjoy the ride, people.

source: 2. Spurs (43-8, LW 2). San Antonio has gone 5-2 with Tim Duncan out, and they have done that thanks to their offense clicking behind LaMarcus Aldridge, plus solid bench play (as always). However, in those seven games their defense has been middle of the pack, you know Gregg Popovich has noticed.

source: 3. Thunder (38-14 LW 3). I don’t care what Kevin Durant said, the Saturday loss to the Warriors was a moral victory, one that OKC can take positives away from. The Thunder came back on the Warriors and gave them problems the Spurs and Cavaliers couldn’t. Russell Westbrook is averaging near a triple-double in his last 10 games — 23.4 points, 11.7 assists, and 9.3 rebounds a game.

source: 4. Cavaliers (36-14, LW 4). Tyronn Lue has been the Cavs coach for nine games, but he’s not getting to implement all the changes he wants. In those nine games the Cavaliers are basically playing at the same pace (half-a-possession slower per game), their offense has been better but their defense has been 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse. He was never going to solve all the issues mid-season, but he’s got some practices around the All-Star break to work on what he wants the team to do.

source: 5. Raptors (34-16, LW 5). Dwayne Casey so loves his bench rotation that when starter James Johnson went down rookie Norman Powell was made the starter. It worked, even though the Raptors’ win streak died in Denver. Toronto could try to make a bold move to pick up a four at the trade deadline, Ryan Wolstat told PBT in the recent Raptors-focused podcast.

source: 6. Clippers (34-17, LW 6). No, the Clippers are not trading Blake Griffin at the deadline, stop asking. That said, the Clippers have gone 17-4 without him (after a quality win in Miami Sunday) with a smaller lineup that spreads the floor more, creating space for the Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll, and that has to have Doc Rivers thinking about moves this summer.

source: 7. Celtics (30-22, LW 7). They got a quality win over Cleveland Friday, they are now on a three-game win streak and have won 12-of-15. The Celtics are doing it with lock-down defense and a balanced offense, and it’s good they have a representative in Toronto for the All-Star Game in Isaiah Thomas.

source: 8. Grizzlies (30-21, LW 8). They seem fairly locked in as the five seed in the West, but a notch below the top four and maybe even some of the other playoff teams in the West (they lost to Dallas last weekend). Don’t be shocked if they again try to get an upgrade at the wing spot at the deadline, but the market isn’t loaded with guys they can get without giving up a lot in return.

source: 9. Hawks (30-23, LW 11). They had won three in a row before a sloppy loss to Orlando on Sunday (one they can seek revenge for Monday night in the second game of the home-and-home series). Jeff Teague’s name has come up in a lot of trade rumors, but if the Hawks want to re-sign Al Hereford this summer — and they do — what kind of message does trading the veteran point guard send?

source: 10. Heat (29-23, LW 10). Tough stretch of games for the Heat but they played good defense and picked up wins over Dallas and Charlotte. Only one game this week (San Antonio) so even with his All-Star duties Dwyane Wade’s knees should get some rest.

source: 11. Pacers (27-24, LW 12). They continue to be up-and-down, but the overtime loss to Cleveland showed just how dangerous this team can be on the right night, not just because of All-Star Paul George but also guys like Myles Turner and C.J. Miles stepping up.

source: 12. Jazz (25-25, LW 15). Winners of six in a row and it’s thanks to the return of Rudy Gobert and the lock-down Jazz defense we have remembered from the second half of last season. The Jazz are healthy and they are 12-6 in games Gobert and Derrick Favors start. Utah has moved into the eight seed in the West and I think it’s more likely they move up past Houston and maybe Dallas than it is Portland or Sacramento catches them.

source: 13. Pistons (27-25, LW 13). Detroit is not in a secure playoff spot, with Charlotte playing well and just 1.5 games behind them for the final slot in the East. To be fair, Detroit is also just 2.5 games back of hosting a first-round playoff series — the East is still tight. If Detroit wants to climb that ladder they have to start playing better, more consistent defense.

source: 14. Bulls (27-23, LW 9). Jimmy Butler is out for a little bit, but considering how the injury looked at the time a sprained knee is not that bad. Mike Dunleavy is back. The Bulls are 5-10 in their last 15 games, mostly due to the fact their defense, which was solid early in the season, has been unimpressive with Joakim Noah out.

source: 15. Mavericks (29-25, LW 14). They picked up a win over Memphis Saturday, which is important because Dallas would like to catch the Grizzlies for the five seed and avoid Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. (Not that the Clippers would be easy.) The most interesting new thing in Dallas may be Dirk Nowitzki’s haircut.

source: 16. Trail Blazers (25-27, LW 16). As they needed to do, Portland took advantage of a soft stretch of the schedule to climb back in the playoff race in the West, they are currently one game back of Utah for the final playoff slot in the conference. However, now they need to keep getting wins against tougher opponents, such as at Memphis and home to Houston this week. (Portland did beat Houston last week.)

source: 17. Rockets (27-26, LW 18). Houston is 1.5 games from the nine seed and sliding out of the playoffs, and they are heading into a tough stretch of the schedule. This week they are at the Warriors then at the Trail Blazers. Then James Harden heads to Toronto for the All-Star Game. The remainder of the team could use the rest.

source: 18. Hornets (25-26, LW 20). They have played better of late and are now back in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s return has helped their defense, which has keyed this run of solid play. However, if they are going to make the dance, wins against teams such as Chicago and Indiana this week are what they need.

source: 19. Wizards (22-27, LW 17). John Wall continues to be brilliant (he had 41 against the Warriors) but after that there is not much to like — the Wizards get little defense and inconsistent play from the rest of the roster. If they are going to make a run into the playoffs, that needs to start with a win streak out of the All-Star break.

source: 20. Nuggets (21-31, LW 24). Quality wins against Toronto and Chicago last week show Mike Malone’s efforts to build a culture are taking root. Nikola Jokic has been brilliant during this run, including dropping 27 and 14 on Toronto. Don’t be shocked if Denver is a seller at the trade deadline.

source: 21. Pelicans (18-32, LW 19). Losers of four in a row, and Ryan Anderson’s shooting slump is not helping his trade value (I still expect he gets moved before the deadline, some team will come in with a quality offer). Tough game against the Jazz this week, but I love to see Favors and Gobert matched up against Anthony Davis.

source: 22. Bucks (20-32, LW 23). They lost to Sacramento without DeMarcus Cousins, a sign of how poorly things are going for them right now. They will have representation in Toronto, with Khris Middleton in the three point contest (he’s shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc this season). I don’t buy the Jabari Parker trade rumors, they are not giving up on him.

source: 23. Magic (22-28, LW 25). They have been entertaining to watch this week, with a close loss to Oklahoma City then the dramatic win against Atlanta Sunday. Rumor is they are testing the trade waters for Tobias Harris and others, looking to add some veterans — and more consistent talent — to the roster.

source: 24. Knicks (23-31, LW 21). Derek Fisher is out and Kurt Rambis is in, and if you think that will turn the team around this season you should put the bong down and back away (Rambis used to play Ryan Gomes more minutes than Kevin Love). You can pick apart Fisher’s growth as a coach, and the team’s development, but it’s hard to see how this improves things mid-season. You know the dirt is coming on this. Phil Jackson wants Luke Walton, who is staying with the Warriors through the playoffs, but I think they should give Tom Thibodeau a long look.

source: 25. Kings (21-30, LW 22). The Kings have lost six of seven, falling back since being the eight seed in the West. In those seven games Sacramento is getting beat by 6.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because their defense is giving up 110.4 points per 100 possessions (fifth worst in the NBA in that time). George Karl outlasted Derek Fisher, but maybe not by much.

source: 26. Timberwolves (16-36,LW 26). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to play well, averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games. The Timberwolves offense is tearing teams up recently, but they are not getting consistent stops so wins remain elusive.

source: 27. 76ers (8-43, LW 28). They beat the Nets on Saturday, which was most impressive because they did it without injured guard Ish Smith. They have something inside with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel (even if they platoon them a bit), the focus this summer needs to be adding talent out on the perimeter.

source: 28. Nets (13-39, LW 27). While they have a lot of assets who would make sense to consider trading, the fact the Nets don’t have a GM in place 10 days before the trade deadline suggests their moves will come in the summer, not February. The Nets defense let them down again Saturday against the Sixers.

source: 29. Lakers (11-42, LW 30). They won two games last week and gave the Spurs a scare in San Antonio (where the Spurs have yet to lose this season). All of which has some Lakers fans worried about their draft positioning (if their pick is not top three it goes to Philly). Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.6 points per game in his last five games, but on 39.6 percent shooting.

source: 30. Suns (14-38, LW 29). Losers of seven in a row, and their roster is about to get shaken up at the trade deadline. As if injuries didn’t already do that. Since Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns have been a mess in clutch time of the few games they do keep close.

Report: Tom Thibodeau, Brian Shaw want Knicks’ job

Tom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring Luke Walton or Brian Shaw.

At least one of them is interested.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Derek Fisher just got fired this morning. A source close to Brian Shaw has no chill.

But he’s not the only one swarming.

Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

Shaw probably has an easier time getting the job thanks to his relationship with Phil Jackson, but Thibodeau is the better coach. For all his shortcomings, Thibodeau is an elite tactician, and he’s not woefully inadequate at communicating with his players. Plus, Jackson could potentially help Thibodeau find better balance with the drive that helps him succeed as a coach but also grates over time.

Thibodeau makes sense on paper – if Jackson is willing to go out of his comfort zone, which I find unlikely.

Shaw has the potential to do better in another stint as a head coach. I’d just want to see real evidence he has learned better communication skills before I’d even consider him. His passion for the job wouldn’t move the needle.

And if all else fails, Dennis Rodman: