Extra Pass: Suns and Hawks facing opposite playoff fortunes

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Sunday, the Phoenix Suns fought back from 22-point deficit, raising their record to 41-29.

On the same day, the Atlanta Hawks blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, dropping their record to 31-37.

As you surely know already, the Hawks are on pace to make the playoffs, and the Suns are not. Thanks to the disparity between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference and a format that sends precisely eight teams per conference to the postseason, Atlanta is sitting pretty (three games ahead of the ninth-place Knicks) while Phoenix is not (half a game behind the eighth-place Mavericks).

The Suns and Hawks play tonight, a chance for Phoenix to get some karmic revenge for at least 48 minutes. But in terms of getting justice for their playoff fate, the Suns have no choice to accept their possibly postseason-less destiny while the Hawks can keep losing and probably keep their playoff spot.

The Suns should be used to it, at least – especially if the Hawks are the team benefitting. This season looks to be another chapter in already twisted postseason history, or lack thereof, between these two franchises.

By record, we can easily identify the best team to miss the playoffs (the 1972 Phoenix Suns went 49-33) and worst team to make the playoffs (the 1953 Baltimore Bullets went 16-54).

But as the number of NBA teams and number of playoff teams fluctuates, using percentiles for win percentages during each season in NBA history and a linear best fit, we can estimate how good the worst playoff team should be each season. Under current conditions – 30 NBA teams, 16 playoff teams and an 82-game season – the postseason threshold is expected to be 38.9 wins, a mark Phoenix passed last week.

Here’s how the expected win percentage for the worst playoff team has evolved over the years:

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Sometimes, people get worked up over a team with a losing record making the playoffs, but it’s really quite logical. In a 30-team league, the median falls between 15 and 16. Because 16 teams make the playoffs, it’s expected one below-median team makes the postseason.

Similarly, it’s misguided to blindly call many of playoff teams with the worst records the least-deserving of a postseason berth. Between 1948 and 1968, the NBA allowed between 67 percent and 80 percent of its teams into the playoffs each year (compared to 53 percent now). You can see how that led to some teams with poor records qualifying.

With that in mind, we want see which teams fell furthest above and below that expected line in a given year – specifically, in this case, the worst playoff team (red) and best non-playoff team (green).

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The 2014 Suns are narrowly ahead of the pace of the 2008 Golden Warriors, who went 48-34 and missed the playoffs. Only the 1957 New York Knicks, who went 36-36 in a season six of eight teams made the playoffs, fell further above the expected line and still missed the playoffs.

The Hawks aren’t quite as historically fortunate, but they’re still on pace to rank as the 19th-worst playoff team in NBA history after adjusting for the expected record of the worst playoff team each season. (If you’re wondering, those 1953 Bullets remain No. 1, even in a year eight of 10 teams made the postseason).

Together, the Suns and Hawks are on pace to make 2014 the year with the fifth-largest record disparity between a playoff team and its better counterpart in the other conference. Here’s the complete top 10 of the teams that have snagged playoff berths over better teams:

1. 1972: Atlanta Hawks (36-46) over Phoenix Suns (49-33)

2. 1953: Baltimore Bullets (16-54) over Milwaukee Hawks (27-44)

3. 1971: Atlanta Hawks (36-46) over Phoenix Suns (48-34)

4. 2008: Atlanta Hawks (37-45) over Golden State Warriors (48-34)

5. 2014: Atlanta Hawks (31-37) over Phoenix Suns (41-29)

6. 1968: Chicago Bulls (29-53) over Cincinnati Royals (39-43)

7. 2009: Detroit Pistons (39-43) over Phoenix Suns (46-36)

7. 1988: San Antonio Spurs (31-51) over Indiana Pacers (38-44)

9. 2011: Indiana Pacers (37-45) over Houston Rockets (43-39)

9. 2004: Boston Celtics (36-46) over Utah Jazz (42-40)

9. 1997: Los Angeles Clippers (36-46) over Cleveland Cavaliers (42-40)

9. 1979: New Jersey Nets (37-45) over San Diego Clippers (43-39)

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If this holds, not only would it be both the Hawks’ and Suns’ fourth appearance on this list, not only would the Hawks be the playoff team all four times and the Suns not all four times, it would be the third time the Hawks are the weak playoff team making it ahead of the aggrieved Suns.

The Suns might beat the Hawks tonight. They probably should.

But it won’t erase decades of bad fortune for the Suns and good fortune for the Hawks – a trend that is apparently continuing.

Russell Westbrook calls Oklahoma City “the place where I want to be”

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has yet to sign an extension, but the reigning league MVP says Oklahoma City is where he wants to be and he is “happy” about the offseason additions of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

Westbrook complimented Thunder management for making the deals.

The unsigned deal has tempered some of the excitement building around the team. He has until Oct. 16 to ink a contract that would be worth more than $200 million. Westbrook says he hasn’t signed because of the birth of his son and a busy travel schedule.

Westbrook’s former teammate Enes Kanter, who was sent to New York as part of the deal that brought Anthony to Oklahoma City, also says he expects Westbrook to sign the deal.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Paul George says OKC feels like “Somewhere I can call home for years”

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All we have heard about all summer is that Paul George is definitely going to the Los Angeles Lakers. Heck, we’ve heard about it earlier than that.

That’s what forced the Indiana Pacers to make the trade to send George to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he is now teammate of both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

But NBA Media Day was on Monday, and with it brought not only first interviews of new players but the platitudes that fans want to hear as well.

Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, George said that he thought the Thunder had done much that they had needed to do to show him they were a place that he could stay.

Via USA Today:

“Honestly, I’m happy,” he said. “The only thing I wanted out of Indiana was a chance to win my whole career there…That’s really what I want out of this, out of the league. I’m not looking for money. I’m not looking for stats. I want to win, and (to) be able to win at a high level.

“It’s Year One, and (the Thunder have) proven – and I haven’t even gone through a season yet – and they’ve already proven everything on my check list (that) I can check off. That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me, and somewhere I can call home for years.’”

George also told USA Today that winning was above anything else, including joining his hometown team in the Lakers. We’ve heard this from players before, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does appear that the Thunder have a shot of keeping the former Pacers star if George is to be believed.

Of course, Oklahoma City still has some work to do in terms of winning games. There are some serious doubts about the roster they have now with three high usage players that will struggle to find a way to share the ball efficiently.

The Western Conference got a lot tougher this offseason, and both Anthony and George were a part of that. But the other teams have stiffened and appear to have better roster fit at the moment. Thats before we even get to the 2017 NBA Finals champion Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James says that he is going to be finishing his career in Cleveland. George says that the Thunder have a real shot at keeping him. We will have to play out this season to see if either of those things come true.

LeBron James says he still plans on finishing his career with Cleveland

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There has been significant talk around the NBA about the possibility of LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.

Specifically, there has been in a lot of chatter about James leaving his home state and heading to be in Los Angeles with the Lakers.

But during NBA media day on Monday, LeBron said that he still plans on finishing his career with Cleveland. What wasn’t explicit is whether that means he will take his next contract elsewhere, or if he simply means to return at a later date.

Via Cleveland.com:

“It hasn’t changed,” James said, when asked. He also nodded when asked, directly, if he intended to finish his career in Cleveland.

“And that’s why I sit up here today, still in this uniform, still ready to lead this franchise to a championship, put us in a position where we can be successful.”

“Anytime I’m able to be free agent or my contract ends, I’ll approach that when the summer comes,” he said. “At the end of the day I have a contract and I will fill out that obligation, which I’ve always done.

“And if you guys know me, I don’t know if you know me as much, but I’ve always handled it in the most businesslike way. And I will do that with my team, and we’ll handle that in the summertime, as we always have.”

So you there you have it. He is definitely planning on staying. Although he isn’t going to make that plan until the summer.

Should be an interesting one in Cleveland this year.

LeBron, Gregg Popovich among NBA heavyweights to comment on Trump at Media Day

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Monday was NBA Media Day and it could not get here soon enough. Yes, the offseason has been an incredible one with many players changing places. But the start of football season always means something important for the NBA diehard: basketball is coming.

Media Day comes with new questions for new players, along with hope that franchises will be able to right the wrongs of seasons past. Plus, we get to see new jerseys on stars. Yet as it always seems these days, the story of the afternoon was gathering how players had reacted to Donald Trump’s recent comments.

Specifically, Trump mentioned that he thought that players who knelt for the national anthem in the NFL were “sons of bitches”. Trump also rescinded a potential offer for a visit to the White House for the Golden State Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote “no” on going during a team meeting.

NBA reporters could not help but ask about the comments by Trump and the impact it had on the players, coaches, and executives during their first full scale opportunity to see players in a team setting.

Everyone from LeBron James to John Wall and Gregg Popovich had something to say.

We will be entering our first full season of the NBA with Trump and given how the first eight months of his tenure have gone, it will be interesting to see how the most socially conscious league in America responds moving forward.