Extra Pass: Should the Eastern Conference elite worry about the red-hot Brooklyn Nets?

18 Comments

The Miami Heat host the Brooklyn Nets tonight in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s best team vs. … the Eastern Conference’s best team?

The Heat are 53-23, the conference’s best record. But the Nets are 32-13 since New Year’s, the conference’s best record in the 2014 calendar year.

Should that make Brooklyn the new conference favorite? Do recent results tell us more about playoff chances than results colored by games several months ago?

Probably not and probably not.

Since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1984, 42 series have featured one team with a better overall record (what we’ll call the better team) and a different team with a better record since New Year’s (what we’ll call the hotter team).

Of those 42 series, the better team won 28 (67 percent).

This makes sense on a couple levels.

1. More data is usually better. Although it seems the Nets have made real progress by switching to a small-ball lineup, they were still the Nets in 2013. A flip of the calendar – even when it coincides with a pretty big style change – doesn’t completely invalidate those 2013 games. Brooklyn probably comes closer to this reason not carrying water than the average hot team, but I don’t think we can discount it completely.

2. This, I suspect, is more important. The NBA awards homecourt advantage to the team with a better overall record, not the better record since New Year’s. So, the better team always has that advantage over the hotter team. The Nets, zeroing in on the No. 5 seed, probably won’t have homecourt advantage for even a single round.

Here is the complete history of the better vs. hotter matchups since 1984. The better team is blue, and the hot team is red (overall record, win percentage | record since New Year’s, win percentage).

  • 2013 WC Finals: Spurs (58-24, .707 | 33-16, .673) def. Grizzlies (56-26, .683 | 37-17, .685)
  • 2012 EC First Round: Celtics (39-27, .591 | 38-24, .613) def. Hawks (40-26, .606 | 37-25, .597)
  • 2011 WC Finals: Mavericks (57-25, .695 | 33-18, .647) def. Thunder (55-27, .671 | 32-16, .667)
  • 2010 WC Finals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Suns (54-28, .659 | 33-16, .673)
  • 2010 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Jazz (53-29, .646 | 35-15, .700)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Celtics (50-32, .610 | 27-24, .529) def. Heat (47-35, .573 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Hawks (53-29, .646 | 32-19, .627) def. Bucks (46-36, .561 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2010 WC First Round: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Thunder (50-32, .610 | 32-18, .640)
  • 2008 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 38-14, .731) def. Jazz (54-28, .659 | 37-12, .755)
  • 2007 EC First Round: Bulls (49-33, .598 | 30-21, .588) def. Heat (44-38, .537 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2006 WC First Round: Clippers (47-35, .573 | 31-23, .574) def. Nuggets (44-38, .537 | 30-21, .588)
  • 2005 NBA Finals: Spurs (59-23, .720 | 34-17, .667) def. Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722)
  • 2005 EC Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722) def. Heat (59-23, .720 | 35-16, .686)
  • 2005 WC Semifinals: Suns (62-20, .756 | 37-16, .698) def. Mavericks (58-24, .707 | 39-14, .736)
  • 2005 WC First Round: SuperSonics (52-30, .634 | 30-24, .556) def. Kings (50-32, .610 | 32-23, .582)
  • 2004 NBA Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 35-15, .700) def. Lakers (56-26, .683 | 35-19, .648)
  • 2004 WC First Round: Kings (55-27, .671 | 34-19, .642) def. Mavericks (52-30, .634 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2003 WC Semifinals: Mavericks (60-22, .732 | 35-17, .673) def. Kings (59-23, .720 | 36-14, .720)
  • 2003 EC First Round: 76ers (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569) def. Hornets (47-35, .573 | 29-20, .592)
  • 2003 EC First Round: Nets (49-33, .598 | 26-24, .520) def. Bucks (42-40, .512 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 2002 EC First Round: Celtics (49-33, .598 | 31-22, .585) def. 76ers (43-39, .524 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2002 WC First Round: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 37-18, .673) def. Trail Blazers (49-33, .598 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC Finals: 76ers (56-26, .683 | 35-18, .660) def. Bucks (52-30, .634 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC First Round: Raptors (47-35, .573 | 32-20, .615) def. Knicks (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2000 EC Semifinals: Knicks (50-32, .610 | 32-20, .615) def. Heat (52-30, .634 | 33-21, .611)
  • 1997 EC First Round: Knicks (57-25, .695 | 36-17, .679) def. Hornets (54-28, .659 | 38-15, .717)
  • 1994 NBA Finals: Rockets (58-24, .707 | 34-20, .630) def. Knicks (57-25, .695 | 39-18, .684)
  • 1994 EC First Round: Pacers (47-35, .573 | 37-19, .661) def. Magic (50-32, .610 | 34-20, .630)
  • 1994 WC First Round: Suns (56-26, .683 | 35-21, .625) def. Warriors (50-32, .610 | 36-19, .655)
  • 1993 EC Semifinals: Bulls (57-25, .695 | 36-18, .667) def. Cavaliers (54-28, .659 | 37-16, .698)
  • 1993 WC First Round: Spurs (49-33, .598 | 35-21, .625) def. Trail Blazers (51-31, .622 | 34-23, .596)
  • 1992 EC First Round: Knicks (51-31, .622 | 33-23, .589) def. Pistons (48-34, .585 | 33-19, .635)
  • 1991 WC Finals: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 41-15, .732) def. Trail Blazers (63-19, .768 | 36-15, .706)
  • 1990 EC Semifinals: Bulls (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667) def. 76ers (53-29, .646 | 38-16, .704)
  • 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 1988 EC Semifinals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 36-22, .621) def. Bulls (50-32, .610 | 35-20, .636)
  • 1987 WC First Round: Warriors (42-40, .512 | 25-26, .490) def. Jazz (44-38, .537 | 25-28, .472)
  • 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)
  • 1984 WC Semifinals: Suns (41-41, .500 | 26-25, .510) def. Jazz (45-37, .549 | 25-26, .490)
  • 1984 EC First Round: Nets (45-37, .549 | 31-20, .608) def. 76ers (52-30, .634 | 31-23, .574)
  • 1984 WC First Round: Mavericks (43-39, .524 | 27-25, .519) def. SuperSonics (42-40, .512 | 29-24, .547)

However, there might be a matter of degrees at play. Can a team be hot enough to overcome not being as good at its opponent?

To assess, I came up with a Heat Rating:

((hotter team’s advantage in win percentage after New Year’s) minus (better team’s advantage in win percentage overall))*82

In all three series with a Heat Rating above 3.5, the hotter team won:

  • 5.0, 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 4.8, 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 3.9, 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)

This season, the Spurs, Clippers and Rockets are both better and hotter than the Nets (42-34, .553 | 32-13, .711).

Of the 10 potential Brooklyn playoff opponents with better overall records, just four are on pace to create a series with a Heat Rating above even 0.5. And only three, all in the West, trump the 3.5 standard.

Potential opponent
Heat Rating
Phoenix Suns (46-31, 0.597 | 27-20, 0.574) 7.5
Portland Trail Blazers (50-28, 0.641 | 25-21, 0.543) 6.5
Dallas Mavericks (47-31, 0.603 | 29-18, 0.617) 3.6
Toronto Raptors (45-32, 0.584 | 31-17, 0.646) 2.7

There are many factors, including matchups and injuries, that lead to playoff upsets. But if you’re going to predict the Nets will beat anyone in this year’s playoffs – unless they get to the Finals and play the Suns, Trail Blazers or Mavericks – you better come with a stronger argument than just Brooklyn’s post-New Year’s record.

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.

LeBron James all good with Reggie Jackson’s free throw gamesmanship, “I’ve done it before”

Getty Images
1 Comment

Let’s set the stage: Sunday night, the fast-rising Pistons led the fast-rising Timberwolves by three with  6.2 seconds left when Jimmy Butler drew a foul on a 3-pointer. Butler drained the first two free throws. Before the third, Reggie Jackson interrupted to talk to Stanley Johnson, who was in rebounding position. Butler missed the free throw, and Detroit held on to win 100-97. Here’s the play in question.

It was a bit of gamesmanship by Jackson.

LeBron James was asked about the move at Cavaliers shootaround and endorsed it with a smile on his face.

“I’ve done it before. I won a playoff series before doing that actually. So, I’m all for it.”

That series was in 2007, overtime of game 6 of a first-round playoff series against Washington, and the victim was the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers were down 1, Arenas had two free throws, missed the first, then LeBron stepped in. Arenas missed the second, and the Cavs went on to get the win.

Is interrupting free throws about to become an NBA thing? If it works, players will do it.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
3 Comments

Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

Harry How/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.