Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Joe Johnson

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

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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.

Three questions to answer: Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch (plus notes on other MLK Day games)

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It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA — the game that matters most to both teams. Even if they try to deny it. This is a rematch of the last two NBA Finals and a likely preview of the next one, and this January game is a measuring stick. Here are three things to watch for, and after that notes on the other nationally televised games on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

1) Can the Warriors break the Cavaliers’ mental advantage in this series? The Warriors will say the Cavaliers are not in their heads, because that’s not just what competitors say, it’s what they have to believe. However, The Cavaliers have won four straight games against the Warriors dating back to last year’s Finals — Cleveland came from 3-1 down on basketball’s biggest stage to take the title, then came from 14 down to beat the Warriors on Christmas Day. In those games, LeBron James has been nothing short of brilliant and Kyrie Irving has been a late-game killer.

January games don’t decide June series, but the Warriors certainly could use the confidence boost against the Cavs. David West was honest about that speaking to CSNBayArea.com.

“This is a very important game for us,” West said Sunday, “because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys. The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals.”

Two straight Finals meetings means these teams know each other and their sets very well. There are no secrets. That’s an advantage for Cleveland: Golden State runs a lot of deception, fake screens, relatively meaningless actions designed to distract from what they really want to do. But by now the Cavs have seen it all. They aren’t fooled. The Warriors need to beat the Cavs one-on-one occasionally. That is what’s at the core of the Cavaliers game plan — we’re going to force Stephen Curry onto LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (via a switch on a pick), then isolate and bet he can’t stop them. It’s simple but it works, and the Warriors have not had an answer.

Being at home should help the Warriors. The bottom line is they can say the Cavaliers are not in their heads all they want, the Warriors could use a confidence-boosting win to convince themselves of that.

2) Kevin Durant was the best player on the court on Christmas, can Stephen Curry be? There is another way to phrase that question (which ties into the first one): Are the Cavaliers in Curry’s head? He had a rough Finals at points. Curry was a relatively passive 4-of-11 for 15 points on Christmas Day, and immediately after said he needed to be more aggressive.

In the Cavaliers’ four straight wins over the Warriors, Curry has shot  37 percent overall (36 percent from three) and has 15 turnovers to 10 assists. Cavaliers use physical defenders and are aggressive against Curry, they try to trap him and bait him into the flashy, playground-style passes that ignite the Warriors — except the Cavaliers have the defenders to turn those passes into steals and transition buckets. It’s the reason Durant was the best player on the Warriors on Christmas Day (36 points on 26 shots) — the Cavaliers are a very good help/schematic defensive team, but they have guys who can be beaten in isolation. Durant thrives in isolation.

Curry needs not to be baited into bad passes, be aggressive looking for his shot but pick his spots, get to the line a little more, and just knock down some shots.

3) How do the Warriors handle Kyle Korver? This is the one change after the Christmas day matchup. After they finally got a practice under their belts to figure things out, Tyron Lue slid Korver into the “LeBron and the bench” lineup —LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Korver, and Channing Frye. It worked well, as you might expect LeBron surrounded by shooters would work, and Kover had 18 against the Kings. How well this works against the Warriors though could be different — it’s not easy for the Cavs to keep Frye on the court against the Warriors matchups.

That said, the fact defenders can’t leave Korver to help is a boost to the Cavs when they start to run picks to get Curry switched onto Irving or LeBron. Either Korver is going to get some “butt-naked looks” (Tyronn Lue’s words) or he’s going to open it up for teammates. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the Warriors go with Shaun Livingston or someone else off the bench to counter Korver Sunday.

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There are other interesting games on Martin Luther King day, here’s a few things to watch (all times Eastern):

Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks, (1 p.m. NBA TV). The Hawks have won 8-of-9 and are defending incredibly well. The Knicks have won 2-of-12 and have defended very poorly — and that has led to all kinds of speculation and rumors around the team. Another loss would just stoke that fire.

Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (5 p.m. NBA TV). The teams have struggled but there are two players worth watching here. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is one of the best sophomores in the league, averaging 13.3 points a game on 58 percent shooting, plus he is a gifted passer. Orlando’s Aaron Gordon is struggling in his adjustment to playing the three, but he’s a good perimeter defender and the games he is aggressive on offense good things happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. TNT). The Clippers have won six in a row, and Chris Paul has been phenomenal since his return. Russell Westbrook has been phenomenal all season, 18 triple-doubles in 40 games, but the Thunder are on the second night of a back-to-back.

James Harden’s 12th triple-double helps Rockets end 2-game skid

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AP
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NEW YORK (AP) James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game.

Joel Embiid helps bring hundreds of fans to D.C. with ‘Bus the Process’

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Joel Embiid has fans all around the NBA. Some even came out to see him during the Philadelphia 76ers game against the Washington Wizards on Saturday despite the Cameroonian big man sitting out due to restrictions on playing in back-to-back games.

#BusTheProcess was the hashtag used to get 350 Sixers fans to the game in D.C. thanks to Embiid, coach Brett Brown, and the podcast The Rights to Ricky Sanchez.

Via Twitter and ESPN:

Fun stuff for some dedicated fans, even if they didn’t get to see Embiid play.

Unfortunately for the #BusTheProcess folks, the 76ers wound up losing to the Wizards, 109-93.

Ball ricochets off Robin Lopez’s face, Bulls score anyway (VIDEO)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Robin Lopez #8 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michael Carter-Williams is still shaking the dust off after being inserted into the starting lineup, I guess. At least, that’s about what you can say when you pass the ball off your starting center’s face.

But there’s good news! The Chicago Bulls scored on this play.

Let’s take a look at the whole thing, shall we?

I think the more important question is whether Carter-Williams received a secondary or primary assists on the NBA.com tracking site.