Tag: Blake Griffin

James Harden, Chris Paul

PBT Second Round Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets



Clippers: 56-26 (third place in Western Conference)
Rockets: 56-26 (second place in Western Conference)
Season series tied 2-2 (Dwight Howard played in none of those games, Blake Griffin only two, so don’t read too much into it)


Clippers: Chris Paul strained his hamstring in Game 7 against San Antonio and, while the MRI was negative, it not clear if will be able to go in Game 1. However, even if he does, he is not 100 percent.

Rockets: Patrick Beverley had wrist surgery and is out for the postseason. Donatas Motiejunas is out for the playoffs (spinal surgery). K.J. McDaniels has a fractured elbow and will be out for this series.


Clippers: 109.8 points scored per 100 possessions (1st in NBA); 103 points allowed per 100 possessions (15th in NBA).
Rockets: 104.2 points scored per 100 possessions (12th in NBA); 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th in NBA).


1) How healthy is Chris Paul’s hamstring? The answer to this question can swing the series. CP3 is the best point guard in the game, a guy who can beat you scoring or passing, is a very good defender, but more than all that he is the smartest point guard going. Nobody can orchestrate the flow of the game like he can. Maybe the bigger issue for the Clippers, he’s backed up by Austin Rivers — a guy who should be on the bubble of even being in the league. If CP3 can’t go expect a lot more Rivers and Jamal Crawford (who can score but is a defensive liability). Which is to say, if he can’t go or is extremely limited the Clippers are not near the same team. Paul was nothing short of brilliant against the Spurs — 22.7 points and 7.9 assists a game, not to mention the series-clinching shot over Tim Duncan — and if there is a significant drop off against the Rockets then Houston becomes a clear favorite. The Clippers had the best offense in the land in the regular season, but it’s not the same if CP3 can’t go. Paul gutted it out against the Spurs and expect him to give it a go against Houston, and even 70 percent of Paul is far better than any alternative for Los Angeles.

2) Can the Clippers continue to defend well and keep James Harden in relative check? Despite Doc Rivers pitching DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year, the Clippers were an average defensive team this season. Los Angeles was inconsistent on that end of the floor. However, against the Spurs Los Angeles’ aggressive, pressure defense was fantastic, with much crisper rotations, much better physicality, and Jordan owned the paint making it far more difficult for the Spurs to score inside. Houston’s offense looked much better in the first round thanks to the return of an active Dwight Howard — someone who will keep Jordan busy and limit his ability to help — but it is also far more conventional than what the Spurs run. The Clippers will welcome the respite. In the regular season series the Clippers held Harden to 38.5 percent shooting thanks to pesky defense mostly from J.J. Redick. He and Matt Barnes will both get time on the beard (and defending Harden is a team job anyway). The Clippers held Harden in check better than most teams. If Los Angeles can do that again, Houston will need another strong performance from Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones and the rest of the supporting cast like they got against Dallas. But this is not the pathetic Dallas defense that the Rockets will have to do it against now.

3) Can Josh Smith have another big series? Dallas simply had no answer for Josh Smith, who averaged 17.4 points and 3.8 assists per game in that series, both second best on Houston. More than that, he was efficient shooting 51.5 percent overall and 39.1 percent from three. If he can provide depth it is something the Clippers will struggle to match — Los Angeles does not have a bench Doc Rivers can trust. (He should really talk to his GM about that.) The Clippers would have to use a lot of Blake Griffin on Smith and that could start to wear down Griffin, who struggled at times with energy in the fourth quarter against San Antonio (although games six and seven he played well). Smith can be the real X-factor in this series if he has another strong performance.


So much of this swings on Chris Paul’s hamstring — if he cannot play or is truly limited Houston is the favorite. No doubt Houston looked good last series, but that was against a Dallas team playing no defense and with an offense that leaned on Rajon Rondo for a few games. The Clippers just took out the Spurs and are simply playing at a much higher level than what Houston has seen. The Clippers may have a hangover from the Spurs series, but that is only going to last one game (at most) then the team with championship aspirations with turn its focus to the task at hand. And if CP3 is anywhere near healthy, that will be too much for even this good Rockets’ team. The Clippers win in six.

Ginobili, Duncan, Popovich dance around questions about Spurs’ future

Utah Jazz vs San Antonio Spurs

As you might expect, it was Gregg Popovich who had the best answer about the future of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.

“People ask me about Tim and Manu and myself for the last five years, what we’re going to do. It’s all psychobabble. I have no clue,” Popovich said. “We’ll probably come back. Paycheck is pretty good (laughter). You think I’m lying?”

The fact is that two key parts of the core of the Spurs could decide enough is enough. Popovich is under contract and is enjoying the idea of transitioning this team to the future, he’ll be back. So will Tony Parker, who is under contract and, even if he’s slipping a little, is still an elite point guard. The Spurs will re-sign Kawhi Leonard.

But Duncan and Ginobili are question marks.

“I’m not making any statements,” Duncan said after the Spurs were eliminated, refusing to play the speculation game.

Which isn’t a surprise. You know when Duncan does retire it will come in the form of a press release that is emailed out to the media. And that’s it. No fanfare if Duncan can help it.

Yet Duncan at age 39 is incredibly productive. He averaged 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds a game, plus he made key defensive stops. He battled Blake Griffin almost to a standstill. He has plenty of game left; the question is only does he want to keep playing. And he may not know the answer to that question yet.

Ginobili, on the other hand, is seeing his game deteriorate. He also said minutes after a painful loss was not the time to make a decision, but he sounded more like a guy willing to think about stepping away. Via Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

“It could happen,” Ginobili said (or walking away). “I still don’t know. I don’t want to make a decision after being a disappointment in a game like this. So I’ll have a lot of time. I will sit with my family and try to evaluate what happened during the season, how I feel and if I am ready to go at it again. I guess the Spurs are going to have to make a decision, too, and see what they want to do also.”

The Spurs are doing some big game hunting this offseason, reportedly targeting LaMarcus Aldridge — who is interested in them as well. But that can only happen if some big cap holds come off the books due to retirement or the Spurs cutting ties.

So the future of the Spurs is very much up in the air. And some key guys don’t know if they are coming back for one more run at it.

But they might. The paycheck is pretty good.

Adjusting for playoff rotations round two: Watch out for the Wizards

Kent Bazemore, John Wall, Paul Pierce

Before the playoffs began, I assessed each team based on projected postseason rotation.

Here’s the idea:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

The system and straight seeding differed twice for the first round, each method correctly predicting one of those two series:

  • My projection correct: Wizards over Raptors
  • Seeding correct: Bucks over Bulls

We now have more information – both about which players actually made the postseason rotation and how teams fared in the first round.

Here are the new adjusted ratings from full regular season to pre-playoff projection to pre-second round projection (counting first-round games and updating the postseason rotation when necessary):


5. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 104.3 to 107.7 to 112.3
  • Defensive rating: 103.5 to 101.1 to 100.9
  • Net rating: +0.8 to +6.6 to +11.4

Kevin Seraphin, not Kris Humphries as I predicted, made the playoff rotation. That would have boosted the Wizards’ pre-playoff projection even higher, and they were already a sleeper based on this model.

A sweep of the Raptors supported all the positivity these numbers suggested about Washington.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 118.2 to 114.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 101.0 to 105.6
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +17.2 to +8.6

I left James Jones out of my projected playoff rotation. Including him would have weakened the Cavaliers’ pre-playoff adjusted numbers on both ends of the floor, but they still would have ranked second in the league behind the Warriors for adjusted net rating.

Of course, Kevin Love is the big issue headed into the next round. It’s unclear how David Blatt will replace the power forward, but I added Mike Miller and Shawn Marion to the rotation. If it’s just one of the two or neither with no other replacement, the Cavs’ adjusted net rating would be a little better.

Remove J.R. Smith, who’s suspended the first two games though counted as part of the rotation here, and Cleveland actually fares a little better on both ends (with Miller and Marion in the rotation) than it would with Smith.

Still, the picture is clear: Cleveland gets downgraded significantly without Love. Enough to lose to the Bulls? Not according to this model.

3. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 107.7 to 108.6 to 108.4
  • Defensive rating: 104. 4 to 103.3 to 102.5
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +5.3 to +5.9

I didn’t include Tony Snell in the Bulls’ playoff rotation, but he stuck, even when Kirk Hinrich was healthy. Had I included Snell, Chicago would have fared slightly better in my first-round projections.

To the surprise of many, the Bucks pushed the Bulls to six games, but that doesn’t give me pause about Chicago. The pre-playoff projection was high on Milwaukee, and though the model actually rated the Bucks above the Bulls, I think the actual result showed the point of the projection. It’s one data point of many, and the lesson should have been that the first-round series could be closer than expected – which happened.

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 109.9 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.9 to 105.1
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +5.0 to +4.9

I incorrectly left Shelvin Mack out of the predicted rotation, though he wouldn’t have changed much.

There were reasons to be concerned about the Hawks entering the playoffs based on this model. A six-game series against the Nets was surprising, because Brooklyn also looked weak. But the first-round matchup also exposed issues with Atlanta this model predicted.

Pick the No. 1 seed to advance at your own risk.


1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.4 to 114.7
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 95.7 to 99.1
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +20.7 to +15.6

I didn’t include Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa in the Warriors’ rotation, but Steve Kerr did. If I had, Golden State’s projection would have suffered on both ends of the floor.

The Warriors are favored here regardless, but I believe if necessary, they can trim their rotation and become even stronger.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 113.2 to 117.5 to 118.8
  • Defensive rating: 106.3 to 105.9 to 105.4
  • Net rating: +6.9 to +11.6 to +13.4

I mistakenly had Spencer Hawes in the playoff rotation, but it’s clear Doc Rivers doesn’t trust him. Removing Hawes doesn’t make much difference, though it improves the Clippers’ adjusted rating a bit on both ends of the floor.

The big issue: Will Chris Paul be healthy? A playoff rotation without him projects to have an offensive/defensive/net rating of 97.0/108.1/-11.1. That’s disastrous, but it’s a small sample and overly relies on bench-heavy units. Blake Griffin and the Clippers’ other starters just didn’t play that much without Paul.

If Paul is healthy, the Clippers rate better than the Rockets. If not, lower – though it’s not clear just how much lower Los Angeles actually should be.

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1 to 112.3
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0  to 101.2
  • Net rating: 3.5 to +9.1 to +11.1

Clint Capela, not Joey Dorsey, was Houston’s backup center – and that would have boosted their pre-playoff projection on both ends of the floor.

For the most part, the Rockets are the steadier team in their second-round matchup. It’s Paul’s health that should determine everything.

Make no mistake, though: Houston’s playoff rotation is good and will require the Clippers to play well to advance.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 106.2 to 108.0 to 109.1
  • Defensive rating: 102.7 to 102.7 to 102.8
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +5.3 to +6.3

I included Mike Conley in this projection. If he can’t play, the offensive/defensive/net splits go to 107.3/101.6+5.7.

That’s not as large a drop as I anticipated, but it probably doesn’t matter much. The Grizzlies land well behind the Warriors either way.