Adjusting for playoff rotations says Warriors and Cavaliers should be favored to reach NBA Finals


The Hawks went 60-22, Cavaliers 53-29, Warriors 67-15 and Rockets 56-26 this season.

How much do those record tell us about those teams entering the conference finals?

Something, but definitely not enough.

Players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Justin Holiday, Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas all factored into their team’s regular-season results. But – due to injury, trade or shortening of playoff rotations – they likely won’t play a part of the conference finals.


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.

We did this exercise before the playoffs and before the second round. I’ve updated the numbers with second-round results and modified projected rotations where necessary. As always, remember, this is only one data point in a complex picture when evaluating teams.

Here are the conference finalists’ ratings – actual regular-season to projected based on expected rotations:

Eastern Conference

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.9
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 103.3
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +11.6

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 110.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 103.0
  • Net rating: +5.8  to +7.5


  • The big question: Will Kyrie Irving play? This projection assumes he does.
  • Without Irving, Cleveland actually rates better by this model (114.7 offensive rating/91.4 defensive rating/+23.3 net rating). This doesn’t mean the Cavaliers actually are better without Irving. Of course, they’re not. That stellar play without Irving comes in just 273 minutes, a small sample that was at least partially self-selected by David Blatt. Cleveland surely wouldn’t fare as well if it had to play its Irving-less minutes against the starters of a 60-win team, but that will be the predicament the Cavs would face without him here. This indicates, though, the Cavaliers might fare better than expected without Irving. That’d mean more responsibility for LeBron James, which often works out well. It’s hardly a sure bet, though – just a clue.
  • In the same vein, even with Irving included for Cleveland, the Hawks’ projected rotation players have play more than 2.5 times as many minutes together as the Cavaliers’. Before the playoffs began, Cleveland looked poised to run through the Eastern Conference. But Kevin Love’s injury threw a wrench into the projections. Not only do the Cavaliers rate worse than with Love, we have less information by which to assess them.
  • This model does not account for game location, and Atlanta has home-court advantage.
  • Bottom line: We know the Hawks are good. The Cavaliers – at least those that project to play these Eastern Conference finals – have looked better than Atlanta, but we also know less about them.


1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 97.9
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +17.5

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1 to 112.3 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0  to 101.2 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +9.1 to +11.1 to +7.2


  • The Warriors’ projection includes includes David Lee and Festus Ezeli, not Marreese Speights, who’s out at least Game 1. If Speights can play, Golden State rates even better on both ends.
  • As noted by John Schuhmann of, the Rockets are the first team since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams to reach the conference finals while being outscored in the postseason. Most teams – at least the ones that avoid injury – see their projection rise as they win during the playoffs, but Houston’s has fallen. The Rockets are still well ahead of their actual regular-season production, though.
  • One big reason this model underrates Houston: Dwight Howard doesn’t factor as prominently because he missed so much time due to injury. As long as he remains healthy, the Rockets will rely on him more than projected here – and they’ll be better for it.
  • Bottom line: The Warriors, as has been the case all along, are the clear favorites.

Cavaliers owner shoots down rumor that David Blatt will be fired no matter how far team advances in playoffs


There have been plenty of indications throughout both the regular season and the playoffs that Cavaliers head coach David Blatt may not be the best fit, and may be gone once the season is finished.

LeBron James has publicly criticized Blatt more than once, and even worse, has come out and said that he’s overruled his coach’s decisions on more than one occasion.

Blatt almost blew a playoff game against the Bulls by not knowing his team was out of timeouts, and James’ ongoing remarks seem to be aimed at throwing his coach under the bus.

Many have speculated that Blatt may be replaced after this season, but the report that emerged on Friday got the attention of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert — who publicly did what he could to shut it down.

From Joseph Zucker of Bleacher Report:

Speaking on The Doug Gottlieb Show, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher reported that the Cavaliers will likely fire Blatt no matter how much further the team advances in the playoffs (via CBS Sports Radio’s Adam Klug).

Dan Gilbert:


What he should have said was, “crushed … for now.”

The reality is that no one knows at this stage whether or not Blatt will return next season. If Cleveland were to win the title, for example, even with LeBron overruling his head coach whenever he deems necessary, Blatt may be asked to stick around so as not to upset the championship dynamic.

But if Cleveland should fall short of its ultimate goal, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Blatt replaced.

Remember, he wasn’t hired to coach LeBron James and Kevin Love as part of a team that was expected to contend; initially, his job was to rebuild the franchise before LeBron ever committed to returning to the Cavaliers.

Celtics’ assistant GM: Boston will be “very, very active” this offseason


No team may be better poised to make some moves this summer than the Boston Celtics.

They have roughly 5,932 draft picks to move (that may be a little high, but they have a lot). They have some interesting young players they can move. They have the cap space to take on salaries. Plus they have the tradition of the Boston Celtics (although tradition doesn’t sell players like it used to).

That doesn’t mean that Kevin Love, or LaMarcus Aldridge paired with Wesley Matthews, or DeMarcus Cousins, are coming to Bean Town — those are both long shots at best — but Boston will be active in shaping the roster this summer.

Don’t take my word for it, look at what Celtics’ assistant general manager Mike Zarren told the Boston Herald.

“We’ve got a lot of opportunities to do something significant this summer,” said Zarren. “There’s going to be a lot of good free agents. We could move up in the draft. We’ve got assets of every kind that other teams like.

“It’s too early to really know what’s going to happen — the lottery hasn’t even happened yet — but we’ll be very, very active in all phases of front office work this summer.”

This summer, the dynamics are unique. Every team knows that the salary cap is going to spike by more than $20 million after this season, and another $17 million or more the following season (thank you new national television deal). That means teams will be willing to make moves and take on contracts knowing that in a year what looked like a bad contract will be far less of a burden against the cap.

“There’s a lot of teams that are going to be active this summer, so that makes for a more liquid trade market for us,” said Zarren.

What that will translate into in terms of players wearing Celtics’ green next season remains to be seen. Don’t think GM Danny Ainge will make moves for the sake of making moves.

But no team may be better positioned to pounce financially than Boston.

Matthew Dellavedova is the most improbable leading scorer of these playoffs


LeBron James – at a level rivaled in the last decade by only the pre-Heat version of himself – has carried the Cavaliers throughout these playoffs.

Cleveland seemingly needed him more than ever in Game 6 against the Bulls on Thursday. Not only was Kevin Love obviously still out, Kyrie Irving left the game with a knee injury.

But LeBron was just 2-for-9 and hadn’t made a 3-pointer or gotten to the free-throw line midway through the second quarter. Cleveland trailed by one.

Enter Matthew Dellavedova.

Dellavedova – an undrafted second-year player best known for leg-locking Taj Gibson – led Cleveland with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-6 on 3-pointers, in the 94-73 series-clinching win.

How improbable was it that Dellavedova would lead a team in scoring during an NBA playoff game?

He averaged just 4.8 points per game during the regular season, and even with this outburst, he’s still averaging just 6.0 points per game in the playoffs.

None of the other 134 players, counting ties, to lead a team in scoring this postseason (gold) scored fewer points per game in the regular season than Dellavedova (wine):


Or in the playoffs:


Player Games as team’s leading scorer Points per game (regular season) Points per game (playoffs)
James Harden (HOU) 9 27.4 26.3
Stephen Curry (GSW) 7 23.8 27.8
LeBron James (CLE) 7 25.3 26.5
Blake Griffin (LAC) 7 21.9 25.4
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 6 20.0 22.9
Bradley Beal (WAS) 6 15.3 22.8
Marc Gasol (MEM) 6 17.4 19.6
DeMarre Carroll (ATL) 5 12.6 16.4
Anthony Davis (NOP) 4 24.4 31.5
Monta Ellis (DAL) 4 18.9 26.0
Chris Paul (LAC) 4 19.1 21.7
Derrick Rose (CHI) 4 17.7 20.3
Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 3 16.5 20.3
Brook Lopez (BRK) 3 17.2 19.8
Tim Duncan (SAS) 3 13.9 17.9
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 3 16.4 17.5
Jeff Teague (ATL) 3 15.9 14.8
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) 2 23.4 21.8
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 2 17.3 21.2
Klay Thompson (GSW) 2 21.7 20.8
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 2 20.1 20.3
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 2 21.7 19.8
Dwight Howard (HOU) 2 15.8 17.3
Khris Middleton (MIL) 2 13.4 15.8
Paul Millsap (ATL) 2 16.7 15.3
Mike Conley (MEM) 2 15.8 14.9
Damian Lillard (POR) 1 21.0 21.6
C.J. McCollum (POR) 1 6.8 17.0
Joe Johnson (BRK) 1 14.4 16.5
Al Horford (ATL) 1 15.2 15.8
Paul Pierce (WAS) 1 11.9 15.8
Zach Randolph (MEM) 1 16.1 15.7
J.J. Redick (LAC) 1 16.4 15.2
Pau Gasol (CHI) 1 18.5 14.4
Nicolas Batum (POR) 1 9.4 14.2
Marcin Gortat (WAS) 1 12.2 13.6
Courtney Lee (MEM) 1 10.1 13.4
DeAndre Jordan (LAC) 1 11.5 12.8
Lou Williams (TOR) 1 15.5 12.8
Jarrett Jack (BRK) 1 12.0 12.3
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 1 17.8 12.3
Jared Sullinger (BOS) 1 13.3 12.3
Michael Carter-Williams (MIL) 1 14.6 12.2
Kyle Korver (ATL) 1 12.1 12.1
Deron Williams (BRK) 1 13.0 11.8
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 1 12.7 11.5
Amir Johnson (TOR) 1 9.3 11.5
Alan Anderson (BRK) 1 7.4 11.0
Mike Dunleavy (CHI) 1 9.4 10.9
Evan Turner (BOS) 1 9.5 10.5
Otto Porter (WAS) 1 6.0 10.3
Dennis Schroder (ATL) 1 10.0 10.2
Marco Belinelli (SAS) 1 9.2 9.3
O.J. Mayo (MIL) 1 11.4 9.0
Nene (WAS) 1 11.0 8.2
Ramon Sessions (WAS) 1 6.3 8.1
Beno Udrih (MEM) 1 7.7 8.0
Zaza Pachulia (MIL) 1 8.3 6.7
Matthew Dellavedova (CLE) 1 4.8 6.0

LeBron finished Game 6 with just 15 points on 7-of-23 shooting. He’d been 0-9 in the playoffs when scoring so little.

Of course, none of those previous nine games came with Dellavedova at his side.

Cavs blow out Bulls to advance to Eastern Conference Finals


CHICAGO — The basketball gods threw everything they could at the Cavaliers. Somehow, some way, they’re headed to the Eastern Conference Finals.

With Kyrie Irving suffering a knee injury in the second quarter, Cleveland got an unlikely boost off the bench from Matthew Dellavedova, who scored a team-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. That’s the kind of help LeBron James has been getting all series, ever since Kevin Love went down. Earlier in the series, it was Iman Shumpert stepping up. Thursday, it was Dellavedova.

The turning point came in the second quarter, when Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic clotheslined Shumpert and was whistled for a flagrant foul. At that point, the Bulls trailed by one. From there, the momentum shifted and the Bulls scored six points over the next 12 minutes.

“I think that second quarter has been a problem for us the whole series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “That took a lot out of us, but I thought the fight was there in the third quarter. We had a shot at it again. We could not get it to even striking distance, and could not get it under 10.”

Indeed, the Bulls scored 31 points in the first quarter and just 42 over the next three. With Irving out and James playing an inefficient game, Chicago could not capitalize. They were outrebounded 53 to 32 and shot just 20 percent from three-point range and 37.5 percent from the field. The Cavs shot 12-for-27 from three, including a combined nine three-pointers from Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and James Jones.

It wasn’t a pretty game, just as most of the series wasn’t pretty. But the Cavs prevailed in spite of everything, and are now poised to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2009 (it will be James’ fifth time in a row after making it four straight times with the Heat). They’ll face either Washington or Atlanta to play for a trip to the Finals. They will be without Love. Whether they’ll have a full-strength Irving is very much up for debate.

But they’ll have James, the best player on the planet, and plenty of underheralded role players ready to step up. And for that, you have to like their chances.