Are the Heat’s struggles against elite teams significant?

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After yesterday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, the Heat are now 0-6 against the five top teams in the league in win percentage. Most of those losses have been close, but is the Heat’s record against close teams a harbinger of their eventual playoff downfall? Basketball Reference’s Neil Paine has some data that says otherwise:

Here’s the breakdown since the merger (1977-2010):

The team with the better regular-season WPct vs. top-5 teams won the series 65.9% of the time.

The team with the better regular-season WPct vs. top-10 teams won the series 71.8% of the time.

The team with the better WPct vs. teams outside the top 10 won the series 73.2% of the time.

The team with the better regular-season pt diff vs. top-5 teams won the series 69.1% of the time.

The team with the better regular-season pt diff vs. top-10 teams won the series 73.0% of the time.

The team with the better pt diff vs. teams outside the top 10 won the series 71.7% of the time.

The team that played Game 1 at home won the series 74.1% of the time.

The data supports a fairly basic statistical theory: more data is better than less data, and a team’s record against the other 29 teams in the league is more telling than its success against four other teams in the league.

This is one of those things that will be remembered if the Heat lose and forgotten if they won. When the Warriors upset the Mavericks, their 4-0 record against Dallas in the regular season looked like a prophecy. Last season, the Magic took little comfort in their 3-1 regular season record against the Celtics after losing two straight home games to them. The season before that, the fact that the Cavaliers hadn’t lost a single road game to an Eastern Conference team when LeBron James played didn’t stop the Magic from beating them at home in game one.

We’d love to be able to think that regular-season meetings between teams likely to meet in the playoffs can help us predict what will happen in those series, but nothing can change that every playoff series starts with a blank slate.

Karl-Anthony Towns misses free throw as Mavs fans chant ‘Jimmy Butler’

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Jimmy Butler is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, largely for reasons that are beyond the capacity of most rational NBA fans.

Butler continues to play with a team as they enter the beginning part of the season, although owner Glen Taylor and his front office are professing to still be looking for a suitable trade partner.

Meanwhile, the tension between Butler and teammates Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns must be palpable. It certainly has affected Towns at least in one way, as the Timberwolves big man missed a free throw after Dallas Mavericks fans chanted Butler’s name during one of Towns’ trips to the line

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to say whether Towns missed that free throw simply because of the chance or because sometimes guys miss free throws. Towns is an 84 percent shooter from the charity stripe, so you’d expect him to miss one once in a while.

Things continue to be weird in Minnesota, and this odd homeostasis can’t last for long.

Video appears to show Rajon Rondo spitting at Chris Paul

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Did Rajon Rondo spit on Chris Paul?

That’s the question everyone’s asking after Saturday night’s big brouhaha between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets which led to several objections and coming suspensions from the league office.

Various angles have been analyzed at length on social media, and indeed it was always apparent the NBA viewing public-at-large would get to the bottom of things. Around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, we came to our logical endpoint.

Thanks to this new video, it does appear that Rondo spit at Paul.

Via Twitter:

The NBA league office is still reviewing the tape, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski they appear to have the clip in question in hand.

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to the coming suspensions. First, how much Brandon Ingram will be penalized for instigating the entire thing with his shove in the back of James Harden. Ingram also came in with a flying punch to Paul’s face that might be looked at a bit more severely.

Second, both Paul and Rondo landed punches, but if Rondo indeed did spit on his competitor that’s a level of disrespect — not to mention responsibility for making the first move against Paul — that might get him a tougher sentence.

We haven’t seen a real fight in the NBA in some time, where actual punches were landed and things got more serious than just guys running between tunnels underneath Staples Center. How the league punishes these guys this early in the season will dictate to us in the future how they feel about this kind of tension spilling over into violence.

Check out Nikola Jokick’s perfect shooting triple-double

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Phoenix star rookie Deandre Ayton, welcome to the NBA. Please try to guard Denver’s Nikola Jokic in your second game.

That didn’t go well. Jokic finished with a triple-double of 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. However, it’s how he got there that was impressive: 11-of-11 from the field shooting, 10-of-11 from the free throw line, zero turnovers, four steals, and he threw in a blocked shot for good measure.

Jokic was +29 on the night and the Nuggets won 119-91. Denver is 2-0 to start the season.

Report: Knicks’ Kevin Knox out 2-4 weeks with sprained ankle

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This is a blow — not just for the Knicks on the court, or the development of the team’s new young star, but for Knicks fans. With Kristaps Porzingis out for the foreseeable future, promising rookie Kevin Knox was the reason for hope, the reason to tune in and watch every night.

Now he’s going to be out for a couple of weeks, and maybe a month.

Knox went down after Boston’s Terry Rozier tried to cut Knox off in transition and fouled him. Knox was in a lot of pain and had to be helped off the court.

That sprained ankle will take 2-4 weeks to heal, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Ugh. The good news is this is not more serious and Knox will fully recover. But it’s a setback both for him and the watchability of the Knicks for a few weeks.